Make 2020 the year you ditch diets, get rid of guilt and choose to be kind to yourself instead. That’s the advice from Holistic Health Coach, Intuitive Eating Counsellor and Body Talk Practitioner, Nicole Allen.
“New Year diet resolutions set us up for failure. They’re often unrealistic or difficult to achieve and few of us feel healthier or happier as a result – yet we insist on doing it!”
If you want to implement changes in your life, don’t repeat the same mistake; rather choose an approach that’s going to be kind to you mentally, emotionally and physically!
Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But it’s probably one of the most difficult things you can attempt to do for yourself. Diets, by their very nature are all about punishment, restriction and taking the pleasure out of food – thanks to years of conditioning in a society that is judgemental and upholds distorted ideals of body image and weight. Despite these challenges, Nicole says you can break free from old patterns and beliefs, especially if change one small thing at a time and learn to listen to your body. It’s called Intuitive Eating.
Sitting in the cosy, peaceful practice she has established at her home in Kloof, it is hard to believe this attractive, petite woman has wrestled with diet, body image and self-esteem issues throughout her life. ‘It’s a battle I haven’t wholly won yet, but I’m getting there,’ she says with a laugh. In her quest to find her path to health and happiness, Nicole has studied extensively, experimented and read a multitude of research studies on Intuitive Eating. Her experiences and knowledge have brought her to a point where she is able to help others navigate their own journeys, and she has become a sought-after counsellor, coach and motivational speaker.
‘Food is central to our existence. Yet there is so much conflicting nutritional information in the media and so many different diet trends doing the rounds – each with their own definitions of right and wrong – that many of us feel confused and overwhelmed. Yet our bodies know the answer.’
‘We are all born intuitive eaters. Babies and young children instinctively know when to eat and how much to eat. They’re deeply in touch with their internal hunger and satisfaction cues and will happily turn away from food when they’ve had enough. But as we grow up, our eating habits become shaped by outside factors such as time and other people’s rules and restrictions. We start to absorb societal messages about weight and body image, and we learn to morally judge food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – which is where guilt steps in.’
The tragedy of this process is that we stop listening to our bodies’ needs. Instead, we try to suppress our natural appetite, restrict food and ignore hunger signals – all of which creates such distrust between the body and mind.’
Eventually problems set in and the noise takes over…
‘When we follow a diet, we’re essentially allowing someone else to dictate what we eat, and when we eat, instead of trusting our natural appetite and allowing our own intuition to guide our food choices.’
Intuitive Eating is the opposite. It encourages us to shut out external noise (including rules and restrictions in our head!) and tune into our intuition – or internal wisdom – instead.
‘It teaches us to trust those internal cues of hunger, satisfaction and fullness and in so doing, to develop positive eating beliefs and behaviours that truly nourish us.’ Essentially, Intuitive Eating is a lifestyle change that puts you back in charge of your body and in control of your relationship with food.
To eat intuitively you may need to relearn how to trust your body, which often involves learning to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. Physical hunger is the biological urge that tells you to eat. It sends out signals such as a growling stomach, fatigue or irritability. Emotional hunger on the other hand, is driven by emotional needs that create cravings for food, most often comfort foods which, when eaten, can cause feelings of guilt and self-hatred – particularly if you’ve been trapped in a diet mentality.
Intuitive Eating has no rules, no lists of good, bad or forbidden foods.
Instead, we turn the focus on figuring out what foods best support you, and make you feel great. To do this, you’ll be shown how to notice the impact your food choices have on your mind and body. For example, does the food you eat make you feel energised or does it leave you feeling bloated or lethargic? If you can observe the effects your food choices have, you’ll quickly determine what style of eating suits you.‘
An Intuitive Eating lifestyle, says Nicole, is about healing your relationship with food and your body. It’s about stepping away from diet mentality and adopting a positive approach to health that teaches us to tune into our bodies and make personal food choices that nurture us on all levels: physically, emotionally and mentally.
‘Intuitive Eating helps us to become so much more mindful and aware too. It encourages us to eat without distraction whenever possible (so less scrolling or eating in front of the TV) and to actually notice what’s on our plate. This means taking in the aroma, temperature, taste and texture of your food. Enjoy every mouthful, and when you feel full, stop. It doesn’t matter if there are leftovers on your plate.’
One of the key benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it guides us to replace feelings of guilt, judgement and shame with kindness and compassion.
Diets thrive on making us feel bad when we stray from what we can and can’t eat.
‘And we can become so wrapped up in what’s supposedly right and wrong, that we can begin to judge others’ food choices too (ever noticed yourself doing that at a restaurant when you see other people’s meals being served?). But negative feelings such as guilt and shame never lead to positive change. Only kindness, compassion and love can do that.’
Of course some people argue that by allowing all foods, Intuitive Eating pushes health and nutrition into the background. But Nicole disagrees. ‘Our bodies need nutritious foods to thrive. Intuitive Eating just recognises that there is a place for “less healthy” options in a happy, healthy lifestyle too – and that what we think about food is often more harmful to our health than the actual food itself. You will find, as you work through the principles of Intuitive Eating, that you will be drawn to healthier food choices because they make you feel good – not because you “should”. Similarly, when you’re at a birthday party and want a slice of cake, you’ll be able to enjoy it without worrying that it’s going to derail your day and send you on a sugar and carb binge!’
Through coaching, Nicole also guides her clients to recognise their emotional eating and overeating triggers and develop skills to cope with them. ‘Emotional eating is not a bad thing, but it does become harmful when it’s your only coping skill. Ideally, we need to feel our emotions, rather than shut them out, because doing so can have negative consequences on our health.’
“There are ten principles we work through with practical exercises, tools and teachings. It’s both fascinating and fun and you get to discover your true tastes and beliefs. The Intuitive Eating journey is not an easy one; there are challenges and it requires commitment and absolute honesty with yourself, but it is incredibly rewarding – and the results last forever. Having a coach by your side holds you accountable and makes the outcome achievable,’ she says.
Before you eat ask yourself …
- Do I feel like something big or small?
- Would I prefer something hot or cold?
- Do I feel like something savoury or sweet?
- Would I prefer to chew something crunchy or smooth?
- What do I need this meal or snack to do for me? (for example, do I need sustained energy; something to tide me over to dinner; or help me feel grounded?)
Nicole will be the guest speaker at an Intuitive Eating Workshop at Founder Foods in Kloof on Thursday November 28 from 9.30am to 11am. For ticket details, contact the shop on 087 152 0159, call Nicole on 083 659 6319 or visit www.quicket.co.za and search “Introduction to Intuitive Eating”.