I have been a wellness coach for over a decade, but I no longer offer nutritional coaching. It took me a really long time to transition from a weight loss focus to one of intuitive eating. Clients wanted to lose weight. They wanted a “plan.” And while there are some metrics that I believe are empowering (like knowing our bone density, cholesterol, or muscle mass percentage), the number on the scale isn’t one of them.
Eventually, I could no longer teach what no longer felt true. I have seen disordered thought patterns around food in 100 percent of the people I have worked with. 100 percent. And most of my clients didn’t want to do the deep-dive heart work of unpeeling the layers of their food beliefs. Diet culture is loud and very convincing. If you think it’s just macros and calories, you’re dead wrong. Sometimes we are physically hungry and sometimes we are emotionally hungry and almost always, those two overlap. Food is comfort, numbing, celebration, challenge, shame, memory, security, health, sensation, satisfaction, a place to dance and a place to hide.
To feel whole and well, we have to make peace with food and give ourselves permission to find pleasure in eating.
The best diet is eating a variety of real food intuitively: Stuff our grandparents would recognize as food. Stuff that comes from the ground, flies in the air, or swims in the sea. Stuff with pronounceable ingredients. The food choices are the easy part. The intuitive eating is the challenge. Mindfulness tells us how we respond to dairy, gluten, or carbohydrates. Because what feels right or wrong to us is unique and in constant flux.
If we’re following a so-called expert, book, plan or detox, it’s not intuitive. We are the only person who can decide what to eat and giving our power to a plan takes us away from trusting our own bodies. You lost 20 pounds doing IMF? I am legit proud of you. All I’m saying is that it won’t work for everyone and it probably won’t work for you long term – and science backs this up. Most diet studies were performed on mice, which isn’t even the same species as us. Further, in every case, some of the mice lost weight and others didn’t. Humans – like mice – are not static beings. We are constantly changing metabolically and hormonally and require different things at different times to feel our best. There is no one-size-fits-all.
So how are we to ever make peace with our plate? Eat mindfully. Slow down and be fully present as you eat.
People hate this advice. We want to be told exactly what we should eat and when, which foods are off-limits, and how quickly we can expect results. The regimen feeds our need to feel in control. We are drawn to the idea that a diet is short-term, that weight loss is possible if we can just endure the deprivation for a few weeks. But what we eat should be more about how we feel and less about how we look.
Taking ten – counting ten intentional breaths – before eating helps us truly experience our meals, free from distractions. When we are stressed, our body releases hormones that signal it to store fat and burn off muscle. Cortisol specifically minimizes the thyroid’s effect on metabolism, slowing it way down. When we’re stressed, our cells die off more quickly than they can be repaired or replaced.
However, when we are mindful, we engage the parasympathetic system to build new cells faster than they are dying off. A calm, focused state tells the brain to release serotonin to elevate the mood and stimulate the thyroid to burn fat and lower levels of leptin, a hormone that tells the brain that you are hungry. It’s in this deregulated nervous system state that we can truly notice how we feel.
Diets don’t work in the long run because they don’t touch on our deep-rooted food beliefs, patterns, behaviors, and narratives. It becomes surface (eat this, avoid that) but doesn’t challenge us to consider the unique how and why of our food choices.
Intuitive eating creates an opportunity to notice your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs surrounding food with curiosity and acceptance, in a non-judgmental way. When we can observe our innate reactions, we can cultivate healthier habits. Intuitive eating cultivates attention and intention.