Intuitive Eating seems to have become a new buzz phrase on the Internet with people using it alongside tags such as “Flexible Dieting” or “If it fits my macros”, or my personal favourite “I eat intuitively while doing intermittent fasting”. It seems that most people don’t know what intuitive eating really is. I’ve decided to write a little series outlining what it is, how you can do it and the benefits/draw backs of it. I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist. I embarked on my own intuitive eating journey a few years ago and have been aided along the way by the Intuitive Eating Handbook.
We are all (bar people with certain illnesses) naturally born intuitive eaters. If you think about it logically animals in the wild are intuitive eaters and humans are animals. When we are babies we ask for food when we are hungry and also sometimes for comfort, that’s a natural thing to do. As we start to grow up and learn about food and meal times etc that intuitive part of us is often forgotten about and the intuition is dulled/unlearned. We learn instead that we should eat x amount at set times and that certain foods are bad and others are good. This is when our relationship with food can become problematic. Ignoring, or not being allowed to address, our hunger cues when they arise can lead to bingeing which can then lead to restricting to “make up for it” because we’re taught to limit what we eat and it breeds a viscous cycle of weight gain and loss and our bodies don’t know if they are coming or going.
The premise of adopting an intuitive eating approach again as an adult is NOT for weight loss, although that may occur as a result, rather it’s to heal that relationship with your body and lead a healthier life as a result. We all have a set-point weight. That is the weight that we are genetically programmed to be and the weight that our bodies will fight to keep us at. If we are chronic dieters swinging from our lowest weights to our highest weights, naturally this will impact on our relationship with food, our body and our self image. Equally if we are a chronic overeaters, ignoring our fullness signals and gorging on foods we deem to be “bad”, our bodies will be uncomfortable physically and our mental health will be negatively impacted. Through intuitive eating, registering our hunger and fullness cues and honoring them, over time our bodies will return to and maintain our set-point weight. The bit some people still struggle to get their heads around is that their body settles at a weight, they are eating well, taking part in exercise they love but are still “overweight” or bigger than they think they should be. Unfortunately our genes and biology didn’t factor in that they would be forced to adhere to an arbitrary formula. They also don’t factor in “body trends”. We’re not designed to change shape every time the fashion changes.
Some critics of intuitive eating are skeptical of the fact that theoretically you can eat as much as you want of whatever you want, however if you are truly listening to what your body needs you are not going to want to eat junk food continually. Not because junk food impacts upon the way you look but because it impacts on the way you feel. Our bodies want fruits and vegetables, starchy foods, proteins, fats and water. They want food that energises and fuels them. Over time, when you allow yourself to eat whatever you want, you will learn what food makes you FEEL good.
Once you get your head around the fact that you’re eating well to feel good on the inside, which leads to feeling good on the outside, your attitude towards food and your body really shifts. A mantra that’s been swimming around in my head a little bit lately and I want to share with you is “eat to exercise, don’t exercise to eat.” This really struck a chord with me as I used to exercise to burn off x number of calories whereas now I’m thinking to myself, I’m hungry so I need to eat before my workout so I’ll feel strong and enjoy myself. The change is incredible and that transfers across to your mood as well.
In the next part I will outline the key principles to implementing intuitive eating and the effect each one has on your journey. Leave me a comment and let me know if you knew about intuitive eating, would you try it? And if you’re on the journey, how are you finding it?