Can you imagine never obsessing about, restricting or tracking your food again? Or eating whatever you like, whenever you feel like it? In a society where dieting is the norm, it seems like a radical idea. Which is pretty crazy, when you think about it, because it’s safe to say our prehistoric ancestors didn’t go around obsessing over their food—they just ate what was available. The concept of fad diets is a relatively modern idea, born out of an over-availability of food (particularly junk food) in first world countries and the booming advertising industries that push the ‘thin’ ideal.
But it appears that maybe, just maybe, we’re about to come full circle. A growing number of people are choosing to ditch the diets for good in favour of intuitive eating. As the name suggests, intuitive eating is using the body’s intuition to guide your food decision. This anti-diet philosophy involves no counting calories, macros or cutting out entire food groups. Nor is there any ‘trying to be better’ or avoiding ‘naughty’ foods. You simply eat what appeals to you at that moment—whether that’s a kale salad, chicken wrap or a chocolate donut.
Followers of this balanced approach to eating claim that this has not healed their relationship to food and their bodies, but actually helped them shift that weight they had so desperately been trying to lose. Funny how that works, hey? While unlike dieting, intuitive eating isn’t really something you ‘fail’ or ‘succeed’ at, there are a few basic principles you can follow to help adjust to this approach. Read on for 5 tips for getting the hang of intuitive eating.
1. Use the hunger-fullness scale
Intuitive eating isn’t about going absolutely hog wild every time you sit down to have a meal. In fact, a large part of it is listening to your body’s in-built hunger cues. Many people find that when they give themselves permission to eat, they no longer have the desire to eat until they’re uncomfortably full. However, the hunger-fullness scale is a good point of reference. If 1 is absolutely ravenous, 3 is fairly hungry with a grumbling stomach, 6 is pleasantly satisfied and 10 is nauseously full, you’d generally want to start eating at a 3 and finish at a 6. You can then wait 5-10 minutes to see if you are still hungry and if you really do still have an appetite, eat a little bit more.
2. Eat mindfully
Mindful eating and intuitive eating go hand and hand. Many of us scoff down our meals in front of our computers and TV, which makes it really difficult to actually listen to your body’s hunger and satiety signals. Next time you’re eating, try sitting down at the table to have your meal and eliminating all distractions (that means your phone, too!). Tune in to the sensations of your meal—what does it smell like? What can you taste? What sounds can you hear? This can make the experience of eating far more enjoyable and leave you feeling more satisfied. That said, eating in a social situation is great too and is another key part of intuitive eating—so by all means, chat while you eat!
Intuitive eating means having faith in your body to tell you what it needs. Often, when we have cravings, it’s our body trying to communicate with us. Craving meat can mean you’re low on iron, while salty can mean you’re stressed and sugar can mean you’re low on energy. If you’re constantly craving a certain type of food, see if you can get to the bottom of the root cause. But if you’re just having a hankering for something really specific and nothing else will do, enjoy it and move on with your life!
Keep a food journal
Keeping a food journal may sound kind of counterproductive. After all, isn’t the whole point not tracking or counting calories? But in her book about intuitive eating, Just Eat It, dietitian Laura Thomas recommends a journal for a week or so. This is so you can pinpoint how eating certain foods make you feel, so you can use that to guide your food choices in the future. For example, if you’ve been eating a lot of super processed foods and your energy levels have been lacking, you may want to look at how you can add in some more nutrient-dense foods. It’s always about what you can add, not what you should take away! However, Laura notes that if this makes you feel too restricted or obsessive about food, you can skip this step.
5. Make friends with food
Intuitive eating is all about falling in love with food again. Flick through cookbooks, find things you love to cook, enjoy eating out with friends and savour your meals! While food is fuel, it’s also a major source of enjoyment and reminding yourself of that can be a really positive thing.