What is Intuitive Eating?

One of the biggest goals with my clients is to remove the word “diet” from their vocab, so you know you will never be ON a diet again, but rather eating optimally for YOUR body. Since we are all biochemically different, this always varies from person to person. Instead of conforming to prescribed meal plans or fitting into a calorie-counting mold, you’re empowered to customize a plan that works for you and your life, factoring in a multitude of considerations. Ultimately, what you’re creating is a relationship with food based on intuition, or something we refer to as: “intuitive eating.”

What is Intuitive Eating?

From the book Intuitive Eating: “Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body’s natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods.”

In other words, intuitive eating means learning to listen to your body to determine when, what and how much to eat instead of relying on external cues or, “food rules.”

Benefits of Eating Intuitively:

  • No fixation on food or food choices

    1. Trusting your body will tell you what/when/how to eat

    2. No judgement (good vs. bad) around food and no shame

    3. No longer relying on willpower to make choices

    4. Being fully in tune with your body

The Opposite of Intuitive Eating is Regulated Eating

Do you relate to at least one of these examples of regulated eating?

  • Feeling very hungry at 11:00 but sticking it out until noon to eat because that’s “lunch time”

  • Skipping the dressing on your salad because “it’s too fattening”

  • Feeling starved post-workout but not eating because you don’t want to “undo your hard work”

  • Avoiding all carbs because you’re following a “low carb diet” even though it’s not working and/or you don’t feel well

Problems with Regulated Eating

  • Ignores or overrides the body’s signals of hunger/fullness/etc. based on food rules

    1. Deems foods as “good” or “bad”

    2. Creates anxiety and fear/shame around food choices

    3. Increases likelihood of disordered eating patterns – obsession around food choices, binge eating, restriction

    4. An “all or nothing” approach difficult to stick to

    5. Not typically sustainable long term

We are born as intuitive eaters: eating when hungry and stopping when full. Unfortunately, introductions to  diets and eating rules appear early on in life. Applying food or lifestyle rules to ourselves teaches us to ignore the signs our bodies give us. Eventually we become completely out of tune with our body’s messages.

Tips & Exercises to Become an Intuitive Eater

  • Keep a journal to “check-in” with yourself before meal times to assess level of hunger, stress levels, emotional connection to food choices, etc.

    1. Allow yourself to feel hunger and analyze it – maybe you need water? Is it a specific nutrient you’re lacking? Is it stress/boredom/emotional?

    2. Analyze your cravings – are they around the same time each day? Are they hormonally related? Are they triggered by stress/boredom/emotions?

    3. Be fully present at meal time, chew food thoroughly and really savor and enjoy your meal

    4. Practice stopping when about 80% full to see what that feels like

    5. Remind yourself there are no “good” or “bad” foods

    6. Practice trusting your body to tell you what it needs

I knew I had an emotional issue around food when I was visiting my sister about 10 years ago. We had breakfast and were going out shopping for the day. I stood at her pantry panicked, thinking what can I take with me in case I get hungry before lunch. Seriously? I was worried about going 4 hours without a snack. I knew then I had to figure this out for myself. For me, it was years of the hypoglycemia roller coaster, aka “hangry b!%&*” and before afraid of hunger.

It’s such a powerful thing to have food freedom and trust your body cues to know when you are truly hungry.

If I can learn to eat intuitively, I know anyone can. Give yourself the time it takes to determine what works best for you, and before you know it, you will be trusting your body and eating intuitively!