3 Easy Ways to Get Better at Intuitive Eating
By now, you’ve probably heard of intuitive eating. And you might know that I host a free Facebook group where you can ask questions and get answers on your intuitive eating journey. But you may still be confused…what is intuitive eating, anyway?
You’ve come to the right place.
Intuitive eating has been around as long as humans have been eating. It’s the way we naturally eat when we are unencumbered by diet mentality, food rules, or the fear of being fat. That’s right, intuitive eating is not a diet or an “eating style.” It is not quantifiable because it is different for everyone…which makes it a bit scary if you’re used to rules or guidelines.
Diets often use images like the one above to convince you that you’ll be happy while eating the approved (often low-calorie) foods. I like to call this the “honeymoon phase” of dieting. You and I both know that diets never end well. Sooner or later, you “fall off the wagon” and feel guilty, depressed, and sorry for yourself.
So why don’t we reimagine this image?
Instead of glee at the prospect of losing weight on her diet, I like to imagine that this woman is laughing because her friend said something hilarious. Or because she was craving an apple all day and finally got to bite into one. Take all the emotional baggage off of that apple, and it tastes so much better.
How can you enjoy food like her? By allowing your body’s needs to translate into food choices. By slowing down and listening when your brain says to rush. By allowing yourself to eat whatever it is that you truly want.
Maybe you’ve tried intuitive eating before, and it didn’t work for you. That’s ok! Think back to what it was that didn’t go well. Did you treat it like another diet, where you were either “good” or “bad” on the the plan? Did you eat only junk food because you felt like you could “get away with it” until your experiment was over? Did you weigh yourself every day and notice that your weight stayed the same or got higher? I’m not surprised.
Does that offend you? Let me explain.
Your mind is deep-rooted in diet culture. It took you years to get there, and it will probably take years to get out of it. Like anything good for you, it’s worth it. Be patient. Take the time. Spend the energy. Your body and mind will thank you.
Whether you are just starting out with intuitive eating or in the midst of it, these tips will help you.
1) Stop tracking
The above image is ridiculous, but it illustrates how far we go to control our food intake. Any program that requires you to track your food prevents you from eating intuitively. That includes calories, grams, points, food groups, servings, portions…everything. Now I’ll be the first to say that sometimes your have to track food, such as when you’re working with a nutritionist to improve specific health markers. But if you’re working on intuitive eating, or if you have a history of dieting, disordered eating, or eating disorders, you’ve got to throw out the food log.
To get the most out of intuitive eating, you should also stop tracking your body changes. Weight, inches, fat percentage, muscle mass, hydration status…you can do that later. Right now, focus on how you feel. Your body will give you all the feedback you need, if you’re listening.
Tracking of any kind is an external factor that you can use to regulate your body. It’s ok (and sometimes necessary) when you’re dealing with illness or athletic progression…but it gets in the way (in a big way) of intuitive eating. Don’t believe me? Try not tracking anything for a week and notice how you feel. Some things I noticed were less anxiety about food, improved body image, less snacking, eating to satiety but not past fullness, enjoying my food more, and choosing what I really wanted on the menu.
2) Use the hunger scale
Check in with your stomach right now. One a scale of one to ten, how hungry are you? Anything under 4 means you should eat as soon as possible. Anything higher than 7 means you should probably stop eating. Ultimately, you get to decide when you eat, but this scale can help you identify how hungry or full you are in order to make that decision.
You can use the hunger scale anytime to get in touch with your body’s hunger signals. Not only does this improve your ability to eat intuitively, it helps you listen to your body’s other signals, like loneliness, pain, joy, anxiety, and anticipation.
It’s hard to know how much to eat if you don’t know how hungry you are. The hunger scale helps you understand your hunger signals more precisely, leading to more satisfaction when you eat. You’re less likely to overeat if you know that you’re full. You’re less likely to delay a meal if you realize that you’re hungry. These concepts are central to eating intuitively. As a bonus, you may learn what emotions prompt you to eat even when you’re not hungry.
3) Purge your social media
These days, we live more in our heads than in our bodies. What I mean by that is that the average person under age 30 spends more time experiencing the world through a digital lense than they do experiencing the world physically. Tweets, snaps, direct messages, videos, and photos pass through consciousness and then disappear with the short attention span that accompanies this new way of processing information.
And that’s ok. It’s the way of the future. No need to part with it (unless you want to). But it’s important to know that most of this information stays in your brain (whether you consciously remember it or not). And the information that is seen most often will make its way into your thoughts and actions. Instagram influencers, fitness models, food bloggers, vegan bodybuilders, and personal trainers are super awesome. They can also trigger unhealthy food choices and thoughts around food. Take a moment to unfollow anyone whose posts consist of food group elimination, macro counting, detoxing, obsessive body measurements, obsessive exercise, or compulsive selfies.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these social media accounts (unless they are harming themselves or leading you to harm yourself)…but these ideas are the opposite of intuitive eating. As long as the majority of your media experience prompts you to restrict food or obsess about how your body looks, you will be unable to eat intuitively. Instead, follow the following accounts on Instagram for body positive and/or intuitive eating encouragement:
Sage Advice Wellness (shameless plug!)
Therapists and general content
If you don’t know where to start with intuitive eating, start with these three easy steps. However, there’s a ton of information out there for you to learn about intuitive eating. The original Intuitive Eating book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch was published in 1995. Since then, it has been updated and edited, and the authors have published two workbooks that you can use to work through your journey. One is for adults, and one is for teens. These workbooks books are the best purchase you can make when you first start your intuitive eating journey, but they are helpful for anyone who wants to dive deeper into their relationship with food. You can also get more resources at intuitive eating.org.
Finally, the ten principles of intuitive eating are as follows.
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
2. Honor Your Hunger
3. Make Peace with Food
4. Challenge the Food Police
5. Respect Your Fullness
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
8. Respect Your Body
9. Exercise – Feel the Difference
10 Honor Your Health
If you’d like a challenge, choose one of the following principles to work on this week! Comment below if you have questions about intuitive eating.