When was the last time you sat down to a meal and really enjoyed it? Without pondering calories, carbs, protein grams. Without second-guessing your choices and their impact on your waistline or wellness.
If you can’t remember, maybe it’s time to eat by intuition and stop eating by the “rules.”
Listen, kids, I have done what I do for many years now and if there’s one thing I can say for sure, there’s no one who can suck the fun out of eating quite like a diet or wellness expert or coach (no offense if you are one, but really guys, we have taken all the sexiness out of eating).
If you read enough material by enough experts, you will find yourself terrified of any and all foods. It seems that everything will kill you. Or make you fat…or both. You know I’m right. I know I am. I can remember studying macrobiotics and healthy cooking and thinking that if this is so good for us, why is it so grim?
My teacher at the time, my mentor and “sensei” advised me to study well and teach “happy.” And so that’s what I try to do.
But with the advent of another new year, many people have decided, again, to get healthy, fit and organized and to make better food choices. What makes us bail on our resolutions so quickly? Some in a matter of weeks and others well before spring springs.
In my view some of it is confusion, plain and simple. We know for certain that what we are doing isn’t working for us so we want to try something else, something new; something sure. So we take on one of the millions (or so it seems) of diets out there promising us the perfect, healthy body. From Keto to Paleo, low-fat to low-oil, high-fat to no carb, we adopt yet another extreme approach to eating and lose weight…until we don’t. If you can sustain it, one of these wild diets will show you results (mostly because you’re taking in fewer calories or losing water), but the second you veer from the plan, your weight creeps back up. We beat ourselves up as failures, but is it really us who have failed?
I grow so weary of all these extreme diets, especially when the answer is right in front of us. Ancient wisdom is called ancient and wisdom because it’s exactly that: information that works based on hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of experience.
If you, like millions of people have said, “There has to be a better way. There has to be something else.
This has been going on for years,” you’re not alone. All of us have been hoodwinked at one time or another that if we gave up bread and pasta (ignoring the looks of Sophia Loren), eat like our primitive ancestors (look how that turned out for them…), live on eggs, cashews and kale or deprive our bodies of nutrition in some other bizarre way, we’ll get to our goal of physical perfection.
We’re not failures that all these schemes are short-lived and not sustainable. From cleanses to keto, the body resists what your intuition wants to do…which is to create balance. These extreme approaches to eating only serve to throw us off balance and the body…will…have…balance, just like Mother Nature.
So what if we honored that and ate intuitively?
While claimed by modern nutritionists as a new and innovative way to feed ourselves, intuitive eating actually has its roots in ancient wisdom…as do most things that make sense to me. While it often gets lost in the shuffle of fad diets and instant gratification, intuitive eating is having a bit of a…renaissance, as a growing community of people has decided that they want to forget guilt and rediscover the joys of food. On top of that, many people are coming to the conclusion that dieting doesn’t result in sustained weight loss for most people. Of course, they can work in the short term, but it’s sustained wellness and managed weight we’re looking for, not always a quick fix. Fixating on every bite, every gram and calorie and carb can lead to stress and failure, leaving us disheartened, fatigued and fat. And even though we live in a time of self-acceptance and body positivity, we want to feel our best, right?
So what does work?
For me, it’s thinking like an Italian, but not necessarily Italian food. Stay with me. Italians don’t stress about what foods they’ll choose on any given day. By that I mean, well, let me explain. A friend recently told me a story that was all too familiar about how on Sundays, he went from relative to relative basically moving from feast to feast all day. A typical Sunday. Someone asked if his mother cooked Italian food for dinner. He replied, “My mother cooked dinner.”
A traditional Mediterranean style of eating dictated how generations, no, centuries of people cooked and ate to live their best lives.
Eating fresh food that is appropriate for human wellness, elegantly and simply prepared…eating foods that you’ll love and that love your body isn’t a new idea. It’s time to change the rules of how we eat. It’s time we think about what we eat, not obsess about what we eat. There’s a big difference.
I know what you’re thinking: Eat what I love because my intuition says so? Great! Cookies all day! If that’s your answer, that tells me that you’re deprived because you know deep down in that intuition of yours, that you’d feel just awful if you ate cookies all day.
And a big part of intuitive eating is that you pay attention to how the food you eat makes you feel. In macrobiotics and Chinese medicine, we often say that eating should be delicious and sexy and enjoyable, but more important: it should serve the purpose of your life. So when you are eating more intuitively, you learn to ask yourself simple questions: Does this sustain me? Does it make me feel strong and clear in my thinking? Does it make me happy? Does it make me feel relaxed?
Asking these simple questions frees you of judgement. You’re allowed to feel exactly as you want to feel. It’s your call. When I began living a macrobiotic lifestyle, I read a book by philosopher, Georges Ohsawa, who said that macrobiotics was about freedom because once you understood the impact of food on wellness, you were free to choose (with understanding) how you wanted to feel and move through the world. At the time, it sounded far-fetched to me since I was eating a rather monastic diet in order to recover my wellness. I didn’t feel very free. It wasn’t until I healed myself that I understood that I chose that, too. I chose to eat in a way that would fuel my body on its journey back to wellness. I could have left macrobiotics behind at any point. I chose not to do that.
Now, I choose to eat a Mediterranean macrobiotic diet because that serves my life and feels most natural and delicious to me.
So how do you start tapping into your intuition? We all have it, by the way. We all know not to step in front of a moving car. We know the candy bar in the desk drawer is not the best choice. You have to take a step back from the “busyness” of life and try to tap into how you feel about how you eat…and how you feel about how you want to eat, how you feel…and how you want to feel. Based on who you are and who you want to be, you can begin to make food choices that work for you. And you’ll never think about food again unless it’s time to prepare a meal. You won’t chide yourself for days with guilt because you had a cookie.
It’s time to reject the diet mentality. Food is nourishment but it’s also a pleasure. Remember that Mother Nature made eating sexy so we would do it and survive. Embrace wellness eating. It’s time to understand that food is energy and each food has a unique character that will create a specific energy in you, as well as a specific nutritive benefit. Back in the day, warriors and elders chose certain foods when they wanted to feel strong, think clearly, run faster. People ate for what they needed even within the limited diet they could access. We can tap into that wisdom, too.
Doing this will help you to reject the diet mentality and listen…really listen to your body and your needs. It will allow you to listen to your hunger; recognize what you need and when you’re full.
It’s time to honor our bodies, respect what we are and who we are. We need to think of our body as our best pal…and treat it accordingly. Respect its uniqueness and treat it tenderly. As you begin to choose nutrition over guilt, you’ll find that you can kiss off the food police and never think of food as “good” or “bad, “clean” or “dirty;” that thinking causes cravings, restrictions and guilt. You’ll learn to be mindful of your eating, present with each bite you take. You’ll think about your choices and how they make you feel. You’ll begin to understand what foods will be a satisfying experience for you and what’s a buzz kill for you. Let’s say you’ve tried turnips a hundred different ways and just can’t feel the love for them. Move on to another veggie that sparks your passion and makes you salivate at the thought of it. By the way, if you’re wondering, that’s cauliflower for me. Love, love, love it.
Where to begin? I’m not a big fan of journaling for journaling’s sake, but there are times when it can work. Writing out your menu plans can help you shop smarter and get more variety so you’re not having carrot soup with stewed carrots and carrot cake for dinner. Or kale for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Along with menu plans for shopping, you can create the habit of writing how the food you’re eating makes you feel. Are you energized? Fatigued? Irritable? Relaxed? Happy? Feeling deprived? Once you begin to track how you feel, you can adjust to your needs. Sure, you can study the ancient theory of how food affects us (I highly recommend it, actually…), but do you know how people decided how foods made them feel? They paid attention to how they felt when they ate. And voila! You are the best expert on how you feel and how and what affects your wellness so paying attention and keeping track helps you to custom design your own plan, your own path to wellness on your terms.
Start with breakfast. You know, the meal that usually involved giving yourself heartburn as you gulp something down, chug a smoothie or eat in the car or on the subway. By 10 am, you’re exhausted or cranky or both. And your intuition has been screaming at you since you dragged yourself out of bed: “Please be gentle with me this morning…please!”
Start your day with some overnight oats or whole grain toast with nut butter. If you really want to care for yourself, make a soft whole grain porridge from brown rice, quinoa or millet and enjoy that with some lightly cooked vegetables to start your day with a real breakfast of champions. One week eating like this and your body with thank you by providing you with steady, smooth energy right through to lunch.
From colleague lunches to business lunches to client lunches, our midday meal has become either a stressful occasion or sit-at-your-desk-and-inhale. Rarely during the week do we meet with friends for a leisurely, enjoyable meal…or better yet, a home cooked lunch. It’s not always possible to relax midday because of the way business works in America, so we have to do the best we can.
My husband used to take lunch to work from dinner leftovers to create a substantial meal and he knew exactly what was in it and how it would make him feel. Lunches out with clients or colleagues mean you’re in dodgier territory, as you can’t always get what you want (or what you need). Try to have some input as to where you’ll be dining and once there, choose simple, elegant food so you’re not consuming more fat, sugar and salt than your body needs…or wants. A heavy lunch will leave you feeling lethargic and foggy, maybe not the best idea for your afternoon work. A lighter, fresh meal with protein (like beans, tofu, tempeh or quinoa) and lots of veggies will allow you to feel satisfied without losing your edge. You’ll feel open, relaxed and clear-minded for your late day tasks.
See how this works?
Dinner is a breeze in our house because it’s the lightest meal of the day for us. We live by the Mediterranean guide to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. We work out in the evening (after a long day of work) and so we eat dinner later, another driver to eat lightly.
For many people, dinner is the main meal of the day. If that’s you, then be sure to prepare enough food to take for lunch the next day or give you a jump on tomorrow night’s dinner. We are cooking, right? As you cook more, you’ll find it goes more smoothly and you even begin to look forward to it after a day of work. Once you’re cooking to meet your needs and those of your family, suddenly cooking is no longer a chore but a pleasure.
When I’m cooking a feast for dinner, it begins with soup, followed by a whole grain, two vegetable dishes (one of which is always a salad), a protein like beans, tofu or tempeh. Sometimes it’s pasta and not a grain, but you get the idea. There’s lots of variety in cooking styles as well as ingredients so we stay strong and active. You have to find what works for you. Intuition, baby.
Did you know that the majority of Americans prefer to snack than to prepare and eat meals? I think that’s so sad, really. While I love a pre-gym snack as much as the next guy, to choose an energy bar over dinner? Yikes. For me, snacks are heat supplements to my meals, allowing me to balance and manage cravings I might have or to serve as mini-energy boosters before a tough workout. I keep them nutrient-dense and rich in flavor so that a little goes a long way.
Hummus with veggies or whole grain crackers; apples with nut butter; squares of dark chocolate; protein drinks (vegan, of course); leftovers; nuts and seeds all go a long way to keeping us happy and satisfied between meals.
In the end, allowing your intuition to guide, your food choices will result in not only a healthier you, but a happier and more relaxed you…and who can’t use a bit more of that?