Food for Thought: Intuitive Eating

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I saw this article in Breaking Muscle and thought it beneficial for many of our members. Whether it's sleep, thirst, hunger, or the need to take a rest day - when you stop listening to your body, you are setting yourself up for dysfunction.  Are you listening?

Shh. Do you hear it? It’s speaking - your body. If you are like most people, you missed it: your own body and its signals.

Some of these signals may sound (or feel) like this:

  • Growling stomach
  • Headache or lightheadedness
  • Shakiness
  • Clouded thinking
  • Fatigue

But are you hearing what your body is telling you with these signals? Your ability to do so could have a direct impact on your health.

Your Body Is Trying to Tell You Something

On any given day, our bodies send hundreds of thousands of messages to various cells, organs, systems, and metabolic processes in order to keep things functioning in tip-top shape and in a state of homeostasis (a happy medium) - or at least as close to it as possible. 

Think about your sleep patterns. How do you know when it’s time to go to bed? Your body tells you. Your breathing becomes deeper and more subdued. You yawn. You think about hitting the sack. You’re tired. Try as you might to not listen, sleep is one of those things in your body’s wiring that is inevitable. Eventually, you will become so tired you have to sleep.

But then look at your eating habits. Thanks to the fast-paced society we live in, it’s easy to lose touch with our body’s signals when it comes to food. We eat on the go, eat on the couch, drive through the takeout line, and scarf down lunch at our desk between meetings. 

Unfortunately, if you aren’t in touch with what your body is saying, you are missing out on a key component to your health - intuitiveness.  Today, we are talking about intuitive eating. How to know what your body needs, what it doesn’t need, and what it is saying when it comes to your nutrition.

So let’s take a look at the signals we’re missing and how to get better attuned to them.

Getting in Touch With Your Feelings

How do you know you are hungry? A growling stomach or feeling a little bit shaky, right? And how about full? Bloated, stuffed, satiated, or no longer hungry? 

When you experience these feelings, what do you do about them? Reach for the nearest snack (be it a vending machine snack bar or a run through that fast-food restaurant on the way home from a long day at work)? Or do you prepare a wholesome, nutritious meal you know will hit the spot when it comes to your hunger? 

As for fullness, do you put your fork down and push the plate away, satisfied? Or do you keep eating until the plate is clean because it tastes so darn good, even though you are stuffed? Are you listening?

Do you get heartburn or indigestion? These flare-ups are your body’s ways of telling you that you’ve eaten something it can’t properly digest. When you experience these symptoms, do you pop a TUMS and forget about it once the discomfort has passed? Or do you make a note of what caused the indigestion and avoid eating it in the future? 

Or allergies. When your nose gets stuffy, throat gets sore, or your eyes get puffy, do you consider the pizza-and-ice cream fest you had over the weekend as a key indicator for your sniffles and sneezes? Or do you take your inhaler, pop your Claritin, and fire up the humidifier?

Or, one more, headaches. When a headache strikes around 3:00pm, do you reach for the Advil and try to power through the pounding? Or do you ask yourself if you might be dehydrated, hungry for some lasting power (such as protein and fat), or sleep deprived from the night before and relying too much on coffee?

More than likely, most of these symptoms are nutrition related, and if you do a little bit of digging and a little bit of listening, you could solve 80-90% of your daily aches, pains, and body naggings.

Learning to Be Mindful 

Try this simple exercise during your next meal to begin practicing the art of intuitive eating:

  1. Prior to the meal, rate your hunger level on a scale of one to ten (one being famished, ten being Thanksgiving-stuffed). 
  2. Acknowledge and note how are you feeling going into the meal (mood, physically, mentally, etc.). Are you shaky? Sleepy? Irritable? Worried or anxious? Emotional? A little nauseated? 
  3. During your meal, try to enjoy it. Chew your food thoroughly. Allow for twenty to thirty minutes to enjoy at least one meal a day. Put your fork down between bites. Check in with your hunger and fullness cues throughout. Notice your hunger dissipate.
  4. Following the meal, rate your fullness level on that same one-to-ten scale.

Acknowledge and note how you feel now. Energetic? Sluggish? Content? Bloated? Headache-free? Can you see or feel a distinct connection between when you eat a banana and how your workout goes in the gym? What about the meal of chicken and broccoli that you paired with half an avocado? Did you notice longer-lasting energy and clearer thinking? As opposed to when you just ate the chicken and broccoli dry and alone? 

Begin to practice this exercise. Like anything, the more you do it, the more second nature it becomes. Ultimately, only you can listen - and determine - what your body is saying. Are you listening?