Should You Try Intuitive Eating?
In 2019, diet culture was racked by the phrase, “Intuitive Eating”, which can best be described as the “no-diet” diet. In a world where rules and regulations govern our relationship with food, intuitive eating offers a different approach, and challenges us to ditch the diet mentality. Society and diet culture have become inextricably intertwined, as internal and external pressures affect many of our decisions regarding food. We are led to believe that foods are either “good” or “bad”, which fosters negative thinking patterns that are difficult to rewire. In reality, there are no “good” or “bad” foods; only foods that are higher or lower in calories and nutrients. It’s time to make peace with food again through intuitive eating.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating puts into practice the habits that were formed before we learned to overthink everything. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re full, you stop. Seems pretty straightforward, right? We have come to believe that if we want to lose weight, constant hunger and cravings are a reality. Often, people jump into highly restrictive diets and tell themselves that they “cannot” eat certain things. This way of thinking can lead to intense feelings of deprivation, fantasizing about particular foods, and uncontrollable urges in moments of weakness, a.k.a the binge .
Intuitive Eating is about recognizing true hunger, and honouring it. If you have experience with dieting, you’re probably used to ignoring your body’s natural hunger cues. Some people eat when they are not hungry because they still have macros to hit, while others go to bed with a growling stomach in hopes of waking up leaner. Either way, eating or not eating just for the sake of it is not sustainable, nor does it help rebuild trust in ourselves or in food. Learning to eat intuitively might be a bit of a process, but learning to listen to your body’s inclinations is a healthy step towards a deeper relationship with yourself and with food.
What does intuitive eating look like?
Intuitive eating is also about giving yourself permission to eat the food that you want, at any time. Don’t get confused, this does not equate to living off fried chicken and chocolate bars just because you want them. It does, however, create awareness that at any point you could eat those foods, because they are not “off limits”. When people recount a binge, often they describe feeling out of control, or unable to stop themselves. Losing control around food is an unnerving experience, and is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame. We set rules around our eating because we want to feel as if we are in control, yet the more restrictions we set, the more damage we do.
“I’ll only have ____ on the weekend.”
“Never eat peanut butter out of the jar”
“No carbs after 6pm!”
“If I eat fat, I will become fat.”
Even if you have not verbalized your rules, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Food was created for us to enjoy! Making your favourite foods everyday options gives you the ability to say “yes” to eating it sometimes, but more importantly, it gives you the ability to say “no” as well.
Surprisingly, as we loosen the restrictions and begin to include some of these “off limits” treats in moderation, we feel more satisfied eating less of it. Instead of “accidentally” devouring a whole pint of ice cream on the weekend, having a small bowl a couple of times throughout the week removes the mental stigma of ice cream being “forbidden”, and decreases compulsive eating behaviours. As you’re enjoying something that you may have previously considered “bad”, put your focus on being in the moment. Listen to your thoughts as you eat. If you are experiencing negative emotions around food, try to show yourself compassion, and look deeper into where they originated. If you have decided to enjoy a treat, don’t allow guilt or shame to take that experience away.
It’s easy to shovel food into our mouths without much thought, but intuitive eating asks us to pause and connect our body with what we put in it. Taking the time to eat and chew your food properly is the first step in digestion. Slowing down also allows you to experience and enjoy what you are eating! Intuitive eating is just as much about recognizing fullness as it is about recognizing hunger. We live in a day and age where we are bombarded with delicious looking food everywhere we turn. People create social media platforms to celebrate #foodporn, we reward our children with cookies when they do well on a test, and most restaurants supply enough in one meal to feed us twice. It’s no surprise that the weight loss industry is worth billions of dollars when people want a quick fix for a problem that didn’t develop overnight.
As we slow down and eat mindfully, we learn to recognize what fullness feels like, and reduce the risk of overeating. A helpful mental tool to use is a hunger scale. Allow “1” to represent being so hungry that you could pass out from dizziness, while “10” is so full that you might puke. Ideally, we would never reach either extreme! When your hunger gets down to about a four, that’s a good time to eat. We don’t want to allow ourselves to get insatiably hungry, because then we are at risk for eating quickly and past the point of satiety. Eat at the first signs of hunger, and when you feel comfortably full, that’s your cue to stop. The goal is to be finished eating before feeling the need to unbutton your pants!
Who can do it?
If you’re tired of yo-yo diets, get-thin-quick scams or negative eating behaviours that rule the way you interact with food, perhaps it’s time to ditch the diet and embrace intuitive eating. We understand that this can be a scary step, especially for those who have relied on food scales, macro counters and calorie calculators for so long. Learning to trust in the process allows us to grow; our bodies are incredible machines that are better at maintaining homeostasis than we probably realize. Start by putting one or two of the intuitive eating guidelines into practice this week – we are sure you will learn something new about your body, mindset, and food!