Basic Intuitive Eating

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The way I understand Intuitive Eating (hereafter referred to as IE in this post) at its most basic level is this:

Eat (whatever you want and whenever you want) when you are hungry, and stop when you are full.

That’s it.  Now there are ways to go deeper into the actual practice of IE, like keeping a food/mood journal, practicing mindful eating by only eating when sitting down and never eating while you’re distracted (i.e. on the computer or watching tv or reading), etc.  But let’s just stick with the simplest explanation for now, which is listening to your hunger/fullness signals and not depriving yourself.

This has worked wonders for me.  Now, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s not easy or quick to adopt (at least, it wasn’t for me).  It might be hard to allow yourself all those “bad” foods you’ve been trying to deprive yourself of for so long.  Even if you haven’t been successful at depriving yourself for more than a day or two at a time, you’ve probably been conditioned to think of foods as “healthy foods” or “junk foods”, so you feel guilty when you reach for the Cheetos instead of the carrot sticks.

For people who have lost the ability to eat in response to their body’s needs, IE can be a huge leap of faith.  You may be scared that your appetite is so huge that it will never be satisfied.  You may worry that all you’ll ever want to eat is cake and Cheez Whiz (not together, hopefully) and that you’ll gain weight and spiral into a miserable cycle of eating and eating and gaining and gaining and never being able to stop.

I had these fears.

And I’m not going to lie to you and say everything was smooth and easy, or that I ate “crazy” for a couple days and then got over all my cravings.  In fact, for the first several weeks, my new IE “diet” was primarily made up of homemade chocolate chip cookies.  I kid you not.  I baked and ate them every single day, without fail, for more than a month.  It was what I wanted, and as long as I was eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was satisfied (HARD to do at first, and even now), it was “legal”.

I definitely overate when I was learning, and I still do.  It’s okay to overeat sometimes–everyone does it.  Sometimes that’s part of intuitive eating.  It’s not about being perfect.

But you have to learn to eat without judgment.  This is so, so huge.  IE is, in a large part, about rewiring your brain, getting rid of the “overeating–>guilt–>restriction” mentality.  I threw out all the food rules I had memorized over the years (and I could write an entire book on all of those rules), and ate cookies when I wanted cookies, chips when I wanted chips, veggies when I wanted veggies, and meat when I wanted meat.

Eventually, you will get tired of the Cheez-its and brownies.  At some point, your body starts to crave other, more substantial, and more nutritive things.  And by putting all foods on an even playing field and removing the labels (good/bad, healthy/fattening, etc) that you had given to everything, you disempower those foods that once seemed to hold you captive.  Cheesecake is no longer a special, sinful food that you know you shouldn’t be eating so you binge on it whenever you actually let yourself have any.  Once you break down those mental barriers and let yourself have anything you want, a lot of those forbidden foods lose their allure.  

You might find out that you don’t even care for some of the foods you’ve been depriving yourself of.  Once I actually allowed myself to eat them deliberately, I found out that I’m actually not that fond of Oreos. Or any storebought cookies.  Or Hershey’s chocolate.  Now, if I want chocolate, I don’t binge on chocolate chips and hope that satisfies my craving.  If I want chocolate, I’m going to get myself the real stuff, the good stuff–because I deserve it.

That’s what it really comes down to–learning to love and respect yourself, and transferring that love and respect into how you feed yourself.  Getting rid of all the mind games you’ve been playing with yourself and finally being totally and completely honest about what it is you really want and need (which often isn’t even food–we’ll probably talk about that sometime soon).

There are a hundred things that could be said about IE, and a hundred people who have said it better.  But hopefully this is a decent starting point.  Feel free to weigh in, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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8 thoughts on “Basic Intuitive Eating

  1. I love this! I’ve been trying to do this as well. I tried out the “eat a small portion every 3 hours” in combination with “eat CLEAN foods!” and though I know it works for a lot of people, it just made me think of food incessantly. When will the next 3 hour period be over so I can eat again? So hungry. All the time hungry. I got panicky if we had to go somewhere during the day and had to bring snacks so I could stay on my schedule. It involved a LOT of planning, which in a way was probably good for me, but was stressful if I skipped one night or forgot. It was also a pain in the ass trying to coordinate with whatever Michael wanted to eat (crap crap crap crap crap). I can’t imagine the foodie chaos with children…

    I feel like I have been having success with this method instead. This week, Emma’s body has been craving a lot of avocado-and-tomato sandwiches. I have eaten this for nearly every lunch and dinner meal. And after dinner, a couple handfuls of chewy Sprees prior to bed (BAD, I wake up and my stomach hates me–but it’s better than eating the whole giant bag at once, which I am fully capable of doing). I eat when I feel like it, which varies. Yesterday I was starving at 11:30 and had to have lunch that very second. Today I didn’t get hungry until about 15 minutes ago.

    I’m not experiencing as much anxiety, panic, and guilt about food as I used to, like OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?? I HAVE EATEN HALF THE BOX OF COOKIES AND NOW I CAN NEVER BE PRETTY! I feel like the anxiety eggs on the overeating, like WELL,YOU’VE DONE IT NOW! MIGHT AS WELL EAT THE REST! (sorry for the caps lock, but that is how my panicky mind communicates with me).

    Recognizing when my body needs to be hydrated has been another useful byproduct of this intuitive thing. Oh, I feel like crap…let’s try water and see if that fixes it.

    I’m rambling now, but thanks for your post! You are awesome.

    • I’m the same way. I’ve tried several different diets, and it just causes extra stress and even more preoccupation with food. I totally believe that they can work for some people, but for me, they usually make things worse.

      I wholeheartedly agree with you eating when you feel like it! I’ve never forced myself to eat breakfast if I wasn’t hungry, although you’re “supposed to” have bfast every morning without fail. Eating when I’m not hungry just sets me up for a long cycle of overeating all day long.

      And I love chewy sprees. Good choice there.

      And OMG your caps-locked statements are exactly what goes through my mind. EXACTLY.

  2. I wish I’d discovered this before SCD! I suspect I’d have binged on chocolate cake and Nik Naks for a good couple of weeks, and then started craving salads. I’d have been interested to do this as an experiment. Perhaps I’ll be able to one day, when I’m on a full diet again (but there’ll never be chocolate or even chocolate chips!). The point you make about eating around your craving (as I like to think of it) is such a good one. When K craves chocolate, I make her go to the shop and get some. Otherwise she’ll eat sweets and cookies and biscotti but never actually satisfy the chocolate craving. You just end up consuming four times the calories and still not feeling satisfied.

    Thanks for this awesome post. I hope you are well and feeling good 🙂

    • You are so right about eating around your craving. I used to want something, then tell myself I couldn’t have it, and then spend the next hour in and out of the fridge and cupboards because I was trying to satisfy that craving. In the end, I usually ate several hundred more calories than if I would have just let myself have the damn ice cream (or whatever) in the first place.

      I am feeling a bit better! I’m sorry I haven’t commented on your blog lately, I had several days of feeling really poorly and sometimes even reading about food makes it worse. :/ Lame.

      • Oh my gosh Heather, don’t be silly! You are totes (love that word) not obligated to be commenting on all my posts – let alone reading them! 😉 Besides, they’re not exactly filled with the riveting story lines of YA fiction… even I sometimes think I should do something crazy just to have something interesting to tell people! 😉 Plus, I totally get that reading about food can be a real downer. I’m glad you’re feeling a bit better though. x

  3. Okay, I love this. I am still struggling with IE–like just yesterday I think I probably had a total of 3,000 calories. It’s not that I count them or anything, but based on how ridiculously full I was pretty much all day, I think it’s a pretty good estimate. I’ve been trying to figure out the emotion behind it–like what was I trying to avoid, or bury? I’m not sure; I don’t even have any ideas.

    Anyway, I like what SCD said above. If you have a craving, just satisfy it. Otherwise you overcompensate and your brain stops releasing endorphins because it’s like, “f you I’m not doing this if you won’t cooperate.” It’s kind of funny; there’s this “cravings” chart floating around the internet (you can see it here: http://sportyafros.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Cravings.jpg). And they’re like, “if you’re craving chocolate, you’re really craving magnesium, so eat fruits, nuts, and seeds,” and I’m like, “bitch please, when I’m craving chocolate I’m craving frickin chocolate, not fruits and seeds.” Or like for craving coffee or tea, they say to substitute stuff like chicken, egg yolks and sea salt, which are so not the same as coffee or tea. Not even close. I am very suspicious of anyone who suggests you ignore the signals your body is sending to you; it reminds me of those people who deny that anxiety and depression are really a thing. You know, those people who are like, “have you tried yoga? or like just smiling until you feel happy?” And no, I have not tried those things because it’s a chemical imbalance and a disease IRL. Weirdos.

    • Ha ha ha Marissa, I SO agree with you! Don’t tell me I’m craving buckwheat or arrowroot when I want CAKE. And *definitely* do not tell me to drink a glass of water and wait for the craving pass. But seriously, when it comes to cravings….. have you tried yoga? 😉 – Debby

    • Oh my gosh the cravings chart. I’ve seen people pin that on pinterest, and I don’t know–maybe it does work for some. For me though, ignoring my craving or trying to trick myself by eating something else DOESN’T WORK, and in the end, is usually more detrimental.

      I just ate a few pieces of cheesecake…according to the cravings chart I could have made a chicken, liver, and broccoli hash to knock out that desire for sweetness. But somehow I just don’t believe it would have helped…. 😉

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