I remember the first time I heard about intuitive eating. I rolled my eyes so hard when I heard the explanation of it:
Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.
Why did I scoff at it? Because I thought: so, it’s eating. That’s literally all it is.
In my mind, the act of EATING had been branded and packaged and resold as a diet or “movement,” which felt so wrong. Ridiculous, even.
Until I tried it.
“Just eating” can be a lot more challenging than it seems- especially if you’ve ever experienced disordered eating habits. I know what you’re thinking, disordered eating? Nah, I’ve never experienced that before.
And I get it. I was right there with you for most of my adult life. But a big part of that was because I thought the restrictions and rules and strange tendencies I had around food were “normal,” rather than disordered.
All of that being said, when I tried this very simple exercise of eating when I was hungry, and stopping when I was full- I realized that it was actually a lot harder for me than I would’ve expected.
This is why I’m sharing this post for you today on a round up of my top tips to implement when you give intuitive eating a try. Whether you’re like me, rolling your eyes and thinking this is dumb, or if you’re deep in disordered eating looking for a way out- I hope you can give this powerful practice a try.
You deserve to experience food freedom. Learn more on achieving food freedom HERE.
Read the intuitive eating book for a more comprehensive guide of the principles of intuitive eating, written by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole.
How To Practice Intuitive Eating
Like many women in today’s day and age, especially us Millennials, I had disordered eating patterns that I wasn’t even aware of. Coming out of an era where women were encouraged to be “heroine chic,” you can imagine that we’d do anything to be smaller.
As a result of diet culture, I became so used to ignoring my natural cues in order to want less, to be smaller, and to DISCONNECT from my body, rather than be inside of it- that I wasn’t the best at eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full.
Here’s the thing, we all eat emotionally from time to time. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we’re eating from the emotion of joy and celebration (think about the holidays), which can lead to overeating past fullness. The practice of intuitive eating is more about RECOGNIZING the body’s cues, in order to honor them in your own way.
So, if you’re on a holiday or a birthday, and you eat an extra piece of cake because you’re enjoying the chatter around the table, and not because you’re hungry- that’s FINE. There’s no shame in intuitive eating. Just exploration of self and sensations. Using that moment of eating past fullness to recognize:
Yep, I’m definitely full. And, I really want to add to this feeling of enjoyment by eating more cake.
The same goes for when our hunger cues are sounding off. The point is really to honor your hunger, rather than avoid it. Do you even know what your hunger cues feel like yet, or have you masked them so completely that the sensation is actually foreign to you?
Use intuitive eating as a practice to get to know yourself and your body better. It’s not about losing weight, but rather about listening to your body’s whispers, rather than waiting for the screams. This practice focuses on gentle nutrition, without a focus on weight loss, and helps you to discover the satisfaction factor.
Below, I’ve outlined some of my top tips for people just starting their intuitive eating journey. These have been helpful to me over the years, as I continually dive into this practice with loving curiosity.
Eat Without Screens
This one was HUGE for me to start, because I was often still working on my lunch break. Which meant shoveling my face with food, while also staring at (sometimes multiple) screens.
The reason it’s helpful for you to start eating without screens in front of you to start, is because screens are a distraction.
The purpose of intuitive eating is to get super present with your body, in order to actually hear it. If our attention is elsewhere, then we’re much more likely to ignore our natural cues of hunger and fullness.
Keep in mind, this is only something to practice at the start! Meaning, if you’re like me, and you’re a lunchtime worker- then this doesn’t have to be a forever thing. Just something to get you really tuned into your body in the foundational part of the intuitive eating practice. Don’t forget, if you absolutely HAVE to use your phone or a screen when you eat- switching the screen to red light can help with overstimulation and screen addiction.
Eat Without Distractions
So this really piggybacks off of the last point, although this will be tailored for you and your common distractions within your eating environments. Of course, some distractions can’t be avoided- so just know that I’m not saying you need to hibernate in a cave, and eat alone in order to do this.
What I am saying is to notice the distractions that usually pull you away from being present at meal times. Can you eliminate them altogether during periods of eating? If not, can you alter or limit your exposure to them at all?
And finally, if it’s not possible to even limit your distraction (like, you can’t just ask your toddler to eat in the other room so you can eat in peace, right?), then do your best to remain as present as possible with your body throughout the eating process. Learn more about the art of doing nothing HERE.
Practice the Pause
Pausing before reacting is the yogic way of life. And I know I have a lot of yogi readers, so this one might feel familiar to you. Yay!
One of the most important components to intuitive eating is pausing, before reacting.
Oftentimes when we’re eating emotionally, we don’t pause- we choose or act impulsively, instead. So, we want to fix that with a quick reminder to PAUSE before you act. When I pause before I act, I actually check in and ask my body (particularly my stomach) if I’m still hungry. This helps with overeating and undereating. Because, again, when we’re tuned in and listening to our body’s cues- then we’re able to honor those needs with our actions.
Slow Down When You Eat
This is another tough one for me. I inhale my food. The reason this messes with my hunger cues, is that when I eat really fast then sometimes it seems like I’m still hungry- but really it just takes a minute to all settle in. If I eat more, then I tend to feel uncomfortably full after, which never feels good.
Eating slowly is a great mindfulness practice. And it’s also a great way to implement the “pause” a little more effectively. Plus, having one moment in our busy days that isn’t jam packed and fast moving, provides a really nice break, as well.
Practice slowing down with meditations on my app today!
Eat Before You’re Starving
Remember how I inhale food? Yeah, well I don’t know about you, but I’m way more likely to do this when I wait too long to eat. It’s kind of like how people say don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, ya know?
This means planning your day and your schedule with a little more buffer and flexibility. Instead of waiting to that point of being ravenous, start prepping your meal when you feel that first rumble of a hunger cue- rather than the loud roar.
I love this tip, because it forces you to get more discerning with hunger cues, rather than lumping them together into just one sensation. There’s nuance between them! So take this time to understand your own.
Another hot tip is to have snacks with you (in your purse, your car, your briefcase…whatever). Snacks are helpful for the moments when you might not have a choice but to wait until you’re starving to eat (like when you’re waiting for someone else, or when you’re held up at work).
Overall, eating intuitively is really about making loving choices for your body through nourishment and mindfulness. It’s about forming a deeper connection with self, and your physical form to actually be in your body- rather than checked out of it. Let me know how it goes! And don’t forget to check out my recipes for all the yummy goodness.
Understand Diet Culture
A huge component within the world of disordered eating, weight loss, and body image is the big bag beast that is diet culture.
Diet culture shows up all the time, everywhere. Whether you’re scrolling on Instagram, or you’re driving past a large billboard. It seeps into us, often without us really be aware of it.
Think about how body shapes can be trendy. Remember the heroine chic 90s era I mentioned before? Well, now thanks to the Kardashians, we’re in a more curvaceous big butt era.
In some ways it’s great that curves aren’t just accepted, but even celebrated now. And in other ways it’s sad there’s still trends on body types. What about the girlies (like me) who are petite and curveless? We’re no longer beautiful? Wild.
Diet culture is also what tells us to go on crash diets, to change the way we look after we give birth, or for a special event. Whereas intuitive eating interrupts all of this.
Intuitive eating helps you to reject diet mentality for long term solutions, rather than short term crash diet “fixes.”
Let Go Of Labeling Food As ‘Good’ Or ‘Bad’
Diet culture is also where we came up with the concept of labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” The truth is, what might be a good food for you is actually horrible for me.
As an example, I love smoothie bowls. These are generally considered “good,” because they’re made out of fruit and other whole foods. However, if my wife had a smoothie bowl in the morning, it wouldn’t feel good for her because she has bad asthma. Cold food trigger her asthma, which is why she needs a hot breakfast, instead.
Sure, there are foods that are more nutrient dense than others (like an apple versus ice cream), but that doesn’t make one “good” and the other “bad.”
Additionally, such labels create shame around food. Think about the phrase: “you are what you eat.” So, if you eat ice cream one day, because you have a craving, does that make you bad? That’s what diet culture implies.
Intuitive eating is all about finding peace with food, rather than seeing food as good or bad. It’s all about learning how to challenge the food police, and feeling confident in your food choices and cravings based on trust within your own body.
Recognize The Role Of Body Image
Body image is subjective, and it’s always changing based on trends, pop culture, and media.
A huge component of diet culture is about body image, or how we look. The thing with body image is that how you see yourself could be totally different than how your parents see you, or how your best friend sees you, or a total stranger on the street sees you.
Diet culture also tells us to place our worth in our body image, which is an unsustainable source of worth. Why? Because our body’s change!
Intuitive eating helps the body to accept those changes with grace and ease, rather than fighting against them in the way that diet culture tells us to.
Focus On How You Feel First
The most important component of intuitive eating is simple really: focus on how you feel, rather than worry about how you look. If you’ve taken my yoga classes at some point, then you’ve probably heard me say something similar when I’m teaching.
Remember, intuitive eating is all about connecting back to your body’s natural ability to nourish itself on its own. It’s about finding food freedom with every meal or snack, as well as all of those little moments in between.
Let me know which tip helped you the most in your intuitive eating journey in the comments below.
And don’t forget to check out the book for more support.