When did something so basic as eating become stressful? Intermittent fasting, paleo, keto, vegan. With all the “rules,” it’s no wonder so many of us struggle. Throw pregnancy and postpartum into the mix, and it gets even more complicated.
I see so many people struggle with this. I knew there had to be a better way. So I recently sat down with intuitive eating counselor Crystal Karges, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, a registered dietician nutritionist, and mother of five.
A common misconception is that intuitive eating is eating whatever you feel like. In simplest terms, it’s really about learning to become an expert of your own body. It’s about tuning into exactly what your body needs, which can change on a daily basis — particularly in pregnancy.
IT’S NOT A DIET. Karges explains that a diet is a set of food rules. Conversely, intuitive eating is listening to your body’s signals when you eat certain foods and responding appropriately. It’s about finding what works and what doesn’t. (Spoiler alert: we’re all different.)
The diet culture creates a lot of noise. Sadly, you’ve been hearing it since you were a child. What you should eat, what size you should be. Often we inflict these rules on ourselves, just because they are there.
With so much conflicting information, it can feel like chaos when trying to determine the right foods to eat and feed your children. There’s also a cultural pressure to “do it all right” to achieve “supreme health.” Yet the definition of health is constantly changing.
Pregnancy makes this even more complicated. Overnight your appetite or taste buds can change. You may tell yourself you need a big salad, but your body responds with nausea at the sight of lettuce. Our bodies can feel so foreign in pregnancy and postpartum, and often we associate something different as bad.
It’s particularly difficult if you’ve been conditioned to use food as a way to manipulate your body size. In reality, our body is going to do what it needs to do in pregnancy to keep us healthy and grow our babies — which can feel like a loss of control.
All of this noise drowns out your body’s innate wisdom in knowing how to eat and what works best for YOU. Even if you’re not feeling pressure to be a certain size, the sheer volume of daily decisions around what to eat can lead to decision fatigue.
I think it’s why so many of us look to outside sources for answers because it’s one less thing to think about. The trouble comes when those rules don’t align with what our body is actually needing.
It doesn’t have to be this hard.
What we must realize is that our body is constantly troubleshooting and giving us cues to navigate these decisions — particularly during all of the changes in pregnancy and postpartum. Learning to tune into and trust your body (and your appetite) is the most important thing.
Too often we push these signals away. We’re too rushed to eat so we ignore hunger, then hit a wall or overeat to compensate. We judge ourselves harshly for cravings, heaping guilt and shame onto our plates.
If we want to build a healthy and positive relationship with food, we have to re-learn what it’s like to come back home to our bodies.
You already have the answers. You just have to TRUST yourself.
So where do you start?
Karges offers a beautifully simple approach called the Framework of Three. Try feeding your body every three hours (if possible) and aim for three food components, such as a carb, a fat and a fruit or vegetable.
Of course, this framework is a guideline — not a rule! But it can be enormously helpful if you’ve lost sight of what “normal” eating looks like. This process is less about what’s on your plate, and more about finding a sense of peace around eating.
If you’re the type of person who has trouble remembering to eat, practice setting an alarm or reminder on your phone every three hours throughout the day. When we’re working or taking care of other children, our needs are often pushed to the back burner. When’s the last time “lunch” consisted of a half-eaten sandwich and Goldfish crackers off your child’s leftover plate?
Remember, when we push away our basic needs, it impacts our mood and ability to stay calm and present with our kids.
The most important thing to realize is that intuitive eating is a learning process. When you start second-guessing yourself or feeling guilty about a food choice, remember that your body will help you navigate and troubleshoot.
Give yourself freedom — eat the pizza or donut! If you don’t feel great afterward, try compassion and curiosity about what happened rather than guilt. You’re simply gathering information for future eating decisions.
When we allow ourselves this freedom and self-compassion, we model it for our children. If we find ourselves overeating or not eating enough, we can admit our mistake out loud and say, “I’m going to remember this for next time.”
At its core, intuitive eating reminds us that nutrition is about nourishing our bodies AND the concept that food is intended to be pleasurable and enjoyable.
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