Tons of credit belongs to Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist for so perfectly and concisely summing up intuitive eating:
Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.
Since adopting an intuitive eating strategy, many things have shifted for me:
- I've rediscovered my love of eating delicious foods and cooking beautiful meals for my family.
- I've learned what foods make my body feel good, and what foods make me feel terrible. (More on this later.)
- I've realized that no one person has the "right" answer when it comes to food; there is no one "diet" which is perfect for all persons.
- I've tried new foods.
- I've tried old foods in new ways.
- I've let go of past associations with certain types of foods (both "good" and "bad"), and I've formed new beliefs about those same foods.
- I trust myself (both my intuition and my body's innate wisdom) more now.
I've come a long way on the road to accepting and loving myself just as I am, and making peace with food has been one of the big steps on that journey. But (particularly at this time of year) I still find myself bristling when someone starts talking about "healthy food," "eating healthy," or a "healthy diet." In examining my knee-jerk reaction, I have come to understand that the diet industry has very effectively used the word "healthy" against us: to mean any number of restrictive and/or gimmicky diet fads, including (but most definitely not limited to): low fat, sugar-free, low carb, high fiber, low calorie, fat-free, high protein, cholesterol free, etc.
I can certainly understand individuals having a passion for sharing what works for them; after all, we all want everyone to be happy and feel good, right? But when the changes in our diets are for the primary purpose of losing body weight, I have trouble getting behind that. If no two bodies are alike, why should there be such a narrow range in the "normal" (healthy) weight range?
What is healthy, anyway?
The definition of the word healthy is:
possessing or enjoying good health or a sound and vigorous mentality;
pertaining to or characteristic of good health, or a sound and vigorous mind;
conducive to good health;
prosperous or sound.
If I eat foods that fuel my body and my spirit—if I eat foods that make me feel good—isn't that the very essence of health?
Today, I'm reclaiming healthy from the diet industry. Healthy can once again mean "enjoying good health" and "prosperous or sound." Seeking health no longer has anything to do with working against our bodies, but it has everything to do with working with them, listening to them, and celebrating their awesomeness.
And bonus: research has shown that if you're enjoying your food while you're eating, your body actually absorbs more nutrients from your food. I can't think of a better reason to eat things that make my body feel good!
Intuitive eating helped me learn which foods make my body feel good (and which ones make me feel not so good). I'm going to share some of my insights with you, not because I think you will learn the same things about your body—though some of it could be similar—but because I was surprised to find that I could learn such things about myself.
Here's what healthy eating looks like for me:
- I need a significant dose of protein at every meal (usually animal protein). If I don't eat enough protein, I get hungry, tired, and cranky. When I'm feeling grumpy, I eat some protein. Then I feel better; it's like magic!
- If I eat fruit, I need to eat it with a fat and protein. For example: an apple or banana is paired with a nut butter; a pear with cheese; berries with cream; dried cranberries and apricots with nuts. If I eat fruit by itself, I feel bad.
- If I need to eat a snack, it needs to contain protein (are you sensing a theme here?). Cereal isn't a meal for me; it's a snack, and I combine it with lots of nuts and coconut. Trail mix is a great snack. Also, a well-made granola bar.
- Beans are amazing. I haven't found a kind of bean that I don't like, or one that makes my body feel bad. I eat them with everything from eggs to green salads. Yum.
- I love vegetables! (This one really surprised me.) I eat them with almost every meal, and they are so so good for my body.
- Green leafy vegetables are some of my most favorites. (I've got to admit, I was a little surprised at this one, too!) Darker greens taste better to me, but I can definitely go for a good butter lettuce, too. Iceberg is not my favorite.
- I (most often) prefer cooked vegetables to raw. My body just processes them better, I think. Green salads and raw juicing are the two main exceptions to this rule.
- I like lots of protein with my leafy salads. Leftover chicken, boiled eggs, cottage cheese, beans, and sunflower and squash seeds all make regular appearances together in my salad bowl.
- Fermented dairy is the best dairy. If I have cereal, I usually put yogurt (or almond milk) on it. We use cow's milk for cooking and baking, but only rarely to drink. Cheese is delicious; kefir is, too.
- I love good chocolate. The dark stuff is the best, and a small piece or two will usually satisfy my craving for it.
Here's what feels unhealthy to me:
- Being truly full feels awful. There's a difference between satiety and having a stomach full of food, and I much prefer the former.
- Wheat and gluten make me itchy. (See also: the results of my gluten-free experiment.) I'm not bothered by other grains, but I don't eat a lot of grains. Brown rice and oats are my favorites.
- White sugar gives me headaches. Corn syrup is even worse. Honey doesn't bother me, but I still don't use it often. Coconut sugar is fine, too.
- Artificial sweeteners give me migraines. Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), saccharin (Sweet'N Low), sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One) have all given me horrible migraines. I've known this for many years; they're just bad news for me.
- Caffeinated beverages make me pee a lot. Caffeine doesn't wake me up, but rather makes me sleepy. Sleepiness and a full bladder are a bad combo. I avoid caffeine. (One exception: espresso can sometimes help alleviate a migraine; use sparingly.)
- Bell peppers give me heartburn. It doesn't matter how they're prepared, I just can't eat them without feeling bad. It's a little sad, because I like how they taste. (You may find you have a food or two like this, too!)
- Soy only in small doses. It could be tofu, edamame, or soy sauce: I can only have a little bit, and not very often.
- Many of the additives in processed foods make me feel bad. Soy, artificial sweeteners, and high-fructose corn syrup are in a lot of things. Other culprits for me include: monosodium glutamate (MSG) and sodium benzoate.
As you can see, through exploring intuitive eating I've discovered that my body does best when sustained largely on whole, unprocessed foods.
For me, the Six Ingredient Challenge that Lauren and I are co-hosting isn't about a "diet" or nutrition plan, but rather it's about doing something nice for myself. It's about being more intentional about choosing the foods that I already know make my body feel good.
I know from listening to my body.
What has your body been telling you lately?