As a naturopathic doctor, I am often asked – What do you eat? Often this comes from a place of hope – perhaps, as a doctor, I’ve ‘figured it out’ and found the ONE diet that will save us all. I used to jump to respond: “Oh, I’m Paleo”, or keto, or vegan, or whatever trend I had tried on for that moment. Often, these diets would initially make me feel pretty good. Generally, they emphasize real food which – hey, what an idea – is healthy. But this truth is not limited to a fad diet – it is a universal truth that we all have access too: when we nourish our bodies, we feel better.
However, when we are constrained by the limitations of a diet, we are in a state of fear. So after over a decade of culinary restrictions, I finally broke free, and I no longer diet. If I had to characterize – I eat mostly plant-based nutrient-dense homemade meals, sometimes decadent dining out, 100% gluten-free (I have celiac disease), and always intuitive. I choose intuition over restriction and within this, I am at peace rather than in fear.
The emotions we bring to the table are half the equation. There is a reciprocal relationship between the meal and you, the eater. When we arrive at meal in a state of peace, honored by the company we keep, and thankful for the nutrients we we will receive, food transforms into nourishment.
To create an intuitive relationship with food, I keep these principles in mind –
- Choose love. Love for myself, for animals, for the environment.
Every time we eat we are casting a vote. We can vote for local businesses, ethical farming and eco-friendly practices or we can support large corporation that see the food industry simply as a moneymaking machine. We can make choices from a place of love – for animals, the environment, and ourselves. We can extend our beliefs into action and reflect our deep connection to Mother Nature.
- Consider the root of cravings
We talk about cravings as if they are shackles – ‘Ugh, I NEED chocolate’ – ‘I just can’t go to a movie without having popcorn’ – ‘I’m addicted to carbs’. We perceive ourselves as powerless to their restraints, viewing them as controlling forces that cannot be predicted, controlled, or reigned in.
However, there are many levels to cravings that, if explored, can help guide us towards what we truly need. When a craving appears, I ask myself a few questions:
What texture is this food? Am I craving the texture of the food, more than the food itself?
What nutrients are in this food? Is it possible I’m craving the nutrients, rather than the food itself?
What emotion am I feeling right now? It is possible I’m tired (sad, stressed, overwhelmed, etc), and would actually benefit from rest, meditation, or something else restorative, rather than this food?
Is this a habit? Am I craving this food simply because I have created a habit around it?
Sometimes I go through all of these questions and I. still. want. the thing. But at least I understand where the craving is coming, rather than feeling powerless to it.
Deep down, we know what food nourishes us. We don’t need to read a book, watch a documentary, or search through a grocery store. When we strip away the root of cravings, we discover an ancestral voice that recognizes food. As Mark Hyman says – “There’s no such thing as junk food. There’s junk and there’s food”. I’m convinced that our bodies – with their infinite wisdom – recognize food when they see it, taste it, and feel it.
- Highlight pleasure
Food is pleasure. In my family, we discuss meals we had years ago – unfolding them like a delicious treat, reveling in the tastes, the company, the location, and sometimes, the amazing price. Eating intuitively does not mean abandoning pleasure. If anything, we connect to the deepest pleasure: the knowledge that we are fuelling our body, mind, and spirit in such a way that we will be thanked for today, and down the road.
- Create an experience
In order for our body to create the digestive juices necessary to break down and absorb our food, we have to allow our nervous system to settle into a state of ‘rest and digest’, rather than ‘fight or flight’ (our stress response). Eating off the side of our desk, scarfing down a meal in the car, or sneaking bites between meetings is not conducive to a relaxed state. Have a meal in peace, screen-free, and notice the difference – can you pick out different flavors in the meal? How quickly do you eat, if given ample time? And most importantly, do you notice how full you are, before you are stuffed?
- No punishment
If food is pleasure, it cannot also be punishment. We can’t honor the nourishing gift of nutrition, while also loading up on guilt to carry around for the rest of the day. We can’t choose love while also bargaining with ourselves that we’ll punish ourselves with ‘x amount of exercise’ in order to ‘earn’ this treat. Every day, we are simply trying our best. If you don’t make a decision that honors your truth, let it go, and begin again.
- Make my own rules
Contrary to popular belief, gossip magazines don’t know what’s best for you. Neither does a celebrity who ‘lost 10 pounds’. Or the latest celebrity to endorse a diet pill or plan. Can we all agree that we are incredibly unique, individual creatures with different needs, routines, cravings, and budgets? Then why would any diet be one-size-fits-all? You have the capacity to make your own rules. Ever better, you can….
- Throw out the rules sometimes
If we get too caught up in rules, we are bringing fear to the table. Each bite becomes an opportunity for fear and control. We fear what food will mean for us, so we seek to control our diet. We fear the effect on our bodies; we seek to restrict the potential damage. We fear we are not good enough so we deny ourselves the nourishment we truly deserve. Intuitive eating means recognizing what we need and sometimes, this means throwing everything out the window and eating the damn cake (or steak, or pizza).
Choose intuition over restriction and find peace rather than fear Click To Tweet We can't honor the nourishing gift of nutrition, while also loading up on guilt Click To Tweet