The Calm Kitchen: Trust Your Intuition
The Calm Kitchen is a series on the pleasures of cooking and eating. Based on the themes of my cookery class, it explores mindfulness through cooking, how we connect to ourselves and others through food, and Intuitive Eating. That sounds pretty deep! It's for food lovers, basically.
My first Calm Kitchen class took place in November 2017 in the prep kitchen of a cafe in Dublin. They are well known for their fermented food and drink products and the kitchen was alive with vinegars and kombuchas bubbling away on the shelves - the essence of slow food and allowing time to work it's magic. It was the perfect environment to talk about slowing down and de-stressing through cooking.
The idea for The Calm Kitchen class evolved for me over the last few years doing private chef work and cooking at retreats. At these retreats women were drawn to the kitchen for tea and chats about what was on the menu for dinner.
Over these kitchen table chats it was clear that there's a lot of emotion held for women around food - guilt, shame, anxiety about what they were eating, what foods were good or bad, their bodies, diets, what to cook for their families etc...
Media is full of information on the latest miracle-working superfood or scaremongering about the foods that should be avoided at all costs. While we have never watched more cookery shows on TV, or scrolled more food photos on Instagram, there is anxiety about what exactly to eat.
When it comes to eating, I believe that we know intuitively, deep down in a physical sense, what feels good for us. What foods make us feel satisfied and nourished, how much we need to eat, at various times of the day, to be at our most energised and productive. This knowledge is stored in our bodies and there are tools that we can use to help us to tune into this intuition.
Using our intuition is about accessing our gut feeling, instead of our brain.
Our brain (washed by years of diet culture) tells us that we should only eat X number of calories per day, we shouldn't eat past a certain time, XYZ foods are bad. But our body signals to us how much food we really need, when, and what would feel good to eat at particular times. This is the fundamental concept of Intuitive Eating, and I introduce this an approach to eating in my classes - an alternative to the traditional diet mentality.
Intuitive Eating is characterised by having a strong connection with your body's hunger and fullness signals, rather than on external or emotional cues. It recognises that foods serve a variety of purposes in our lives (taste, energy, comfort and joy) that are dependent on the context and situation. In their book, Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (the originators of this research) identified the ten principles of Intuitive Eating:
Reject the diet mentality
Honour your hunger
Make peace with food
Challenge the food police
Feel your fullness
Finding the satisfaction factor (and mindful eating)
Honour your feelings without food
Respect your body
Exercise - feel the difference
Honour your health with gentle nutrition.
When I learned about the concept of Intuitive Eating it made a lot of sense to me. It acknowledges that every body is individual with different dietary needs. Research has shown that diets don't work (it's estimated that over 20% of participants who complete weight management interventions maintain weight loss past 1 year).
"Biologically, your body experiences the dieting process as a form of starvation. Your cells don't know you are voluntarily restricting your food intake. You body shifts into primal survival mode - metabolism shuts down and food cravings escalate. And with each diet, the body learns and adapts, resulting in rebounding wight gain.
Consequently, many of our patients feel like they are a failure - but it is dieting that has failed them."
- Tribole and Resch, Intuitive Eating
So, digging into the principles of Intuitive Eating has given me a new perspective on having a peaceful relationship with food. Because for me, that is the point. It goes beyond what we cook or eat. Diet culture is so seeped into our brains that the mental calculations of what we should or shouldn't eat are par for the course. It takes up space in our brain that could be used in more fulfilling and enjoyable ways.
Food shouldn't be our enemy, but there is work to do to deconstruct the diet mentality and fear around food that abounds in our culture.
I'm starting a new series here called The Calm Kitchen which will be digging deeper into what I teach in my classes - Intuitive Eating principles and how we can apply them to our lives. I'd love to hear from you on this, if it's something that you've heard of or tried, or if would like to learn more? Let me know!