I get so many questions about intuitive eating so I thought it would be helpful to compile some of the most common questions about intuitive eating. Maybe you’re a beginner on the journey to intuitive eating. Maybe you have no interest in learning more about it. Or, maybe you do, but don’t know where to start.
Firstly, I’d recommend this book and this workbook. I can’t say enough good things about them! Body Kindness is also a great read (quick, with lots of pictures) to help with a mentality shift and body changes.
Oftentimes, people are confused about intuitive eating because they’ve been in the diet mindset for so long (see 7 reasons why dieting doesn’t work).
They don’t understand what hunger feels like, they fear fullness and they haven’t developed trust. The thought of food throughout the day without a strict, guided meal plan can be scary. It’s normal to feel a little out of control in the beginning.
Here are some of the common questions many of my clients have. Maybe you’ve had them too. I hope this can provide a little clarity. Feel free to leave any other questions in the comments – I’d love to address them in future posts!
If I Let Myself Eat Anything I want, I’ll Let Myself Go
This is probably the most common thought about IE – the fear that if/when we give ourselves unconditional permission, we’ll go overboard. We think that instead, by regulating intake and sticking to strict rules, we can control and ignore our cravings. Research tells us this is not true, and in fact, we instead are more likely to overeat these foods when we do have them.
Instead, when we give ourselves unconditional permission, we learn to trust ourselves. At first, we may eat that particular food or meal alot. It’s important to know this is NORMAL. It’s been off limits for so long so we want it more. I like this analogy of how our brains work when we’re told not to do something – If you tell a kid to not play with the red lego (but play with any other color), what color will he play with? Most likely, the red! It becomes so much more enticing and attractive when we know we can’t have something.
Usually, this food we’ve been restricting is a highly palatable food – high in fat and/or sugar. It tastes good and is pleasing. Because of those qualities, we’ve told ourselves that it can’t be “good” for us, so we should “limit” it. But, we’ll never come to terms with that food if we never practice introducing it without a stressful and strict mentality.
And, foods aren’t “good” or “bad” anyway – food is just food. That’s the goal with intuitive eating.
How Can You Be Healthy While Intuitive Eating?
Another misconception is that intuitive eating is a completely separate concept from health. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, intuitive eaters are often healthier . Intuitive Eaters have lower BMI’s and better psychological health indicators.
And we know health is so much more than calories in, calories out, and how much we exercise. Our mental and social health, as well as our environment, are such important aspects of our overall well being.
Eating intuitively and embracing the Health at Every Size movement are two of the most powerful ways to practice self care. How? Well, you’re learning to listen to your body. You’re not rebelling against it, but instead, working with it.
You’re cultivating a relationship of trust. You’re getting rid of the toxic, negative thoughts that used to reign heavy over you – maybe they impacted your mood, your sleep patterns, your food choices.
Remember, the majority of diets are not sustainable long term – after 6 months, the weight loss is negligible. In fact, most often, dieting results in weight gain, plus a skewed relationship with food. Once you realize how giving up the dieting mentality, giving up the number on the scale, and giving up pre-made meals and meal plans feels, you’ll understand that was never health in the first place.
Instead, you can focus on things you can control – like listening to your body, moving in a way that feels good to you, enjoying meals socially, making recipes with ingredients you actually enjoy (not the low-fat fake stuff). You may enjoy going to the Farmers Market because you like the way fresh berries taste in the summer. Make it fun and enjoyable. That’s what is sustainable.
How Do I Know How Much I Should Be Eating?
I get it. It can be scary to let go of rigidity and any meal plans you used to follow. And at first, if you’re coming from a disordered eating background, you should work with a professional because intuitive eating isn’t right for you initially. But, once you’re ready, you’ll know when and how much to eat.
You’ll understand that it may vary by day. Some days you may be ravenous. Those days may be mentally harder, initially, but trust that you’re fueling your body with everything it needs. Other days, you’ll find that you don’t need the whole sandwich or whole bowl of pasta that you ate last night. Or, maybe you’re craving a lighter salad for lunch (when in the past, you would skip lunch altogether) after having a balanced, heavier breakfast.
Intuitive eating looks different for everyone, but generally, you’re still eating 3 meals and 2-5 snacks/day depending on your lifestyle, exercise level, stress and medical conditions.
How Do I Know if Intuitive Eating is Right For Me?
Intuitive Eating can be for everyone. I TRULY believe that – if you want it. We’re meant to be intuitive eaters. I believe that food choices should be natural – we shouldn’t stress about them. We are all different human beings with different biological functioning systems, so why should a 1,800 calorie meal plan that works for you also work for me?
More importantly, intuitive eating is sustainable. It can last forever, unlike a diet. It’s meant to be more natural. You can “follow” it when you’re pregnant, when you’re on vacation and when you’re training for a marathon. Likely, you’ll realize that your appetite and needs vary throughout the day and different season of your life. That’s NORMAL. It’s encouraged for you to change your eating style and habits based on your appetite and nutrition needs. With a diet, you can’t do that. Diets are static, not fluid.
Everyone should understand hunger and fullness cues, and make food choices based on foods they enjoy and that satisfy them. We should all be aware of how foods make us feel – it’s normal to feel more stuffed sometimes, and less stuffed other times. We are all constantly learning.
Furthermore, everyone should move in a way that makes them feel good. All of these are principles of intuitive eating. Intuitive eating allows us to form healthy behaviors.
Healthy behaviors are sustainable.
I’d love to know what other questions you may have about Intuitive Eating and I’ll work to answer them in future posts!