Intuitive eating is a great tool to get you well on the way to healing your relationship with food and your body, however, only eating intuitively will not magically “fix” everything so that you’re eating effortlessly without a care in the world – especially if you’ve been stuck in the diet binge cycle for many years.
In this episode, I’m going to share with you the benefits of learning how to eat intuitively and the common pitfalls. I will also show you how to navigate these pitfalls so that you can truly live fully in food and body freedom.
Ready? Let’s go! 👭🏽
The benefits of intuitive eating
Intuitive eating encourages you to check in with yourself and then to listen to your body intuitively to help you decide what, when and how much to eat.
One of the main benefits of intuitive eating is that it is our natural state. “Baby, you were born this way!” 👶🏼
As humans, (which I am presuming you are if you’re reading this 🤣) we were all born intuitive eaters. Meaning that if we were to hit a reset button on ourselves which would cause us to “unlearn” everything we’ve been conditioned to believe about eating and our bodies, we would revert to effortless intuitive eating – and intuitive living for that matter.
Intuitive eating is 100000 times better than following any meal or diet plan, even from a qualified nutritionist (such as myself.) Our bodies are the wisest, most miraculous creations in the universe and scientists are constantly discovering new things about our minds and our bodies.
The thing is, we’ve been conditioned to believe that we can’t trust ourselves. We’ve learnt that we must seek external approval or validation for us to “get it right.” Whereas attaining knowledge and advice from trusted experts and peers is a necessary part of growing and learning – that doesn’t mean that we are to abandon ourselves and our own inner knowing. I’m talking about trust and intuition here, not intellectual knowledge.
When it comes to intuitive eating, it requires up to turn within, to connect to our bodies and our intuition and then to listen to the wisdom and guidance that is given to us.
When eating intuitively you do not follow a meal plan and you have zero food rules. You just tune into yourself, notice if you’re hungry and then decide what it is you want to eat. The key here is there are no food rules. Every food is available and there are no foods off-limits. Allowance of all foods without any “good or bad” labels is crucial (and can take lots of practice and support to get there.)
When practising intuitive eating a hunger scale is usually advised. Again, this is a great tool to practice using, especially if you have lived many years ignoring your bodies hunger and fullness signals through dieting or binge eating.
The Hunger Scale is a tool used to help you to check-in with yourself and then mark yourself out of 10 with regards to where you are with your hunger and fullness feeling.
Here is an example of the one I have created below:
Practising using this tool as a guide to help you to tune into yourself is very helpful as you’re remembering the language of your body again. You’re not learn something new, you were born with it, but it can certainly feel like you’re delving into a whole new world.
This new world brings with it excitement and fear as if you’ve been dieting for many years, it’s very common for you to have no freakin’ clue how to tune into your body, let alone how to tell if you’re hungry or full! I’ll go into this in more detail shortly.
A step by step guide to “checking in” with yourself
I encourage my clients to check in with themselves at least 3 times throughout each day. Not only for hunger information but to see how they’re feeling. Whether their body is trying to tell them something or simply to practice dropping from their heads and into their bodies.
Here’s a guide to use specifically for intuitive eating so that you can practice checking in with yourself and learn how to respond to the information that you’re given:
- Stop what you’re doing and be still for a moment.
- Close your eyes if you’re able to, if not just get present with YOU and ask yourself; “Where am I on the hunger scale right now?”
- Based on the information your body has given you, you can decide if you’d like to eat something. If you decide that you’d like to eat something, you would then ask yourself; “What is it that I really want to eat right now that is avaliable for me to have?” Ask this question with full allowence of all foods, no food off limtis and no food rules – this is key!
- When your body has let know what it wants, go and get it.
- Eat mindfully, enjoying every bite and stopping when you feel satisifed, knowing that there is more avaliable whener you want it again.
That is a step by step guide to checking in with yourself and your hunger. As I said, this is a very helpful tool to use when healing your relationship with food but there are so many intuitive eating “mistakes” that can cause more harm than good. I’ll delve into those now…
Common intuitive eating pitfalls
The hunger and fullness diet
Chronic dieters have lived so long with food rules that they turn intuitive eating into the hunger and fullness diet. If they eat when they’re not hungry or they eat past fullness they feel like they have “failed” at intuitive eating. This usually escalates into a binge and then the familiar thought patterns of “I’ll start again tomorrow” or even worse, “I’ll be stricter tomorrow to make up for it” and we all know where that takes us…
So when practising intuitive eating, remind yourself that there are NO rules. If you eat a brownie purely for the reason of enjoying the taste of it, THAT’S OK.
If you eat past fullness because you weren’t paying attention to your body or just because you simply didn’t feel satisfied until you felt “overfull” THAT’S OK TOO!
Because the moment we make it “not ok” is when the diet brain takes over and the guilt and shame come flooding in. Flood yourself with compassion instead. It’s really no big deal if you ate when you weren’t hungry or ate past fullness! It can feel like it’s a HUGE DEAL because of potential (not certain) weight gain. I’ll get into that in a moment.
Attached to the numbers
What can also happen with chronic dieters is that they can get very attached to the numbers on the hunger scale. For example, they may be obsessively thinking whilst eating that they “must stop when they get to a 5” on the hunger scale. This is just another form of restriction and an attempt to “get to right.” There is nothing to get right or wrong.
If you notice that you’re doing this then I have a reframe for you. Instead of constantly asking yourself what number are you on the hunger scale when eating, ask yourself;
“Have I had enough?” “Do I want any more?”
This is coming from a place of abundance instead of restriction – which is where the diet brian likes to take us. And restriction always leads to an equal and opposite reaction (binge eating).
Connect to your body
When you’ve spent many years ignoring your bodies hunger and fullness signals, it can seem very difficult and confusing to connect to your body again. I say “again” because remember, you were born an intuitive eater.
When this feeling of disconnect happens, don’t panic. It will all come back to you I promise. All you have to do is to practice checking in with yourself at least 3 times a day and start to notice what potential hunger feels like to you.
Hunger isn’t only felt with a tummy growl. In fact, when your tummy is growing, it’s a sign that you’re very hungry. So get curious and notice how it feels for you. There’s nothing to get right or wrong, get to know yourself and your body and it will naturally fall into place.
Your self-trust may currently be at an all-time low, especially because you’ve most likely “failed” at many diets and broken many promises to yourself around your eating behaviours and body movement. Pour compassion into yourself, remind yourself it’s not you, it’s the diets and make a commitment to yourself to start building that inner self-trust again – WITHOUT promising yourself you’ll stick to another diet or force yourself to go to the gym!
Affirmation on repeat: “I trust myself and my bodies wisdom”
If you would like more structure with intuitive eating, to begin with, there is something that will help you to not only get to know your body better but also to help your body learn to trust you again. And that is eating regular meals throughout the day.
Regular eating will provide your body with nourishment and energy, keep your blood sugar stable and help you to start noticing when your hungry and full. Without making up any rules, feed yourself 3 balanced meals a day that contains proteins, carbs, fats and fibre and see how you feel. You’ll start to notice what you like, what you don’t like, which foods feel good and which don’t, what it feels like to feel hungry, what it feels like to feel satisfied etc.
An example of a balanced 3 meals would be something like:
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs & beans on a slice of wholemeal toast with mushrooms & wilted spinach
Lunch – Tuna mayo & sweetcorn in pita bread with salad
Dinner – Chicken, cheese, aubergine & courgette pasta bake with a side salad.
Snacks can be taken anytime you like.
***Note – I have only given an example of meals to help those that have no idea where to start. I want to make it clear that there are no food rules with intuitive eating.
Mindful eating is something that I love to do and encourage others to do also. Not because it can lead to eating less, but because food is delicious and so why not get every ounce of enjoyment out of it?! 🤷🏽♀️
Again – mindful eating isn’t a “rule”, it’s a guideline to practice whenever you remember. As the amazing Geneen Roth says;
When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull up a ChairGeneen Roth
Mindful eating is basically paying attention to your food and what you’re eating without any distractions. That means no phone, no tv, no book etc. It involves savouring every bite and being fully present. Try it – it’s great! Eating mindfully actually enables your body is getting more nutrients from what you’re eating and digest it more efficiently!
Let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we? The fear of potential weight gain is REAL. Even though fear is actually a:
It can feel very real and paralysing to think about it coming true. I believe:
“True recovery from disordered eating is being ok with potential weight gain”
If you do the inner work necessary to get over your fear of weight gain then you will be living in complete, infinite food and body freedom! And let me tell you, there’s no better feeling! 💃🏼
There is way too much to go into here about how to be ok with potential weight gain which is why you need to work with me 😉 but for now, I’ll leave you with this:
Notice that I’ve said “Potential” weight gain, not actual weight gain. Just because you give up dieting and learn how to eat intuitively does NOT mean that you’ll gain weight. Once we let go of the fear of potential weight gain and stop trying to force our bodies to look a certain way, something magical happens. And everything falls into place.
What you resist persistsThe Secret
The women I work with respond differently to this work. If they are regularly binging when they come to me, they lose weight. If they are actively and constantly restricting, they sometimes gain weight. If they are on the diet-binge cycle – they tend to stay the same or lose weight.
But it really isn’t about what their bodies do. It’s about what life they create for themselves when doing this work. It’s joy, self-acceptance and self-love. It’s the food freedom and the liberation that comes with no food rules. It’s the satisfying self-care feeling that comes from feeding themselves foods that nourished them physically and emotionally. It’s the health and wellbeing that comes from it all.
And if you’d like more support, reach out to me and we’ll create a free game plan for you to live in food and body freedom!