Take a moment and ask yourself how you would feel if:
- Your eating decisions were based on what you want to eat, not what you on what you should eat
- You never attempt another diet – ever again
- You feel satisfied and satiated throughout the day
- You no longer feel shameful about your eating decisions and behaviors
- You have control of your cravings when you’re surrounded by foods that were previously “off limits”
These feelings, my friends, are possible when you learn how to eat intuitively.
If you’ve never heard of intuitive eating, it’s based on a few principles:
- Becoming more attuned to the body’s natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight
- It is intended to create a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body
Think it sounds too good to be true? I promise – it’s not.
Becoming an intuitive eater IS possible
You know why? Because you were once an intuitive eater! Infants and young children are experts at intuitive eating and listening to their internal hunger and fullness cues. It’s not until external influences (i.e. traumatic events, emotional stress, family/friends, etc.) affect these internal processes that we begin to see food used as a coping mechanism during uncomfortable emotions or situations.
However, it is important to recognize that there is a time and place for intuitive eating. If someone has an eating disorder, is recovering from an eating disorder, follows a prescribed diet for medical reasons, or has struggled with years of yo-yo dieting, working towards intuitive eating is the goal. When I work with these clients/patients, my priority is to help teach them how to eat and properly nourish their bodies first.
Intuitive Eating Misconceptions
Intuitive eating is a term that is often inappropriately used out of context. I’ve heard some argue that practicing intuitive eating gives people “permission” to eat in ways that don’t serve their mental or physical health. Not true. For the majority of this post, I’d like to address some common intuitive eating misconceptions.
Misconception #1: Intuitive eating means eating as much and whatever you want, all the time
One of the biggest misguided criticisms of intuitive eating is that it gives people permission to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. For example, I received this message: “So, if I’m craving pizza all day, I can eat it all day and still be an intuitive eater?”
One of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating is to “honor your hunger”. And part of this principle is adequately fueling your body consistently throughout the day. “Adequately” applies to both meal patterns and choices. While there is certainly not a single “right” way to eat, we do know that the right combinations of macronutrients – spaced out consistently throughout the day – are beneficial to our mental and physical health.
Think about a time when you were intensely craving pizza. What were the circumstances surrounding this craving? We absolutely want to honor these cravings when they arise so we feel satisfied with our meal and snack choices, but intuitive eating also means tuning in to how we feel physically from the foods we eat. Eating pizza for every meal is bound to make us feel sick to our stomach, and learning to listen and feel the body’s response to certain foods is all part of the journey to discovering intuitive eating.
“Honoring your hunger” also means fueling your body in such a way that you’re not reaching a point of starvation, when you are no longer consciously eating because you don’t have the mental energy to care. This is typically where we see episodes of binging on our favorite comfort foods, such as pizza.
Misconception #2: If I start to eat intuitively, I am going to lose/gain weight
Intuitive eating is a weight-neutral approach. When working with clients, I’ve heard them express concern with “losing control” when learning to eat intuitively, or expecting that intuitive eating will lead to weight loss. Intuitive Eating encourages us to respect our bodies and our bodies natural shape and size.
And by “natural shape and size”, I’m referring to our set point weight. If you’re unfamiliar with the set-point theory, we’ll be talking about it during on the podcast on Monday, November 27th. Set-point theory suggests that our bodies have a predetermined weight where it is most comfortable. If we deviate from that weight, natural feedback mechanisms (i.e. hormones, neurotransmitters, etc.) work to self-correct the fluctuation in weight to bring us back to our natural set point. Set-point theory is one explanation as to why dieting is not successful. When we eat intuitively, we are guided back to our natural set point.
Misconception #3: If I allow myself to give into my cravings, I will only eat sugar, sweets, high-fat foods, etc.
There are two things that I want to address here:
- Restricting or labeling certain foods or food groups as “off-limits”
- The importance of making food choices that are satisfying
Certain food groups, especially foods that are higher in sugar, carbs, or fat, get a bad rap in our society. There is room in every diet for treats. However, once we label a food as off-limits, it sends our brains into freak-out mode. We are left feeling deprived and with a sensation of overwhelming cravings. As soon as we remove the stigma and red tape from the foods we restrict or avoid, they no longer hold the same appeal.
I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. But the reality is that as humans, we want what we cannot have. And we obsess over the foods we can’t enjoy. And what can that lead to? Overcompensating in other ways. Eating other foods that we’re not craving because we’re trying to tune out our bodies.
And that brings me to part 2: the importance of making food choices that are satisfying. Food choices that bring us pleasure and helps us feel content. When we become intuitive eaters and crave the french fries, sweet rolls, or cookies, we are able to eat them when we want, and we’re able to put them down when we want. One of the most freeing feelings is the ability to throw away half a cookie because you just don’t want it any more. When we don’t eat the foods that are going to help satisfy us, we seek replacements. Trying to cover-up our cravings does nothing to serve us or our bodies. We are meant to feel and find joy – why smother it?
How can you meal prep and be an intuitive eater?
This is a great question, and before I answer it fully, I want to clarify how I define “meal prep”. Meal prep is a means of preparing a variety of foods ahead of time for meals throughout the week. It’s not designing a strict meal plan that has to be followed. How do meal planning and intuitive eating intersect? With 100% flexibility. And with choosing to prepare foods that make you feel satisfied and satiated. Meal prep is NOT about preparing foods that you “should” be eating.
On any given day, you may, or may not, want to eat the foods you preprepared. Understandable. Are there foods available to eat instead? Can you pack some snacks to take with you if you’re heading out the door and not hungry yet? Absolutely. However, here’s another scenario to consider: say you prepared a batch of chili but don’t feel like eating it for dinner. I say: you don’t have to eat it. You can eat other foods as a replacement. However, if it’s the only thing you have available in the house, you should consider eating it given that one of your roles as an intuitive eater is to fuel your body appropriately. I know this concept may seem counter-intuitive to the principle of intuitive eating, but our bodies need fuel – consistently – and intuitive eating does not give you a “pass” for not eating regularly.
In terms of preparing meal items for the week, I suggest preparing some batch staples: whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, farro, barley, etc; roasted veggies; and baked fish or lean meat, that you can combine in a variety of ways. You’ll also want to make sure you have snack supplies on hand to eat between meals. Nutrition Stripped has some great meal prep posts and guides, so be sure to check out her resources for more ideas.
- I HIGHLY recommend reading the book, Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This book changed my relationship with food, and I am confident that it has the potential to also change yours. The information presented in my post today is only a small teaser of what you can expect to learn about if you read the book.
- Other posts on Intuitive Eating by dietitians:
- Intuitive Eating Website
- Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating. New York: St. Martins Griffin
- Harris RB. Role of set-point theory in regulation of body weight. FASEB J 1990; 4: 3310–3318
Interested in learning more about intuitive eating? I work with clients to help them become intuitive eaters. If you’re interested in working together, let’s schedule a free 15-minute consultation to chat! Shoot me an email for more details.