The Art of Intuitive eating
Personal trainer and fitness model Jaimie Lee Bess changes bodies (and lives!) for a living. As a client and longtime friend of Jaimie’s, I can definitely say that this fitness goddess leads by example, as she consistently emphasizes balance in her approach to diet and exercise. But the big question Jaimie is constantly asked by her high-profile clients and 38,000 Instagram followers is actually pretty simple: “What do you eat?” Well, I got to interview the health expert one on one about the mindset that guides her daily diet (which, it turns out, is less like a diet, and more like a sustainable way of life). Unlike many of the restrictive meal plans touted by the mainstream media today, Jaimie’s way of eating creates no extremes or absolutes, as she considers herself an intuitive eater.
The main principle behind intuitive eating is listening to your body and understanding innately what it needs. However, many of us (myself included) have diluted our sacred relationship to food with years of dieting and/or overindulging. In order to understand exactly what her body needed to function in tip-top shape, Jaimie began with a practice that may seem intuitive: tracking nutrients and counting calories. During our interview, she was careful to acknowledge that everyone’s journey is different, and that there is no right or wrong way to go about learning to eat intuitively. However, her journey to intuitive eating began with a bikini competition…
Throughout her preparation, Jaimie meticulously tracked everything she ate, with the help of the nutrition-tracking app My Fitness Pal, in order to be extremely intentional about the nutrients she was putting in her body. This process, says Bess, “helped me to understand what exactly was in the foods I was eating regularly.” Jaimie spent a year looking at labels and breaking down how the foods she was eating factored into her recommended daily nutritional intake. Understanding the foods she was eating and how they factored into the key nutrients she needed to stay strong and lean eventually became second nature: “Now I just know – I look at a banana, or whatever food, and I generally know the amount of carbs and proteins in each food I eat. It took a year of paying really close attention before I could just know.” Educating herself on the nutrients your body needs and the foods that meet these requirements was an important factor for Jaimie on the road to intuitive eating. Once Jaimie built the framework for effectively fueling her body and put it into practice, it eventually became ingrained in her behavior and thinking.
Following the guidelines of the amount of sugar, carbs, protein, and fats you should have each day becomes a fairly simple and practical science once you understand the nutritional value of the foods you’re eating. In our interview, Jaimie explained her inner dialogue on any given day: “Well, I know I ate a lot of vegetables today, so I can have a small portion of fro-yo now,” she reasons with herself, or “Hmmm, I ate that pizza for lunch, I’m not gonna have fro-yo with dinner.” Intuitive eating is not about restricting a certain food group, but about understanding the balance of the foods you fuel your body with. It all comes down to balance and common sense — and according to Bess, vegetables are pretty much always fair game!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Clients will often text Jaimie in order to hold themselves accountable on their health journeys, especially when they’re experiencing cravings. Bess will never tell her clients not to eat something, but she will always ask the same questions: “Are you stressed out? Is there anything emotional going on that might make you want to eat differently than you normally eat?” If there is something going on, she says, then she usually advises a client to work through that before making an impulsive eating decision. If it’s not emotional? “Have a small portion of what you’re craving and move on with your day. Definitely don’t beat yourself up when your eating is less than perfect.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Reflecting upon my conversation with Jaimie, I found her whole outlook on food to be so practical and calm – and honestly, quite intuitive! Everyone’s bodies are different, and therefore, tailoring your diet to your body’s needs makes total sense. And I can see through Jaimie’s example that eating within that framework (plus a pizza or fro-yo here & there!) can become natural once you get the hang of it. Focusing on what you can eat rather than cutting out entire food groups is such an encouraging and non-extremist way to look at the food in our daily lives. I definitely hope to carry this idea of intuitive eating into my everyday life, and to truly get in touch with giving my body what it needs to thrive.