The joys of natural eating / not dieting, also known as normal eating, intuitive eating, or mindful eating, include appreciating our body, eating what we want, trusting our built-in sensors, savoring our food, dining with friends, and getting on with life.
Natural Eating Helps Us Appreciate Our Body
Think of the way the human body carries out daily functions that go on for years and years – for a whole lifetime! What if we had to be responsible for what our body does for us? For making sure our heart beats correctly, for keeping our lungs going, for managing our digestive system, for seeing that our kidneys filter out waste, and for coordinating our eyes, ears, nose, hands, and brains to work together to make sense of what’s going on around us. If I were put in charge of all that for even a few minutes, I’d be dead!
Fortunately, we don’t have to worry, for most of what goes on inside our body is on automatic pilot. On top of that, our body is resilient, made to fight even serious injury and illness and medical treatment. Yet our body wasn’t made to last forever. We have only the Here and Now to inhabit it.
Back when I was perpetually dieting to lose weight, I hated features of my body. I didn’t like my complexion (too many breakouts), knees (too knobby), the shape of my head (too flat in back), my profile (my nose got lost between my prominent cheeks), or my apple-shaped body type. Instead, I longed to have an hour-glass figure with a tiny waist. I envied the flawless skin of svelte models in magazines. It never occurred to me to stop and thank God for my healthy, strong, and energetic body. Natural eating, in contrast to dieting, helps us appreciate our body and obsess less about how much it weighs.
The bottom line is – no matter what shape we’re in or what size we are, no matter how healthy or sick, and no matter how old we are, we’re here on earth right now, inhabiting an amazing body. Wow! Like King David, I respond with gratefulness and joy.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.” (from Psalm 139:13-15 NIV)
Natural Eating Means Freedom to Eat What We want
Sound too good to be true? Sure did to me. When I gave up dieting, it took a while to realize I could really eat whatever I wanted. No diet lists of allowed and forbidden foods. No measuring or calorie counters. I didn’t know where to begin because I was used to being told what to eat. Choosing for myself? How novel!
According to the gurus of the natural eating movement, we give ourselves permission to eat anything that’s edible with the goal of eating when we’re hungry. But we also have the freedom to eat even if we’re not hungry. To me, natural eating is not a “diet in disguise” with a list of rules. The one and only guideline I adopted is to check how hungry I am.
Yes, I was hungry the first morning after I quit dieting for good. So the next thing was to figure out what I wanted for breakfast, which may seem easy to you if you’re not in the habit of sticking to a diet plan. But I had dieted for most of my adult life, so my mind was filled with numbers – the number of calories, carbs, and fat grams in given foods. Filtering them out was a challenge as I considered my options. Did I want an egg with toast? A bowl of cereal? Fruit? In time I learned to ignore numbers and go with my instincts of what would taste good as well as keep me going all morning. Plentiful food and freedom to eat whatever we want can energize us.
Natural Eating Leads Us to Trust our Built-in Sensors
Pausing to think about how hungry we are before we eat helps us to trust our stomachs. When I was dieting, I trained myself to ignore my growling stomach, which bothered me particularly at night. Between diets, when I ate (or binged) despite how full I already felt, I got used to ignoring the pain of a stuffed stomach. After years of not trusting my built-in sensors in my stomach and brain, I still have to remind myself that being hungry makes eating more enjoyable, not less. If I’m too full to eat something I really want, all I have to do is wait a couple of hours until I’m hungry again. The point is that merely being aware of our appetite changes us, letting us relax around food and rely more on our instincts. What joy!
Natural Eating Helps Us Savor Our Food
When I was a kid, swimming made me ravenous, and I remember everything tasting wonderful. It was like discovering food for the first time. Hunger also helps us detect flavor and texture nuances. Have you ever noticed that the first bite is the most sensational? Imagine the first bite of an avocado or grilled chicken or watermelon or something else you really enjoy. With subsequent bites the newness of the food wears off. But we can enjoy the “first bite sensation” at every meal if we come to the table hungry.
I happen to like bruschetta because of its combination of texture and flavors. If I don’t snack right before dinner, I know I’ll enjoy it even more.
(Note: Bruschetta is an easy appetizer to serve. We let everyone at the table make their own. Take a half slice of toast or baguette, rub it lightly with a morsel of fresh garlic, layer on diced fresh tomatoes and torn leaves of basil, drizzle on olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Optional: sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.)
While hunger heightens the flavor of food, fullness makes food taste dull. Back in the days when I was preparing to go on a diet, I’d eat all my favorite and soon-to-be forbidden foods alternating sweet with salty all weekend until I was so full that I couldn’t think of a single thing that appealed to me. When Monday morning rolled around, I was ready and eager to start my diet. What a relief to give my poor stomach a break!
Chronic dieting also taught my body to anticipate food deprivation by slowing down my metabolism. The backlash was that when I went off the diet, whether or not I made my goal by losing the desired number of pounds, I gravitated toward foods and quantities of food the diet didn’t allow. Dieting set me up for feast or famine, no middle ground. Today, just reading about a diet plan makes me want to run for chocolate.
When we eat naturally, however, we’re rarely uncomfortably full, and we don’t go to bed hungry. No more restriction! And that’s enough to bring a smile.
Natural Eating Encourages Dining with Friends
Natural eating removes some of the obstacles of sharing meals with friends and family we’d have if we were in the middle of a diet. We don’t have to think about what we can and can’t have (unless we have allergies or other health conditions) and we don’t have to decide between staying on or going off the diet to eat with friends. Last week, a couple we’ve known for years invited us to their home for lunch, and they served a lovely meal of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, and a green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. Dessert was a scoop of ice cream covered with diced fresh mango. I shudder to think of how guilty I would’ve felt in my dieting days when I was counting carbs, or calories, or fat grams. Natural eating means we’re free to enjoy whatever food is served. If we want to meet with friends in a restaurant, we’re free to select anything we want from the menu. Without guilt. It’s fun to eat together.
Natural Eating Helps Us Get on with Life
Back when I was dieting, my focus was on what I could eat and what I had to avoid. Not only three times a day but in between meals, too! Cooking for my family took determination because I didn’t want to deprive them of good meals yet I didn’t want to make food that would tempt me to go off my diet. On top of that, I wasn’t getting enough to eat while dieting and felt drained, which made me think about about food all the time. After giving up dieting once and for all, we’ll gradually stop fixating on food. When our hunger is satisfied, we have the energy to think beyond what we’re going to eat next. Joy – not shallow momentary happiness, but lasting contentment – grows as we get on with the important things in life.
Happy natural eating!
Posted on June 29, 2018