Intuitive Eating: How to Do It "Right"
Last updated: September 2023
I was talking to a woman the other day and she was really concerned with whether or not she was following the Intuitive Eating guidelines correctly, and what she should be doing “better.” I immediately told her that the only way to mess it up is to obsess about doing it perfectly, and that worrying about doing it exactly “right” is the number one way to get in the way of eating intuitively.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Intuitive Eating, it’s a method for choosing when, how much, and what to eat based on your hunger levels, what foods will be truly satisfying for you, letting go of dieting, honoring your body through gentle nutrition, and stopping when you’re full.
Instead of spending all day making sure you eat every three hours because you’re “supposed to,” or never allowing yourself to have a piece of full-fat cheese because it would be “cheating,” intuitive eating asks you to listen to your body.
Are you truly hungry? Or do you have an emotional need that is asking to be met?
Are you eating a salad now because your diet says to, only to eat half a lasagna in an hour, because you were so overly hungry by that point? What can you eat right now that will help you meet your health goals but also give you the fuel you need, not to mention satisfy your taste buds?
Are you finishing everything on your plate because you feel guilty about throwing away food? What about honoring your body’s fullness signals?
Intuitive eating will help you rediscover the joy of eating, and truly allow you to eat foods you love without guilt. The problem is, though, that it takes a while to relearn this style of eating, one that we are born with, but one which gets eroded away over the years of dieting and eating past full.
So how do you do it “right?”
First of all, don’t let it turn into the “eat when hungry, stop when full diet.” I fell into that trap many times, as do my clients. You’re so used to weight loss being the ultimate goal, rather than finding peace with food and your body, that it’s easy to think you should be eating less and less, if possible.
That’s not the right approach, and it will keep you disconnected from really listening to your body’s signals.
Watch out for diet voices filling your head. Even as you come around to the idea of allowing yourself to eat formerly forbidden foods, those old diet guru voices will trickle in when you least expect it. Eating peanut butter when you used to follow a low fat diet? Bam! There they are. Eating a slice of bread when you used to eat low carb all the time? Angry voices will pop in and tell you to put it down.
Whenever a thought pops up that you’re doing it wrong or shouldn’t be eating something, say to yourself “STOP.” Then distract yourself or answer with “Eating this one meal will not derail any of my health goals.”
Lastly, stop making it all about weight loss. Your body will, eventually, find its natural weight. That weight may not be the weight that you would have hoped. However, if the choice is either to make permanent peace with food and enjoy a variety of foods without guilt, or to keep starving yourself all day only to end up binging on peanut butter cups in the kitchen while your husband is in the shower, well, I think the choice is clear.
You can’t do intuitive eating wrong. As long as you keep moving toward listening to what your body wants, and meeting its needs as frequently as possible, you’re doing just fine.
Do you find it difficult to "eat right" and stick to a nutrition plan?