I don’t know many women who are happy with their bodies. In fact, most ladies I talk to are trying to lose weight, whether it’s 5lbs or 50lbs and whether they are 25 or 55. Perhaps some of their comments will sound familiar to you: “I just need more will power,” “I just need to find the right diet,” and “My diet starts on Monday.”
Did you know that if you diet, there is at least a 93% chance that you will continue to progressively gain weight over the long term? And that at least 95% of people who lose weight will gain more back within two to five years? That gives you a 5% chance of success over the long term. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need much more to convince me that diets don’t work. Aside, of course, from my 20-years of personal experience with binging, emotional eating, dieting, fasting and over-exercising.
Do you find that as soon as you start a diet, you become aware of all the foods you are not allowed to eat, and then suddenly that’s all you want? It has been well documented that periods of deprivation lead to binge eating and over eating. Restriction triggers the diet-binge-gain cycle in which so many women are caught.
How would you feel if you ate what you wanted to eat, when you wanted to eat it, maintained a stable weight and loved your body? I think most of us would feel pretty amazing.
If you are looking for the “miracle diet,” I have the answer: intuitive eating. It’s not the easy path, but it is the one that will lead you to a place where you can feel great about your body. It may involve feeling uncomfortable at first, looking at unhappy life situations and emotions you’ve suppressed for years, and could lead to major life changes. It might be scary at times, but the payoff is well worth it.
What is intuitive eating? Intuitive eating is not a diet. It’s about listening to your body, and I mean really paying attention and tuning in. It means turning off the TV and computer, putting your phone away, closing the book or magazine in front of you and focusing on your food. Eat without distractions at every meal and snack. Notice how you know when you are hungry, what sensations do you feel? Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are satisfied (not stuffed). Chew your food well (30-50 chews per mouthful). Eat what you want to eat, but really pay attention to it. What does it feel like in your mouth? What do you like about it? Is it the crunchy texture? Perhaps it is the colour or flavour. Or maybe you are suddenly realizing that you don’t actually like your usual go-to comfort food all that much.
Once you identify what your body really wants and how much of it, you might be surprised to discover that it isn’t a syrupy latte, potato chips or a chocolate bar, but actually fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. When I stopped listening to my brain, which told me I should be a vegetarian, and started listening to my body, I discovered I needed to eat meat, several times a day in fact. And although this didn’t fit in with what I thought my values were, I feel so much better now!
Sitting quietly and eating can be challenging, because you are alone with your thoughts and emotions. If this is very uncomfortable, journaling while you eat can be helpful. Write down your feelings while you are eating, and you will begin to see patterns emerge. It’s not about the food, it’s about the emotions, and once you start to connect more to your emotions and express them, the charge you feel around food will start to fade.
So what do you do with the emotions you are suddenly feeling? With the patterns you are seeing? Often, you might find you need outside support. Everyone is different, but some of the resources that have helped me in my journey to intuitive eating are: counseling, life coaching, hypnosis, breathing meditations, Reiki and craniosacral work.
Intuitive eating also means accepting your body as it is in this moment. Right now there is probably a little voice somewhere inside your head saying “Now way, not looking like this! That will happen once I lose the weight.” I can hear mine, although it’s become much quieter lately. Accepting your body as it is right now can be the most challenging part, it certainly has been for me. But what has hating your body brought you? Perhaps it is time to try loving and listening to your body and seeing what happens. If you feel like you don’t trust your body not to gain weight, it’s likely because you’ve stopped listening to it.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is not just about what you put in your mouth (although a healthy whole foods diet is ideal), it’s about looking after yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Exercise and a clean diet can make a big difference, but developing a healthy relationship with food is key. Chances are you are not going to drop 10lbs in a week, or even a month, but over a period of time your weight will stabilize, and over your lifetime you will be happier because of your healthy relationship with food and your body. You won’t be in the diet-binge-gain cycle anymore and you won’t keep gaining weight.
Everyone’s specific needs will be different, but the answer is clear: pay attention to your body and trust what it is telling to you. Listen to it whisper, so you don’t have to hear it scream.