Let’s face it: when it comes to eating, we are either in the dieting state (or the non-dieting state, aka all-out-eating/bingeing) or intuitive eating state (aka normal eating, without counting calories, fats or carbs, just listening to what your body wants and needs and responding accordingly).
To see the practical difference, let’s look at the following scenario:
You are at a birthday party and your lovely host offers you a slice of cake. While on a diet, you look at it and either turn it down (all the while crying your heart out on the inside from a sense of deprivation, as your mouth waters and your eyes anxiously follow the plate being passed onto the next guest) or start thinking how many calories are in it, what else did you eat today to balance out you food intake “check-book”; you strategize – plan on skipping dinner or next day breakfast to make up for it, or go through your gym’s app looking for the next available spin class, and on it goes. So much effort and time put into making a simple decision – whether or not you should eat the damn cake. So much suffering and guilt from eating it and then skipping a meal after, or huffing and puffing at the gym for no other reason than just burn it off (exercise should not be used as punishment!)
And how about that “all-out-eating” once you took the cake in and therefore broke the diet ‘no-cake-allowed” rule – what the heck, you think, and just start piling stuff into your mouth like there’s no tomorrow (well, there is no tomorrow – cuz you are back on your diet again just then, tomorrow!)
What would an Intuitive Eater do when offered a birthday cake? First, she would eye it – does it look like something she would enjoy or is it a typical local-grocery-store-cake that she doesn’t like? Does she even want any at the moment? She might be too full, or too engaged in a conversation, or she might remember that last time she had a cake like this her tummy felt a bit out of place with all the discomfort it brought on. All that goes through her mind in a natural selection process without any judgment applied to the cake and the process of consuming it – no guilt, no regrets, no cake-caused-weight-gain-nightmares. If she ends up eating it, cuz she really wanted it, she might not even finish it – her body will let her know when she’s had enough. An intuitive eater relies on her internal cues to regulate her food intake and cessation. The body of an intuitive eater is conditioned to adjust her food intake with energy balance. She might not feel like eating her usual sensible breakfast next day or eat it later in the morning, because her body naturally downregulates her need for energy, after the birthday dinner with some yummy cake the night before. The body is “huffing and puffing” through metabolic adaptations, instead of her forcing it to work extra hard at the gym.
Mind you, I’m not against exercise, I’m a gym rat and a work out junkie myself! However, when your decision to exercise is guided by the external messages of weight loss and body shape manipulation and is intended to burn calories, work out your food intake or punish you for eating a certain way – it is in no way sustainable! Once your willpower wares off, same direction goes your gym routine. When you work out simply because you enjoy it, or the feeling after, or the runner’s high you chase, or that kettlebell makes you feel like such a badass… now we are talking long lasting lifestyle improvement!
Let’s go back to our cake-challenge participants. The dieter, who’s either “good” or “bad” (aka on or off the diet), bingeing and shameful, all the while gaining weight through chaotic and disordered eating, while trying to lose it through dieting. Or the intuitive eater, enjoying her food, being mindful of her body needs and limitations, trusting her body with food choices.
Who would you rather be?