As a health coach, I take pride in fueling my body with real, whole foods. I have gotten good at listening to my body over the years, providing it with the nutrients it needs while satisfying my cravings to maintain balance and avoid deprivation. I enjoy eating, and I really love food.

But it hasn’t always been this way. I spent years struggling with disordered eating, consumed with counting calories, and exercising every day. Quite frankly, it was not only about staying thin, but also about staying in control. Food was something to be feared for the chance it would lead to weight gain, and it was my biggest enemy and largest source of anxiety.

Thankfully, as I immersed myself in the study of nutrition, I started to make the connection between what I ate and how I felt. I had never thought of eating in this way, and it completely revamped my relationship with food. I decided to release all the rules, taking on a more intuitive approach, while viewing food, my body, and myself from a more positive place. Here are some key mindset shifts that have helped me along the way.

#1 — Count Colors, Not Calories

Our body is not a calculator, but more of a chemistry lab. Food is information for our cells, so should be thought of in terms of nutrients, not calories. Whenever I’m building a meal, I make a point to try and incorporate as much nutrition as I can. In other words, I count colors. As you start to eat closer to nature, you will notice the beautiful collage of colors with each fruit, vegetable, and source of healthy fat serving its unique nutritional purpose. This shift helps shape a new perspective: one from lack and scarcity (the restriction that goes along with dieting and calorie counting), to that of abundance and beauty.

There is nothing more liberating than breaking free from the dieting mindset, which is why I developed a 4-week online course with this very same name — Count Colors, Not Calories — to share what I’ve learned. Keep reading for more details!

#2 — Choose Foods that Don’t Come in a Box, Package, or Bag

Those foods that provide our body with the nutrients it needs don’t come with a label at all; they only contain one ingredient. Counting calories then becomes irrelevant. Your body knows exactly what is in an apple, almonds, a filet of wild-caught fish, and kale. It knows how to “read” this information. This is not to say that you won’t ever eat a chip from a bag ever again, but when you do, look at the list of ingredients, not the calories. Have awareness of what you are putting in your body. The shorter the list, the better. And if you can read and understand everything on the list, your body can too.

#3 — Trust Yourself and Listen to Your Body

This one can be the most challenging, but it is a game-changer. Trust that you will make the right food choices for yourself and your body. This requires mindfulness and intuition. Tune in, listen, honor your cravings, and make the healthiest choice from there. Your body will tell you both what and how much it needs. So along these lines, trust that you will stop when satisfied. And lastly, trust that you will allow yourself to indulge every once in a while, without overdoing it. The more practice you have with mindfulness around food and eating, the more confident you will become.

#4 — Change Your Language

Food is neither “good” nor “bad.” It’s the fuel we provide our body so that we can live our life. This isn’t the case all of the time — sometimes food does serve an emotional purpose (celebration, joy, connection) — but even then, it doesn’t warrant judgment.

Viewing food in this way is just your mind (ego) labeling your experience, which leads to more judgment, emotional attachment, and fear. To release the labels will release the fear. Look at it a little more objectively: “nutritious” versus “not nutritious.” A food either serves and benefits your physical body or it doesn’t. It’s also knowing that there is no perfection. While whole, real foods nourish your cells, some foods nourish your soul. There are those less nutritious foods we eat due to taste and experience. They might not serve a nutritional purpose, but they bring us joy in the moment and that is what life is about. As long as you savor and enjoy, your body (and metabolism) will respond in a positive way.

#5 — Play the Whole Tape

Ask yourself how will certain foods make you feel. Sometimes this means forgoing the instant gratification of a less nutritious choice in order to eat in a way that serves you better. This is where a simple visualization exercise can be helpful. Whether it is with an individual meal, a social event, or an entire weekend, envision how you want to feel both during and after. Put pen to paper if you have to. Then take the small action steps (and choose the foods) that will get you there.

#6 — Give Yourself Permission

We human beings are a funny bunch. You tell us we can’t have something and we are going to want it even more. Even if this is sub-conscious, there is scientific-based evidence to support it. According to the Information-Gap Theory, part of this has to do with curiosity. A lot of it is explained by biochemistry. When we want something, dopamine (our reward hormone) continues to rise the longer we wait for it. This is another reason why dieting, restricting, food rules, and simply denying yourself what you want will likely backfire.

#7 — Practice Self-love

It is more motivating to eat nutritious foods or engage in self-serving behavior when we make choices from a place of self-love rather than restriction and fear. For example, choosing to eat whole, real foods instead of processed foods because you know they benefit you, and you love your body enough to fuel it correctly.

When you shift your perspective to become more positive about both food and your body, you start to view food as nourishment, not something to make you feel guilty, ashamed, or anxious. If you have yet to love yourself, this is where the deeper, inner work needs to occur. Oftentimes, the restriction mentality is a result of punishing and self-deprecating thoughts toward ourselves. Again, this is just your ego keeping you “safe” by keeping you scared. Know that we all have an intuitive love for ourselves. Tap into that place instead.