A month or two ago I started counting macros using My Fitness Pal. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a trend! And before I finished the first day, I was fascinated. For the first time in a long time I was seeing how many calories I was eating and the breakdown of carbs/fat/protein. The intoxicating feeling of control started to take over and I thought I was falling in love with it.
Then, I started noticing little things like how I’d choose not to sprinkle hemp seeds or cut another veggie for my salad because I didn’t want to measure and record it. Packaged foods started have more of an appeal because all I had to do was scan the bar code and eat- no measuring or weighing. When I found myself calculating how many calories I had burned and trying to factor that into the equation it was like a giant red flag and I quit cold turkey.
I’ve never had an eating disorder. But, I have gone through periods of unhealthy habits. I used to wear the fact I could predict how many calories were in any given meal with a frightening level of accuracy like a badge of honor. Let me say that inherently there is nothing wrong with that, but when meal time starts to occupy 80% of my thoughts in any given day, I call that unhealthy. And so I started down a long path of learning how to eat intuitively.
I call it a journey because switching from counting and calculating to trusting my body didn’t happen overnight. The process can’t be summed up in a quick paragraph because it is different for everyone, but I can say my journey started when I really decided to commit to it. I started paying attention to how I felt before, during, and after eating. Which foods energized me? Which foods made me want to nap? How much was enough to fill me up but not enough to make me unbutton my pants? And while I was learning I forced myself to let go of the guilt I had so long associated with “unhealthy” foods and trust the process. It was not always easy but my desire to be in a place of food freedom won out over the perceived control of a life of tracking.
It took me years to fully get the counting out of my head, but I finally did. Let me say I don’t think counting calories or macros is bad. In fact, I think it can give great insight into eating habits and put a person in control of their health. I even realized that I should focus on upping my protein a bit! But when it starts to rule our days and feel obsessive, that is when it is not healthy.
I tell you all of this to preface my answer to the following question:
How do you practice self control and not indulge so often? I know that sounds weird but you eat so healthy all of the time. I recently went plant based in order to feel healthier and control symptoms of my auto immune diseases (and it’s working!) but all I dream about it pizza, steak, etc. Last weekend I couldn’t help myself and kind of went crazy eating a lot of food at a BBQ. And trying to not indulge in wine so much! Any tips for self control would be much appreciated!
I love getting questions from you because they usually lead to great conversations! I’d love to share my insight and hear yours as well. So let me share with you three things ways that I practice intuitive eating and how I’ve made it stick. Because at this point, it really isn’t about self control for me; it’s knowing what decisions are going to make me feel my best.
Three Ways I Practice Intuitive Eating
ONE: I am committed to the idea of intuitive eating. That initial commitment is hugely important because when I when I first made the switch to intuitive eating I would find myself staring a basket of chips and salsa in the face. It was so tempting to calculate how many chips would be “OK” to eat because it felt like safety. But what I slowly realized is that if I did the math to see how many I “could” have, I’d eat exactly that many. However, as I forced myself to let that mentality go, I’d eat just what I really wanted, which sometimes was far less. And for full transparency, sometimes it was more, but intuitive eating has taught me to look at the big picture over each individual food choice. In the Mexican food example, I’d find it would naturally balance itself out because I wouldn’t be as hungry for the meal and naturally eat less.
Intuitive eating doesn’t mean eating every treat you want. It means listening to how you feel after eating different foods and making choices moving forward with that knowledge in mind. It’s knowing that avocado toast and an egg make me feel good most mornings, but if I’m craving pancakes with syrup, to go that route without calling it a cheat meal or feeling any guilt.
TWO: I work out because I love my body, not to burn calories. When I stopped thinking about how many calories I burned, it also freed me to move my body in a lot of different ways: yoga, walking, strength training, hiking- these are all things that may not give the highest calorie burn in any given session, but they are wonderful for my body and mind. I also learned to prioritize sleep over exercise when it felt right. When I started trusting my intuition with eating, it was natural to start trusting it when it told me to move or to rest.
This one is big for me because I never really loved working out. However now I think a big part of it was that I viewed it as a necessary evil; something I had to do. But now it feels like a privilege to get to exercise. I found exercise I enjoy and I love how it makes me feel. However I also honor the weeks my body craves more rest or walking over high intensity workouts.
THREE: I honor my hunger. Our bodies are so smart, y’all. They will tell us when they are hungry and when they aren’t. Our job is just to listen. Sometimes I’ll eat a full portion and still be hungry, so I eat more, even though I “should” be full. And if I’m not hungry, I don’t eat, even if it’s been “X” number of hours since my last meal.
I also try to ask myself what it is that I want to eat. When I used to try and suppress a craving, it would consume me. Then I’d go crazy and give in. But I’d feel like I better gets my money’s worth because after the “cheat meal” I’d have to go back to eating “healthy.” That would lead me to downing over half a pizza! Now we have pizza every week and I usually have a slice or two and feel totally satisfied.
Experiencing this kind of mental shift means I never feel deprived. Never is a strong word, I realize that, but when I gave myself the freedom to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, it took away the allure of “sinful” foods. I’ve realized there are no good and bad foods. There are foods that fuel my body best and some foods that fuel my soul. Trusting my body to guide me has served me well.
What are your thoughts on intuitive eating?
What methods have you tried over the years to eat healthy?
Which one works best for you?