What Is Intuitive Eating? 7 Easy Ways to Do It Like a Pro
I’ve always loved food. True story. Sweet, savory, salty, crunchy, you name it, I used to want to eat it ALL. So, when I realized that food was a driving factor in my inflammation and my struggle with PCOS and autoimmune disease, I had to navigate my food choices much more carefully.
As I became more conscious of how my diet affected how I FELT, I realized how important it was for me to be concerned about what I ate. Not because of weight gain or cellulite or a couple numbers on the scale, but because my nutrition habits severely affected my symptoms.
It blew my mind that something as simple as what I ate could affect my moods, my skin, my period, my allergies, my mental focus, my energy levels and my sleep so dramatically. It was the difference between having a crappy day and an awesome day. It was the difference between having a disease that progressed or a disease that reversed.
It was so freeing to break up with the expectations that our society places on women, like:
• being skinny or fit over being healthy
• eating less food than my body needs or wants to look a certain way
• eating a certain way to please others or live up to a social media standard
• obsessively counting macros and/or calories in the name of being “disciplined”
But, I wasn’t always this way.
There was a time when I would restrict and punish myself with food, push through the exhaustion, the hunger, the cravings and the painful PMS, telling myself it was for the greater good. Many times, drowning out the cry of my body in the process. My struggle with food is part of the reason I developed severe hormonal imbalances, Hypothyroidism, PCOS and Autoimmunity.
And here’s the deal, once you ignore your body for too long, a disconnect takes place. You dull your ability tune in, tap in and really listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
Some of us are desperately clinging to our fear and restriction approach and carrying it with us in the name of Paleo or Vegan or Keto. Forgetting that the whole point of changing our diet and lifestyle in the first place was to heal. To feel like ourselves again.
By carrying our food fears, our obsession with being smaller and yo-yo dieting mentality with us into our new healing lifestyle, we miss a huge opportunity to grow, change and release ourselves from the guilt, shame and punishment mindset when it comes to food (and our bodies).
If you truly want to ditch the diet drama and make peace with your body, you HAVE to change your relationship with food.
Enter: Intuitive Eating
What it does mean: Tapping in and tuning in to your body’s needs and eating what you need to live in a balanced, satisfied and nourished state, while allowing you to achieve your health goals.
What it doesn’t mean: Eating whatever the heck you want to eat at all times with no thought to how what you eat affects you mind, body and spirit.
With practice, I’ve regained my “Food Intuition”, which is the ability to tune in, tap in and really listen to what my body wants and needs (food-wise) to stay in optimal health and remain symptom free.
Here are the ways that I’ve strengthened my intuitive eating muscle:
1. I listen to hunger signals
It seems simple: eat when you’re hungry and don’t when you’re not. But not practicing this simple habit can have a huge impact on hormones, specifically our hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin. Leptin and grehlin are key regulators in appetite and fat loss and can influence tendencies like: overeating, mindless snacking, bingeing and eating when we’re bored or sad.
When we don’t eat when we’re hungry, stuff ourselves full, or eat when we aren’t hungry, we are overriding our body’s signals, and deciding what’s best. Part of healing is giving the body what it needs when it needs it and trusting it enough to honor it’s signals.
2. I listen to my cravings
Now, notice I didn’t say “eat” your cravings. I said listen. Cravings can be an incredible way to get insight, not only to what’s going on inside our bodies physically, but also emotionally and hormonally.
Just because you are craving a whole pack of oreos, doesn’t mean your body needs a whole pack of oreos. But, what it does need is for you to use the cravings as an opportunity to tune in, tap in and figure out what it needs.
Craving for a very physical reason — intense cravings for salty foods can be pointing to a mineral deficiency (like sodium or potassium) or HPA axis dysfunction. A carb craving while you’re about to start your period can be your body screaming for some nutrient-dense carbohydrates to support hormone production.
Emotional sugar cravings — usually involve sugar or carbs and follow a long day, bad day or a stressful/emotional event. Your body craves a hit of dopamine, “the feel good hormone” and sugar will send your brain all the happy feels to give it a temporary euphoric feeling.
Hormonal Sugar Cravings — are you paying attention to what your cravings are and when they happen? Noting which phase your cycles happen in (menstrual, follicular, ovulation, luteal) can be a helpful clue in determining what’s going on with your hormones.
3. Did an elimination diet + found my “non-negotiables”
This. You guys. THIS. IS. EVERYTHING. If you don’t know how foods affect you, you will never fully trust your choices around food. If you’re constantly suspecting IF a food you’re eating makes you feel like crap, you need to do an elimination diet.
For me, doing an elimination diet once a year for about 21 days gives me INCREDIBLE insight into how to fuel my body in every season. After my elimination diet, I’m able to figure out which foods make me feel good and to include into my diet regularly and what foods are gonna harsh my mellow if I eat them all the time.
After many elimination diets over the years, I’ve decided I have one non-negotiable. I NEVER eat gluten. It’s not worth it. It makes me feel like crap and I decided the symptoms weren’t worth it, so I just don’t do it. I indulge in anything else on occasion, but mostly choose to fuel myself with high-quality, nutrient-dense foods that work well with my body.
Interested in doing this for yourself? My gut program will be available early 2019.
4. Ditched Labels – no such thing as good or bad
We’ve got to STOP labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” You know what’s harder on the body than poor-quality food? Guilt. Shame. STRESS. I think we can all agree that there are high-quality foods that make our body feel good and these are the types of foods we should feel led to choose most of the time.
But those low-quality foods that don’t make us feel too hot? They’re good for the soul. And it doesn’t make use any less “clean” or “pure” if we indulge in them from time to time. Once we start obsessing and putting labels of “good” or “bad” on food, we’ve missed the point.
5. Let myself enjoy my food + see food for what it is
Listen up. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO ENJOY FOOD. I know they told you women shouldn’t “stuff their face” or “eat more than men” or “eat a lot of calories” but I agree to disagree. When you don’t feel starved, it becomes a lot easier to make empowered food choices.
When we are constantly starving or living in a calorie-starved/restricted state, we will crave and eat unhealthy calorie rich meals constantly. We will feel like bingeing. We will have a hard time with portion control. When we’re nourished and satisfied, we will continue to crave the foods that keep our bodies in this nourished and satisfied state and follow our hunger cues.
Once we ditch the food obsession (once you start eating enough calories, food obsession fades), you see food for what it is: FUEL. The building blocks of the cells and hormones you’re trying to rebuild during your healing journey. Food can be healthy and taste good, but it’s important to remember it’s purpose: to nourish and satisfy you.
6. Use tracking apps as tools not gauges
MyFitnessPal or a food journal can be a great tool for gauging your calorie intake (to make sure you’re eating enough) and to track macronutrient intake (to make sure you’re eating a good balance of protein, carbs and fats) for hormone restoration, but tracking should never determine your success or worth as a human being.
Becoming obsessed with tracking is a serious issue (trust me, I’ve seen it), especially if you have a tendency to struggle with eating disorders. I recommend using tracking for a 5 day period about once a month to re-check in with yourself to make sure you’re eating enough and seeing a good balance of macronutrients, but the rest of the month should be spent eating intuitively loosely based on the 3-5 days you tracked and saw success with.
How do you know you’ve found success? Your energy, sleep, periods, moods and digestion are at their best.
7. TRUST YOURSELF
Yep. You need to trust that you, you beautiful girl, have everything you need inside yourself to make the absolute best choices for your body. By tuning in, figuring out what makes your body tick, you will know what your body needs and doesn’t need.
Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that we have the power to tune in and tap in. We have the ability to learn our body’s signs and symptoms so intimately that we’ll know immediately when something isn’t working for us. If you need a reminder, print the poster below and tape it to your bathroom mirror.
Relearning the lost art of eating intuitively has been another step in relearning and becoming more in tune with my body’s cycles, needs and rhythms. It’s another way I’ve made peace with my body and ditched diet culture and my yo-yo dieting past. I encourage every client to experiment with nourishing foods, find what does and doesn’t work for their unique (and awesome!) body and explore their relationship with food.