In 2017 in the UK 64.3% of the population were considered overweight or obese, and a survey found that nearly 1 in 4 adults in the UK are trying to lose weight 'most of the time'. As we know that we lose weight through a calorie deficit, restricting our calorie intake is the obvious answer for those trying to shift the pounds, but is it really that simple?
Scientifically in terms of weightloss - yes it is, however the psychological impacts of dieting, especially for prolonged periods of time are often overlooked. This also goes for exercise. I'm a firm believer that everyone should workout for the wonderful endorphins and health benefits, however it should not be a chore that you feel like you must complete in order to look a certain way or achieve a certain number on the scales.
When 'on a diet', be it general calorie restriction, cutting out carbs (not recommended!) or intermittent fasting, it can quickly take over your life and become your sole focus. This takes the enjoyment out of food, social events and life in general, and can even go as far as being the decider on your mood for the day - eating a 'healthy' meal can make you feel accomplished and happy, whereas eating something 'bad' can put you in a bad mood for the whole day, with feelings of guilt and shame.
This brings me onto the subject of demonising food groups: it is so common to hear foods such as bread, biscuits, ice cream and even fruit being labelled as 'bad', and so called 'healthy' foods such as avocados, nuts and quinoa being labelled as 'good'. Granted, there may be more nutritional value in these 'good' foods, but a healthy diet should be balanced with everything in moderation (yes, that includes cake and ice cream!), and labeling some foods as bad can bring about a damaged relationship with food. I'm sure it sounds familiar to most of us that when dieting and restricting 'bad' foods, they become all you can think about, often resulting in a binge. This restrict-binge cycle can be tiring and unhealthy, both physically and mentally.
So what should you do if you want to eat a healthier diet but are stuck in this viscous cycle? My advice as I mentioned before is, everything in moderation. This means having nutritious, wholesome meals, but also having the odd doughnut, and not being afraid of going out for the occasional meal. It is entirely possible, and actually a more successful way to lose weight (if that is still your goal) eating ALL foods, and lowering your energy intake whilst keeping a healthy balance. By allowing yourself all foods and restricting nothing, you are much less likely to crave the less nutritionally dense foods as they won't be the thing that 'you always want but can't have', and therefore having a healthy nutrition approach will require little to no effort. Of course, this doesn't mean go all out on the chocolate every day, but eating this way will keep you sane, and most importantly, happy!
You may have noticed the title of this blog includes the term 'Intuitive Eating'. Above I have described using Intuitive Eating rather than a diet to lose weight, but the fundamental purpose of this new concept is that you are the expert of your body and its hunger signals. It’s the opposite of a traditional diet and doesn’t impose guidelines about what to avoid and what or when to eat. It can also be used to help people heal from the side effects of chronic dieting, which include food guilt and binging as I described previously.
By practicing Intuitive Eating, you are learning to eat according to your body's physical hunger cues, rather than eating for emotional reasons, which can be life changing both physically and emotionally. There are 10 key principles of Intuitive Eating which are as follows:
Reject the Diet Mentality
Honor Your Hunger
Make Peace with Food
Challenge the Food Police
Respect Your Fullness
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
Respect Your Body
Exercise—Feel the Difference! (As a Personal Trainer, obviously I love this one. Workout for how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise!)
Honor Your Health
More on each of these points can be found here: https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
It is important to remember that this is not a PT giving you a free pass to eat all of the biscuits because you 'intuitively want them' - there is a fine line between eating everything in sight, and realising that you only want to eat all of the biscuits because you are tired/stressed/upset/moody, and perhaps that emotional feeling should be fixed first without food. If you still want a biscuit when you are sure that you're not just eating it for the sake of it or for another emotional reason, you can go ahead and eat it. You'll likely find that you no longer want to eat 10 biscuits and 1 will suffice! Your body is designed to tell you what, when and how much to eat, so listen to it! It can be tricky at first to differentiate between what your body needs and what your emotions want to eat, but when you get the hang of it, you'll never look to a diet book again - and let's face it, life would be pretty awful without cake and ice cream!