AUTONOMY AND LEARNING — The human body is fascinating. It usually knows what it needs and uses complex mechanisms to send signals to the brain to have its needs met.
Running low on fuel? The brain calls for the secretion of hunger hormones, increases the attractiveness of food, and—among other things—reduces satiety hormones. It does all this to get us to eat and thereby provide energy to the body in need. Learning to listen to the body’s signals to decode its needs and trusting it, however, is anything but easy.
WHY IS IT SO HARD TO DECIPHER WHAT THE BODY NEEDS?
When we receive different messages from all over the place, it’s no wonder we don’t know where to turn. We therefore rely on plans, diets, or “lifestyles” that dictate what, when, and how much to eat. Modern methods of communication make it easy to spread contradictory messages, so it’s easy to get swept up in the current. By adding a certain moral value to our food choices and our physical appearance, we get a total disconnection from and distrust of the body, as well as a certain degree of confusion.
It’s quite possible to break free from the rules and dictates that govern our diet to find a balance that is unique to us. Learning to trust the messages sent by the body despite the multitude of common misconceptions surrounding food is doable. Let’s find out how.
A COMPASSIONATE SOLUTION
Intuitive eating, developed by American dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995, consists of ten principles where the curious observation of what is going on within the body and mind is emphasized and the messages usually conveyed about food are questioned.
This anti-diet approach relies on compassion and caring. This is how it guides us toward respect for the body by learning to trust it and feel gratitude for what it allows us to do.
In recent years, many studies have shown the benefits of intuitive eating, including but not limited to an increase in appreciation for our bodies, pleasure in eating, sensitivity to the body’s signals, and the variety of foods consumed, as well as a decrease in eating disorders.
The first step involves recognizing that diets don’t work in the long term. More than 90% of people who follow a diet either don’t lose weight or don’t maintain their weight loss beyond two or three years. People who lost weight following a diet regain the lost weight or more than the lost weight in 66% of cases. It is suggested that the“successes” are achieved by adopting unhealthy eating behaviours.
To begin, let go of social media, magazines, books, or subscriptions that promote diets or position the thin body as the ideal to be achieved. Questioning the beauty standards presented in the media and recognizing body diversity lets us explore respect, acceptance, and appreciation of the body—three factors that contribute to our ability to take care of our needs for our overall well-being.
CONNECTING WITH THE BODY
Intuitive eating invites you to honour your hunger by giving yourself the unconditional right to eat with pleasure and without guilt. By removing restrictions, the allure of the forbidden dissipates, and foods tend to lose their power of attraction. This allows us to make choices according to our tastes and needs. Discovering the pleasure of eating lets us enjoy maximum satisfaction and meet our cultural and social needs. Considering our fullness helps us determine when the meal is over and keep the overall experience satisfying.
Watch out for the “food police”! That voice that dictates the rules to be followed and causes guilt when they aren’t respected. The one that stops us from eating after a certain time, that requires the presence of certain foods on our plates or demonizes others. What messages did you receive growing up? What impact do they have on your current eating habits and behaviours?
Eating your emotions is often seen as a behaviour to be avoided. However, eating doesn’t just meet a need for energy! Eating offers comfort, connection, happiness, and pleasure. Should we diversify our toolbox to meet our needs? Absolutely! However, let’s recognize the resilience of the body in adopting compensatory mechanisms in the face of strong and painful emotions. The workings of the human body are fascinating, even in these reflexes at which we tend to wag our fingers.
Connecting with your body also means feeling the benefits related to movement, such as reduced pain, improved sleep, and better stress management. The goal of intuitive eating is to meet an individual’s physical, emotional, and psychological needs by improving their relationship with their body and their diet. What a beautiful and gentle way to find your balance!
FREEDOM AND AUTONOMY
Feeling the body’s signals may seem impossible to do, and it’s not accessible to everyone—for example, due to taking medications, a history of eating disorders, medical conditions, etc. The support of healthcare professionals is often necessary in these cases.
Here are a few questions that can guide you in your efforts right now:
- What happens in my body when it lacks energy?
- How do I feel my emotions physically and what do I need to address them?
- What foods provide me with energy and contribute to my well-being, and conversely, which foods don’t make me feel good?
- When I move my body, how do I feel, and what do I get out of it?
Listening to and trusting your body means regaining your power and autonomy. And I really want that for you.