Move over keto and paleo diets - we have a new style of eating that doesn’t have anything to do with WHAT you eat but all about HOW you eat.
This new wave of eating has been gaining momentum with the general masses as it continues to provide people with the ability to set themselves free from the guilt and constant feelings of restriction when it comes to eating food.
In this blog post I’ll give some historical background on Intuitive eating as well as practical uses that you can implement today to help cultivate a healthier relationship with food and with yourself! I’ll give some personal experience with this to help bring these ideas to life!
Intuitive eating is a diet?
Intuitive eating can trace its roots back to the 1970’s where the ideas of emotional eating were explored. The term “intuitive eating” was coined in 1995 by 2 authors who worked on a book named “Intuitive eating”.
Intuitive eating is not considered a diet and is actually quite the opposite of what a diet tries to impose on your life. In a diet - you are given strict guidelines on what, how much, and how often you can eat. For example the Keto diet sets restrictions on your carbohydrate intake based on the research that carbohydrates aren’t necessary for energy use and instead Keto relies on fat to burn for energy.
A diet will take control of your life by telling you what’s best for your body. Protein and fats are good, carbohydrates are bad. (in the case of keto)
A calorie specific diet will also put limits on what you can eat. For example you need to eat 2000 calories a day to be in a deficit and lose weight. Again in this case, others know best and if you follow this you will inherently need to heed to these recommendations and rules.
The best question to ask within this regard is this: Do these diets actually work for you?
In many cases these diets will work initially and then start to fall off over time. When starting anything new, most people will feel motivated and be able to have success with their diet. I hear the story all the time
“I was on Isagenix for 3 weeks and lost 15 lbs but have since put all that weight back on after I was finished with the program”.
In these cases I can imagine the amount of frustration, confusion and overall lack of motivation to do it again. It’s no wonder why so many people go up and down in their weight without really having a solid handle on what works best for them because they have been so programmed to follow a diet created by someone else.
Before I move onto why Intuitive eating can be a savior in this regard - I am not saying that diets are all bad or that no one can find success in them. There are plenty of people out there that are great at following the rules and are able to find the self-discipline needed to stick with something for the long term. If one of the named diets are working for you this is awesome and I would advise to stick with what works, ultimately that is what matters most.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating was bred out of this continued reliance on others to tell you how to eat to be able to lose weight and be healthy. Intuitive eating backs itself with the power of self-awareness and puts the responsibility totally on the individual.
We are in a time where body shaming, guilt and depression are common feelings surrounding one’s own diet and health. The constant barrage of the instagram model on the general public leaves us feeling inadequate and at a serious loss.
What intuitive eating does for you however is to break free from these feelings. Intuitive eating is really quite simple, it’s a strategy that is used that puts you at the forefront of the solution.
Briefly put, it’s a style of eating that has you focus on hunger and fullness cues to determine when and how to eat your food. Intuitive eating also doesn’t believe that there are any good or bad foods for you, all options are open to you!
In the book mentioned “Intuitive eating” written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch they outline the 10 principles of intuitive eating.
Reject the diet mentality - A diet mentality is what I described above, the idea that there is a magic diet that will work for you just as you had hoped a diet can work. Dieting has become such a popular and strong idea for those in the health community that living a life without this mentality is a tough one to imagine!
Honor your hunger - Hunger is not a bad thing and being hungry doesn’t make you fat. Hunger is simply your body telling itself that it’s lacking energy and needs some food! Associating hunger as a bad feeling is forcing yourself your round peg into a square hole.
Make peace with food - Food obsession can become overbearing. This is your chance to put an end to that and call a truce in this war with food. Food is there to energize us and support us through our daily activities. It is not the enemy!
Challenge the food police - Get rid of those thoughts of foods that are good or bad. Looking at that delicious brownie but feel that it’s “not good for you?”, this is exactly what you would need to let go of to be closer to understanding what intuitive eating is all about!
Respect your fullness - Recognizing your hunger is important but also understand what it feels like to be full. When you eat a meal check your body for fullness cues. Are you starting to feel your stomach fill up? Are you feeling like the food isn’t tasting as good as it was before? These are important questions to ask and answer when trying to understand your own fullness level.
Discover the satisfaction factor - Eating a meal should be enjoyable both in the physical setting (sitting with family, out to eat a fancy restaurant, eating outside on a beautiful day) as well as eating meals that taste good to you. Forcing yourself to eat chicken rice and broccoli just because that’s what your diet says is a fast way for you to find yourself hating eating lunch. Eat what tastes good to you and enjoy the experience to its fullest.
Honor your feelings without using food - Many people are emotional eaters. Eating is a coping mechanism for those people who feel the need to calm their nerves with some chocolate. Find alternative ways to cope with stress such as going for a walk, doing a meditation, talking with a friend or doing some journaling.
Respect your body - Instead of seeing the flaws in your body and criticizing yourself, try to accept you for yourself and find the beauty in yourself. Shaming yourself because you don’t look like X, Y, and Z is a sure way to kill your drive and motivation to treat yourself the best that you should.
Exercise - feel the difference - Instead of choosing exercise to “burn calories”, look at exercise as a way to feel energized, strong, and active. Exercise is not a punishment for eating extra dessert last weekend. Exercise is an activity that you have the ability to enjoy outside of any weight loss goals. Focus on how good you feel after a workout, not how shitty you feel before one.
Honor your health with gentle nutrition - The food you choose to eat each day should taste good and you should enjoy it. Put a focus on how your overall eating habits impact your health and stop worrying about one meal or a snack that wasn’t perfect. These small meals I can promise you won’t make or break your health.
Intuitive eating as you can probably tell from the above 10 principles puts much focus on acceptance of HOW you feel while trying to let go of negative thoughts and feelings towards one’s own weight and health.
If this sounds freeing...it’s because it is freeing. I can tell you from experience that this stuff works and truly puts the power of your health and eating in your own hands.
How intuitive eating put my mind at ease
I’ve always been the type of person to take his health very seriously. Around age 14 in high school I began to research how to gain muscle and how to exercise to get better at sports. Sports were always my motivation growing up. I would do my workout and immediately whip up a protein shake in a blender and drink it within 40 minutes to “hit the anabolic window”. (Basically a time that protein uptake is at its peak...this has since been disproven).
I was almost obsessive with this feeling like I was missing out on valuable gains if I didn’t drink that protein shake right after the workout.
As I grew a bit older I was introduced into the importance of calories and how eating a particular amount was “good” for me to gain muscle. I remember tracking calories with pen and paper before the ease of apps like “my fitness pal”. I would need to look at the label of the food, or do a search online to find out how many calories were in a particular food. Again my primary motivation was to get better at sports but it did transform into wanting to look bigger and not be such a skinny teenager.
You could imagine that these things actually worked and by the time I was 15 I had developed significantly more muscle than I had the year prior and felt much more confident in myself. To me, this type of eating both physically and mentally worked and therefore it was the best way to go about things.
Fast forward another 10 years at 25 years old I find myself still clinging to these beliefs about the rigidity of health and wellness. Now I had the power of technology to back me and began to use my fitness pal on a regular basis. I started to see how many of the foods I enjoyed were really high in some macro-nutrient and I felt bad about what the numbers looked like on the app.
For example I have always been a big fan of bacon and saw how high in fat bacon was each day as it put me over my recommended daily amount. I felt bad about this, am I not supposed to eat bacon because of this? I started to believe that bacon itself was a bad food, something that would only do me harm.
I had to fight against myself because...I really enjoyed my bacon with my eggs!! Why was this so bad I thought - is this really something that is unhealthy? Am I going to clog my arteries with this?
I was done with this…
I was fed up with feeling bad about what I ate - I was in pretty good shape at the time and felt like I shouldn’t have to worry about what kind of food I ate since obviously something was working.
My main motivation at the start was to just simply be okay with eating foods that were deemed “not good for you”. As a younger adult people would always say to me “How do you stay so lean when you eat X, Y, and Z?”
I felt like I was doing something wrong and that I was just a lucky person who “had a fast metabolism”. I wasn’t someone who struggled with weight their whole life, I went from being a skinny kid, to a muscular kid, to a lean young adult...I never had those truly negative thoughts about myself until others started to point out how I was “able to eat what I wanted”.
This is when I started my journey into learning how to eat intuitively.
I began to accept that I can eat whatever foods I wanted as long as I enjoyed them..that was okay. I wanted to get to a place where other peoples comments wouldn’t affect me and wouldn’t derail me from my overall goal of being healthy, feeling strong, and being active.
Not only did this desire to intuitively eat impact my personal mental well being but it also taught me (unknowingly at the time) how to listen to my body.
This has been a long journey for me as I’ve learned that it is not wrong to be hungry, it’s simply a cue to understand why that can be. One major change I made in this regard was including more vegetables in my meals. At times I could eat 3 slices of pizza and still be hungry for something else. Over time however I learned that my body needed something more to help fill me up and allow me to feel light and energized.
This all came from listening to my body and being cognizant of my fullness and hunger levels. With the understanding that there are no bad foods, this thought freed me from the chains of diet culture and diet mindset. In life there are rarely absolutes and I believe this goes double for understanding one’s own health.
Give it a try…
Intuitive eating is a way on HOW to eat that you fit into your lifestyle the way you see fit. Sure this might take a little extra work but aren’t all things that take more work ...worth it?
Here are 3 tips you can use today to practice and see what intuitive eating can do for you!
Eat when you are an 7 out of 10 on a hunger scale
Try to rank your hunger level from a 1-10 scale prior to eating a meal. If you normally eat breakfast at 8AM, check in with your body at 745AM and judge how hungry you are. A score of “1” would be if you feel totally satisfied and full, and can’t even think about eating food. A score of “10” would be if you feel ravenous and you are ready to eat your arm off. A score of “7” would be defined as a feeling that your stomach is empty, your body might feel a little lethargic, and you feel your salivation glands starting to kick in.
When you can start to understand how your body feels you might find that you
Need to Eat earlier because you find you are at an 8 or a 9 each morning. When eating when you are hungry you are much less likely to eat super fast and eat a bigger portion than you normally would have, if you had just eaten a little bit sooner.
Need to eat later because you aren’t as hungry as you thought you were. By allowing yourself some extra time you decrease the chance that you will stuff yourself and feel the extreme fullness that can dictate how you feel going into your next meal.
Start eating foods you have deemed bad but still crave
This one reigns true for my bacon example - when a food is seen as bad for you, you are restricting yourself from something that you want. By starting to allow yourself this food you can potentially start to shift your focus on what’s good and bad for you onto what your body needs. More than anything this practice is one that impacts the mental and emotional health associated with weight loss and diet mindset. You can still eat that thing you really want while also staying true to your goals of being healthy.
Let’s be clear here - I am not saying go indulge in all the cupcakes and candy you want. What I’m saying is if you listen to your body and eat a cupcake you can start to understand that this one food isn’t going to make or break you. All treats and “bad” foods need to be enjoyed in moderation. It’s up to you to determine what that moderation looks like.
Most importantly again is the impact on your mental and emotional well being, break free from the strict constraints that you’ve been put in for years upon years.
Eat meals slowly
I love this one so much. Eating meals and food slowly is a game changer. When you eat more slowly you give your body time to adjust to digesting the food upon each swallow. Not only does eating more slowly promote a healthier relationship with food (you aren’t binging food in 2 minutes to feel overly stuffed 8 minutes later) but it also allows you to keep total calorie and food intake lower than it would be if you had eaten your meal much faster.
Eating more slowly also gives you more time to taste your food. How many times have you bought that expensive steak only to inhale it and not even realize you ate it? Intuitive eating is all about experiencing the meal for what it is, in the moment that you eat it.
I like to have my clients set a baseline of how long it takes them to eat a meal. Simply take out your phone, start a timer and eat like you normally do. When you are done eating, stop the timer and check your time. Whatever this time is, try to increase how long it takes you to eat by 1-5 minutes until you reach 15-20 minutes for each meal. I promise you that you will feel more satisfied with less food.
Keep in mind that this all takes time to master. It is a practice of unique skills that are most likely new to you. With any change it takes time to adapt to and to make it part of your life.
The power of Intuitive eating is in its ability to put your needs at the forefront. This gives you full responsibility (which can be scary!) while helping to impact your emotional and mental health positively.
There are enough things to stress about and plenty of things that will overwhelm us. Let’s gain control and learn how to be kind to ourselves.
I guarantee you once you begin knocking down those walls of guilt and shame you will naturally want to do the things that make you feel good, and look good!