Stephanie Small is founder of Three Sisters Nutrition, a phone-based practice helping women improve their relationship with food, and blogs for holistic weight loss site 9 Weight Loss.
We're inundated with fad diets. Books, CDs and supplements saturate the market, “guaranteed” to help us achieve the lean, toned figure we crave. Every few years a new diet fad emerges, and we hear over and over again how fantastic it is, only to learn of its pitfalls a few years later.
For every vegan who’s convinced they’ve seen the light, that their skin has never been more radiant and their mood more elevated, there’s a vegan in recovery who can tell you all the ways that a meatless diet sickened them.
Atkins followed by the book can be great, but people who subsist on bacon cheeseburgers end up in the hospital.
All diets have one problem in common: If you follow them, you are relying on a rigid, externally imposed set of rules rather than your own innate wisdom. It’s bound to backfire sooner or later.
You may have heard of intuitive eating—the concept of choosing foods (and beverages) based upon what your body’s asking for. This is not the way the average American functions. Slow down and listen to my body? No way! I have errands to run, kids to pick up, a job to do and things to worry about!
Slowing down also means you may start to feel unpleasant emotions. Listening to your body may mean hearing some things that you might not like…things like “you’re neglecting me” or “I really feel horrible when you feed me ice cream.”
But here’s the benefit to slowing down and listening to your body: You will never have to follow a diet again. If you listen, truly listen, to what your body is telling you, it will let you know exactly what it needs. And what you need is likely different than what your neighbor needs, or what your partner needs, or what your friend needs. It will differ from day to day and season to season. That’s OK. Just listen.
Developing this skill is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. You won’t do it perfectly, and you won’t do it every day. That’s not the goal. The goal is exploration. The goal is to be curious about what nourishes you best.
Here’s an exercise I give some of my clients who want to incorporate this concept into their lives. The focus is on sensory experience and being in your body. If you find yourself going into your head and attempting to figure out what’s “right” rather than simply experiencing and noticing, return to your breath.
• Go to your favorite place to grocery shop—preferably somewhere with soft, natural lighting and organic products. A farmer’s market or health food store is ideal.
• Breathe slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel your feet on the floor. Feel yourself in your body.
• Stand in front of the produce. Keep breathing. Admire its gorgeous, vivid colors, its unusual shapes. Pick up a piece of citrus, a potato, some celery, or anything that appeals to you, and inhale its scent. Touch the lettuce leaves and the apples’ skins. Look at the labels to see their countries of origins and reflect on the long distances some of these plants have traveled to nourish you. Picture them growing in the earth, nourished by the sunshine, rain and minerals in the soil.
• Keep breathing. Choose a piece of produce and imagine holding it, tasting it, chewing it and swallowing it. Is it a “yes” for you? Does it appeal to your body? Do you feel physically good when you imagine eating it, or not so good, or neutral? Move on to another piece, repeat the process and breathe. You may find that your body is drawn to certain fruits and vegetables, and uninterested in or repelled by others. Remember that your reactions are just indicative of this moment in time. Today your body may not want carrots, but next week it might crave them.
Drop the notion that there is a ‘right’ way to do this.
Again, this exercise is about being in your body without judging and analyzing. If you find it difficult to stay out of your head, keep breathing, and try again. You can always try again tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Just stay curious.
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