It is difficult to believe that as I write this article, we are about to begin the sixth month of this new year. Where has time gone?

While many people have been experiencing a different level of activity because of the coronavirus, it still can feel as if time is just flying by, even though in so many ways life has slowed down.

It is often in times of uncertainty when we let our healthy habits start to slide just a bit and find ourselves reaching for treats that we would normally leave alone. We end up putting on a few extra pounds when we started off the year thinking we would shed a few.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Let’s discuss two things — stress and intuitive eating. We can have both good and bad stress. Good stress could be the birth of a baby, a wedding or some other celebration. Bad stress could be dealing with a death, an illness, the loss of a job or other financial crisis. Both good and bad stress means lots of emotions.

The problem with stress occurs when you feel like you cannot get away from it. It becomes a chronic issue for you and affects your health in a negative way. Stress-related eating behaviors such as drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, mindless eating, skipping meals, or crash dieting increase. This can lead to imbalances in your blood sugar, side effects from caffeine or alcohol and poor health outcomes.

The good news is that you can combat this. In a world where we are bombarded with trendy diets, jumping off the diet wagon, or following a non-diet approach may be the answer.

Intuitive eating specialists Evelyn Tribole, RD, and Elyse Resch, RDN, developed a 10-step approach in the 1990s. They have spent many years researching this method and have published numerous books about intuitive eating.

So what is this non-diet approach? Basically, it is learning to eat mindfully and without guilt. It’s not about counting calories or putting restrictions on foods, but rather following the 10 guiding principles to help lead you through eating intuitively.

The first principle is to reject the diet mentality. Leave the yo-yo dieting world behind. With this principle, we reject the belief that quick-fix plans work or that they are sustainable over the long haul.

The second principle is to honor your hunger. Learning to listen to your body and your physiologic cues for hunger is important. You need to nourish your body with adequate energy to allow your body to do its job and function efficiently. Recognizing your body’s hunger signals allows you to also learn when it is satisfied.

Make peace with food. Stop labeling foods as good or bad. When we eat foods that have been classified as “forbidden” we set ourselves up to be even further tempted by it. Once we’ve eaten it — guilt comes knocking at your door.

Challenge the food police. Just an FYI — I am not the food police. If I see you at the grocery store, I really don’t care what you have in your buggy. That’s your business.

We have our own internal food police, too. It’s the voice in your head saying “you know better” or “you don’t need that.” Silence those voices. Whether they are your own internal thoughts or real people spouting rules, take those away and you’re better equipped to eat intuitively.

The fifth principle is to respect your fullness. This partners up with the second principle. You have to know when it’s time to eat, but also to know when you’ve had enough. Take a moment during your meal to really assess how you are feeling. Did you already have enough? Do you need more? Like many of you, I grew up in a house where we were encouraged to clean our plates. The reality is that we are usually satisfied with less than the whole thing.

Discover the satisfaction factor is the sixth principle. This is being more mindful of taste and texture. Eating should be an experience. It should not be a rushed eat it now and taste it later event.

Honor your feelings without using food is the seventh principle and in a society where we reward ourselves with food this is a tough one. We eat for many reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. We’re bored, lonely, scared, and angry. Finding ways to deal with all of these emotions is important and can help you limit your use of food as the answer.

I tell my patients about No. 8 all the time — respect your body. Let’s be real here. Your body does some pretty amazing things and has lots of intricate work to accomplish. Learning to accept you as you are will go a long way to mending your relationship with food. Cinderella’s stepsisters tried really hard to make their feet fit into a shoe that was never meant for them. Our bodies can be the same way. We have a genetic blueprint and we need to learn to embrace who we are.

Exercise-feel the difference is the ninth principle. Learn to appreciate movement. Think of how exercise benefits you. Does it help you sleep better or improve your mood? Does it make you feel stronger? These are the things that keep us motivated to keep moving more.

Finally, the 10th principle is to honor your health with gentle nutrition. While intuitive eating allows you to eat what you want and not follow a rigid or structured “diet,” it doesn’t mean forget about foods that help keep you healthy. Eating foods that make you feel well are important. You don’t have to eat “perfect” all of the time. In the end, what you eat in one meal or one day doesn’t affect your overall health. It’s what you eat consistently over time that does.

These past few months have been challenging. We sometimes falter with our health goals and throw in the towel in the midst of change. We can choose today how we plan to react to all the tasks ahead of us and learn to embrace eating in a way that is both healthy and sustainable.

Until next time … live healthy.

Kimberly Alton, RD, CSSD, LD, is the director of food and nutrition services at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center.

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