What a Nutritionist Wants You to Know About Intuitive Eating
As a nutritionist who specialized in obesity in graduate school, the concept of intuitive eating was difficult for me to wrap my head around at first. To be honest, I was intrigued, but it also kind of seemed like an excuse to eat mindlessly.
Actually, intuitive eating is the opposite. It’s mindful eating—eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full. It’s listening to your body and eating the foods you’re craving so you feel satisfied.
The process of embracing intuitive eating and moving away from diet culture wasn’t straightforward for me. When you’ve spent years of your life ensconced in restrictive ways of eating it can be hard to unlearn those habits and trust that your body knows what it needs.
Don’t think of intuitive eating as a diet. Instead, think of it as a way to eat that honors your hunger and respects your body. At its core, intuitive eating is a rejection of diet culture and a shift to a more body-positive way of thinking. The end result is a healthy way of eating and a feeling of peace with your food—no more struggling or obsessing.
I recommend reading the book Intuitive Eating to clients who are interested in this concept, and also working through the Intuitive Eating Workbook in order to retrain yourself to think this way. In the meantime, here are five simple changes you can make to start with intuitive eating.
Don’t Think of Foods as Good or Bad
Move past labels like good and bad, clean and dirty. Here’s the truth: there’s no consensus in the scientific community about what constitutes “good” food. A lot of my clients write off entire food groups—no white flour ever! no sugar!—and it’s not a sustainable way to live. There is no food so terrible that it’s going to completely derail your health by eating it every now and then. Furthermore, all foods have the potential to nourish.
Listen to Your Cravings
Many people assume that without the restrictions of diet culture they’ll end up going completely off the rails and living off of brownies and potato chips and fancy coffee drinks. Let me assure you: this doesn’t happen.
If you’re craving chocolate, instead of restricting it to a certain day or a certain amount, you can eat as much chocolate as you want. The first time, you might eat past the point of satisfaction. The next time, you’ll likely eat a bit less. Eventually, you’ll know exactly how much chocolate is the right amount for you. And maybe the right amount of chocolate today and the right amount next week will be different.
Accept Your Body As It Is
Will you gain weight if you start intuitive eating? Maybe! You could also lose weight or you might stay the same.
What most often happens when we transition to intuitive eating is that it eventually brings our bodies into equilibrium—which, by the way, can mean something different for everyone. If you’ve been restricting what you eat, you may find that when you listen to your body it’s asking for more food than you’ve been giving it. On the other hand, if you’ve been taking in more food than your body wants or needs, you may notice you’ll end up eating less when you eat more mindfully.
Work Movement into Your Day
The goal of working out shouldn’t be to achieve a particular shape or size. Instead, you should move your body in a way that feels good to you. It doesn’t have to be “traditional” exercise either—maybe you hate the gym, but you love dancing with your kids in the kitchen after school. Take the time to try some different things and figure out what feels best for you and your body.
Know That It Takes Time
When you’ve spent most of your life entrenched in a dieting mentality, it can be hard to know how to listen to your body and understand want it needs. Some days will be easier than others, but let how you feel be your guide.
I recommend that my clients start a journal—not a traditional food journal where you track calories and macros, but a journal that tracks your cravings, what you ate, and how you felt as a result. Energetic? Tired? Sick to your stomach? Keeping track of it all will help you tune into your body’s needs.