Starting a new diet takes commitment and a desire for change, but how can you truly gauge if it’s working for you? I believe this is difficult to answer if you’re disconnected from your body. This is because our mind has a way of presenting the information we desire to see to validate our experience. It’s easy to convince ourselves that eating a certain way is ‘right’ or ‘good for us’, but is it really? How do you know? Lets explore.
The effectiveness of a diet really depends on your intention and desired outcome. If your goal is weight loss, then it’s deemed to be successful if you end up losing weight. Similarly, if you’re following a diet to address a specific health problem, success is measured by an improvement in that condition. The problem is that this is a very narrow way of looking at our bodies, to just looks at one area of our health in isolation.
I would argue that any diet we implement should nourish us physically and emotionally, and needs to address all aspects of our health. If you lose weight on a diet but feel stressed and anxious, is it still a success and the ‘right’ way to eat? Or if you stabilise your blood glucose levels, but disrupt your menstrual cycle, is the diet still ‘good for you’? To evaluate the benefits of a diet, we need to be looking at our diet in the bigger picture of our health.
I appreciate that it may sound obvious to be looking at full body health, but so often I see clients who have tried a diet and it has resulted in secondary health problems. I’m sharing this as it’s my hope that we can begin to reconnect and trust our bodies again. If we do not listen to the large signs or more subtle cues from our body then we are always going against it and our needs. If you want your body’s requirements to be met through your diet then the first step is to tune into how it is communicating with you.
Signs that your diet is NOT working for you
When you start a new diet you may feel some benefits in the first few days, weeks, or months. Or you may feel initial benefits, but over time you may notice some negative effects. This is particularly true for diets that are designed for short term use, such as elimination diets, which overtime become too restrictive.
If at any point you experience one or more of the following after starting a new diet, then question the diet and try to listen to what your body is asking for. The five signs that your diet is not right for your body are:
- Depleted Energy
A new diet should not reduce your energy levels. If you find yourself feeling more tired across the day, have more cravings and are reaching for caffeine or sugar to pick you up, then this is a sign that your diet is not nourishing you adequately. It may be that you’re not getting enough calories for you needs, or not enough or the right macro and micro nutrients.
- Elevated Stress & Anxiety
A diet should not cause you to run on adrenaline, leaving you more anxious and stressed. If you notice heightened irritability, difficulty making decisions and mood swings, it’s likely that your diet does not suit your needs. You may need to eat more frequently or change the amount and type of food you’re consuming.
- Disrupted Sleep
A healthy diet should support your sleep, not disrupt it. If you’re waking up hungry in the middle of the night, or are waking earlier in the morning, then your diet may not be supporting your body’s needs. You may need to eat something later in the evening and change the balance of macronutrients that you’re consuming.
- Digestive Discomfort
A supportive diet should aid healthy digestion. If you notice more constipation, or are experiencing bloating and loose stools then your diet is not supporting your body. You may need to change the level of fibre, starches and fermented foods that you’re eating.
- Menstrual Irregularities
A healthy diet should not disrupt your menstrual cycle. If your cycle becomes irregular, stops altogether or you experience more premenstrual symptoms after following a new diet, then this is a sign it’s not suitable for your body. These are signs that your body is under stress and it’s nutritional needs are not being met.
If you answer yes to one of more of these, then your diet is not right for your biology. These are signals from your body that it’s not getting the fuel it needs to work optimally.
Monitoring your health
If you’ve recently embarked on a new diet, it can be helpful to monitor your health with a weekly health diary. You can do this in a notebook or using an app on your phone. At the end of each week, score your energy, mood, sleep, digestion and menstrual cycle on the scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing optimal health. Your scores for each of these five areas can become your weekly health report. Keep your awareness on whether the scores are going up or down and if any of them begin to fall, consider the impact your diet might be having on this area of your health. Downward trends are often a sign that your diet is putting stress on your body and needs to be adapted.
All of this may sound simple, yet every week I see clients in clinic who have followed a restricted diet and continue despite signals from their body that the diet is causing physical stress. This stress is causing low energy, anxiety, insomnia, constipation or premenstrual symptoms. By having an awareness of these areas you can begin to become your own authority on what eating styles nourish your body the most.
If you are using nutrition to support a health condition then I would always recommend seeking one-to-one support with functional testing, so that you can address the root cause of the problem. Test results provide information on your individual biology and this self-knowledge is immensely empowering and provides a structured path to assist your goals.
The more subtle signs
Bringing your awareness to the above five markers of health is an excellent way to start listening to your body. These are some of the larger cues that our body gives us. If you feel comfortable with this then you can begin to bring your awareness to your more subtle inner cues as well. These are your internal sensations that tell you what is going on inside your body.
Our ability to sense signals from our internal organs is known as interoception. It enables us to have an awareness of our inner sensations including hunger, fullness and thirst, as well as our body temperature and emotional state for example. We all have a different internal experience, with some of being more or less sensitive to these cues. However, the more we can support our interoceptive awareness the more we can attune to our body needs and know how to support ourselves.
Meditation is an excellent tool for supporting interoceptive awareness, especially when it is practiced regularly. You may want to try this simple hunger awareness practice daily for a week and notice how your connection with your inner experience changes.
Hunger awareness practice
This practice can be done either lying down or in a seated position, with your eyes closed if it’s comfortable, or otherwise having them open. The practice can be broken down into four sections:
- Connect to your abdomen. Place your hands onto your abdomen to connect to your body. Then become aware of your breath and sense the breath coming in through your nostrils and down into the abdomen. So you’re using your breath to deepen your connection to your body.
- Connect to sensations in your abdomen. Observe the natural rise and fall of the abdomen with each breath, just observing. Then bring your awareness to how your abdomen feels. What sensations are there? Can you give words to what the sensations are? Is your abdomen spacious, constricted, warm or cold? Maybe there is a sense of fullness or emptiness, tension or relaxation? Or maybe another sensation. Knowing that there is no wrong answer. If you feel numbness, that is ok too, just observing sensations. If at any point you feel uncomfortable during this practice then gently bring your awareness back to your breath.
- Decode the sensations as communication. Consider what the sensations in your abdomen might be communicating to you. What needs is your body informing you of through these sensations? Knowing that these signal can be trusted. For example a sensation of emptiness might be communicating that your body is asking for food and nourishment, or a sensation of fullness might be communicating that your body has received enough food and nourishment in this moment. Notice any reactions you have to meeting these needs, or if you want to tune-out of your bodily sensations and needs, just observing without judgement.
- Consider an action to meet your needs. Consider what you can do after this tuning-in practice to meet your needs, based on what your body has communicated with you. For example, if you became aware of emptiness and hunger considering what snack or meal you could eat after the practice, or if you became aware of tension what activity would help you to relax, maybe speaking to a friend or spending time in nature. Commit to this action before gently returning your awareness to the room and coming out of the practice.
These simple but powerful steps can help you to start a dialogue with your body, so that eating can become deeply more nourishing and joyful. When you recognise how your body is communicating with you through the day, you can meet your needs more fully and eat in a way that fully supports your health. Do you still think your diet right for you? I would love to know!
If you’d like to learn our more about personalised nutrition with intuitive eating then please contact me and we can arrange a 15-minute discovery call.