Intuitive Eating Explained [It’s about balance]
Written by: Kiki Athanas, our In-House Wellness Consultant.
Do you struggle to find true “balance” with your eating & food choices? Some days everything just flows…you eat the chia pudding for breakfast, choose the fresh chicken salad at lunch, and say no to dessert at dinner. You feel accomplished and proud of yourself. But then you face the days when “all bets are off”. You skip breakfast but manage to shove down a coffee & a few bites of a muffin you grab on the go, lunch is also rushed – yet you still end up eating more (not less) than you know you need to, and at dinner time – you take yourself to an uncomfortable full. Oh, and then there’s after-dinner snacking in front of the television with your partner (totally their fault, of course).
If you are willing to at least start to admit that your “healthy habits” are sometimes life-circumstances-dependent, and acknowledge that food seems to rule your life more than you’d like – then understanding & following a more intuitive approach may be exactly what you need to find that “balance” you dream of. Sit back, take a deep breath, and read the following with an open mind & an open heart. You are about to read the truth on exactly what intuitive eating is (& what it isn’t!) so that you can be confident that you are making the right choices for your body, your mind, and your overall health. Let’s get ready to dive-into the best way to achieve sustainable healthy habits today & into the future.
What if you fully understood how honoring your body’s ever-changing nutritional needs (through intuitive eating) can impact your overall state of health & happiness for the better? I’d bet that it would make it easier to implement. Hence, I’ll explain that – as well as provide you with a simplified definition of intuitive eating, as well as address common myths and misconceptions. And if you read to the end, you’ll get an easy framework to get you started and off to happy & healthy gut-loving success!
Ready to dive into healthier habits with your meal choices, but need some more personalized assistance? Kiki Athanas is our in-house Wellness Consultant and offers our foodie FIT clientele complimentary meal planning sessions online. You can book a time with her here.
Why Intuitive Eating Matters For You & Your Health
Intuitive eating isn’t just a trendy concept in “self-care” – nor the latest health-craze on social media – it’s actually the way we were innately born to eat. Let me take you back to the “good old days”…
You were a young child – likely with less social & cultural programming than you have now. You lived your life more spontaneously, responsively, and “organically” (& I’m not talking about the non-GMO kind). Ultimately, you followed your instincts and responded accordingly. Eventually, you’d feel a sensation in your stomach – you soon learned that this was called “hunger”. This feeling wasn’t “bad” or “good” – it was simply a communication signal from your body, informing you that you need to stop what you’re doing and eat. Of course, these feelings wouldn’t just come on “all of a sudden” – there would be a natural progression that built up to you eventually stopping whatever it is that you were doing, so that you could eat. Or, in the case of your younger child self – obtain your parent’s attention and indicate that it’s time for you to eat!
Naturally, you would choose to eat foods that tasted good to you – and refuse those foods that didn’t taste good to you. Once you were satisfied with the food, and ate enough to feel balanced in your body, you’d stop. Then what? Well, you’d get on with living! No lingering head-chatter about how you “shouldn’t have eaten that”, or “next time you’ll eat healthier”, or otherwise beating yourself up about how much you ate. You would be too busy living.
So, What Is Intuitive Eating?
Well, it’s exactly as described just above! It’s eating within the rhythm of your bodily cues. It’s listening to the communication within your stomach – and responding appropriately. That means waiting for hunger to call you to eat, and then choosing the foods that taste good to you. It’s taking yourself to a comfortable state of balance (not feeling “full” or heavy). It’s less about the food, and more about respecting & honoring your innate needs from within.
Of course, when we are in touch with what feels good to us, we naturally crave foods that are most nourishing to us from a “nutritional” perspective. Luckily, we can trust ourselves to let our body’s lead the way – there’s no need to overthink it in our head brains. Our stomachs are here to help & serve us, it’s a matter of allowing for that intuitive wisdom to surface – no forcing or restricting required. In fact, when we are forcing or restricting, we are ultimately putting ourselves into deprivation mode – which ultimately turns sour (think: unstoppable binging & uncontrollable “indulging”).
How To Detect When You’re NOT Eating Intuitively
Being conscious of your ever-evolving bodily needs & desires is at the forefront of real intuitive eating. While it may seem like eating “healthy” = intuitive eating, that is not always the case. Here’s the thing, when we get too caught up in labeling food as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”, we ultimately deprive ourselves of things that we may like & enjoy. See, no food is fully good or bad – all foods fit depending on the person, the amount, & the circumstances.
Rather than focusing exclusively on what’s “trendy” in the world of wellness today, start shifting your focus on what foods FEEL good in your body – when you eat them, and afterwards. That is your best source of information for YOU, and is the key to informed intuitive eating. You are your best ally here.
On a similar note, whenever you see words or concepts being used like: “portion control”, “only whole foods” or anything to do with external timing eating occasions (i.e. fasting), then you can steer clear! Intuitive eating is about less rule-following, and more about trusting in your own gut feelings. No nutrition books required! You’re already well-equipped thanks to your trusty stomach sensations – it’s time to welcome them (not avoid or chase them away).
Easy Ways To Start Intuitive Eating Today
The good news is that we have practical & concrete tools to stay within the boundaries of the body – not for the sake of aesthetic weight goals, but for the pursuit of feeling comfort in our bodies & our overall lives. The first key boundary of the body is hunger. Rather than using set times as your cue to eat (e.g. breakfast at 9am, & lunch at noon) – start letting your stomach be your clock. I use what I call the Hunger Scale (1-10) with my clients, which is essentially a framework for level of hunger so that you can stay in-tune with where you’re at. I suggest waiting to eat until you are at a ‘2’ on the hunger scale – that’s when your stomach growls and it’s a signal that your body is chemically prepared to digest food. It’s when you’re actually gut-hungry that you most enjoy your food, have proper digestion, and enjoy your body afterwards! Start catching when you go to eat based on a factor OTHER than hunger (e.g. time, someone else eating, distracting yourself from a task, avoiding the possibility of becoming hungry later, etc.) – and commit to waiting for hunger. This isn’t about starving yourself – when you are hungry…EAT!
The second key boundary of the body is taste. Yes, you are allowed to eat what tastes good to you – in fact, this is an essential part of nourishing yourself properly and obtaining your nutritional needs. Cravings aren’t a bad thing – they are once again communication from the body. Being attentive to what our body FEELS like can guide us to the right foods & ingredients that we may be lacking.
“But all I crave is sugar & sweets!”
Don’t worry – I’ve heard it all before, and you are not alone! The reason you feel like all you crave are “bad” foods is likely due to two related reasons. First, you are labeling the food as “bad” and therefore “not allowed” – this is scientifically proven to make you WANT the food even MORE. In other words, restriction leads to overeating – it’s unintuitive, but true. Second, you’ve likely deprived yourself of such chosen food that you’re romanticizing it in your brain. It’s time to ALLOW yourself (unapologetically) to eat however much of these foods that FEELS good to you. Once you take back your power & freedom around all foods – they release their power over you. The best part is that oftentimes, this process doesn’t take weeks or months – but rather can be achieved & enjoyed in a matter of days! Feel like cake? Eat the cake. If you do this without ANY judgment, you’ll notice how your “cravings” for cake vanish almost immediately.
Inspired to try a new approach to healthier habits with your meal choices, but need some more personalized assistance? Kiki Athanas is our in-house Wellness Consultant and offers our foodie FIT clientele complimentary meal planning sessions online. You can book a time with her here.
Here’s What To Remember The Next Time You Go To Eat
First and foremost, ask yourself if you are really hungry. Check in with the feeling in your stomach – has it been calling you & alerting you that you need to stop & eat, or are you simply one (or a few) steps ahead? If you are indeed hungry, go ahead and eat. If you realize that you’re not actually gut-hungry, choose another way to pass the time or simply take a mindful break. Often we use food to distract ourselves or otherwise soften the discomfort in our lives. We have other senses…use smell, touch, sight or sound to give yourself another more suitable form of pleasure.
Next and equally important, be honest with yourself about what you truly FEEL like in that very moment. Is it something sweet, savory, or a mix of both? Are you in the mood for a cold green smoothie or a warm bowl of meat & potatoes? Trust your instincts and visceral sensations over what you’re being “advised” by “health experts”. You can let your body lead the way. Enjoy your food. Sit down and give yourself time & space to eat, chew, and digest.
And then…go live your life!
Want to learn more about the Intuitive Eating method? Join Kiki’s live workshop on Thursday June 30th @ 12pm PST – you can register free here.