Intuitive eating has the power to end any and all confusion
you may have about food and diet.
This isn't something I learnt in my nutrition degree, but through my years of self-study, travel throughout Asia, personal experience and my spiritual practice of yoga and meditation.
Listening to your body wisdom (or eating intuitively) is the how of eating, that missing puzzle piece to all the diets that are popularised in our culture. It allows you to become sovereign in your health choices, instilling a priceless sense of confidence and inner peace.
Developing our ability to eat intuitively is crucial in addressing any issues people have with weight, eating disorders and the myriad health problems created through incorrect diet. Eating instinctually is something many of us have forgotten how to do, or never had the opportunity to do even as children.
There are many steps you can take to re-awaken the life-enhancing and very natural capability to eat intuitively. One step you can take in attuning to the body’s wisdom is the practice of mindful eating.
Start with mindful eating
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master, says that savouring our life and our food is the key to fully nourishing both the body and the mind, and that mindful eating can lead to happiness and weight loss.
Scientists no longer believe that weight gain and obesity are primarily the result of percentages of fat or carbohydrates in our diets. Instead we are learning that weight gain is heavily influenced by both mindfulness and social context. There is no denying that mindless living and eating drives our epidemics of depression and obesity. You can take steps to end this suffering in yourself, and the steps are very simple, but not necessarily "effortless" - anything that claims to require absolutely no effort on your part is most likely not going to serve you in the way you want it to.
Animals, Children and Adults
However, as we leave the primordial bliss of childhood and grow into adulthood, we become more separated from our connectedness with the universe. We eat not to nourish ourselves, but to avoid pain, loneliness and depression.
We adopt beliefs about “good” and “bad” foods, judging ourselves and others harshly when eating “incorrectly”. We miss the experience of joyous eating in the present moment. We eat with the mind rather than with our body and being.
You may recall childhood memories of eating that not only exemplify present moment awareness of eating but bring with them a flood of attached emotions. I recall being about 13 and eating watermelon in the sun having just thrown a whole melon onto the hot concrete to reveal its jagged bright pink innards. Beautiful!
I recall the crack of the melon on the hard ground, the sound of spitting the seeds into the garden, and the sticky coolness of the juice dribbling down my chin on a hot north Queensland day. I was completely in the moment, enjoying myself thoroughly, and feeling satisfied, sticky and happy, my belly full of my favourite food in the world.
You may recall memories of enjoying your favourite home-cooked meal, or eating home-grown fruit from someone’s garden. Do you remember the smells, sights, textures, sounds, tastes, colours, and feelings? This is fully conscious eating with the body, not the mind. It is this simple present moment awareness that as adults we lose completely or near-completely, as the rush of adult obligation and societal conditioning clouds our vision and our appreciation of the sensations associated with not only eating, but with all activities and experiences. The sensations of living.
There is much to gain by eating mindfully, with all our senses open: here's a few of the benefits:
* You will gradually discover flavours. In other words, mindful eating makes food taste more delicious! (this reason alone was enough for me, but there's so much more)
* You will eat about 25% fewer calories.
* You will digest far more efficiently, reducing the symptoms of hurried eating such as gas, bloating, and reflux
* You will lose weight if you have weight to lose.
* Your blood pressure will fall.
* Your heart will be healthier.
* You will live longer.
* You will re-discover the aliveness of our world, which adds richness, fullness and meaning to our lives
* You will start to re-connect us with your inner body wisdom, the only dietary guidelines you need to eat the perfect diet for you, at any time, in any place, and for the rest of your life.
An apple meditation a day
Take an apple out of your refrigerator. Any apple will do. Wash it. Dry it.
Before taking a bite, pause for a moment. Look at the apple in your palm and ask yourself: When I eat an apple, am I really enjoying eating it? Or, am I so pre-occupied with other thoughts that I miss the delights that the apple offers me?
If you are like most of us, you answer "yes" to the second question much more often than the first. For most of our lives, we have eaten apple after apple without giving it a second thought. Yet in this mindless way of eating, we have denied ourselves the many delights present in the simple act of eating an apple. Why do that, especially when it is so easy to truly enjoy the apple?
The first thing is to give your undivided attention to eating the apple. When you eat the apple, just concentrate on eating the apple. Don't think of anything else. And most important, be still. Don't eat the apple while you are driving. Don't eat it while you are walking. Don't eat it while you are reading. Just be still. Being focused and slowing down will allow you to truly savour all the qualities the apple offers: its sweetness, aroma, freshness, juiciness, and crispness.
Next, pick up the apple from the palm of your hand and take a moment to look at it again. Breathe in awareness a few times to help you focus and become more in touch with how you feel about the apple. Most of the time, we barely look at the apple we are eating. We grab it, take a bite, chew it quickly and then swallow. This time, take note: What kind of apple is it? What colour is it? How does it feel in your hand? What does it smell like? Going through these thoughts, you will begin to realise the apple is not simply a quick snack to quiet a grumbling stomach. It is something more complex, something part of a greater whole.
Then, give the apple a smile and slowly, mindfully take a bite, and chew it. Be aware of your in-breath and out-breath a few times to help you concentrate solely on eating the apple: what it feels like in your mouth; what it tastes like; what it's like to chew and swallow it. There is nothing else filling your mind as you chew—no projects, no deadlines, no worries, no "to do" list, no fears, no sorrow, no anger, no past, and no future. There is just the apple.
When you chew, know what you are chewing. Chew slowly and completely. Chew consciously, savouring the taste of the apple and its nourishment, immersing yourself in the process one hundred percent. This way, you really appreciate the apple as it is. And as you become fully aware of eating the apple, you also become fully aware of the present moment. You become fully engaged in the here and now. Living in the moment, you can really experience what the apple offers you, and you become more alive.
By eating the apple this way, truly savouring it, you have a taste of mindfulness, the state of awareness that comes from being fully immersed in the present moment. Letting go for those few short minutes and living in the here and now, you can begin to sense the pleasure and freedom from anxiety that a life lived in mindfulness can offer.
Mindful eating is one of many steps you can take in switching your dietary intuition back on. It is a major component of my NOURISH Nutrition-Lifestyle Training as well as part of my advice to many of my clients battling with eating disorders, overweight, and digestive issues rooted in haphazard, rushed or emotional eating.
If you haven't already tried to meditation, I strongly suggest you scroll up give it a go - you have nothing to lose and so much to gain from this simple act. Trust me, you won't regret it! It is totally worth the tiny bit of discipline required to go get an apple from the fridge and tap into this innate intelligent peace within you.
Enjoy your apple and your day!
Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited & Holistic Nutritionist