Of the recent golf books that I’ve read, one of the best was Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Yes, a book about eating.
The foundation of the book—with many studies to back it up—is the conviction that diets do not work, and it offers a different and far more satisfying way to enjoy food and be healthy.
How could a book about eating help with your golf game?
Well, first consider some of the core principles of the book:
1. Reject the diet mentality, and the promises of books/magazines/ads that offer false hope of losing weight quickly and permanently. Get angry at a diet culture that leads you to feel like you are a failure.
2. Make peace with food; give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you can’t have a certain food, it leads to feelings of deprivation and craving.
3. Discover the satisfaction factor; in diet culture, we overlook the gift of enjoying eating. When you eat what you want, you feel satisfied and content.
4. Feel your fullness; listen for body signals that you are no longer hungry. Pause when you eat and ask how the food tastes.
5. Respect your body; just as a person with a shoe size of 10 would not fit in a size-eight shoe, it’s futile to have expectations about body size. Accept your body.
Here’s why I think these principles—cherry-picked from the 10 principles of the intuitive eating philosophy—have a message for golfers.
1. In golf culture, we are forever being offered advice to help us improve and get immediate results. But when we can’t perform the swing as we’ve been instructed, and we don’t get the results we are seeking, we feel like failures.
2. The main message we get from the golf culture is that if you swing the right way, you will improve and shoot lower scores, and then you’ll be happy. But the ‘I’ll be happy when’ message under-delivers.
3. What if your primary goal when you teed off was to enjoy the day, your company, and the course? That brings more satisfaction than shooting a particular number. It certainly feels good but it’s fleeting.
4. Most golfers try to direct their body to move in certain ways. They are thinking. They are in their heads. Thus, they are not connected to their bodies. It makes no sense: golf is a physical game played with real things, not with ideas and concepts.
5. Your swing, the shape of your shots and the distance they travel reflect the gifts you’ve been given. Revel in who you are, rather than try to be someone else, match another player, impress them, or meet a standard. Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
A key premise of the book that I believe is salient to golf is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to eat. You don’t need to feel guilty that you’re violating some sacred tenet or expert-sanctioned maxim about what you should or should not eat.
The same goes for golf. Golfers come to me for lessons who play very nicely, but they believe that they are doing something wrong—that there’s something going on in their swing that violates some sacred tenet of golf instruction.
They are in a constant state of self-judgment, comparing and wondering how they look or meet a standard.
Golfers are like dieters who see themselves as less than ideal, too weak to overcome their cravings, not strong willed enough to maintain a certain way of eating, and failures because they regain weight. And that if this diet fails, I’ll find another one that will unlock the secrets of weight loss.
The diet industry is forever feeding off these feelings of judgment and frustration with revolutionary new methods that will help you shed weight forever, and then you’ll finally be happy. Of course, it’s a promise that doesn’t deliver.
Much like golf culture.
So, how do people find contentment, peace and flickers of joy in their bodies, golf or whatever they do?
Tribole and Resch call it being intuitive. This is an overly simplistic overview of their fascinating book, but they advise you to eat whatever you want, enjoy it, pay attention as you eat, and feel what’s going on in your body.
They extol being mindful. That is, being present to your food. Rather than scarfing down a sandwich while reading your phone, put the phone away. That is, when you eat, don’t do anything else at the same time. Taste your food, feel it in your mouth, enjoy its texture, savour the flavour.
Tribole and Resch document that when people practice intuitive eating, they let go of their self-loathing, judgments and frustration, and they start to enjoy a wide variety of foods. In fact, many people lose weight because they no longer having cravings, and they stop eating when they feel full.
Some people don’t lose weight, but they begin to accept how they look, they stop second-guessing and policing themselves, and they are genuinely more content in all parts of their lives.
I believe golf can be like that.
Every golfer wants to hit the ball solidly and experience mastery. It’s fun to play well, and shoot low scores.
But there’s also a greater game to be played than what most golfers get sucked into through the messages of a pervasive golf culture that preaches ‘you’ll be happy when … ‘
This golf season, my invitation is to enjoy your golf, honour yourself for the unique gift that you are, and be present to your game and your life.
And, after your round, if you have a burger and a beer—savour the flavour.