Instead of Starting a New Diet, Choose to Eat Intuitively

Instead of Starting a New Diet, Choose to Eat Intuitively

By Yehudit Garmaise

After the celebrations and feasts of the Yom Tov season pass, some of us may be tempted to impose impossible restrictions on our eating habits.

“I’m going off sugar,” report many people hoping to get control of their eating habits. “Carbs,” “salty snacks,” even “any cheese” can quickly become Enemy Number One in the fight to lose, “the Sukkos weight.”

But we all know that diets don’t work. Most extreme restrictions are simply not sustainable. 

To heal our relationships with food, we need to replace anxiety, mind games, and self-defeating practices by turning inward and listening to ourselves.

To learn how to do this, we can carefully observe how children eat.

Even if children have only a bite of a cookie left, if they are done, full, or don’t like the cookie, kids will leave the unwanted food for garbage cans. Children don’t yet have any self-made rules and drama around food and can therefore be a great example of what intuitive eating should look like.  

In the book Intuitive Eating, authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who are nutritionists, explain that we can heal our self-defeating patterns of extreme restriction and followed by overeating by learning to trust ourselves.

Unlike traditional diets that categorize foods as “good” or “bad,” when we eat intuitively, we can make peace with all types of food and eat what we want and need to have energy and satisfaction.

Like kids, we can go back to eating what looks and sounds good to us: in quantities that leave us feeling satisfied. When we sense that we are full or about to be full, we can stop eating and simply tell ourselves that we can always have more later. 

Slowing down to listen to our actual cravings might surprise us. When we relax and tell ourselves consistently that we can eat “anything to our liking,” we might find that unhealthy choices start to lose their luster.

If we allow ourselves to trust our intuition about food, we usually will choose foods that make us feel good. 

When we get rid of the “food police” and become more relaxed around all kinds of foods we may notice that we often want nutritious food rather than “empty calories.” 

And even when we do crave chips or cookies, without the all-or-nothing mindset, we can enjoy some of those foods without all the negative chatter flooding our brains.

Furthermore, fun foods like pizza, cake, and ice cream are often served at social gatherings, yomim tovim, and other celebrations that are part of a healthy and fulfilling life. Restricting all that can rob lots of joy out of life.

And a slice of pizza won't kill us. Our bodies can handle a lot more than we give them credit for. We must invest in all areas of our health including our social and emotional health and that sometimes requires a piece of cake.

We must attentively listen to our bodies’ cues, but we also have to listen honestly, carefully, lovingly, and patiently to our hearts. 

When we pause for a moment and look inward, we might find that sometimes what we thought was hunger is emotional discomfort.

When things don’t go “as smoothly as we might have hoped” this year, let’s not robotically fall into our primitive knee-jerk reactions that don’t serve us well.

Instead running to squash our uncomfortable feeling with food or other unhealthy habits, instead, we can take a moment to reflect.

We can choose to stop, pause, and simply breathe, until our racing hearts return to their normal rates.

Once we relax and can consider what we are feeling, we may find that what we are feeling is not hunger at all, but perhaps anger, fear, resentment, or anxiety.

We can ask Hashem to help us get through our difficult moments by asking Him to shower us with the love and strength we need.

Maybe a quick text or call to a supportive friend or a laugh or check-in with one’s spouse is in order. 

Short walks, inspiring shiurs, honest tefillos, initiating chesed, creative work, relaxing reading, and some scheduled time to do something fun alone or with friends are better ways to keep our bodies and minds healthy in 5783.

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