I used to fast periodically.
I’m no stranger the magic lemonade of The Master Cleanse (I actually love that concoction). I’ve eaten brown rice and veggies exclusively for as long as I could stand it (in interest of full-disclosure this was somewhere around five days). I’ve done the elimination diet. I’ve cut out dairy, sugar, wheat, grains, fruit, alcohol, coffee, sometimes all at once.
All these “diets” or “detoxes” or whatever you wanna call ’em, were under the guise of becoming more in-tune with my appetite, giving my digestive system a little break, and in some cases breaking a habit or craving. In truth I was always hoping to also to lose “those last five pounds.” After many losing attempts at losing—I mean ‘cleansing’—I discovered is that this method of making changes is not a good one for me.
Rather than feeling virtuous and clean at saying no to a glass of wine or a hunk of cheese I felt grumpy and deprived if the wine or cheese is really what I wanted at that moment.
That if is the piece that I was missing for so long.
I looked at food in extremes; either I ate sugar and ate a lot of it in a last-supper-squirreling-away-for-winter style or declined it all together. Neither the feast nor the famine approach was satisfying and neither one taught me about moderation and intuitive eating.
When I turned thirty I said good-bye to many old food habits and started learning how my body really wants to eat. It’s been several years now since I cut out a food group or relied on juice to get me through my days. Since dropping the detox mindset I’ve learned how to feed my body what it needs when it needs it, at least the majority of the time.
I still occasionally find myself with the desire to fall off the wagon and into the detox mindset, especially on days like January first when I found myself in bed with a hell of a hangover and a desire to scarf down every carbohydrate in sight, plus a few extra pounds of holiday cheer. Still, I held strong and resolved not to resolve to detox.
Instead, I gave myself a few reminders:
1) Slow down and chew thoroughly.
The most satisfying part of eating for me is right as the food hits my mouth. I’ve noticed that sometimes I rush the next step, the chewing, in order to get to that moment again faster. This is especially common around social gatherings, when there’s lots of stimulus of all types.
I truly enjoy my food so much more (and digest it better and eat less!) when I remember to slow down, look at what I am putting in my mouth, enjoy the first bite, then chew it intentionally and thoroughly before starting the whole process again.
2) Drink water.
I’m a damn good water drinker and yet I still manage to forget sometimes, leaving me with dehydration “hunger”, puffy eyes, lethargy, and poor digestion. I find it especially hard to remember to drink enough water in the winter and around the holidays but regularly sipping herbal teas or even just warm water with a little lemon can help me get my daily intake.
3) Appetite varies.
I used to follow external cues to know how much I needed to eat each day. These cues told me when it was time to eat (mealtimes of course), what a portion looked like, and what a meal looked like. These external cues told me little about what my body truly needed.
Once I started following the internal cues from my stomach I became much more in-tune with my real appetite and how it changes dramatically from day to day and week to week. The main factors contributing to my hunger levels are the amount of exercise I’m getting (my muscles demand to be fueled!), hormones (my appetite rages around the ovulation time!), and to a lesser extent the amount and quality of sleep I’ve been getting.
I need this reminder now because with all the holiday feasting I noticed myself slipping back into eating habits based on external cues. It’s times to cue back into my true appetite ebb and flow.
4) Tastes and cravings adjust depending on what you eat.
I heard a rumor that 40 percent of America’s butter consumption happens in the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I did my part! I also devoured more sugar and refined grains than usual. And enjoyed every bite.
The problem is, now that the holidays are over my mouth still craves those rich, uncomplicated flavors. It’s time to cleanse my palette and get back to the fresh flavors and whole foods that I really do prefer for taste and the effect they have on my body. I have no desire to cut out those three delicious food groups all together (butter, sugar, and white flour, duh) but it is time to work on tipping the scale back towards a diet primarily full of fresh, unrefined, whole foods.
Personally I find that the gentle reminder approach sets me up for success and happiness rather than failure and case of the grump-nasties. The little voice in my head is telling me that grabbing a glass of water will make me feel good instead of to step-away-from-the-cheese-tray because I don’t eat dairy this week.
Here’s to ditching the detoxing and honoring my bodies natural intelligence to know what it needs on any given day.
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Assistant Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: stevendepolo at Flickr