How to Eat Intuitively (You Already have Everything you Need)

In the days of incessant dieting, the concept of “intuitive eating” is alluring and it is somewhat of a trending topic as of late in the health community.

I can eat whatever I want?

Yes, actually you can! 

But, there is a but (of course). A beautiful little caveat. 

The Key to Intuitive Eating:

In order for your body to give you the proper signals of what it needs, it needs to be fed well in the first place. 

Think of it this way, for a tomato plant to grow and pull in the nutrients it needs and position itself appropriately to sunlight, it needs nutrient dense soil, plenty of water, access to sunlight, and proper support. A tomato seed will not sprout let alone thrive if it’s covered with a layer of gunk and it’s only source of food is Gatorade. We know this innately and if you’re a movie buff, you saw it play out in Idiocracy (one of the most brilliantly stupid movies that I have ever seen - I actually think my IQ lowered watching it but that is a testament to the brilliance of the film).

Likewise, you cannot expect your body to tell your brain “mmm I would love a nice salmon fillet and a big salad with some cheese and olives for dinner,” if you fancy a candy bar and energy drink for breakfast and a chemically infused cheese burger, processed bun, and sodium ladened, inflammatory fries for lunch - nearly all void of nutrients. No, those food-like products when eaten on the daily actually confuse your brain and can cause impaired memory and learning, anxiety, depression and can lead to a number of diseases (more on that here).

What we eat and drink literally fuels every single part of our body, including our brain.

Photo by    Brooke Lark    on    Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

This post isn’t to deter you from ever reaching for a container of full fat delicious ice cream, or from chowing down on a sodium-rich (hopefully responsibly raised) hotdog, or indulging in a cocktail on occasion, but it is to give you encouragement to make those indulgences 5-20% of your diet and 80-95% real whole foods as close to their natural state as possible for the rest of your diet. The 80/20ish is something that I have embraced in my life for many years and I have found it has not only worked for me but it is has made it possible for me to naturally and authentically eat intuitively.

To be healthy, you do not need to be restricted. In fact, that is a contributor to an unhealthy lifestyle and detrimental to both for your physical and emotional wellbeing. Restriction is not a sign of willpower, the willpower comes with the balance.

Eating can be very joyous and pleasurable. And, indulging is not only good for your body for harmony but your mind and soul as well. Food and particularly sharing both cooking and eating with others has been ingrained in cultures all over the world for hundreds of years. Very few things beat sitting around a table with loved ones and enjoying a wholesome home cooked meal filled with nutrient dense delightful bites. I’m a firm believer that if something is homemade and made with love - it has health benefits no matter what the ingredients are (so please, welcome Grandma’s Chocolate Cake on special occasions!). BTW, there are numerous quantifiable studies that have been done on the importance of dining together, hit up Google if you’d like to dig in.

I’ve talked to some who follow a strict 80/20 or 90/10 rule and follow the guideline during the week and binge on the weekends. While this may seem tempting, I caution you as this could be a wide open door to disordered eating. Binging in any form does not typically set us up for success. I prefer to get my 5-10-20% daily with delicious dark chocolate, coffee (if you consider that an indulgence), some olive or avocado oil potato chips here and there, some oat bread (though I’d argue that’s part of the 80%), or a gluten free cookie etc.

When your body is fed with nutrient dense whole foods, it’s set up to intuitively feel and give your brain signals on what you are truly craving. If you’re like me those cravings are: Salmon, dark chocolate, fresh veggies, a big bowl of fruit, nuts, oats, eggs, a (preferably venison) steak, and yes even some french fries, chips, french toast, pizza, and ice cream every so often. This is when you can begin to form a trusting relationship with your body. After fueling your body (80-90% of the time) with nutrient dense foods, if your body wants something you consider an indulgence, chances are you should trust it and just eat the thing. I don’t recommend curbing that craving with a substitute - rarely does that work long term. A few macadamia nuts will not take your french fry craving away. The key, is setting your body up for success to give those true intuitive signals in the first place. When you do this you will have less urgent cravings for purely indulgent foods.

A couple of rule of thumb guides around cravings:

  • If the thought of it makes your mouth water, the craving is not coming from your body’s intuition (unfortunate I know!) and it’s not hunger

  • If the craving is urgent but you are not actually feeling hungry, it’s not coming from your body’s intuition and it’s not hunger

  • If the craving is urgent and you are hungry, it may be your body’s intuition - start off with nutrient dense foods and eat slowly to determine how much or how little (or any at all) of the indulgence you truly need

  • Hunger is often gradual and lends you the ability to make thoughtful decisions on what you will eat

  • You can absolutely still follow a craving but just be aware of that situation so that you can eat more mindfully

We are bombarded with diet plans, weight-loss regimens, and images of what we should look like yet surrounded by food-like products that don’t support our wellbeing. It’s no wonder so many people feel at a loss.

Paleo, Keto, Raw, Raw Vegan, Macrobiotic, <insert trend here,> all work for a time despite their polarity. Why? Because they all (if followed correctly) eliminate processed food and introduce more natural foods. You do this and you will feel better and you will almost definitely shed some pounds, it’s that simple. Not only that, but folks who adopt these trendy diets usually start changing other aspects of their health too. They start working out more, walking, meditating, listening to self-help podcasts, reading self-help books, taking up different fun and playful activities such as SUP or dancing - you do this all in combination with removing processed foods and you are going to feel better regardless of which trendy path you take with your meals.

The diet and weight-loss market in America is worth 72 billion dollars annually (2019 research report). While folks are taking less diet-pills a trend of the 80s and 90s, and taking on more do-it-yourself programs (i.e. read something online and then do it), remember by following someone else’s plan - you are denying yourself the chance to learn about what works for you. There is nothing wrong with researching but remember that your body has all of the answers when given the opportunity.

You know more than you think do when it comes to what to eat.

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With love,

-AEB 

 

I Am Alive - My Eating Disorders are Too

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

I've written numerous posts on eating disorders  and specifically my eating disorders. And I've been debating about whether or not I should write this one. 

I'm not sure why exactly except for the fact that it's very painful for me and I have been in continuous recovery now for nearly two years. This is something I am not sure I ever thought was possible. And quite honestly, there was a time that I didn't want it to be possible. I was afraid of who I would be without my eating disorders and I was afraid of what I would look like. And most of all, I was afraid of the lack of control I would have over my eating - and my life if I didn't have my eating disorders. 

For those of you that don't know, the eating disorders I struggle with are: Orthorexia and Anorexia Nervosa. In short, orthorexia is a lesser known but increasingly prevalent eating disorder in which the person is so fixated on being healthy and eating healthy that it becomes unhealthy. 

To give you a tiny glimpse: I was in my mid-20s (5'4") and weighed a whopping 95 lbs. Mind you, prior to my eating disorders I was very healthy all around with a strong frame and weighed about 118 lbs. In the depths of eating disorders, I landed myself in the hospital twice with agonizing stomach pains and long story short - my pain was due to the fact that I wasn't eating enough food for my digestive system to function properly. I was so severely depleted of nutrients and under my "set" weight for so long that it took my body four years to regain my menstrual cycle. 

This post isn't to mull over everything that my eating disorders are and everything that they are not - I have done that several times over and you may read them in links posted above if you choose.

This post is to honor my past struggles with my eating disorders, celebrate the leaps and bounds I have made in my recovery, and stay humble in knowing that my demon may rear it's head at anytime. 

I recently did an interview with a women's health magazine on Orthorexia and was asked if I am "fully recovered." No, I am not and don't believe that I ever will be. I have not acted on my eating disorder thoughts. Those thoughts are not as strong as they once were but they are still within me. It's still something I face every day, with every meal, and I have made a commitment to myself to not allow my eating disorders to control me. 

I have eating disorder thoughts now and for the most part, I am able to see those thoughts for what they are and say "hey, I hear you, and I'm not going to listen."

I have finally come to a place in my life were intuitive eating is something that comes naturally to me. I never knew this to be possible. I was so reliant on other people's concepts and viewpoints that I lost the connection with my own body and hunger. At some point, I will write more about the how in intuitive eating because I think it's essential for me to live a peaceful life with food and I think others could benefit from more of that story - but I want to keep this post about my celebration and raise awareness about the types of eating disorders, dangers, and offer hope to those struggling.  

This week (February 26th-March 4th) is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. It's always a time where I reflect deeply about the long battle I have had since 2010. Over the course of those eight years, there were times that I was in complete denial about my eating disorders, other times were I was acutely aware yet succumbed to the panic, and other times I tore through walls I never knew I had the strength to bust apart. And, it was not a linear journey - at all. I had many relapses in both my thinking and behavior. And, while thoughts may not be visible - they can be just as destructive - trapped in your mind, consumed by obsession. 

Left: my Dad and I, winter 2012 (95 lbs) ; right: my nephew and I, summer 2017 &nbsp;(? lbs I don't weigh myself)

Left: my Dad and I, winter 2012 (95 lbs) ; right: my nephew and I, summer 2017  (? lbs I don't weigh myself)

Over the years, I found myself in various parts across the country and I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for the people who helped me along the way.

My dearest family and friends, I would not be where I am today without you. Thank you.

And, to my loving boyfriend who helps to keep me so grounded - you amaze me each day. You are my rock. I love cooking for you - for us and reminding myself of "oh yes, this what a wholesome meal looks like." I love you so much my darling, my sweet. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for your support. 

A diet will never be able to tell you how to eat like your body can. Once you trust your body, it will teach you everything you need to know. 

With love & gratitude,

-AEB