In a recent blog post, we touched on the concept of "intuitive eating" (IE). In this post we'll dive deeper into this topic.
The basis of IE is to step away from external feedback regarding your diet, such as food tracking, macro distributions, or diet rules. Instead, to guide your nutrition decision making, you focus on internal cues, such as hunger, satiety, energy levels, and mood.
This may sound simple, but after a lifetime of being bombarded with external cues regarding food, putting IE in to practice can be very challenging.
From External to Internal Cues
Here are some examples of how an intuitive eater would replace an external cue with an internal one:
External cue: Eating until your plate is clean, and then feeling overly stuffed.
Internal cue: Listening to your body, and stopping when you are feeling satisfied.
External cue: Following a diet rule to only eat carbs in the morning.
Internal cue: Feeling extremely hungry in the afternoon after a lunchtime workout, and having a bagel with peanut butter because that will hit the spot.
External cue: Everyone else around you is having a salad, so you feel like you should eat a salad.
Internal cue: Listening to your craving for steak and baked potato, and ordering that because you know it will give you the energy you need for the rest of your day.
External cue: Weighing yourself in the morning, seeing that the scale has gone up a pound, and immediately implementing a plan to reduce your calories by skipping breakfast.
Internal cue: Throwing away your scale, and evaluating yourself by how you FEEL: hungry; strong; tired; energized; anxious; motivated; excited - and starting off your day with a great balanced breakfast based on your current state and what your day ahead will bring.
Why Intuitive Eating?
Being an intuitive eater can support a variety of health and fitness goals - muscle gain, weight loss, performance enhancement, health improvement, increased energy, or simply supporting an active lifestyle. It will also benefit your relationship to food, eating, and your body image.
Being liberated from obsession with food rules, dieting, body image, and constant guilt will truly change your life. And being an intuitive eater doesn't mean you will eat donuts every day and gain 20 pounds in a week - it certainly may mean a guilit-free donut here and there, but in general IE is all about balance.
How Do I Get Started?
A good place to start is to familiarize yourself with a hunger/satiety scale, and practicing with it whenever you can.
Ideally the goal is to stay within the zone of 4 - 7. However, it's important to think of this as an information-gathering tool for yourself - you WILL deviate outside of that range and that's ok! But when you are conscious of the times you find yourself starving or overly full, that can become a helpful learning experience.
For example, maybe you begin to realize that on weekdays you are consistently starving in the afternoon which results in overeating at dinnertime. By having a larger lunch or an afternoon snack, you may find it much easier to stay in your optimal zone.
It may be helpful to print this out and keep some copies on the fridge or near your dinner table for reference. (feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can email you a pdf).
Additionally it may be helpful to do some short-term food tracking to start off if you are embarking on a significant weight loss goal.
As we discussed in this blog post, the main benefit of food tracking is to gain insights about your eating habits that you might not have otherwise noticed. How many calories are in the foods you typically eat? What it actually feels like to eat at least 5 servings of veggies per day? What impacts do certain foods have on your hunger, mood, energy, and performance?
Once you have a handle on what works, it's great to step away from the tracking and switch over to a more mindful approach.
If you find yourself struggling and feeling a lot of guilt after eating, or simply finding it impossible to stay away from the scale and food tracking, you may need more support in the form of a registered dietitian or a therapist who specializes in disordered eating.
As you become more attuned to your body, you'll be able to think about certain food cravings and figure out why they're happening. Is it emotional stress? Simply not eating enough calories throughout your day? Or is it a truly specific food cravings that only having that particular item will satisfy?
The former are issues that could be addressed in other ways besides having a handful of donuts every afternoon, while the latter could be resolved by having your donut - and enjoying it too!