Happy New Year to all!
If you’re anything like me, the coming of a new year inevitably heralds the start of (yet another) new diet.
Perhaps we’ve overindulged a little on Christmas goodies and suddenly thoughts turn to the coming spring, and worse…bikini season. So begins another round of calorie counting, cutting out chocolate, and writing down every morsel of food that passes our lips. We deprive ourselves to the point of insanity so when our will power eventually wanes (and it always will!) we go mad, eating everything in sight and ending up heavier than when we started.
Sound familiar to anyone?
My diet adventure last year centered on a raw food regime. Now, I’m no nutritionist so I’m not going to completely reject the validity of a raw food diet for health reasons (I know many people swear by this lifestyle), but for me it was a disaster. As with every other diet I’ve ever tried, my initial enthusiasm quickly turned into obsession and I got to the point where I’d feel guilty if I ate some steamed brown rice with soy sauce (grains, cooked food, soy, noooooo!). The restrictive nature of my diet led me to binge on bread and pasta as soon as I gave myself ‘permission’ to have a ‘day off’.
Interestingly, at this point, when I was starting to think I was on the edge of developing a real problem with food, a friend (Andrea Wren, check out her blog, Chocolate and Beyond) introduced me to the concept of intuitive eating– and thank goodness she did! Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy that has taken the world by storm. For those who haven’t heard of it until now, it can also be described as a ‘non-diet’ approach to healthy eating, or ‘conscious eating’.
How it works
The principles of this approach to eating are at once incredibly simple, but also incredibly mind boggling for those who have fallen into a binge/fast cycle after years of dieting. Essentially, you have to abandon your familiar dieting ‘tools’ altogether. So stop counting calories, stop weighing and measuring your food, stop thinking that certain foods are off limits (apart from animal products of course!). Cake, pasta, cookies, bread, and chips are all on the list of foods you can enjoy.
Before you get too excited though, this is not a green light to start loading your shopping baskets with as much junk food as you can carry. Yes, you can eat whatever you like, but the key to intuitive eating is to really tune in to your body’s hunger cues. Stop eating just because the clock tells you it’s lunchtime. Eat when you’re truly hungry. This can take time for those who have abused their bodies with severe calorie restriction but with perseverance and time you will find yourself recognising genuine hunger.
So now that you are hungry it’s time to eat, but really focus on your food. Switch off the TV, put down your book, and pay attention to what you’re eating. Really enjoy the tastes and textures; listen to what your body is telling you. Are you full? If not, eat some more. If you are nicely satiated (and that doesn’t mean full to the point that you suddenly wish you were wearing a stretchy waistband) then stop. If there is still some food on your plate, don’t worry. Dismiss the memories of your Granny telling you that you must clear your plate because there are children starving in the world – eating too much and making yourself ill is more of a waste than throwing out a little food.
What to eat
As I said earlier, no (vegan) food is off limits but don’t go nuts! The point of eating this way is to make your body feel good. Eating endless meals full of refined sugars and high in fat and mammoth slices of cake are NOT going to make you feel energised and healthy, not in the long run – fresh fruits and veggies WILL.
Love your body
This is my favourite part of the philosophy- love your body as it is now and learn to accept your limitations. Bearing in mind that the majority of the models we see in magazines have been heavily airbrushed and that you may have your mum’s large chest or your dad’s short, stumpy legs, you have to work with your genetics. Don’t beat yourself up because you’ll never be a size 8. Skinny is not the goal. Purity is not the goal. A happy, healthy body AND mind is what it’s all about. I’ve breastfed two children, have an arse you could park a bike on and enough stretchmarks to draw a roadmap but I don’t really care anymore. I’m a healthy weight and my body gave me my two amazing boys. There’s no earthly point in worrying about the things I can’t change.
Does it work?
Time will tell! I’ve been following this approach (in a half hearted manner – I still watch TV, work or read sometimes when I eat) for a few weeks now and I have to say that I do feel different. I’m really enjoying my food. Instead of watching my boys tuck in to bowls of pasta while I reluctantly push around a plate of zucchini noodles, I get stuck in to the same dinner as the kids.
I’m not yet confident in identifying when I’m truly full (I’m getting there, though) and I may always have slight issues with food, so I’m countering this by serving up a smaller portion than I would have done in my days of overeating and filling up the rest of my plate with salads and veggies. I’m also still incorporating a lot of the foods I ate while I was following a raw diet; smoothies, huge salads served in a mixing bowl, raw cookies and brownies are still a big part of my food intake- not because I feel that I have to eat these things to keep the scales looking good, but because I feel great when I eat them and they taste nice. If I have a treat, I enjoy it, and because it’s not ‘forbidden’ and I haven’t ‘broken my diet’, I do feel less inclined to throw my hands up in despair and eat the entire packet of biscuits. I am not ‘there’ yet and perhaps never will be but I’m sincerely hoping that this will be the start of a new phase for me, a phase which will allow me a level of peace and enjoyment that I haven’t had around food since I was a child.
And yes, I have lost a few pounds – but as I hope you are beginning to realise, that is just the icing on the cake.