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Intuitive Eating for Beginners

When making food choices, trust your gut!

Does the idea of a cold, crisp, fresh salad right out of the garden make your mouth water? If so, you are already listening to your body and on the right track! For everyone else, I want to share an unforgettable experience with a client.

Not everyone likes vegetables. I see the fear in their eyes when my clients come in and see the "MyPlate" images around the office proudly displaying their pile of bitter leafy greens, celery, and Brussels sprouts. Deep down they see a pile of garden scraps and would happily volunteer to bring them out to the garbage or feed them to the chickens. What is it about the "healthy" vegetables that they so desperately want to avoid?

One client professed her hate for ALL vegetables then folded her arms tightly across her chest. "I am not going to eat vegetables, no way lady!". I am not the militant Nutritionist who demands strict diets from their clients, in fact I would say I am the "Queen of Compromise". Normally, we would work together to make lists of foods they like, each in their separate category of: (here is a sample below)

FRUITS: strawberries, banana, grapes, blueberries, watermelon, apples, pears, pineapple...

VEGGIES (non-starchy): cucumber, tomato, peppers, onions, kale, spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, asparagus...

LEAN PROTEINS: grilled chicken breast, salmon filet, shellfish, filet mignon, baked cod, turkey burgers, pork tenderloin, black beans, tofu, chickpeas...

STARCHES: sweet potato, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, potatoes, butternut squash...

HEALTHY FATS: olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, grape-seed oil, avocado oil...

(Go ahead and do this with me! Write these at the top of your paper and make the list going down with your favorites at the top. You can specify the preparation style of the meats and proteins to give it some variety.)

For my client that hated vegetables her list looked more like this: Vegetables: iceberg lettuce, cucumbers

Those vegetables only made it to the list because we "compromised" on adding a small serving of veggies every day. She stated she would do it but "I'm not going to like it!" I saw her again about a month later and I jumped a little as she slammed her hands down on the table and said(shouted) these words to me

"I cannot believe you!! You had some nerve telling me that if I started eating vegetables that I would start to crave them because my body loves them?! I was getting lunch the other day and I craved a DAMN SALAD! Me, a salad eater.. can you believe it?"

We laughed with amusement of her new found food choices and how even the vegetable hater was coming around. What was it that happened inside of her? Did she ever really hate vegetables to start with?

"Intuitive eating" is letting your body speak it's needs to you in a way that doesn't allow emotions, memories, opinions, and thoughts influence it.

From the time we are born, our bodies know what they need. A newborn baby can climb and scoot their way across their moms belly to nurse. As children grow, they are often given sweet and processed foods as their very first taste of solid food. "Kids food" is also processed and full of sugar and white flour. If you had the choice to eat broccoli or dessert, which would you choose? Children biologically gravitate toward sugar because their intuition knows that they need lots of fuel (glucose) to survive. If there were no other foods around and a child was going hungry, their intuition could seek out carbohydrate containing foods in a jungle of options.

Cravings can be a sign of your body's intuition

The example I like best is that of chocolate, so let's look at what may really be going on when we have a craving.

Chocolate contains essential vitamins like magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, phosphorus, potassium, Vitamin K, selenium, calcium, and zinc. Magnesium is natures little muscle relaxer (you know, like if you had "cramps" for instance). Chocolate also contains sugar which releases serotonin and temporarily eases pain. It could be that the ladies treat of choice actually has a job to do! (dark chocolate is best and please don't over do it, the blood sugar crashes can cause irritability, tiredness, and weight gain, eek!)

Cravings for water are also guided by intuition. When your body is dehydrated you may crave fruit or watery vegetables, but did you know that it may also crave sugar? What the heck is this intuition trying to get me to do? In nature there is one main food group that is hydrating when water is no where to be found, and that is fruit! We crave sweetness because our body knows that to find water, it must find sweetness and they will be together. If you still didn't get the hint that you are thirsty, your body may tell you that is hungry because food contain trace amounts of water.

4 Tips to start using your Intuition today

  1. Hydrate, Hydrate Hydrate! By drinking enough water, you will be more in tune with your hunger.

  2. Make your list of vegetables (as noted above) and try to eat at least 1 serving per day (1 cup raw, 1/2 cup cooked) and build up to half a plate at lunch and dinner. Your body will thank you! As I have personally seen time and time again, your body will start to enjoy them. I wish I could say I have gotten every single person to like vegetables but if you are adamant that you can not, will not, absolutely never eat vegetables, then please include plenty of fresh fruit in your diet.

  3. Do 5 deep breaths before eating. Deep breathing can calm your nervous system and allow you to be more in tune with your hunger and fullness cues. Intuition is all about being "in tune" with your body so you can give it exactly what it needs. Transitioning into a calmer state of mind before eating can also let you take note of emotional eating, boredom eating, anxiety and stress eating, as well as bingeing. We will discuss these topics much more in future articles.

  4. Listen to your gut. Place a hand over your belly and ask yourself if you should eat a particular food. This is a more advanced step of mindful eating and intuition but when you practice often, the feeling will become more clear. Feeling of tightness in the belly would be a "no" answer and feeling of calm would be a "yes" answer. I have found that the best place to practice this is in the grocery store because you have so many different kinds of foods, and when you have the option to buy or not, you will feel better about the foods you chose to bring home.

If you would like to learn more about upcoming classes and events, please visit Brightly Well on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I look forward to working with you!

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