The Intuitive Eating Way

13 January 2021

A simple tool for creating healthy eating habits

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Welp, it’s New Years Resolution time. As you might imagine, I’m not big on setting resolutions myself, or recommending for my clients to set them either. I must admit though, there is always something inside that gently tugs at me towards the beginning of a new year…or screams internally “Hey Lauren, get your shit together!”

But seriously, despite my disdain for resolutions, I totally understand why so many people are drawn to them. Especially this year, where this whole global pandemic thing has thrown us all for a loop. Whether it’s learning how to work from home (often while taking care of children), financial hardship, coping with the stress of having a frontline job or the loss or sickness of a loved one, or loneliness, it makes a lot of sense that self care may have fallen to the wayside. We’re all just trying to get by in a very strange and uncertain time.

Now that it feels like there may be an end in sight (but not too close - remember, we’ve still got a bit to go before life gets back to “normal” or whatever our new normal will be), you might be interested in bringing some self care or perhaps some healthier eating habits back into your life. Or maybe not - that’s cool too! Remember, pursuit of health is not a moral obligation. However, I do believe the pursuit of health, whatever health means to you, is something everyone deserves access to, with adequate resources, non-stigmatizing health information, and skills for fostering behavior change. 

In light of that, today’s post will teach a simple tool I included in my book, which can help you form health-promoting habits that are aligned with intuitive eating. Remember, depending on where you are in your intuitive eating journey, you might not be at a point where you’re ready to intentionally engage with gentle nutrition, and there’s no shame in that! If anything feels restrictive, then it is restrictive, and it’s probably going to be helpful for you. But no matter where you are in your journey, I hope this tool can be used in fostering habits that are helpful for where you're at!

It’s also a tool you can use for non-health focused goals. This is a strategy I use for keeping myself organized with doing my finances and to-do list at work and tidying the house (semi) regularly. 

As we’re getting into New Years, and people around you are setting grandiose resolutions, I think it’s important to start this conversation by bringing you back down to earth. The world of health and fitness glorifies big changes. Many of the popular health and fitness programs want you to mark the beginning of a “health kick” with a huge, overnight change. They tell you to go big or go home; they tell you that if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. It’s no wonder many people feel that if the change they are making isn’t big, it’s not going to make a difference.

But big changes are rarely sustainable. Instead of teaching you to adjust to or work around things that happen in real life, like late nights at work, social events, getting sick, or stressful events, these diet and fitness challenges teach you to push through, which can only work for so long.

In psychology, the theory of self-efficacy describes how the belief in your ability to execute a course of action strongly determines your ability to actually carry it out. That’s why it’s so important to set the health goals that you feel confident in achieving in the long term.

Plus, the little things you do make a difference; they can have a huge effect on your physical and mental health. This is true on the negative side as well: little things, like missing or not eating enough at breakfast, getting a bad night of sleep, or skipping your morning walk with the dog can affect how you feel the rest of your day. You can harness the power of small change for good by engaging in positive self-care behaviors that lead to more positive self-care behaviors. Over time, you build self-efficacy from the good feelings and the sense of accomplishment from reaching that small goals, and that confidence can help you accomplish even bigger goals if you so desire.

A simple tool I like to use when working with clients on creating health promoting habits uses an analogy I learned from the behavioral scientist BJ Fogg. In it, he compares forming a habit to growing a plant. To grow a plant, first you find a good spot in your garden to plant your seed, then nourish it with water, sunlight, and everything else that it needs in order to grow. While the plant may need a little extra attention and care at first, eventually, the roots will get established, and all it needs at that point are just check-ins and routine maintenance. Occasionally, there might be a disturbance to the plant’s environment—a drought, for example—and it may need a bit more care and nurturing to make it through. But overall, the plant should be able to thrive without you having to put a lot of energy into it.

In Fogg’s analogy, the seed represents a very small behavior which, hopefully, will grow into a habit. To build a habit, start by finding a good spot for a small behavior in your daily routine. For this behavior to take root and grow into a habit, you need to nurture it with positive reinforcement and celebration. Over time, once the habit has been established, it won’t need much more energy to maintain, other than occasional check-ins and readjustments when some life changes come along that might disrupt it. Just as some of your initial attempts to grow a plant may fail, so may your early attempts to nurture a habit. Think of it as an opportunity for growth by taking what you learned and applying it when you try again.

Here’s an example: let’s say you have an intention of stretching more. You might be tempted to set a goal for doing a yoga class a certain number of days a week. And maybe that’s a goal that you can achieve for a short period of time, as someone who has set this exact goal many times in the past, it’s not exactly sustainable. If you were to grow this stretching habit like a plant, you might set a goal of stretching for 5 minutes in bed as part of your nighttime routine, for example, right after you set your alarm for the morning. As you’re doing it and after, notice how it makes you feel. Celebrate the fact that you did something caring for yourself! This is a goal I set for myself last year, and I notice that simply remembering how good it feels to stretch in bed at night makes me crave stretching breaks during the day, and I often times find myself taking a little time to do brief yoga between clients.

Here’s a few more examples of small, health-promoting habits that are aligned with intuitive eating (or at least, are as long as your intention isn’t shrinking your body!):

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