Intuitive eating. You may have heard this phrase before and wondered what the heck it is. Or, maybe you know what it is but don't know how to eat intuitively. Maybe you want to learn more about it. Well, you came to the right place.
Today we are breaking down what the term intuitive eating means, the basic principles of intuitive eating, and how I personally apply it to my life. Hopefully this post will give you some ideas of ways you can practice intuitive eating as well. Let's dive in!
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy based on tuning in to the body's natural signals and hunger cues, rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods or sticking to a set "plan".
So what does that mean?
To me, it means that instead of following a diet plan, counting macros, weighing & measuring food and calculating what you "should" be eating, you eat according to what, when and how your own body wants to eat. The main goal is to be able to tune in to what foods your body is craving, and in what amounts, so you can eat regularly without overthinking or overanalyzing it.
I know this can seem like an abstract and difficult thing to do, but I promise it is simpler than you think!
The authors of the original Intuitive Eating book outline 10 main principles of intuitive eating on their site. You can read that or keep reading below for my overview and condensed version of these principles.
While there are some basic principles to follow with intuitive eating, the main premise is that there are no concrete rules or perfect way of eating that works for everyone. Being able to tune in to what foods your body is craving, and in what amounts, means you will hardly even have to think about it anymore. You will know what you want, and be able to eat without overthinking or overanalyzing.
So, how do you go about tuning into your body and tuning out all the confusing diet noise?
1. Reject the diet mentality. Let go of the idea that in order to lose weight or get fit you need to go on a diet. Reject the idea that not being able to stick to a diet makes you a failure. Stop looking to diet plans and quick fixes for losing weight fast. If you want to have a healthy relationship with food and listen to what your body really wants, you can't be on a diet plan that restricts you or gives you rigid rules to follow.
2. Honour your hunger. If you are hungry, EAT. Don't let yourself get to the point where you are too hungry to think. Don't skip meals unless you are genuinely not hungry. Do not limit your food for any reason other than being honestly full and satisfied. When you are full and satisfied, notice the feeling of comfortable satiation. Being full and satisfied is a great feeling, and the fuel you get from the food will carry you through your day, giving you clarity and energy.
3. Make peace with food. Let go of the idea that some foods are "good" and some are "bad". Food is food. It is energy and nutrients and should not come with labels like good and bad. Let go of feeling guilty when you eat certain foods. Let go of your fear of certain foods. Food is energy. See it as fuel and let go of everything else. The truth with nutrition is that you will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. Likewise, you won't magically make yourself healthier by eating a superfood or a "100% clean" meal. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. My favourite line from the Intuitive Eating site is "you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy."
4. Being physically full is not always the same as being fully satisfied. You could eat a bottomless amount of food you consider "healthy" and feel physically stuffed, but mentally still feel hungry. How is this possible? You know you can't physically still be hungry, but for some reason you can't stop thinking about cookies and peanut butter and nachos. This doesn't mean you have an eating disorder or a food problem, it means you are not satisfying your craving for food pleasure. Acknowledging that food is a form of pleasure as well as fuel is important if you want to fully be able to tune in and trust your body's signals.
5. Respect your body and honour your health. Respecting your body includes moving it. You don't need to have a strict exercise plan to be fit and healthy. Incorporating some kind of activity most days of the week is enough to keep your body and all its processes functioning properly. Respecting your body also includes accepting it's genetic shape and size. Accept that everyone is meant to be a different size and focus on being your best self.
Some examples of ways I practice intuitive eating on a daily basis:
1) I never restrict my food intake. I cook enough food for either a second helping (or third) or to save for another day. I serve myself how much I think I want, then if I finish eating and want more, I eat more. If I feel full, I save the rest for a meal another day.
2) I don't count calories. I could not tell you how many calories are in any given food. If I did look at calorie counts, I know I would start associating food with numbers and that is NOT a way I want to live.
3) I pause to think about what I really want. I really do pause in my kitchen, picture some different food options in my head, and pick whichever one I feel like eating most. Sometimes, I swear I am craving a salad or smoothie or big bowl of veggies. Sometimes, I can't decide between tomato basil pasta and coconut quinoa stir fry, so I make both, have a some of both, and save the rest for meals later in the week. Other times, I want chips. And chocolate. And cookie dough. So I eat chips and chocolate and cookie dough. Not enough to make me feel sick, but enough that I feel happy and satisfied and not deprived at all. I find that everything really does balance out over time, and I fully trust my body to steer me in the right direction.
4) I move my body in ways that help me feel connected and grounded. I love yoga. I also love walking, pilates and weight lifting. Activity that allows me to be mindful and present while also making me sweat is my ideal way to move. Find some form of movement you enjoy and do it. You will see and feel a noticeable difference in your body as well as your mind and improve your ability to connect the two.
I hope this post was helpful. I know that I went through an adjustment period while trying to figure out if i wanted to eat a food because I wanted to or because I thought I should. Following the tips and principles I outlined above were how I overcame any disordered eating thoughts and patterns I had and how I learned to fully trust my body.
What do you think about intuitive eating? I would love to hear from you!Leave your thoughts in a comment below.