Summer is here, which means warmer weather, BBQs, and tan lines. It also means that you can’t check out at the grocery store without at least ten magazines shouting at you to “get bikini ready!” Tis the season for the latest diet to take you from “fab to flab” by Friday’s pool party. But, if you’re like me and have tried dieting in the past, then you know the truth: the results never last and often they leave you gaining back every pound you lost and then some. Not only that, but a diet is an invitation to the rollercoaster of restriction and overeating. This is not the fun kind of summer rollercoaster you want to go on with your friends.
There was a time when I didn’t know that there was any other way to live. I thought my only options were: (1) to be on a diet trying to “fix” my body or (2) to feel completely out of control around food while shoveling all of the non-diet things into my face. For years I lived my life like this, desperately wanting to be free from the cycle but not having any idea how to make it happen. Thankfully my crash dieting days came to an end when I was introduced to intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is a set of principles that quiet the external rules and “shoulds” of dieting (like when you should eat, what you should eat, and how much food is acceptable) and, instead, lets you become the expert on what is right for you. This anti-diet approach teaches you the skills you need to listen to your own body’s cues and discover what will help you feel your best each and every day (no counting, food lists, or measuring required). Intuitive eating is a self-care practice that has allowed me to experience freedom around food and transformed the way I feel in my own body.
If you’re craving that health, happiness, and freedom in your life this summer, here are a few tips for eating intuitively after years of crash dieting:
1. Practice Compassion
Great news: you no longer need to “fix” yourself. Even better? There is no such thing as “failing” at intuitive eating. You can’t fall off of the wagon, cheat, or mess up. Instead, this is a journey of connecting with yourself, discovering what you need, and learning to take excellent care of yourself because you are inherently worthy.
Intuitive eating is about building a relationship with yourself and compassionate communication is an essential component to any relationship. Creating a nurturing dialogue with yourself will help you to make choices from a place of nourishment rather than punishment, which is a big shift if you come from a dieting past.
The more you practice treating yourself like you would a best friend, the easier self-compassion will become. Start by connecting regularly with your intuition (that gentle, honest voice inside) and asking:
- What would feel really good for me to do for or say to myself?
- What do I need more of?
Once you discover what you need, follow through! This creates trust within yourself, allows you to hear your intuition more clearly, and helps you shift from a punishment to a nourishment mindset.
2. Connect To Your Desired Feeling
With diets, the guiding force behind all choices is “will this help or hinder weight loss?” But, with intuitive eating, we shift our focus from weight loss to feeling the way that we desire in our bodies.
To discover how you want to feel, give yourself a moment to connect with your intuition and become present in your body. It might help to sit down, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself:
- What do I want to experience that I’m not currently experiencing in my body?
- How do I ideally want to feel?
Notice that little voice that speaks to you and the images that flash in your mind. What does your body want you to know? How does she desire to feel? Jot down the words that come up for you (i.e. energized, relaxed, playful, satisfied etc.) and let those words guide you as you navigate your choices.
The next time you’re deciding what to eat, ask yourself:
- What would taste good to me and also help me to feel [enter one or more of your words here]?
Every time you eat is a great opportunity to experiment with listening to your body and connecting with your desired state.
3. Get Curious
Dieting is all about making judgments (i.e. good v. bad), while intuitive eating allows us to ditch that judgment and trade it in for curiosity. Rather than being judgmental about your food choices, start to get curious with yourself and connect with your body’s biological signals. Here are a few of my favorite questions to help you begin to check in with what your body needs around food:
- What foods do I truly enjoy?
- What does hunger feel like in my body?
- Am I hungry right now?
- How would I like to feel when this meal is over? What food do I imagine will help me feel that way?
- How does [insert food or meal] taste while I am eating it?
- Is there something I could easily change right now (i.e. putting my phone away or adding a seasoning to my dish) that could help me enjoy this food more?
- Do I feel satisfied with what I’ve eaten or do I need a little more food?
- How did [insert food or meal] make me feel?
It can be scary to leave the “rules” of dieting behind because for many of us (myself included!) structure can feel so safe. These questions and intentional curiosity provide some healthy structure so that you can feel confident as you begin intuitive eating.