Intuitive Eating: What Does This Mean, Anyway?

In the summer of 2007, I picked up a book that completely transformed the relationship I have with myself:

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A deep statement, huh? Well, there are few things that I can speak incredibly passionately about, and this book is one of them.

So I’ll tell you why.

When I first picked up this book, I was searching for answers. I was in the middle of a grueling internship where I was working around the clock, and my eating habits were all over the place. Stuck in the office at 3 or 4am, we would snack on anything that wasn’t nailed down just to keep us awake. I was so exhausted that I’d reach for sugar constantly. I needed more control, so I ventured into the book store to figure out some sort of diet plan.

This book popped out at me, and as I began to read about it, I just knew deep down that this book was my answer. Not temporarily, but for good.

The concept of Intuitive Eating (IE) first talks about completely scrapping the diet mentality. Who knows what is “best for us” anyway? One day you read something that says to eat a lot of protein, and then you read other books and research that says that animal protein causes cancer. Some research shows that dairy is an essential part of our diet and that it helps with bone strength and digestion, but other studies show that we should stay away from dairy as it causes breakouts and inflammation. So what the heck are we supposed to eat? Why are we trying to follow so many “rules” and guidelines from what we read?

In most cases, diets simply don’t work. It is widely quoted that 95% of people who diet end up failing, and so many of the people who temporarily lose weight just end up gaining it back and more.

Instead of dieting, Intuitive Eating proposes that we get in touch with our own bodies. Our bodies are insanely brilliant systems that know how to operate optimally. When we listen to what we actually crave, honor our hunger, and stop when we are full, this is when our bodies can thrive. And this is when natural weight loss occurs. Think about little kids– kids are intuitive eaters by nature. Before they learn all of the “shoulds” (what they should eat, when they should eat, etc.), they run around eating when they want, stopping when they are full, and maintaining healthy figures.

“Intuitive Eating provides a new way of eating that is ultimately struggle-free and healthy for your mind and body. It is a process that releases the shackles of dieting (which can only lead to deprivation, rebellion, and rebound weight gain). It means getting back to your roots- trusting your body and its signals. Intuitive Eating will not only change your relationship with food, it may change your life” – from the book, Intuitive Eating

At first, the concept of eating whatever I wanted seemed so scary to me. I thought for sure that I’d just eat bagels and ice cream all day. And to be honest, that is all I wanted for a while. I had deprived myself in my mind of so many things, that these are the foods I wanted to eat when I let myself. But over time, the need for all of the carbs and sugar went away because my body knew that it could have it at any time. There were no more rules.

Over the past few years, I have worked hard at this concept of adopting the Intuitive Eating principles. Intuitive Eating means trusting yourself, and trusting that your body will guide you in the perfect direction, knowing what is good for you personally.

Some things that I’ve personally learned about my own body through this process:

  • I’m a carb girl. I need them, I love them, and when I don’t have them, things get ugly.
  • I need a lot of fat in my diet – at every single meal.
  • I don’t always love eating breakfast right when I wake up. Also, on most days, I like eating lighter during the day and more in the evening. This goes against some standard nutrition advice, but it works well for my body.
  • I like some animal protein. Although I’ve tried veganism and vegetarianism at different times, it doesn’t work for me. My body craves some meat, on most days, but definitely not at every meal.
  • When I crave a lot of sugar, it almost always means I’m overwhelmed. I do other things now to take care of myself.

I could go on and on. It’s been a process, but this is what I truly believe is the answer for our issues with weight and diet frustrations. It’s about forgetting the information that is coming to us from the outside, and instead, looking inside. We have all of the answers we need, we just need to listen.

When I started getting really good at Intuitive Eating and listening to my body, the extra college weight just started falling off. I exercised intuitively too, in a way that felt good. I just keep eating in a way that felt good and exercising like that too, and everything just flowed. All of a sudden, weight loss was easy. I never feel deprived. I eat what I want, I (usually) stop when I’m full, I give in to all of my cravings, and I trust that those cravings are also in line with what is best for my health.

I’m going to be talking a lot about Intuitive Eating in the next couple of weeks. It has transformed my relationship to food, my body and my health completely, and not to get too deep on you, but it led to me trusting myself in every single area of my life and has brought about some amazing changes for me in those areas. People who teach Intuitive Eating say that IE is a gateway to Intuitive Living. I completely believe it. It’s all about looking within and trusting our intuition. Nobody knows us as well as we do.

I’m also going to be hosting a 21 Day Intuitive Eating challenge starting February 1st. During this challenge, I am going to focus on fine tuning the principles of Intuitive Eating in my own life for those 21 days, and I invite anyone else to participate with me. We will focus on thinking about what we crave throughout the day, eating what we want when we are actually hungry, stopping when we are full, and letting our bodies guide us. Throughout the challenge, I’ll send daily emails with practical tips about how to incorporate the IE principles into your lives, and I’ll provide 21 days of email support to help you through it. To sign up now, email me at jamiemendell@gmail.com¬†with the subject line “IE Challenge” and I’ll get you on the list.

As my friends and family know, I have been talking about Intuitive Eating for years and feel so strongly about it. I could literally talk your ear off about it if I was given the chance. I hope you like these posts and get something from all of the talkin’. I have so much more information for you to come in the next couple of weeks! Stay tuned.

I’m curious– have you heard of this concept before? Is it something you practice in your own life? What specific questions, if any, do you have about it that I can help answer over the next couple of weeks?

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