Intuitive Eating: Part I

How many times have you heard, “If I can just be perfect all week with my diet, I can have a cheat meal on Saturday?” Maybe you’ve said this to yourself, heard a coworker in the hallway or a friend who stopped over. It sounds like the perfect plan, right? Eating perfectly throughout the week and splurging during one meal over the weekend. What a great way to lose weight! If only you could be perfect, right?

Unfortunately, the reality is that many and most people who embark on a way of eating such as the one above end up failing by the evening of the first couple days. Why? Because most of us do not do well with restrictions. We do not do well when we reward good “eating” behavior with food. Think about it. How many meals do you eat a day? Most eat 3-4. Multiply that by the number of days Monday-Friday. Overall, that comes out to be 15-20 meals we consume before Saturday ever hits.

Are you a busy mom driving around picking your kids up from school or sport practices? Are you a busy father, constantly working with not a lot of down time? Are you a student spending hours in the library to finish a paper that’s due tomorrow? Are you a caregiver taking care of a loved one with enormous stress on your shoulders?

My point is – our lives are not perfect, so how do you expect your “diet” to be? How can you expect your 15-20 meals before Friday to be perfect when you are constantly busy and trying to support your family or loved ones?

The problem lies in becoming too hard on ourselves. To some degree, accountability is needed especially when struggling with Diabetes or the like, but for those who are generally healthy and looking to lose weight and/or body fat, some flexibility and mindfulness in your diet might prevent big binges or disordered eating patterns later on. Our problem lies in thinking that our nutrition is either black or white. We’re either all in or we’re all out. If we have one non-nutritious meal, we decide “that’s it, I might as well just forget eating healthy for the day.” That’s like saying, “I dropped my phone and I got a small scratch on that screen. Might as well just slam it against a wall until it breaks.” What if you there was a way of eating that served you, made you feel good, and still gave you access to the foods you love? Enter intuitive eating.

A book that helped explain how this type of lifestyle could work was “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elsye Resch. The book breaks down into many chapters that illustrate how our society has taught us to feel negatively about food and our bodies. For today’s blog post, I will focus on the mindfulness aspect and identifying true hunger. Many of us do not even pay attention to our hunger cues when reaching for a snack – and that may not be all our fault. With our fast-paced schedules, advertisements for food, fast-food, restaurants, etc., you can see how there are more environmental factors that come into play to tell us we are hungry. .

If you have a hard time seeing this – think of a newborn or toddler. When we are so young, our bodies have not developed these environmental cues to lead us to think we are hungry. We simply…are. We are not scared of hunger, but let our parents know we are hungry by crying or asking for food. Newborns and toddlers have an innate sense of hunger and know when to stop eating naturally.

As we get older, it begins to get more challenging. Companies and restaurants know how to get you to buy their food or eat more of it by altering the food itself by increasing its fats and sugars, dimming the lights in restaurants to create a more comfortable setting, and giving you big plates to make it feel like you need more food to fill your plate.

One of my tips to you if you are struggling to identify whether you are hungry or not is to: 1) take a deep breath and really listen to your body, 2) have a glass of water to decided if you are just thirsty, 3) identify 5 things you can see, hear, and smell (good way to distract yourself to decide if you are actually hungry) and 4) take a lap around your house or go for walk. If after completing steps 1-4, go eat something. If you decide you are not hungry, don’t eat. With as busy as our lives can get, it’s important to slow your world down for a second to really listen to what your body might be telling you.

On a final note for today’s post – I’d like to introduce the hunger scale. Again, this is from the book “Intuitive Eating”, so if you would like to know more, be sure to pick it up. Think of your hunger on a 1-10 scale. 1 = really starving and 10 = Thanksgiving full. Next time you are sitting down at your meal, aim between a 5-7 (see scale below). If you are looking to lose weight, aim for a 5. If you are trying to maintain weight, eat at a 6. If you begin eating at a 0-2, slow down and be mindful of your meal. If you are starting to eat at a 3-4, you may need a small snack to get you to a 5 or 6. Re-evaluate your hunger after you eat and give yourself a hunger score. Continue eating until you reach your desired level of fullness.

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The key to intuitive eating is to be more mindful when you eat. This has been a great tool to help those who really struggle to listen to their bodies. This may be very hard for some at first, but if you give it a chance, you may start to notice you can pick up on your true hunger much easier. Mindfulness helps bring us back to being toddlers – knowing how hungry you are, eating your fill, and stopping when you are full. Food should be enjoyed and you’ll find you may start eating less when you really take the time to slow down and become more mindful when eating.

Here are three ways you can become more mindful during a meal or snack:

  1. Don’t go on your phone or laptop or read a book/magazine while you eat. Eat with no distractions as much as you can.
  2. Eat at a set place like a table or desk instead of the couch or bedroom – this creates an atmosphere that is about food, not whatever is going on in your living room or bedroom.
  3. Put your fork down in between bites – this will help you slow down and focus on chewing

Stay tuned for part II to this post coming later this week where I will discuss how to make intuitive food choices and what intuitive eating is not. 

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