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How to Become an Intuitive Eater (Intuitive Eating Is Not Black and White)

Good Morning friends, happy Wednesday! I was listening to a great podcast the other day (Nutrition Matters, discussing the gray of Intuitive Eating, if you’re interested), and it got me thinking about ideas for this post.

Intuitive Eating is not black and white. It doesn’t really have boundaries and intuitive eating can be messy.

Intuitive Eating is not a diet

The concept of Intuitive Eating is gaining ground and becoming more and more popular and accepted. Sure, there are principles that suggest and try to define what IE is.

But these principles are guiding principles, not “rules” or dictations. I don’t want people to get the idea that intuitive eating is another form of rules or dieting, but we know diets don’t work.

While I think it may be misconstrued as a “diet” by some, it is everything but that. It is so OPPOSITE of dieting.

Furthermore, I think it’s important to state that intuitive eating can be and is messy. It’s not an easy process to transition to if you haven’t been eating this way.

Many people think intuitive eating is just about hunger and fullness, and while the intuitive eating hunger scale is an important tool, it’s not the only part of being an intuitive eater.

Also, there is a lot of gray area. Things aren’t black and white, mainly because you have a lot of flexibility.

Take this breakfast, for example. This was a bacon, egg and cheese between two donuts that I wanted to try and split with Ed. I also had a greek yogurt (unpictured) for some more protein because I know I feel better if I get enough protein in the mornings – that’s the practical part of IE where you look out for yourself and your body.

Is it perfect? No, but it gets the job done. And this was a happy, pleasurable experience. We enjoyed it after a pre-natal appointment (donuts are our ritual).

breakfast sandwich with bacon

Becoming an Intuitive Eater is not black and white

The strongest supporters of intuitive eating may argue that there is some black and whiteness involved. There is no one way to figure out how to become an intuitive eater.

Yet, I think when we get in the habit of thinking that way, or that there’s only “one way” to do it, we are creating rules and guidelines, which goes against all of the principles. There is never one way to do anything.

Intuitive eating doesn’t always mean ordering the ice cream, or cheeseburger. Sometimes, you may really want the salad, and you crave the nourishment that the fiber and vegetables will give you.

I, for example, craved some hearty veggies for lunch after this sugar-rich breakfast. This wasn’t a form of “punishment,” but more a form of my body regulating what it wanted.

salad mixture from whole foods in container

I would hate for someone to think they aren’t practicing intuitive eating if they want a more nutrient-dense option, like a salad. That’s not going against IE principles. Because sometimes you do want lots of greens and fiber.

I’m being careful of labeling the salad as the “healthier” option, because that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s more like the Wellness Diet thinking or diet culture thinking.

Here’s more on the definition of diet culture.

Intuitive Eating is Not Striving for Perfection

Intuitive eating doesn’t mean you always need to eat dessert, either, or eat breakfast first thing in the morning. But if you do, it means being okay with it. It doesn’t mean that you always need to eat three meals and two snacks every day.

But, it does incorporate some practical thinking. If you feel better with two snacks, then you should take the extra time to plan for those snacks. Or buy one out if you forget your afternoon snack.

Or, if you know your next meal will be delayed, it means eating another meal prior even if you’re not super hungry (more on practical hunger here). 

homemade energy bite with oats and dried fruit

Afternoon snack: No bake vegan protein bites

Intuitive eating is the idea of looking out for your body and trying to be as in tune with it as you can. And I’ll just tell you right off the bat – you won’t always be perfect. No one is because it doesn’t exist.

You will overeat and feel your fullness sometimes. 

You may have had a heavier dinner the night before, and you wake up less hungry than normal. Therefore, maybe you’re not eager to make breakfast at 7am as usual. That’s fine.

Remember, intuitive eating also takes practicality into consideration, meaning that you know you’ll be starving by lunch if you skip breakfast completely. Therefore, the middle ground here would probably be to eat something light for breakfast, maybe a little later than usual.

Self-care is knowing that you want to provide your body with some nourishment to prevent low blood sugar spikes and a ravenous appetite by lunch.

pizza with spinach, chicken and red onions

Intuitive eating is not always clear cut. In fact, most of the time, it’s not clear cut at all.

I may have meal prepped to have fajitas all week (like I talk about in my meal prep for athletes), but there may be one night where I just can’t think about eating another fajita, so we don’t.

We order takeout instead, or spontaneously meet some friends for dinner. Because having that flexibility (that “gray” area) is so so important in becoming an intuitive eater.

Living in the Gray with Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating means giving up the numbers, the want to control every single micro and macronutrient you eat. It means accepting the messiness.

Not every meal has to or will be planned perfectly. That sometimes cereal for dinner is acceptable, and not worth beating yourself up over.

bowl with ice cream, frozen fruit and crackers

Give yourself some grace and embrace the gray.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. Great post. For me personally, when I started eating this way, I found what healthy weight was good for my body, I had more energy to get moving, my moods improved, and I never felt like I was having some kind of “cheat” meal or day. I never feel like I can’t have something because it’s not good for me or have to hold off on eating something because of a meal I had earlier. It’s very freeing.

  2. Can I say, ‘YES> YES YES?’ It is so true that it’s learning to embrace the messiness, and I can’t say that I’m always willing to embrace the messiness, but lately life has been less focused on food which has been so good because it’s helped me listen to my cravings for a salad or a donut or a bowl of cereal. I don’t feel like I HAVE to have breakfast if I’m not hungry, but I usually eat a little something so I won’t be starving by lunch time; I love that you illustrated it as ‘messy’ because it’s not something that can or does follow a formula. It’s different from day to day because our day to day circumstances change, and I’m so thankful that God made us to need different things from different days. It’s cool that our bodies are never the same.

  3. When I get home from practice, I’m always super hungry so I make dinner on my own as soon as possible. I actually really don’t mind and in fact love doing this because it allows me to enjoy exactly what I’m in the mood for. There have been days when that’s meant eating the exact same thing I had for breakfast again because it was just so delicious and there’s nothing wrong with that. I also love that you touched on the fact that IE doesn’t always mean going for something more indulgent. I know that when I’m listening to my body, after enjoying sweets or something more decadent, I really, really want lots of vegetables and protein. As for now, I’ve been craving wood-fire pizza this week so I’m definitely planning to kick back with a movie and enjoy some this weekend 🙂 .


    1. It’s so true that making food in the moment can really help us listen to our cues, rather than having a meal pre-planned/prep. There’s a time for both, but so glad you are able to listen to your body after practice!

  4. On another note, I just had to try your recipe for the blueberry bread, so bought the ingredients and it was delish! I baked two loaves on Tuesday, and fell on the ice and fractured my pelvis yesterday morning ( Wednesday ). Now I have a delicious, healthy snack to enjoy while I recuperate……if I can make it to the fridge with my walker!!!

    1. Oh no, Sally, I’m so sorry to hear about your fall! Sending our love and prayers to you. I’m glad you have some yummies in the fridge to recover. Wishing a quick recovery to you!

      1. Thanks Sarah! I love hearing about Baby Girl Schlichter and that you are doing so great! You are all in my prayers as well!

  5. Like going to get a milkshake at Chic-Fil-A after work and before buying a car because you know you won’t be having dinner until 9?! And being preggo plus hangry and trying to be an adult … catastrophe avoided!!! My husband appreciated it too! YUP!!! 🙂

  6. embracing the grey area has helped me a lot when approaching intuitive eating. intuitive eating gets so messy and i feel like it’s such a hot buzz topic now. but when we realize its truly just being in tune with our body, it helps a lot!

  7. I 100% agree with you. IE was really difficult for me at first and honestly, it still is some days! But what I really LOVE about it is that it allows me the freedom to experiement without the GUILT – with a traditional “diet” everything is considered a “cheat” or “guilt” food if it doesn’t exactly fit the plan or macros. I love that IE is about so much more than some rigid plan.

    1. That’s a great way to put it – there should be no guilt because nothing is “bad” or off limits – and it is a difficult transition at first. I have to reassure my clients that that is 100% okay. It takes time to relearn our cues and bodies.

  8. I love these posts, it is messy sometimes, but I love the idea of giving your body what it wants and needs and enjoying the foods you want to without feeling guilty about them. I always find if I eat something really greasy or sugary, I will generally crave more greens and fiber later, so I try to listen to what my body wants and let it find balance.

  9. IE is really messy. Really, really messy, especially if the concept is new to you or it is something that you are consciously “trying” to make a change with. There are so many questions and hesitation and uncertainties – “did I actually just make the best decision? Did I actually give myself what I wanted? Am I hungry? What DO I want!?!” But I think if we keep saying that it is messy, then that gives us grace.

  10. IE is something I’m trying to be better about this year. This post was perfect to “label” (for lack of a better term!) the gray areas that come along with it.

    Not gonna lie, the breakfast donut sandwich looks delicious. I would also want some greens for lunch if that was my breakfast.