Thursday, August 29, 2013

Intuitive Eating

Total steps yesterday:  15,235
Exercise plans for today:  3 mile run

This is going to be a longer post, so bear with me.  I started typing it out and realized I had way more to say about this than I'd expected.  

There was a big movement a few years back promoting intuitive eating instead of dieting.  There's a whole book series / organization that has sprung up around this movement.  I haven't read any of the books, but my understanding, and the way I choose to apply it to my life, is that it focuses on eating when you're hungry, eating foods that make you feel good, and making food part of your lifestyle, rather than a temporary calorie deficit diet.  You can read more about the official movement here.

I have never been a good intuitive eater, and don't pretend to be any sort of expert on it.  In general, I don't think it would work for me.  I am a long-term and committed food tracker.  Studies have shown again and again that tracking your food, whether through a written food journal, an online program like My Fitness Pal, or a group program like Weight Watchers, is one of the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off.  However, I'm not trying to lose weight during pregnancy, nor do I find it possible to predict exactly how many extra calories I need a day to gain the appropriate weight, so I decided for my own sanity that I would give up food logging during the pregnancy.

I'm also prone to overeating and sugar bingeing, though, so I've tried in the last few weeks to make a conscious attempt toward eating well, and eating enough, without going overboard and using pregnancy as an excuse to eat a pint of frozen yogurt a day.  Okay, twice I have eaten an entire pint of frozen yogurt in a day, but I'll come back to that.

So far, my weight gain is perfectly on track with recommendations.  Most sources I've found say that you should gain between 1-4 pounds in your first trimester, and then around 1 pound a week for the remainder of the pregnancy.  Please note that this is a general guideline - people will gain more or less, and if you're overweight or underweight, that adjusts what your needed weight goals are.  If you're super sick in your first trimester (or throughout your whole pregnancy), you might lose weight rather than gaining, or only gain very slowly.  It's not a huge deal, as long as you're checking in with your doctor and eating when you can.

I've gained about 8 pounds so far in pregnancy, which I've done by eating when I'm hungry and trying to, mostly, eat healthy and intuitively.  There are two things that have helped me significantly in eating intuitively during this time.

1.  Food logging.  Let's say that most Americans eat somewhere between 3 and 6 times a day.  We use food to fuel us, but also to express love, to be welcoming at office meetings, to entice people to a social gathering, as treats during entertainment.  Considering how often we eat, and how surrounded we are by food, it's amazing how little most of us know about what we're putting in our bodies.

This is one reason that I can't recommend food logging enough.  I used to think I was eating better by having a muffin as an afternoon snack, rather than the donuts available in the company break room.  Turns out, depending on the size of the muffin, it can be twice as many calories as that donut.  I'd make a perfectly healthy stir fry but eat twice the amount of rice I actually needed.  Food logging initially was instrumental in helping me learn portion sizes.

It also helped me learn little tricks that add up over time.  Having a hamburger?  Fine.  Make it open faced and don't eat the top bun - that's an extra 50-100 calories that you don't really need and doesn't significantly enhance the meal.  Eating pizza?  Fine.  Eat two pieces and then stop eating for twenty minutes.  If you want more, eat one more piece and wait another twenty minutes.  I'm a firm believer that everything is okay in moderation, but we need to each learn what's moderate for our own bodies.  Food logging can help a lot with that.  It taught me enough in the two years I've done it that I'm better able to predict what my body needs.  It's helped me to recognize when I'm actually hungry versus when I'm just bored or wanting to eat for another emotional reason.

If you've never food logged, pregnancy is not when I'd recommend starting it seriously.  However, it might help to take a day or two, or a few days a week, to log your food and see where you're at on average.  Don't worry about changing your habits right away - just see where your current habits put you.  From there, you can start making small changes that still give you plenty of calories but make healthier choices for your baby.  Bonus points:  any good habits learned now are ones you can impart down the road to your child.

2.  Listen to how your body feels before and after you eat.  I talk about this a bit in my refeed post from last week, but wanted to get a bit more in depth.  I took a trip a few years back to England with my mom and sisters, and food was almost always available.  I remember one day where we hadn't eaten in a bit and we marveled at how good it was to actually feel hunger.  We know what the beginnings of hunger feel like.  Pregnant women especially know this feeling.  Honor that feeling by eating when you begin to feel hungry.  Don't wait until you're starving since you're more likely to binge then.

Also, pay attention to how you feel after you eat.  Most of the time I feel pretty good after I'm done eating.  Sometimes I eat too much and, especially now, get heartburn or other discomfort.  Try to avoid this "uncomforta-full" feeling, as one friend calls it.  Trial and error helps here.  Trust me, after a few times of eating too much and feeling really, really terrible, you'll begin to want to cut back.

But also, in pregnancy and beyond, I think it's important to recognize when not great food still makes us feel good.  The bucket of popcorn can make a movie more enjoyable.  That ice cream sundae can be the perfect treat at the end of the day.  It might not fit in our "diet" or our daily calorie plan, but those extras are worth it if they help you feel good.

I felt sick for a lot of my first trimester, and I still occasionally have morning sickness now.  The one thing that always seemed to take the edge off?  McDonald's hamburger and french fries.  I know that it's not good for me.  But if it makes me not want to vomit for a little bit, it's worth it, and my baby isn't going to suffer for it if I eat junk on occasion.

I'm really hoping I can keep this same mentality after the baby is born.  Food is amazing - it nourishes us, but it's also delicious and social and exciting and comforting.  It shouldn't be something we deprive ourselves of, or punish ourselves for eating.  It can take time to figure out what our bodies need to be healthy and happy, but it's time that is very well spent.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes when I'm reading your posts, I feel like you are someone I don't know - a wise, thoughtful, knowledgeable someone whose advice I should follow - just like other bloggers I admire :)
    But I DO know you as a wise, thoughtful and knowledgeable someone! Also, a (an?) hilarious someone :D What a joy to know you!! <3