Intuitive eating seems to have become a hard thing to do, especially in the fitness industry. We tend to eat too much, restrict ourselves, eat too much again… But how do you get out of this vicious cycle?
Start by observing people around you who are eating normally like your brother, father… They don’t seem to worry about food and this is a real eye-opening thing. Maybe they just have a lot of willpower? But that’s not it. They don’t need willpower because they can eat whatever and whenever they want to. I also think there are a lot of people who have a lot of willpower for example to study but still, they can’t control what they are eating.
This used to be the case for me. I am super dedicated when it comes to studying. I’ve had a lot of setbacks but I still keep studying because I really want my degree. In my diet, I was able to be very dedicated too but I had a lot of setbacks. There were a lot of times that I went off track and got in a cycle of overeating, feeling guilty and restricting and overeating again.
If you are yo-yo dieting, you forgot the reason why you are eating. What if you stopped dieting and you just trusted your body? You need to be conscious about your decisions around eating. You need to ask yourself five questions: why are you eating, when, what, how, how much and where? You can call this ‘the mindful eating cycle’.
Take another look at the people around you who aren’t dieting. Why are they eating? Because they are hungry. What? It doesn’t really matter, they eat what they are craving and they don’t make a distinction between ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food. They don’t really care. How are they eating? They start eating when they are hungry and they stop when they are done. They want to feel better after eating than they felt before they started eating. When they are eating, they get less hungry and they stop eating before they cross the line of discomfort, even if there is still food on their plate.
What if you look at the emotions around food: Why are you eating? Because you are tired, because there is food in front of you, because you got the food for free or you paid for it and you feel like you ‘have to’ finish eating it all, because you are stressed, bored, celebrating…
Tracking my macros was one of the things that made feel like ‘I had to eat all of it’. I put so much energy into tracking my food and weighing it. When I wasn’t hungry anymore, I would still eat everything because otherwise, I would have to track again, weigh again… Sometimes I still had to eat a lot before going to bed because otherwise I would ‘have to eat more the next day’. I just thought it would be easier to eat all of it but was I wrong… I was ignoring the signs my body was giving me and listening to your body is so important. It’s the only one who knows how much you should be eating.
We basically eat for every emotion and that’s why we can get confused. A lot of people are distracted from the real reason they need food.
When are you eating? Well all the time because you are constantly feeling different emotions. What are you eating? If you’re emotional, you will be eating chocolate, ice cream, sweets… The reason why you want to eat, will affect what you eat.
How do you eat? We tend to eat very fast when we’re emotional, like we have more important things to do. A lot of people eat while they are doing other things like studying but that isn’t a very good idea. Multitasking is a myth. You can only focus on one thing. If you are eating while doing something else, your mind and body won’t really notice that you are eating and you won’t feel when your body has had enough. You will just eat until all the food is gone. This way, you won’t be able to control your portions. All the extra food that you are eating after your body has had enough, your body will store because it’s fuel your body doesn’t need.
A lot of us think that the only way out of this, is to diet but that will only make it worse.
So suppose you go on a diet. Why will you eat? Well, probably because you want to lose weight and because you want to follow ‘the rules’. When will you eat? There are a lot of rules in the diet culture about when to eat like ‘you need to eat breakfast because it’s the most important meal of the day’ and ‘you can’t eat after 7pm’…
One of the worst rules for me was ‘you can’t drink your food because it won’t make you feel full’. When you are dieting, it’s smarter to choose food that fills you up. If you drink your food, you will feel less full. So why was this rule so bad for me? When I am feeling down, one of my favourite things to do is drink hot milk. Hot milk is actually not bad at all but I didn’t drink it because ‘I couldn’t’. This made me eat other things and even more than when I would have just grabbed that milk.
A lot of people are ‘overdieting’ the same way they are ‘overeating’. They weigh all their food, they track their calories and macros… They invest all their time and energy into eating and thinking about food. Most people don’t have that kind of time to invest into a diet so they start yo-yo dieting. They start breaking the rules because they are not realistic. Suppose that you are breaking one of the rules like you grab a snack in front of the TV because you want to reward yourself. You broke the rules anyways so why would you want to keep following them? You will start eating a lot because of that.
I used to track macros. I was tracking every single thing I ate, weighing everything, measuring how much milk I drank… My number one priority is studying and all the tracking and thinking about food, cost me a lot of time. I was constantly thinking about what I could eat next and I was constantly making snacks while it’s way more convenient to me to eat bigger meals and less snacks. When I went ‘off track’, I could overeat really badly. When I went over one of my macros or when I had the feeling it wouldn’t be possible to hit my macros I thought ‘well since I am not tracking today, I might as well just eat whatever I want’ so I started eating everything that is hard to track like chocolate, ice cream, peanut butter, pasta… Of course the things that are difficult to track, are the things you are craving more because ‘you are not allowed to eat them’. I was sometimes eating around 50% calories more than I needed, I had the feeling of discomfort because I ate way too much, I felt guilty because I went completely off track… Afterwards I would sometimes try to compensate with eating less calories and because of that, I would feel hungry and I would start going off track again and you know what happens next. Guilt is also a strong emotion which led me to eating more again. Now I realize, that tracking macros wasn’t a good idea for me because I felt way too restricted which led to overeating very often. I thought I was doing a good job by tracking my macros but I don’t think it made my relationship with food that healthy. I think it’s super hard to admit that tracking macros wasn’t the right thing because in the fitness industry, it feels like it’s something you should do or you need to follow a strict meal plan. Intuitively eating is very underrated in the fitness industry. Sometimes I think I need to get back to tracking macros because I feel so much pressure to eat perfectly but truth is, it will only make things worse for me and I feel so much happier when I am not tracking.
So start thinking again. Why are you eating? When you know your why, everything will fall into place. Are you stressed out and are you craving ice cream? Well take that ice cream! But don’t eat the whole pint. Take a bowl and put a reasonable amount of ice cream in it. Eat it with awareness. Don’t eat it in front of the TV or while studying. Enjoy every single bite. Only that way, you will feel satisfied. I know it’s not as easy as it sounds because I still tend to snack while studying or in front of the TV but you should at least try it. It can make a lot of difference. The problem is that we have completely forgotten how to trust our body, especially in the fitness industry. You need to really think about your why. When you feel like eating, take a second to think about it. Why do you want to eat? Are you really hungry or are you just emotional? Do you want to eat or do you nééd to eat?
Exercising is another very present thing in the diet culture. It is often used as a punishment. Of course exercise is healthy for everyone but it should never be used as a punishment. How can you keep exercising if you hate it because you associate it with punishment? You don’t need to do a certain amount of cardio to be allowed to eat a pizza at night. You shouldn’t eat an ice cream because ‘you deserved it’. You should exercise because you love to do it or because it makes you feel good. You should eat that ice cream because you are craving it and because it makes you feel good mentally. I see so many people saying ‘eating this because I deserved it’ or ‘doing extra cardio so I can eat more’. Please stop it. Yes you deserve to eat but you ALWAYS deserve to eat. Exercising shouldn’t be a punishment and neither should be eating.
So what do you need to eat? Eat what you love. Don’t worry too much about the macros. The benefit of tracking macros for so long, is that I know a lot about the nutritional value of foods now. I learned a lot by tracking macros but I didn’t always use the knowledge to my advantage. Nutritional value should be a tool and not a weapon. If you use it as a weapon, you will label it as ‘bad’ which will make you want it even more, you will start breaking the rules and you know what happens next. Everyone has the instinct to eat for their body’s needs but a lot of us just forgot how to use it.
So why would I go back to tracking macros? I am not a competitor, I am just a girl who wants to be happy and healthy and have fun. If that means I will have a bit more fat, so be it. As long as I am healthy and happy, I don’t even care what I look like because eventually, it’s all in your head. It doesn’t matter how much fat you have. You will only find yourself beautiful if you believe you are. Abs don’t make you feel beautiful, your mindset is what makes you feel beautiful, but that’s a whole other story.
“Eating shouldn’t be punishment, deprivation or guilt. It should be the way we fuel our body, mind, heart and spirit.” – Michelle May.
This entire post was inspired by the video ‘TEDxChandler – Michelle May – Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat’. Click here to watch it.