Do you count calories for every meal? Do you worry that you’re not getting enough nutrients from the food that you eat? Are you baffled by the different dieting tips and advice and don’t know who to listen to? Low-carb, ketogenetics, vegetarian, vegan, fasting and detox, etc. They all seem viable choices for you to eat healthy and lose weight.
So, which one should you follow?
Well, according to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, founders of the eating principle “intuitive eating,” none of these. When it comes to food, you should follow your heart and eat whatever you want to. And that is, to eat intuitively.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is the principle that you can eat what you want and how much you want wherever you want to. There are ten principles regarding intuitive eating, but to sum up, they ask you to reject your dieting mindset, stop counting calories, and focus on how you feel when it comes to food. If you feel like a piece of chocolate cake, go for it and don’t stop eating until you’re satisfied.
Why Should You Start Intuitive Eating?
First, intuitive eating brings back the joy of eating. Eating should be a fun, enjoyable experience, but the many rules and restrictions that we place on food have made eating another source of stress, if not misery. How many times have you tried to control your appetite but fail and you felt guilty about it? How many times have you blamed yourself for letting your cravings get the better of you? By allowing yourself to eat what you want, the shame and self-criticism go away and you become happier and more satisfied.
Secondly, when you eat intuitively, you eat the right food in the right amount. Your body has its own intelligence, and it knows what, when and how much to eat. When your belly rumbles and you crave for a chicken sandwich, it is the body that needs what the sandwich can provide at that moment. If you could just listen to your body, you will choose the food that optimizes your health and makes you feel good.
Last but not the least, intuitive eating respects individual difference. Low-carb or vegan, sweetener-free or gluten-free, dieting tells you that you need to follow a particular way of eating to eat healthy. However, what works for others might not work for you, and only you will know how you feel and what you need.
Intuitive eating also respects that the fact that one person may need drastically different things at different times. On some days you might need to wolf down a big meal with high calories to feel full, while in other times a simple salad is enough to energize you. Intuitive eating treats all food as “equal,” and all you need is to get in touch with your body and listen to when, what, and how much it needs and wants.
6 Steps to Become an Intuitive Eater
Dieting requires your motivation and willpower, while intuitive eating asks you to tune into your body and make peace with food.
We are born intuitive eaters. That’s why babies cry when they’re hungry and stop crying when they’re full. Functioning from the heart instead of the mind, babies are well in tune with their bodies.
We all have this innate ability to choose food according to our true desires.
That said, after years’ of being told what to eat, many of us have lost this ability as well as the connection with our body. The key to becoming an intuitive eater is to start paying attention to your body again and make food choices by following its signals.
Let’s dive into these six steps:
#1. Get Back in Touch with Your Body
Can you feel your body? Once fully in touch with our bodies, we lost this connection as we grew up and learned to use our mind for day-to-day living. Without feeling the body, you won’t be able to recognize its signals when it’s full or hungry. That’s why many of us eat not for physical but mental or emotional cravings.
Feel your body again by sitting quietly, taking a few breaths, and examining your body from your toes to your head. How does each part feel? Is there any tension or sensation? Pay special attention to your belly. Is it full or empty? Rate it on this Hunger and Fullness Scale for intuitive eating.
Whenever you want to reach for food, ask yourself where your body stands on the scale. 3 to 4 is the best time to grab food, while at 5, 6 or 7 it’s about time to stop eating. Never go to the extreme of 1 or 10.
You don’t have wait until mealtime to do this practice. Try to be aware of your body as much as you can. Do the scaling after you wake up and before you go to bed, or any time during the day. The more you’re in touch with your body, the easier it is for you to sense its signals.
#2. Allow Yourself to Eat What You Want
Silencing the food police in your head can be difficult, especially when you’ve relied on it for many years to fend off extra weight and the sugars and fats that you don’t need. However, when you deprive yourself of what you want, they become more irresistible to you.
Your body knows what it needs, so when you feel like having something, trust that it is what the body needs most at the time. Whether it is a scope of ice cream, a lemon pie, or a cheeseburger.
Like everything else, food has vibrations. You’re attracted to certain foods because of you’re a vibrational match to them. Therefore, when we are in a bad mood, we’re more drawn to foods that have low frequencies, such as the processed, sweetened or fried ones. However, if you allow yourself to have those foods despite your mind’s protest, your vibration will raise instantly, and you may no longer be a match for them. (self- love has a high vibration.)
For example, if you decide to have a piece of chocolate cake and not feel guilty about it, by the time someone comes over to take your order, you might no longer want it.
#3. Eat Slowly and Mindfully
When you eat, remove all the distractions. Turn off your TV, silence the phone, and stop scrolling your Facebook or Instagram feeds. Put your attention on the food.
Take small bites, chew slowly and fully, and savor the taste that you might miss if you gulp down the meal. Eating slowly and mindfully helps you notice when you’re full so that you know when to stop. It also makes eating a more enjoyable, satisfying experience.
#4. Determine that It is Done
When your body tells you that it is full, then it is time to stop eating. It could be hard sometimes as what’s in front of you is tempting and delicious. Remind yourself that it is not the last time you’ll have this since you allow yourself to have whatever you want. Consciously move your plate away from you.
When you feel full, you have had enough that your body needs. The craving for an extra bite comes from emotional distress or other outdated beliefs regarding food. If you can’t stop, however, allow yourself to do so. But be aware of these patterns and see to them later.
#5. Examine Your Food Beliefs
We’ve inherited myriads of unhealthy food beliefs that prevent us from making good choices. Have you been told that good kids finish their plate? Have you bought into the idea that breakfast/lunch/dinner is the most important meal of the day so that you always eat more than you want to at that meal?
These beliefs embedded in our subconscious mind affect our relationship with food. We feel like we had to abide by these rules and restrictions so that we could stay healthy, all the while ignoring what we truly want and need.
Intuitive eating requires you to examine whether you make your food choices based on your true desires or beliefs that were told to you by others.
Follow the former ones, as nobody but you know your needs and preferences.
#6. Deal with Your Emotional Distress
When we don’t listen to our bodies, we often eat out of emotional rather than physical needs. That’s why we can’t let go of the chocolate cake on a lonely evening, stuff ourselves with a bag of cookies when we’re stressed and wolfed down a cheeseburger after being rejected. Comfort food numbs our feelings so that we don’t have to feel our emotional distress.
However, using food to suppress your feelings doesn’t solve the problem. Guzzling down a big meal might make you feel worse as, on top of the distress you’re already feeling, you add another layer of guilt. The guilt then creates another round of cravings, eating, and feeling guilty again.
Like a vicious cycle, the more you eat, the more you want to eat.
Examine the emotions behind your excessive cravings for food. What is it that you don’t want to feel? Is it boredom, stress, anxiety, or loneliness? Once you figure that out, allow yourself to feel the emotion without judgment. It might make you feel uneasy but do it anyway. After the distress subsides, ask your body again whether it still needs that piece of chocolate or scope of ice cream. You might get a different answer.
While practising intuitive eating, don’t forget to work on your emotion and release the mental distress. Our body and mind are so intimately connected that when one malfunctions, the other will suffer.
Through practice, you’ll get good at connecting with your body and discerning what it needs. Be patient and let intuitive eating bring back the joy of food!
What your thoughts on intuitive eating? Please share your comments below!