Depriving ourselves of the foods we love and eliminating entire food groups from our diets is not a healthy approach to weight loss. Our metabolism is a complex and sensitive thing. Constantly yo-yo dieting, or falling into a cycle of losing and gaining weight, is a surefire way to damage your metabolism. Even under-nourishing your body and over-ristricing your calorie intake over time will damage your metabolism and make it harder for you to reach your goals.
You don’t need to deprive or restrict yourself from feeding your body certain foods. Your body is way smarter than you think. Your body knows what it needs; you just have to listen to it.
This is where intuitive eating comes in.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a way of eating that resets your relationship with food.
Intuitive eating is not a weight management program. It focuses on letting your body find its natural weight. We all have a set point that our body feels its best at. When you nourish your body properly, listening to what it needs, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you feel full, your weight will level out at a point that is comfortable for your body.
Intuitive eating is not anti-nutrition—you focus on eating a balance of nutrients while still including the foods you crave into your diet. You tune into what your body is telling you it needs without restricting or depriving yourself from eating at certain times or eating certain foods. Intuitive eating focuses not only on balance but also including the foods that make you feel good. When you learn to eat this way, you build a healthier relationship with food as well as see better results in the long run.
“If you are constantly thinking about food, you are not on the right diet plan.”
“I was under-eating during the week and binge eating on the weekend, constantly thinking about food and eating a meal and thinking about what my next meal was going to be. Food was always on my mind. Since becoming an intuitive eater and balanced eater, it’s barely on my mind anymore. Of course I still think about food, but I don’t have those crazy cravings for those bad foods because I don’t have that restrictive mindset. If you are constantly thinking about food, you are not on the right diet plan,” says Morgan Kline, COO of Burn Boot Camp and host of the Coffee & Kettlebells podcast.
How do you know if you are eating right for your body?
If you experience the following symptoms, you most likely are not eating right for your body and may want to consider adopting an intuitive eating style:
- – You are constantly hungry
- – You stress and obsess about food
- – You feel deprived all day
- – You experience regular bloating
- – You have digestive issues
- – You have developed new food intolerances
- – You have eliminated entire food groups from your diet
- – You lack energy and feel sluggish, fatigued and tired
- – Your skin breaks out regularly
- – You have crazy food cravings
- – You over-restrict your calorie intake
- – You struggle with binge eating
- – You regularly yo-yo diet
- – You have lost your period
So how do you begin to eat intuitively?
What works for one person may not work for you. Intuitive eating allows you to learn to eat right for your body. You can begin eating intuitively by implementing these twelve principles into your daily life.
- – Let go of dieting
- – Give yourself permission to eat all foods
- – Give yourself permission to eat when you are hungry
- – Stop eating when you are full
- – Relate what you eat to how you feel
- – Stop defining foods as either “good” or ‘bad”
- – Don’t allow the diet industry to influence your diet/food choices
- – Eat foods that actually satisfy you
- – Deal with your emotions without using food
- – Love your body regardless of what you eat
- – Exercise
- – Focus on eating foods that make you thrive
If you struggle to give yourself permission to eat certain foods or you regularly overindulge, ask yourself the following questions:
- – Am I hungry?
- – What am I in the mood to eat?
- – Am I full?
- – How does this food make me feel?
You also want to ask yourself why you are making the food choices you are making. Are you eating certain foods because of something you read somewhere, because someone else is doing it, because your emotions are taking control or because these foods make you feel your best?
Most importantly, be honest with yourself and what your body needs.
Keep track of your answers by writing them down in a food journal, or regularly go through these questions in your head throughout your day.
Let go of “cheat meals” and allow all foods to fit.
“I think they set you up for a poor relationship with food and make you feel unnecessary guilt for eating the food you love. Cheat meals can lead to dieting, restricting and a cycle of bingeing, which can do more damage to your body overtime rather than eating the food you want.” says dietician Chelsey Amer.
If you are craving pizza on Tuesday and your cheat meal isn’t until Saturday, this leaves you with four days of salivating over pizza, obsessing about it and over-analyzing what it would do to your diet. Instead, give yourself permission to eat the pizza on Tuesday. You will save yourself a lot of mental energy and stress. Over time, you won’t be so obsessed with this “off limits” foods that you are only allowed to eat one day of the week.
“When you take food off of its pedestal, either a good pedestal or bad pedestal, it’s easier to create a much healthier relationship with food.”
“When I have a craving for pizza and make myself wait until a ‘cheat meal’ to satisfy it, I overindulge way more than I would have if I would have just eaten the pizza right when I was craving it. When I wait for that ‘cheat meal,’ I eat the entire pie. But now, when I eat the pizza right when I am craving it, I am okay eating only one or two slices. That is all that it takes to satisfy me,” says Morgan.
Don’t put your foods into a box of good or bad. Allow all foods to fit into your diet. “When you take food off of its pedestal, either a good pedestal or bad pedestal, it’s easier to create a much healthier relationship with food,” says Chelsey.
Following a meal plan and dropping a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of weeks will actually do more harm than good. When you start introducing the foods you eliminated back into your diet, you will gain the weight back. Cycling your weight, losing and gaining, causes damage to your metabolism. Intuitive eating promotes sustainable eating habits like balancing the nutrients on your plate and choosing foods that make you feel good.
How do you reach your weight loss and fitness goals while eating intuitively?
“A lot of my clients don’t know which foods will make them feel their best and which will give them the energy they want,” says Chelsey. She suggests getting educated and learning more about nutrition to find out what foods make your body feel best. It’s important to know the difference between carbs, fats and proteins, as well as the different types of each one in order to reach your health and fitness goals. Understand how each macro fits into your diet and which macros provide you with optimal energy. You may not adhere to this 100% of the time, as each day you burn more or less calories and your body’s needs will constantly be different.
If you are eating white bread every day, you may find yourself lacking energy throughout your day. When you switch to a sprouted grain bread instead, you may notice you have greater sustainable energy. With intuitive eating, you wouldn’t define sprouted grain as “good” and white bread as “bad.” You would observe your energy levels and base your choice to switch breads on how each one makes you feel.
Portion sizes have the same effect.
Eating an entire pizza most likely will make you feel sluggish the next day in your workout, but eating one piece for lunch may still provide you with the energy you need. So observe not only how each food makes you feel, but also how the portion size of each food makes you feel.
Through only eating foods that make you feel more energized and nourished, rather than sluggish and unmotivated, you will set your body up for success to reach your health and fitness goals.
If you struggle with binge eating, how can you begin to eat intuitively?
Intuitive eating may seem impossible for you if you struggle with binge eating or overindulging. Here are three steps you can take to begin eating intuitively without triggering your binge response:
1. Avoid getting overly hungry. If you are starving when you start cooking dinner, by the time you sit down to eat, it’s inevitable that you will overeat. Give yourself permission to eat when you are hungry instead of shying away from your hunger. Eat a balance of nutrients throughout your day and you will tamper down your overeating.
2. Anticipate and prepare. When you are well planned out, you are able to make the best choices for yourself. Keep snacks with you at all times so you are prepared when you get hungry. When you come prepared, you are able to choose foods that provide you with sustainable energy and reduce the chance of triggering your binge response. Keep healthy snacks in your office, your car and your bag.
3. Meal prep. “Meal prep is a great tool if that is something that works well for you,” says Chelsey. “Meal prepping doesn’t mean you have to eat the same thing every day. Cook a variety of vegetables, grains and protein and mix and match throughout the week to keep it interesting.” Keep in mind that if you are meal prepping and feel bored with what you are eating, and you are always craving more foods, meal prepping may not be working for you. That’s okay, it’s not for everyone! You don’t have to meal prep in order to eat healthy.
Is giving yourself permission to eat everything scary?
How do you you know if you are giving yourself too much permission when you start eating intuitively? You may be fearful you will allow yourself to indulge too much, leading you to gain weight.
When you first begin eating intuitively, you might find yourself eating indulgent foods more often. It’s common to overindulge in the foods you have kept “off limits” for so long, as you are now allowing these foods back into your diet, so it is normal to allow yourself to eat them more often. But when you do so, you will notice that you do not feel your best. You may feel bloated, sluggish, a foggy brain and also that you are lacking energy and nutrients.
Soon you will realize that these foods are not working for you and naturally you will begin to gravitate toward more nutrient-dense foods that provide you with optimal energy and nourishment. Chelsey says, “Over time, that shiny object syndrome for those foods you previously restricted will wear off.” The more you allow yourself to eat your previously “off limits” foods, the less power they will have over you, the less you will crave them and the less you will overindulge.