For most of her life, Michelle Vina-Baltsas was obsessed with food.
The 51-year-old struggled with her weight and was always on a diet. She became thin in her mid-40s, but gained the weight back in two years.
"I was just exhausted and I didn't want to do it anymore," Vina-Baltsas told NBC.
That's when Vina-Baltsas discovered intuitive eating, an eating philosophy developed by authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. An anti-diet approach to wellness, intuitive eating focuses on respecting one's body and honoring one's health. According to Vina-Baltsas, the philosophy encourages people to listen to what their bodies need. That is, to make healthy yet enjoyable food choices without restricting their caloric intake.
"Listening to that intuitive voice helps us to understand when we are hungry, when we are feeling full, and using these things to guide us in terms of our eating, [and] the choices that we make in terms of eating," says Vina-Baltsas.
Let go of the number on the scale
Most people who struggle with their weight are too focused on being thin, explains Vina-Baltsas, who is now a certified intuitive eating counselor.
"When people decide they're done with dieting — they're tired with the restriction — one of the things that they need to also let go of is the number on the scale, because true freedom cannot be found when you're focusing on a number," she says. "Because that number will then guide your food choices and it will keep you in that perpetual cycle of dieting."
Stop bargaining with yourself
People who struggle with their weight often feel that it is their fault, says Vina-Baltsas.
"So they bargain with themselves and they say, 'Yeah, that was because I was going through this at the time, or because I wasn't disciplined enough, or because I didn't want to go food shopping, or because I was lazy,'" she says. "And they start to really rip themselves down and make it about them when really that's not the case."
There is no one "right way" to eat
Dieting keeps us stuck in a rigid, perfectionistic mindset that causes us to believe there is only one way to eat, says the wellness coach. This, she says, can chew at our self worth.
"We're all unique and we all have different needs, and dieting doesn't address that, but intuitive eating does, or a more intuitive lifestyle does, because you recognize that we're all an individual and we all have different needs," she says.
Embrace the idea that 'all bodies are good bodies'
Thinness simply is not in everyone's genetics, and that's ok, explains Vina-Baltsas.
"To me and the work that I do, it's important that clients have a more body-neutral approach in that all bodies are good bodies, and people of all sizes have gifts they can offer the world," she says.
What people often don't realize, she says, is that dieting is causing their weight gain.
"They think there is something they are doing wrong that is causing them to continue to weight cycle," she says, "when in reality, it's the dieting and the restriction that's causing that."
Restricting your food intake with dieting can lead to overeating, she says, and this can become a vicious cycle.
"It's just part of the process and that's something that's important for people to realize," she says.
Body acceptance is freedom
The way we feel about our bodies impacts the foods we choose to eat, explains Vina-Baltsas. It's simple: When you love your body, you take better care of it.
The wellness coach is not obese, but she isn't thin either. She says her health has dramatically improved nonetheless. She no longer has high triglycerides like she once did, and her blood pressure and blood sugar are normal.
How will you know when you've learned to accept your body?
"You're no longer in that mode of obsessing all the time about what you look like, what you just ate at your last meal," Vina-Baltsas says. "You're not counting the calories in your head."
She says intuitive eating has freed her from her obsession with food.
"It's a beautiful place," Vina-Baltsas says. "It's freedom. It's knowing my value regardless of what the scale says."
How to get started with intuitive eating
- Forget the number on the scale: Freedom cannot be found when you're focusing on a number, because that number will guide your food choices and will keep you in a perpetual cycle of dieting.
- Stop the blame game: People who struggle with their weight often feel that it is their fault. Blaming yourself rips away at your self esteem and perpetuates the dieting cycle.
- Find your own way: Dieting keeps us stuck in a rigid, perfectionistic mindset. Recognize that you are an individual with your own unique needs.
- Remember that 'all bodies are good bodies': Thinness is not in everyone's genetics, and bigger bodies aren't necessarily unhealthy. That's why it's better to take a weight-neutral approach to health.
- Body acceptance is freedom: The way we feel about our bodies impacts the foods we choose. It's simple: When you love and accept your body, you take better care of it.