The term intuitive eating has been popping up more these days on social media. Intuitive eating is something I did not always possess, and it took some time for me to find that place where I was (finally) listening to my body and finding peace with what I eat.
To me, intuitive eating means that we stay in tune with our bodies. We listen to our cravings, our hunger cues (along with our satisfied/full cues), we eat mindfully and fully focused on our eating. Each part of that definition is truly a separate part of the whole picture, and often these accomplishments don’t come all at once.
It wasn’t until recently that someone mentioned that to me that many of the new wave of intuitive eating gurus have a bit of a different focus than I did. Some of these people say that intuitive eating means that you eat whatever you feel like eating, all the time, no matter what. While I’m all for enjoying life, having a treat, and not being a slave to a strict diet, there is a fundamental issue with allowing yourself to eat whatever you feel your body is craving all the time.
Note the difference…
It’s 2pm, I’m & I’m craving something sweet, I love ice cream, I feel like eating that so I’m going to.
It’s 2pm, I’m tired & craving something sweet. I’m guessing my body needs a pick me up, so I’m going to go grab an apple and some almond butter to refuel.
To start, I’m not saying that doing that first choice is always bad. Sometimes a girl needs her ice cream! But many following this new way of “intuitive eating” think that making these choices constantly (daily) is fine…because you are just choosing what you feel like eating.
It doesn’t take a health genius to realize that allowing our minds to choose our foods based off of feelings & cravings can end up poorly and be detrimental to our health. Our bodies are wired primally to get the easiest, highest form of calories in. It’s our primitive nature… our ancestors would have always opted for a high calorie food if they had the option because they did not know where the next meal might come from. Unfortunately, our brains still hold onto this concept a bit. This is why we have to dig deeper with our intuitive eating, past the “I want” to the “what does my body need”.
3 Steps to Intuitive Eating
1. Eat Mindfully
Eating mindfully is one of the biggest things you can do to work towards better health and healthy eating habits. I’m sure you can relate to how often you are rushed at meals, eating standing up or while driving somewhere, or distracted by the computer, television, or your phone. All of these activities work against our health. Eating in a relaxed, undistracted state, first of all, allows our digestion to actually work properly. When we are busy and distracted our digestion can not do what it needs to do. This results in a variety of digestive issues. Second, eating undistracted and relaxed allows us to tune into our food & our bodies. We are able to see, smell, feel, and taste…and truly enjoy the food we are eating. It also allows us to sense when we are full.
2. Listening to Hunger & Full Cues
Knowing when we are hungry and full seem like basic things, but it is surprising how often we get them wrong or miss them. Generally, we don’t miss when we are hungry, but knowing when we feel hungry vs. are truly hungry is the key. Feelings of hunger often come up when we are bored or stressed. We use food as a way to fill time or to distract from the feelings we are having. The main key to this is to practice awareness. Until we are aware of what is happening, it’s hard to overcome it. We have to stop, analyze what is happening, and call it out for what it is. Often this takes time to retrain our brains to find other ways to cope with these feelings instead of eating.
Feeling our full cue will tie closely in with #1 as I mentioned above. The main key to knowing you’ve eaten enough (before it’s too late) is to eat undistracted and to slow down your eating. Taking the time to chew your food thoroughly not only helps digestion, but it helps our stomach tell our brain that it is full before you get overstuffed.
3. Listen to Your Cravings
Cravings…we all have them. Sometimes they are nudges, and sometimes it feels like someone beating down the door in our mind saying “I must have chocolate!!” Pretty much any time we are having a craving it means our body is telling us something. It could just be telling us that it is hungry. Or, in the case of chocolate, it could be telling us that it is needing a nutrient, like magnesium. Most often, in my experience, your body is saying it needs some balance. Often cravings for carbs are signally that blood sugar is low, or that stress is high, and the body needs that quick fuel to get things right.
Making Good Choices
Now with all of that said, it’s important to remember that what you choose to eat is as important as having awareness about what your body is telling you. As in my example shown above, there are two reactions to having a craving for sugar/carbs. Of course, most of us would want to eat chocolate or ice cream every time we had a craving, but obviously that does not do well to support our long term health. Instead, we have to know why we are craving it, and then most of the time choose that healthy, whole food option instead.
Eating intuitively also means that sometimes we skip a meal because we just aren’t that hungry (yes, even breakfast). It also means that sometimes we eat snacks, even though we don’t normally snack that often. It means that sometimes we eat more at a meal, and sometimes we eat less. Every day and every person is unique. It will take time to truly tune in to your body to know what it is telling you. Try something different, don’t get hung up on what you think you should do or what everyone says is the right way.
But yeah, sometimes you do need to have ice cream. 😉