How intuitive eating could help you to really enjoy your food

How intuitive eating could help you to really enjoy your food

One decade ago, Leanne Barrie from South Australia was facing the big 4-0 with a sense of fear for her health.

Barrie, who works in a highly stressful job, used to drink up to five cups of coffee a day, survived on a weekday staple of a Vegemite roll and regularly overate. She says she felt lethargic and was overweight.

“I didn’t feel well, generally,” Barrie tells SBS. “I was not making the right choices about food or the portion sizes of my meals. I was also eating with an absent mind. Because I felt stressed out, I would eat chocolate, get to the end of the whole packet and think, ‘why did I do that? I now feel worse.’

“Then one day, when I caught an image of myself in a window. I thought ‘I look so different to how I actually feel’. That was the moment when I realised that the two images – of how I looked and how I felt about myself – didn’t marry together very well at all.”

“I started to take time to appreciate the food and drinks I consumed, in all of their facets, with all of my senses.”

With her family’s history of heart issues weighing heavily on her mind, Barrie made a decision. “I believed that if I could do something to improve my sense of wellbeing now, I could turn around my health before it was too late.”

Barrie visited her GP who recommended she see a dietitian and exercise more. The 40-year-old was introduced to an intuitive style of eating.

“I started to take time to appreciate the food and drinks I consumed, in all of their facets, with all of my senses.”

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating – also referred to as mindful eating – is based on the Japanese Zen Buddhism practice of mindfulness. Dubbed ‘the art of presence while you eat’ by a 2017 journal article published in DiabetesSpectrum, it’s regarded as a calm and effective way to change ‘stressed’ eating behaviours.

It requires a person to pay close attention to their food, moment-by-moment and sense-by-sense, savouring food while remaining fully present in the eating experience. 

“For example”, Barrie says, explaining how she sips coffee mindfully, “when I drink coffee in a slow way, I think about what I enjoy about it. I drink the coffee with all my senses and the environment that I am in. I love having my coffee in a clear glass because I love to see the colour of coffee. I also appreciate the smell.”

These days, Barrie gives herself an hour to enjoy preparing and eating breakfast, and giving thanks for her food. “I also think about the nutrition that a plate of food will provide me. I really feel that it’s quite a privilege to appreciate the food I consume.” 

Not focusing on weight loss could help you lose weight

There’s one other important thing to note about intuitive eating – even though it may result in weight loss, it’s not a diet.

“It has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, fat, or protein,” the journal article explains. “The purpose of mindful eating is not to lose weight, although it is highly likely that those who adopt this style of eating will lose weight.”

Mindful eating requires the person to consume food slowly, which may also assist with weight management. A 2018 Japanese study of over 22,000 people published in the BMJ Open suggests that people who eat food more slowly were less likely to be obese than people who eat food quickly.

Barrie reports that she’s unintentionally lost around 20 kilograms in the past decade as a result of intuitive eating. She believes there are a number of reasons for this weight loss – not only does eating with all your senses enable you to be aware of your body’s hunger and fullness signals but intuitive eating may change your relationship with food.

“Mindful eating makes everything available to you; there’s no good or bad food,” she says. “It involves checking in with yourself when you are eating and ascertaining whether you have eaten enough, whether you’d like more, whether you even feel good eating this food and what reasons you have for eating the food. Are you actually hungry or are you eating for an emotional reason?”

“It can place you in a very powerful position, as you have the choice about what foods and drinks you appreciate.”

Barrie adds that this sort of philosophy makes eating an empowering experience, fuelled by choice. “A lot of people are controlled by food and eating [when dieting and calorie counting]. Intuitive or mindful eating gives you back control because there’s no food that’s off-limits. It can place you in a very powerful position, as you have the choice about what foods and drinks you appreciate.”

In addition to the weight loss benefits, Barrie reports that she now feels more positive about food and her health. She admits that it’s not a style of eating that will suit everyone. But for stress-based eaters or people who feel that dieting reduces their sense of wellbeing or confidence, it could be a valid option.

“Mindful or intuitive eating is the one constant that I have. It’s a tool in my toolbox that I absolutely cannot live without. It’s made all the difference to my life.”


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