Whether you’re a seasoned intuitive eating pro, or you’re just now hearing of the term, these tips from our Intuitive Eating Counselor and Dietitian can help you quit the fad dieting, and start to connect back your body’s own internal wisdom.
Now tell me, which of these sounds simpler and more enjoyable to you?
-Counting calories and tracking every little thing you eat in a food app
*Eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full
-Analyzing menus way ahead of time to find out which menu item is “clean” enough for you to eat
-Not listening to your body and waiting hours to eat, only to wait until you are RAVENOUS, and then scarf down everything in your pantry, proceeding to have a stomachache
-Feeling guilty about eating “bad” foods, causing you to miss out on a fun dinner out with friends
*Eating foods that sound satisfying to you
*Eating a slow, quiet dinner at home with your family
-Cooking every recipe from scratch for an entire week (missing out on your weekend) to follow a self-prescribed meal plan to the T
-Eating in the car on the way to work, spilling your coffee, with honks blasting
*Having a delicious meal, and then going back to life to focus on other fun things
Do the phrases with stars sound a bit better to you?
I thought so. Food shouldn’t be so complicated, so emotional, and so difficult. Nutrition & health certainly IS complex (there are so many factors that contribute to your health besides just food! But that’ll be for another post…), but your relationship with food shouldn’t be. Intuitive eating is an evidence-based framework that guides you with 10 principles to help cultivate a healthier relationship with food. Here are some tips to quit listening to external reasons to eat, and start ENJOYING food again, and feeling good!
1. When you’re eating, truly eat.
Get rid of the distractions – turn off the TV, turn off your cell phone (or at least don’t use it), stop working and focus on your meal or snack at hand. How in the world are we supposed to connect back in with our body and be able to listen to it with all the distractions around us? Try to eat in a peaceful environment. Eating dinner while your kids are screaming and throwing toys, the TV is blaring, and your dog is barking isn’t going to be the most enjoyable atmosphere. See what steps you can take to eat in a peaceful, relaxed state, and you’ll be more likely to mindfully eat and acquire satisfaction (a key for satiety!).
2. Ask yourself “what do I want to eat?” instead of “what should I eat?“
For so long, we’ve been taught to listen to others in regards to how and what to eat. Whether it’s our parents, the latest magazine, celebrity, or diet, we’ve stopped listening to the best expert-our own body! Eating foods we should eat, still keeps us in that diet mentality of should vs. shouldn’t, good vs. bad, “clean” vs. unclean, further perpetuating food fears and food guilt and shame. By instead asking ourselves what we WANT to eat, we can focus on what will actually satisfy us. If you eat a salad just because you “should”, but you don’t even want it, you won’t feel satisfied, likely reaching for more food or dessert (even though you may be physically full), just because that satisfaction piece is missing. Sure, it can be hard to trust your body after being taught so long that you can’t, but it’s a good start to becoming more of an intuitive eater! So next time you start to feel hungry, ask yourself, “what do I feel like eating?”
3. Quit the judgement.
Approach food as an outsider, using a nonjudgmental approach. Food has gotten so tied up with emotions and feelings, which further complicates our relationship with it. The goal of intuitive eating is to eventually be able to view all foods morally equal – you aren’t “good” for eating an apple or “bad” for eating cake. It should hold the same weight to you emotionally. Start to journey towards that goal by calling yourself out when you are judging yourself or your eating choices (and others’ too!). That guilt and judgement will only keep you wanting to restrict your intake or go on a diet after “being bad”, which usually is the cause of overeating in the first place.
4. Say no to the food police.
Whether it’s your mom, your friends, or social media, fight back against the food police, which tells you lies to get you to buy into diet culture. Diet rules telling you which foods to eat and which to avoid only push you into wanting to eat more of those “not allowed” foods. Since we know research tells us that dieting doesn’t work and is actually harmful, start to fight back to those that spout its lies.
5. Eat for self-care.
Eating should be fun and make you feel good! It’s nourishment after all, right? If you feel good after eating a certain food, then by all means, eat that food! And vice versa, if you notice you don’t feel super great after having a certain food, you don’t have to eat that food! For example, say you went to a work lunch and ate a burger and noticed afterwards that you felt bloated, tired, and sleepy, causing you to be less productive at work. So instead of avoiding a burger due to diet rules or viewing it from a restrictive standpoint, focus on replacing it for self-care reasons. Maybe next time you order a turkey sandwich with a side salad, and feel great afterwards! Eat to make you feel GOOD, not to focus on what the scale says. Focus on nutrition for self-care, rather than self-control.
6. Use the Hunger-Fullness Scale.
We don’t need calorie calculators to tell us how much to eat, our bodies are ever changing and complex! Some days we may need more energy, and other days we may not need quite as much. And if you start to connect back to your body and listen, it will tell you just what it needs. The Hunger-Fullness scale is a great tool for paying attention to how your body feels – are you famished? starving? hungry? neutral? satisfied? or maybe stuffed? The goal is to to distinguish what these cues are telling you. Aim to start eating when you start to feel hungry – maybe a grumbling sensation, maybe you haven’t eaten in a few hours. Then aim to stop eating when you feel satisfied, but not overly full. Mindful eating and getting rid of those mealtime distractions can greatly help with this. By listening to our body, we can eat exactly the amount it needs.
7. Experiment! pay attention to how you feel after meals – are you bloated? Did that meal make you tired, or energized? Do you feel peppy, or sluggish?
Think of each eating experience as a learning experience. What combination for breakfast keeps you full and satisfied, is enjoyable, and also makes you feel good? If you notice oatmeal alone doesn’t do it for you, but having oatmeal with almond milk and berries does the trick, then that’s a great breakfast for you! We know that a combo of protein, fats, and carbs is key to satiety, but play around with different foods to see what works best for your body. Some people may do well with eating more protein, while others may find that eating more carbohydrates like fruits, veggies, and whole grains makes them feel best. Zoom out, and look at your eating habits like a scientist would!
8. Challenge your inner critic.
Sometimes our worst enemies are our selves. What are your internal thoughts related to food like? We sometimes ca seem to have a healthy relationship with food on the outside, but once we slow down and take a look at our thoughts, there could still be some negative ones hiding around in there. Pay attention to your thoughts when it comes to eating, and practice rephrasing them into more positive thoughts. For example, you can change the thought: “Ugh, that is so many carbs, I shouldn’t eat that, it’ll make me fat.” to “I notice that meal is lacking fruits and veggies, which is what I’m in the mood for right now. I may find something else to eat so I don’t feel sluggish this afternoon. I’ll pass, thanks though!”