Intuitive eating and the non-diet approach
For some time now, I’ve completely rejected dieting. For me, there's no joy in restricting, in counting calories or labouring over a strict list of foods. Beyond that, fad diets and restrictive eating can be really lacking in well-rounded nutrition and create a negative association around what really should be enjoyed.
Studies show that 95% of dieters ultimately fail in keeping the weight off and most gain back more than they started with. If you’ve ever been on more than one diet in your life, you’re likely part of that 95%
Cue the non-diet approach…
The non-diet approach is just that...it’s not a diet. Instead of focusing on what you can’t eat, for how long you shouldn’t eat it for and what you expect to look like at the end of it, a “non-diet” is a sustainable approach to good nutrition with the aim of permanence and creating a positive relationship with your food and body.
So how do you get there...
Understand that permanent results will only ever eventuate from a permanent solution
While a fad diet may get you to drop weight fast, no matter what restrictions, supplements or foods you use, as soon as you stop following that plan and return to your regular habits, your body will also relapse. Real change that actually benefits your health, wellbeing, and happiness is not quick and will take time and trial to succeed. There are no shortcuts. Accepting this and being willing to commit to a lifestyle change is fundamental in seeing lasting, positive change.
Educate yourself on the basics of nutrition and what your body needs to thrive
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have at least a basic understanding of food and nutrition. Every food choice you make will either help or hinder your health and when you consider that the food you eat literally makes up the foundations of your body, from your cells to blood and your bones and muscles, it becomes clear that the better quality the food you consume, the better your body will be for it. Learn what fuels your body best, what makes you feel energetic, what keeps you full, helps you sleep and perform well. Focus on wholesomeness, variety, and food that's unprocessed and clean. Prioritise these foods and build each meal around them, and you’ll find this leaves little room for bad choices to begin with.
Intuitive eating and your internal hunger cues
Intuitive eating is a non-diet method, that relies on your internal hunger cues to guide your eating habits. We’ve become increasingly reliant on methods like calorie counting and meal scheduling that our inbuilt cues are often lost in the process. In a world where food has become so abundant, it’s very much a case of “use it or lose it”. Unfortunately the less you rely on your internal cues to guide you, the harder it is to regain that connection.
First, forget calorie counting. It’s a really inefficient way of gaining good nutrition and extremely restrictive for everyday life. Counting calories can be unreliable, time-consuming and can feed negativity surrounding food and mealtimes.
To eat intuitively you have to be honest with yourself... how much of what you eat throughout the day is spurred by actual hunger? Do you eat out of boredom or stress or do you skip meals or eat smaller portions than you know your body needs?
Intuitive eating really is about having that honest conversation with yourself every time you eat, and this should happen before, during and after meals:
- Take time to recognise when you’re truly hungry
- Are you reaching for food for comfort, or is it a social occasion you want to enjoy?
- Recognise when you start to feel full and when you’re satisfied
- How do you feel after you’ve had your meal or snack?
- Are you still hungry or have you eaten too much?
- Has your meal given you enough energy to perform well throughout the day?
Try to take time around your meals for your body to properly process and for you to really enjoy the food. The more you do this, the more practiced you’ll become. Over time, less thought will be needed for the process until eventually eating will be intuitive for you too.
Stop working out to burn calories and start eating to fuel your workouts
This may seem counterintuitive for anyone using exercise to lose fat, but by shifting the focus from trying to burn off energy at the gym to feeding yourself properly to get the most out of your workouts, you’ll find that your body will adjust and become more efficient at utilising your energy stores and your recovery times will be shorter too.
Remember that the point of being fit and active is to gain extended health benefits in the long term. This will start to remove you from the “diet” mindset, ideally, you should exercise to gain strength, endurance, for stress management and of course enjoyment. While we all like to look our best and this can be a great motivator, exercise should never be just for the sake of your appearance.