What I Wish I'd Known About Intuitive Eating
Last updated: April 2022
I’ve written a couple of previous posts about how to start eating intuitively, but this time I thought I’d delve into what I wish I’d known about it before I tried to incorporate it into my own life.
As a little bit of background, in my mid-twenties I dieted myself into a nice cozy circle of Hell known colloquially as “Eat Perfectly Healthy Foods All The Freaking Time Until I Can’t Take It Anymore and Then Eat Every Single Thing That’s Not Nailed Down.” It was a party, let me tell you!
As I was trying to break free from this back and forth, I read lots of books that I hoped would help me land in a place where I could still eat items that would support my well-being, help me maintain a healthy weight, but prevent me from restricting entire food groups and making myself crazy. Enter intuitive eating.
The idea behind intuitive eating is that you should honor your hunger by eating when your body needs fuel, stop eating when you’re satisfied, pick foods that both support your health and delight your taste buds, and kick the diet mentality to the curb. It sounds like a magical place where your weight will effortlessly regulate itself, every meal will be filled with glee, and beautiful songbirds will dress you every morning.
Unfortunately, it can be tricky to get the hang of in the beginning, so I want to share what I wish I’d known about intuitive eating before I gave it a whirl.
If you’ve been dieting for a long time, knowing when it’s the “right” time to eat (or stop eating) has to be relearned. When you’re a wee babe, you know you’re hungry, ask for food, eat what you want, and leave the rest. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, things go haywire for some of us. Frequent dieting can often be a culprit, as it was in my case, as I spent way too many years letting a book or website tell me how much I should eat, when I should eat, and what I should eat. As you can imagine, blindly following someone else’s advice means you have to stop listening to your own body, and eating intuitively means getting that back. If you do decide to take this trip (and I wholeheartedly hope you do!), cut yourself some slack as you start paying attention. This will not happen overnight, and the more patient you can be with yourself, the better.
Taking the time to prepare a nice environment in which to eat is awesome, but don’t stress about it. You can learn about intuitive eating from a variety of places, and most of them will tell you to sit down when you eat, to set the table with some nice dishes, and to light some candles, and that’s great. However, sometimes you’re just gonna have to eat and run, cram a burrito down in the car between meetings, or end up with your hand in a bag of chips in front of the TV. It’s okay. Progress, not perfection.
Don’t turn it into a strict diet. As with any rules or guidelines about food, it’s easy to think if you don’t follow the rules perfectly (in this case only eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full) you’ve messed up. It’s not true, and believing this may cause you to feel guilty and then eat everything. The guidelines are there to help you, not harm you. Just chill.
Don’t obsess about it. I think I pretty much just made this exact same point, but hey, this is what I wish I’d known before I started trying it.
Don’t stress about it. If there’s one point I want to drive home, it’s that stressing about eating the “right” way is just going to make your relationship with food more difficult. These days I just eat what sounds good (which, believe it or not, very often is a salad, a sweet potato, some oatmeal, or some other healthy thing) and don’t worry about it. It’s a much better way to live, and I hope you’ll join me!
Do you find it difficult to "eat right" and stick to a nutrition plan?