Worried about lockdown love handles? Intuitive eating may be the kinder way of shrinking them
With summer fast approaching, magazine articles are encouraging us to get our bodies back, while giving tips on how to lose those extra lockdown pounds.
Despite my job as a nutritionist, I am here to tell you that there is no place for denial right now, and we should all stop worrying.
During lockdown, food has had acute focus. I am currently enjoying the pleasure of new season peas-in-the-pod and English berries; the kindness of being included on a weekly challah rota and my favorite falafel shop delivering hot falafel to our door. We’ve eaten cookies, cakes and bread from yet another “maths” class — I’ve also never spent so much time in the kitchen.
With three ravenous boys and a constantly hungry husband, I have morphed into a balaboosta, endlessly cooking and doling out snacks. And in turn, this has increased my eating – it is hard to resist warm just-baked pita or the last few chips from my kids’ plates.
As someone who has always been controlled with my eating, I have turned to food to cope with the stress and boredom and predictably, have gained a few pounds. This extra weight wouldn’t even show to others, but I can tell, and I have struggled with my feelings towards it. So, I’ve recently been trying to make some changes that may seem unexpected.
I’m ditching the guilt. Lockdown has brought its fair share of angst — that we are not doing enough for our elderly relatives, for our children or maybe for the community. The one thing we really should not feel remorse over is our eating and any weight-gain.
If you are feeling guilty, I’m here to tell you to stop right now! In these strange times, we need to be kind to ourselves and stop the voices in our heads that say we are “too fat” or we “have no willpower”. Easy to say, but not so simple in practice. It’s something I am working on with myself and with my clients.
I am a fan of a popular “anti-diet” movement called Intuitive Eating, the principles of which are useful to follow for anyone struggling with their weight, body image and feelings around food. The idea is based on a best-selling book of the same name, published in the mid-90s, and is now gaining momentum with social media. It has real resonance currently when we’re expected to emerge from lockdown like butterflies.
The end goal is not about weight loss — though that might happen — but instead, knowing about the foods and movement to include to make your body feel good. It’s about focusing on health, not size and rejecting the idea we need to look a certain way. There are ten principles, but here are a few key ones that I have found most useful:
1. Make peace with food: Categorizing foods as “good” or “bad” only increases our guilt and feelings of poor self-worth. We all know a cookie isn’t as nutrient-dense as a carrot, but deny yourself that cookie, and you are more likely to crave it, binge on it, feel guilty and the cycle continues. So next time you fancy the cookie/slice of cake/piece of challah, eat it! My golden rule though is to sit down to eat; no furtive shoveling behind the cupboard door — enjoy it!
2. Honor your hunger:
Try and listen to your body and respond to your hunger cues. When you go to eat, ask yourself, “am I hungry, or am I bored/sad/stressed”? If the answer is yes to hunger, eat! You may also find this idea liberating if you’re someone who feels forced to eat at recognized mealtimes, despite not being hungry. If you are waking up later in lockdown, you may then find it might suit you better to not eat breakfast at all; or maybe enjoy a late breakfast, skip lunch and instead eat a snack in the afternoon.
3. Feel your fullness:
Stop eating when you’re full and take time to notice what your hunger level is. With more time to spend over your meals at the moment, you may be more able to pause mid-meal to think about how the food tastes and what your current hunger level is. There is nothing wrong with eating a big bowl of pasta if that’s what you want, but the idea is that you listen to your cues and stop eating when you’ve had enough.
4. Respect your body:
Make peace with the body you have. This one can be challenging — who truly “loves” their body? Our weight and body shape are often so tied up in our self-esteem. However, since the coronavirus outbreak, we really do have reason to start being thankful for our bodies, either for fighting off the virus if we have contracted it or for protecting us from it. Despite our negative thoughts, our bodies are working hard for us, fighting, protecting, and keeping us going.
While Intuitive Eating is anti-diet, it is not anti-nutrition, and nor am I. Working through the principles, the idea is you gradually learn to intuit what your body needs, and how it feels good. Though there are no right or wrong foods. You might find that after a few days of eating only processed food, you don’t feel great, but with a variety of fresh produce and minimally processed foods you can enjoy a bowl of ice cream without any negative thoughts or emotions creeping in.
It’s definitely a work in progress, but I know for me at least, one worth trying.
By Laura Southern