‘Intuitive eating is becoming in tune with your internal world and starting to listen to your body and its needs again.’  Anri van Rooyen

Intuitive eating is combining your intuition with your eating behaviours and habits to promote a healthy body image, an easy lifestyle, a healthy relationship with food, your body and yourself.

Intuitive eating involves understanding your own cues for hunger and satiety, as well as when your body needs to move and when it needs to relax. It’s all about acting on your internal processes including your mind, emotions and physical body, by responding in ways that feel good, nourishing and right for you. Here are my top practical tips for intuitive eating. All you need to remember is INTUITION…

I for intuition
Intuition is the key to unlock this life-changing way of eating and living. According to the Harvard Business Review there is a deep neurological basis for intuition. The seat for intuition is our gut (also known as the second brain). The gut is innervated by over 100 million neurons, meaning your gut knows best.

With intuitive decision-making the gut and brain work together by assessing memories, past learnings, personal needs and preferences to make the wisest decision for you. In this way, intuition is a form of emotional and experiential data. Therefore, if you start to follow your gut (or intuition), your life and health will become easier and more effortless!

Intuitive eating is also about being fully present (in the moment), intentional and non-judgmental (i.e. you don’t judge yourself, you just become aware of where you are at). Intuition is a gift we possess naturally. Like all things, practice makes perfect and it is more readily available to us, if done daily.

It involves bringing awareness to what you are experiencing via your senses and/or thoughts and emotions (i.e. your state of mind). The ability to become aware of where you are and what you are doing.

Listen to your body! Your body knows when to stop eating, but it takes time for your brain to register that you are satisfied. Therefore, eat slowly and taste every bite. When we eat slowly, it activates our parasympathetic nervous system (aka our ‘rest and digest’ nervous system) and our bodies can literally digest and absorb food better and more effectively. Also listen to how your body reacts to different foods; we generally ignore these cues. For example, if you experience bloating, stomach pain or discomfort; it is your body telling you to slow down when you eat or it might be a specific food that our body does not want.

The idea is that you should eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. This should be an intuitive process, but for many people it’s not. Start practising by simply becoming aware.     Knowledge is important, therefore you need an idea of what healthy foods are, which brings us to…

N for nourish
Intuitive eating is centred on incorporating nourishing and healthy foods into your lifestyle and using food as medicine. Food should be used for fuel, not to fill you up.

Healthy foods include healthy fats (olive oils, avocados, nuts and seeds), lean proteins (incl. plant proteins, chicken breast, eggs, fatty fish and lean meats with no fat) and complex carbohydrates (whole grains, oats, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes etc).

A good combination of all of the above can be found in rainbow fruits and vegetables. Choose different types of fruits, veggies and herbs with different colours and textures. Each have their own unique healing properties.

T is for thoughts
What are your current thoughts around your body, food, health, yourself? Inner negative self-talk and thoughts can increase binge eating and cravings. Food releases neurochemicals (incl. endorphins) and can make us feel good. This is why so many of us grab a chocolate or ice cream to make us feel better; however this effect is short lived and then the guilt generally sets in. Choose a healthier alternative instead.

Our bodies want to be healthy, it’s our minds we need to change or convince. Start by noticing and writing down your thoughts. Identify the most common negative thoughts and change the narrative by making them positive (the new thought needs to resonate with you and feel good. If it does not feel good, tweak it until it does).

I always tell my patients, remember that a thought is just an intenhtion or possibility (it is not reality yet) and you don’t have to act on it. Just become aware and think – ow interesting, I’m thinking it again. Then literally change your mind by changing your thoughts and continue living. It also helps to tap into why you are doing this. Write down your whys and put them on sticky notes or as reminders on your phone.

U is for unique
You are UNIQUE and intuitive eating will look different for each one of us. It is important that it fits into your lifestyle and your personality. There are no hard and fast rules. You need to find what works for you. It can be challenging, but see it as a game and get curious to find out what foods and habits bring you joy. Start slowly, by incorporating some of these tips to figure out what works for you.

I is for internal – emotions
According to the law of attraction, our thoughts create our emotions and behaviours that lead to our reality. Emotions can be powerful and affect our eating habits.

Start noticing feelings and emotions when you want to eat, when you are eating and after you eat. This will give you an indication if you eat to feel better (aka emotional eating) or perhaps to relieve stress (stress eating).

Intuitive eating is based on physical hunger, not emotional hunger (like emotional eating and stress eating) and should not cause guilt. Therefore, it involves mind training to allow you to choose healthier alternatives when you are emotional or stressed. Feel into your emotions and express them; then choose healthier alternatives, focus on your breath (relaxation practices), move your body (stretching, Yoga or exercise you enjoy), drink herbal tea, or get creative (write, draw and sing). The sky is the limit.

It is important to know that your body generally does not crave unhealthy foods. If you have cravings, it is more likely your mind and emotions taking over or cold weather (as fat is the best protection against cold). An easy hack – drink a glass of water or herbal tea instead! In winter, try delicious and healthy comfort foods as alternatives (visit our website for some free recipes).

T is for TIME for fun
My biggest mission is to teach people that healthy living can be easy, fun, practical and delicious. It shouldn’t be a punishment! Bring in foods that you enjoy! Get creative in the kitchen and use spices, herbs and healthy oils to make your food taste great.

You can have food you enjoy that is not completely healthy. I recommend adding it in moderation. Remember if you binge on it, you are no longer practising intuitive eating.

Celebrate your wins – big or small! If you became aware before giving into cravings, celebrate! We tend to take life too seriously. Celebrating will help you stick to it!

I is for INTERNAL – your relationship with food and your body
How do you see food and your body? Your relationship with yourself (incl. food, your body, your health) is a lifelong one!

As human beings we focus too much on our negative aspects. Our brains are wired that way to protect us. It is time to focus on how grateful you are for your beyond amazing and wonderful body. It is SELF-LOVE, not selfishness! It is a miracle to be alive, happy and healthy.

Gratitude lifts our spirits, puts us in a high vibration frequency and helps us work on our relationship with ourselves. There is always something to be grateful for. Make a list of what you are grateful for or love about yourself.

When you catch yourself being negative, look at your list and thank your body for digesting and absorbing your food effortlessly, without you even noticing it. Bless and thank your food for its healing and nourishing powers.

O is for hOlistic
It is important to look at the bigger picture and to involve your whole being. Intuitive eating involves a mind, body and soul approach. You need to grow on all three levels for it to work for you. You need to change your mind in order to change your body and everything you do should be aligned with your soul:Intuition is seeing with your soul” – Dean Koontz

N is for NOT a quick fix
Intuitive eating is a process of unlearning unhealthy ways of being and learning more about yourself – your likes, dislikes and limiting beliefs around food and yourself. Then working through these to find healthy foods to nourish your body, which you also enjoy. There are no quick fixes and it involves ditching the diet mentality (of strict rules and fad diets)!

Intuitive eating is the key to a healthy and happy body, mind and soul. It is an eating style that promotes a healthy attitude toward food and body image. It is a way of life and I recommend it if you know what healthy foods are, if you are aware of your internal world (incl. thoughts and emotions), if you are willing to be curious and gentle with yourself, to find what works for you. If you do struggle get in touch and let us help you make the journey easier.

Anri van Rooyen is a Holistic Health Counsellor and Co-Director of Ariani Health Solutions and The Weight Control Clinic. To contact Anri email: [email protected] www.ArianiHealth.com