There is no "perfect diet" for everyone, our bodies and minds are all so different and what works for one person may be the last thing that works for you. I think part of the reason that it's so hard to figure out what really works for us as individuals is because we live in a time where social media influencers and celebrities can post about a diet or workout that they're trying and the next day thousands of people will be following the same routine. Just because it works for one of your idols does not mean it is going to work for you, you are completely different people with different goals, bodies, lifestyles and mindsets. All "diets" are not created equal although they do have one thing in common, they're all restrictive in some way - whether it be portion sizes or cutting out certain foods all together, restriction does not work, it just makes us crave the restricted foods more and eventually can leads to bingeing or falling off the wagon completely.
I am someone who has struggled for years to find balance in loving my body and actually enjoying my life. Before I got into fitness and nutrition as a career and actually educated myself I was that girl trying all of the fad diets and restricting myself in any and every way possible to try and get to my goals. I have counted macros and calories for the last 18 months or so and it worked really well for me, I didn't feel deprived and I got to my goals but I started to become obsessive over tracking my food intake. There were days where if I didn't hit my macros spot on I would freak out and (many) days where if I went over I'd just say "f*ck it" and keep eating to excess and end up full on bingeing, it wasn't healthy anymore. So when I decided not to compete in the middle of September I also decided that number based eating was no longer working for me and started to transition to intuitive eating.
If you're tired of failing at fad diets, counting calories, weighing your food and feeling deprived it may be time to reconnect with your body, food is not only fuel but also one of the biggest pleasures in life and it needs to be seen as both of those things. Feeling deprived or restricted is no way to live, trust me I've done it.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS INTUITIVE EATING?
Intuitive eating is eating like a normal rational, sane human being - not weighing everything that goes in your mouth, not looking at food and seeing numbers, not obsessing over calories or macros and certainly not restricting, depriving or bingeing, in any way.
It is eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full, fuelling your body with foods that genuinely make you feel good and enjoying the foods that you love in moderation. By actual definition it is; “someone who makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honours hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating.” It's listening to your body and getting rid of the negative guilt that surrounds dieting and eating in general.
If you think about it we are raised to eat intuitively, as a baby you cried when you were hungry and then your mom would feed you until you didn't want to be fed anymore. Our bodies are so smart, it knows what we need and when we need it, we just have to learn to listen again.
HOW DO I START TO MAKE THE TRANSITION?
STOP FAD DIETING
There is no magic pill or overnight miracle solution, diets do not work long term, period. Diets aren't sustainable or enjoyable and more often than not they lead us to having negative relationships with food, our bodies and ourselves. The whole point of intuitive eating is learning to give your body what it needs when it needs it so that we are left mentally and physically satisfied.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY'S CUES
It seems simple enough, eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full but unfortunately we have been brainwashed to restrict ourselves in such a way that hunger feels normal to most of us. One of the most important pieces of advice that I can give when it comes to hunger is do not wait until you are starving to eat, this leads to overeating which results in being way too full, quite bloated and not feeling super great about yourself mentally or physically. Aim to eat when you start to feel hungry but not when you are ravenous and try to stop eating when you start to feel satisfied but not yet full, this allows your body time to digest and actually become full. It takes around 20 minutes to actually feel the sensation of being full from a meal, so give yourself time to digest and try not to overeat.
DEVELOP A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
This is the part that people usually have a hard time with in this process. Since most of us have been living with diet brain for years it can be hard to look at food as just food and not as a way to gain or lose weight. This is the point in the process where you need to allow yourself to have the foods that you have been restricting yourself from, do not think of it as a binge or a "cheat" think of it as welcoming these foods back into your life. By letting yourself indulge for a while in the foods you've been so desperately missing, the appeal will ware off because they are no longer off limits, you will stop to crave these foods and realize that you don't need to have them every day in order to feel good. Everything is healthy in moderation.
DITCH THE FOOD RULES
We all have them, dietary restrictions that we have made up for ourselves because we think that they are what we need to do (or not do) in order to be healthy. "I don't eat carbs", "I have to stop eating 3 hours before I go to sleep", "I can only have a treat if I do a longer cardio session tomorrow", "I don't eat bread" - this one is especially funny to me because come on.. bread is amazing and we all know it. The only thing that these rules do for us is create unhealthy relationships with certain food and push us closer to cheating on our so called restrictions. I dare you to go have a piece of bread, or chocolate or anything that you have been depriving yourself of - and I dare you to enjoy it and not think of the calories or numbers or anything negative.
FIND SATISFACTION IN FOOD AGAIN
Through dieting we are taught to deprive ourselves of so much and rarely feel satisfied, can you remember the last time you ate and actually felt satisfaction with no guilt afterwards? It's actually very rare for most people. Part of this process is figuring out which foods truly satisfy your hunger and cravings while also satisfying your body's micronutrient needs! If you are craving something it usually means your body is deficient in that thing, ask yourself things like; "What do I want to eat?", "Do I want something sweet or savoury?", "How hungry am I?" Learn to experiment with foods, find your favourite vegetables and fruits and include them often, eat a variety of foods not only to feel good but also to keep your body nourished through all of the different vitamins and minerals that food has to offer.
EXERCISE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO
It's time to stop viewing exercise as a way to burn off the food you ate the night before. A lot of us view exercise as a punishment for what we may have eaten, we view it as a tedious and negative chore that we have to do in order to be allowed to eat but that is not the point of exercise. Yes exercise burns calories which is important when trying to reach a fitness goal but it is also essential to our cardiovascular health, digestion, been strength, metabolism, gastrointestinal health and so much more. When we pair good nutrition with proper exercise our bodies can do amazing things for us. It's time to exercise again because you love your body and not because you think you need to punish it for something that you ate.
PRIORITIZE HEALTH ABOVE ALL ELSE
Yes it is going to feel amazing to no longer restrict yourself from the things you love and desire but I know that I am not going to shock you when I say that eating ice cream and donuts every day is not the healthiest way to live. Remember that just like anything in life, everything is okay in moderation. Through intuitive eating you will learn which foods give you the most energy and which leave you feeling sluggish and you will learn exactly what your body truly thrives off of. You'll come to realize that a salad full of fresh vegetables, grains and healthy fats make your body happy and a donut with extra sprinkles makes your mind happy. It's all about finding your prefect balance.
LOVE AND EMBRACE THE PROCESS
While there is a possibility that transitioning to intuitive eating may help you lose weight there is also a possibility that you may gain a small amount of weight while you're learning to respect your body's cues and allowing yourself to eat and actually be full. This is a mental journey, it is about finding your happiness and creating a positive healthy relationship with food and your body and eventually this will lead you to a place where you are not restricted or deprived and just overall very happy, trust me. Do not look at this as a way to lose weight, instead look at it is a complete lifestyle change! Whatever happens to your weight during this journey does not define your success at this, please get that through your head and remember it always.
Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed and I think I speak for the majority of the population when I say that a diet of any kind is not enjoyable. I have been practicing intuitive eating for about 5 weeks now and I can honestly say that I have never felt this healthy both mentally and physically as I do now, my relationship with food is amazing, I have zero restriction and I am still able to reach my fitness goals because I've learned what does and does not work for my body. At the end of the day food is just food, it really doesn't need to be so complicated.
We do not have to be miserable in order to look and feel a certain way about our bodies.