Intuitive Eating is a style or way of eating which promotes a healthy attitude towards food as well as one’s self.
Do not be fooled into thinking this is another ‘fad diet’, aiming to send you down a river of quick fixes and ridged sacrifices. Intuitive Eating is a welcome opposite. It stands in stark contrast and offers an escape from the proverbial rule book. Encompassing mindfulness, discipline and balance, Intuitive Eating is seemingly the sustainable and healthy alternative to dieting.
This style of eating is not initially intended as a weight-loss tool as much as it is intended as a means of healing, restoring and building one’s relationship between body, mind and soul. With the focus placed on behavioural change, as opposed to weight loss, you will, as a result, inevitably find yourself striving to be the healthiest version of you. Successfully adopting this mind set of positive self-care will, in all probability, result in that long sought after weight loss. Social media and society place untold pressure on us to obtain perfection, that we often find ourselves shaming and hurting ourselves more than these external factors do. Our perception of self may be affected or influenced by the opinions of others; but how we choose to process, store or reject that information as true or not true to one’s self- remains well in our control.
Take ownership of your perception of self.
The more you learn to respect your body and treat it the way it deserves, the healthier your relationship improves between you, food and your body image.
For us to understand how to implement Intuitive eating, we need to understand the basics of a balanced and healthy diet and how to mindfully apply it to your daily eating routine.
Your day should consist of three main meals, namely: breakfast, lunch and dinner; with 2 – 3 snacks throughout the day.
Your main meals should be comprised of the following proportions:
Half of your plate should be vegetables &/ or fruit.
A quarter should be comprised of a starch.
A quarter should be comprised of a protein.
Dairy should be 1-2 servings per day
Depending on how much food you usually eat at your main meals, you are able to adjust your portion sizes according as long as the proportions of each component are in accordance to the above layout.
Let’s delve into each component of this plate.
Vegetables and fruit
All food comprises of different macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Fruit and vegetables are typically high in carbohydrates, having close to no protein or fat content and are extremely important for their dense micronutrient quality. Combining a variety of colours on your plate is a practical way of guarding against the development of a micronutrient deficiency. Micronutrients play an essential role in our skin, hair, bones, blood, organ function, etc.
Remember, water-soluble vitamins, being the Vitamin B complex and Vitamin C, are dissolved and absorbed with the help of water, and should be consumed daily. If you have too much vitamin B or Vitamin C, it is simply urinated out. Whereas Vitamin A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins that need fat in order to be absorbed, and are stored in the body. Hence, these vitamins should not be taken in excessive amounts.
Fruit and vegetables are also excellent sources of fibre. Fibre helps to keep you fuller for longer, lowers cholesterol, helps control blood sugar levels and moderates bowel movements. Try to leave the skin on your fruit and vegetables where possible.
Always try cook and choose foods which have been prepared or cooked in a healthier way. For example: choosing steamed mushrooms rather than deep fried mushrooms.
Many ‘fad diets’ give us the impression that starch is ‘bad’ for us; when in fact it forms a vital part of our diet. The portion size of starch should take up about a quarter of our plate, nothing more or less.
Starch is also an important source of fibre in our diet; additionally it is beneficial to choose less refined starch options, i.e.: brown rice over white bread. Rice, bread, pasta, maize, biscuits, baked goods and potatoes are considered starches. Starches also contain various B vitamins as well as some minerals being iron, magnesium and selenium. Starches, like fruit and vegetables, are high in carbohydrates, having close to no protein or fat content.
Protein play a role in building muscles, bones, cartilage and even skin and assist in the oxygenation of the body, aids hormone regulation and is used to form different enzymes is multiple purposes in our body. There are different sources of proteins, namely:
Meat (beef, chicken, fish, lamb...)
Plant-based proteins (legumes, beans..)
(Dairy is displayed as its own category on the illustration above, for the purpose of reminding us to have two servings per day, i.e.: 1 serving: 250ml milk/ 180ml yoghurt)
Meat and eggs are high in protein with no carbohydrate content and varying degrees of fat. Nuts, dairy and plant- based proteins are high in protein content with varying degrees of carbohydrates and fat. Remember than leaner meats are healthier as they are lower in saturated fatty acids (SFA), i.e.: Chicken over boerewors. Remember your chosen cooking method can also influence the overall fat content, i.e.: rather steam your fish than deep fry it.
(You will find out more about plant-based proteins in our next blog).
Additionally, although it is included in the illustration, fats play a role in our diet. ‘Bad fats’ include saturated & trans-fatty acids, which should be avoided; whereas ‘Good fats’ such as Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA), Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) and Omega 3’s should be included in our diets. Some fats which should be included in our diets are olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish, avocado and nuts.
Snacks should be treated as a bridge to the next meal; not take the place of a fully balanced main meal later. Instead, a snack should be one or two components from the illustration above and should be in smaller quantities, i.e.: a small yoghurt, an apple or some nuts...
In order to apply mindfulness to our eating decisions, it is important to understand the basics of a balanced diet (taking portion sizes, macronutrient and micronutrient content into consideration). So how does one apply mindfulness, practically, to these principles?
I like to think of it as ‘chop and change’, meaning to substitute one food for another in the same food group. So let’s say you have a friend’s birthday later today and you know you’re likely to eat chips and cake equivalent to two starch serving sizes. Rather than going to the birthday party saying “Sorry I can’t, I’m on a diet”; I would suggest excluding two starch servings from the rest of the day to accommodate the substitution. This is where discipline becomes a powerful tool in your journey to become a healthier version of yourself. You should not make these substitutions on a daily basis. Aim to eat clean and healthy 80% of the time; and treat yourself on the odd occasion (rather than feel guilt, shame yourself, over-indulge later, or develop a negative relationship with food).
If you haven’t already, it is time to incorporate Intuitive Eating into your lifestyle; heal those scars left by voices of guilt or disapproval regarding food and body image; empower yourself to set, attain and sustain goals and become the healthiest version of yourself that you can be.