Intuitive eating means the ability to enjoy what you are eating while being aware of how you are eating it. When you eat intuitively you are guided by your hunger and fullness cues, that is, you eat when are hungry and you stop when you feel satisfied. Because it takes time for our bodies to respond to the feeling of fullness, it is possible to eat more food than our hunger requires. That being so, mindful eating is an essential part of intuitive eating.
What is Mindful Eating?
Consider this example, you get home late from work, completely famished and warm up a plate of leftovers for dinner. You decide to get a jump start on some of your emails, sit down to the computer and begin to type away. After you have cleared out a few messages from your inbox you get up to grab a drink. You come back a few moments later and look at your dinner plate and wonder, “who ate my dinner?” Now before you blame your spouse, your kids or your dog, consider that you that you were so distracted by your emails that you just didn’t notice; you ate the entire plate and don’t even feel satisfied. To fill your dissatisfaction, you start looking through the cupboards for something to eat, not knowing what you are looking for. What happened you ask… distracted eating.
Flip that scenario around to where you get home late from work; you feel hungry, but since you had an afternoon snack, you aren’t famished. You warm up a plate of leftovers for dinner and sit down to the table. You take a few breaths to relax and have a sip of water. You take a forkful at a time, savor each mouthful, and stop when you feel perfectly satisfied; no longer hungry and not too full. You leave the table feeling refreshed, nourished and ready to get on with the rest of your evening. This is mindful eating.
Mindful eating can assist with weight management. If you struggle with distracted or emotional eating, having this awareness is a great first step. Practicing mindful eating by using the seven strategies outlined below, will keep you on track for your weight loss goals. You can practice mindful eating by:
1.Learning your hunger and fullness cues
Do you know when you are hungry? Can you tell when you have had enough to eat? Some people feel a rumble in their stomach, lose their ability to concentrate, feel agitated or grumpy, or experience an increased sense of smell when they are hungry; others don’t feel anything. If you have disregarded any of these signs of hunger in the past, especially for a long period of time, your body stops sending the signals and you lose your ability to notice. In terms of fullness cues, it takes up to 20 minutes for your body to tell your brain that you have had enough to eat. If you eat fast you are more likely to eat beyond your hunger and feel uncomfortably full after eating. Learning your hunger and fullness cues takes practice; responding to them plays a big role in the practice of mindful eating.
2.Recognizing what causes you to eat
Situations, associations, or negative and/or positive emotions can lead to over-consumption; that is, eating for reasons other than hunger and/or eating beyond your fullness cues. What is wired together will fire together – like popcorn at the theatre. If you associate something together or regularly eat while doing something – your brain will tell you to do that each and every time. Recognizing these associations is key to intuitive eating as these association are often “mindless” choices. Whether it is eating at your desk, in your car on the commute home, or on the couch watching TV – you need to identify the situations, the associations, and/or the emotions that wire food/fluids and behaviors together. Once you have identified your patterns can you actively decided to change them or adopt them. I like to give each of these situations a name… once I have named it, I seem to recognize it when I am in the “act” and can make an active choice to carry on or not.
3.Finding non-food ways to nurture yourself and meet your needs
Because we eat/drink for other reasons than being hungry – it is important to tease out why you are eating. This requires honest self reflection. Am I eating because I always eat while doing X,Y,Z OR am I angry, lonely, sad, tired…. Once you have identified the “why” you are searching for food/fluids you can come up with alternative solutions. I like to write down alternative ideas on a list that I can refer to so that when I find myself in that situation I have ready made solutions I like as an alternative. Ask yourself a couple of simple questions “why am I looking for food?” and “What do I need right now?”. You might find that you can come up with alternatives in the moment…you might find that you just need to write down your finding and come up with alternatives at another time when you are not in the situation. Either way – identifying what causes you to eat and what else you could do is helpful in assisting your to make other choices and change behavior.
4.Cleaning out your kitchen- that includes your cupboards, freezer, fridge, desk drawers, secret hideaways, your car’s glove box…
What you buy is what you will eat. Food choices are guided by many things, one of which is availability. If healthy, nourishing foods are available that is what we will eat. On the other hand, “junk” foods are nearby, those are the foods that will be eaten. It is not to say that you should never have less healthy foods in the house it is just that there needs to a balance. Normal, healthy eating allows for the occasional “treat”. Think of the 80/20 rule – 80% of the time make the foods you eat super great… then the other 20% can be more liberal.
5.Eating well, eating often
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. People who eat breakfast tend to eat better throughout the rest of the day and meet their nutrient needs when compared to non-breakfast eaters. Breakfast doesn’t have to consist of typical breakfast foods per se – just eat something within a couple hours of waking. Choosing foods with protein, carbohydrate and healthy fat along with fibre provides long-lasting energy and a great boost to your morning. Eating healthy foods every few hours and drinking enough water keeps your energy level even throughout the day.
6.Moving your body and resting your mind
Stress wreaks havoc not only on your body by increasing inflammation but also can impact your body weight. Increased levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, affects the way our bodies use and store energy. High circulating levels of insulin; seen in people with insulin resistance and diabetes, turns off the production of glucagon, the hormone that allows the body to release stored energy (body fat). Moreover, spikes and dips in blood glucose (blood sugar) effects energy levels and can trigger food cravings. Managing stress and maintaining optimal blood glucose levels throughout the day are key for weight management and improved health.
Physical activity of any kind helps to decrease the body’s level of stress hormone and has numerous other advantages, including; feeling good, aiding in weight management, increasing cardiovascular and bone health and preventing the development of chronic disease.
7.Working on improving your sleep
Inadequate and/or poor sleep quality disrupts your body’s balance of hormones (including those that regular hunger and fullness cues), reduces your energy, impacts mood and the choices you make. Working on your sleep is an excellent way to foster the balancing of these hormones – improving your energy, your mood and your choices to eat well and be physically active. Good sleep hygiene includes regular patter for wake and sleep, 7-8 hours of sleep in bed per 24 hours, bed associate with sleep (not TV), eliminating stimulants close to bed time, include daily exercise, eliminate food right before bed, daily exposure to natural light, relaxing bed time routine, comfortable good quality mattress, blackout blinds for improved darkness….. if you have tired everything, you may want to talk to your primary health practitioner for other causes such as sleep apnea.