Intuitive Eating for Emotional Wellbeing

So, how’s the diet for summer going? If you’re about to let us know your current progress, may we stop you there? Like, literally stop you calorie counting, restricting and weighing? Stop you criticising, shaming and berating your body? Stop you wasting your time, energy and money. Because the thing is, that diets don’t work- and this week’s post is going to explain (briefly!) exactly why that’s the case. Read on to find out more about intuitive eating, and how it can impact on your emotional wellbeing- and how the practise can be way better for you than a diet this summer.

Diets don’t work

See, most of us know this already. How many times have you decided you needed to ‘drop a few pounds’ for that bikini you bought for your holiday, only to end up miserable, hungry and frustrated at the results? Sure, you may lose said few pounds, but at what cost? Is feeling hungry, miserable and frustrated really worth it? And what happens when you stop that diet (because nobody can truly live a happy, intentional life if they’re constantly denying themselves the foods and drinks they like to consume to make them feel good) and the pounds creep back on? Inevitably, those pounds that crept back bring a few more with them, thus beginning the whole cycle again- until you realise one day that you’ve been ‘on a diet’ for most of your adult life… because diets don’t work.

Here at Little Soap we advocate for tuning in to your body, respecting the amazing mechanisms that are in place, and listening to the cues it gives you. We’re passionate believers in mindful practises, and this encompasses everything we do- including eating. We’ve written in the past about ‘super foods’ but these are really only super if they are right for your body. If they nourish your body and your soul, make you happy and leave you feeling satisfied, content and in control. We’ve also written about delicious (vegan) chocolatey treats and desserts because it’s all about balance! And when you find that balance, your happiness levels increase. Clever, huh? This is why we’ve decided to share a little insight into intuitive eating, to help you break the cycle of ‘diets for summer’ and to restore your faith in your own abilities to feed and nourish your body instead. Here are three little ways you can start your journey today.

Honour your hunger

What happens when we put ourselves on a diet and refuse the delicious foods we want to eat? We think about them. A lot. We start to daydream about cake, biscuits, crisps- or whatever it is you’ve decided are off the menu until that bikini fits. It might be foods that you don’t really eat much of at all, but once you put restrictions on those foods, you start to really really want to eat them. More over, you start to deny yourself food when you’re hungry. How many of us have decided it’s time to ‘cut down’ on a Monday morning only to find that the tummy rumbles are so immense by 11am that it’s hard to concentrate on anything else?

Intuitive eating advises you to respect that hunger and not deny it. Yes, this goes against diet culture. But no, you are not ‘failing’ or doing yourself a disservice. You are honouring your body and it’s very clever cues. You are nourishing your body and you are feeding your soul. The idea is that when you honour your hunger, you’re sending signals to your brain that everything is ok. Food is here, food is plenty and there is no need to panic. If you don’t honour that hunger and decide to push through, the exact opposite can happen. The brain and body begin to panic, think that food is in scarcity and the cravings and hunger pangs intensify. When this happens, it can hard to control them when you do decide it’s time to eat. Hello inhaling a whole tub of ice cream the minute you come in through the door… Honour your hunger, listen to your body and eat mindfully and with intention.

Respect your fullness

Just as it’s important to listen to your body’s hunger cues, it’s vital that you eat with intention so that you’re able to recognise when it’s time to stop. Being so hungry that you just want to eat everything in site is counter-intuitive to this and can result in over eating, feeling terrible, and starting the whole starve/ binge cycle over and over again.

Take your time to eat. Make your plate look nice, and sit down at a table to eat it. Look at your food. Pay attention to the flavours, textures and aromas. Make it a special occasion, and enjoy every single bite! When you eat more slowly, you’re more able to recognise the signs of fullness, and when it’s time to push your plate away. If you can’t finish your meal, that’s ok. Save the rest for later, telling yourself that there is plenty of food, it’s not going to waste and there is no need to crave more.

Adopt a sense of food neutrality

Years of being on diets and listening to the media, advice from friends and reading magazines tells us that there are ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods. Intuitive eating dismisses this as codswallop and this is why. Food is food. There are good choices and better choices, but at the end of the day your personal preference is yours and yours alone. If you eat with intention and you honour hunger and fullness signals, you are going to be ok. Viewing food as neutral means that there are no foods off limits (with dietary restrictions for allergies, intolerances and ethical choices aside) and if all food is available to you then you are less likely to view it on a pedestal. And if a ‘naughty’ food is not on a pedestal, you’re less likely to crave and crave and crave it in excess. You can take it or leave it, it’s not a big deal.

Intuitive Eating takes practise

Lots of us eat intuitively already, but lots of us don’t- and we all have days where we overeat or feel bad about our food choices. We’re all human after all! Intuitive eating takes practise, and it can take a long time to un-do the years of diet mentality and restriction we may have become used to. Some recommend reading for you: check out the London Centre for Intuitive Eating and Laura Thomas’ book Just Eat It; and this guide from the British Heart Foundation for starters. Be kind to yourself. Remember that this is a journey towards a healthier body and a healthier mind, and the results will last a lot longer than the diet you’re currently on to ‘lose a few pounds’.