I don’t remember exactly where I read about intuitive eating for the first time, but I’m pretty sure it was in a magazine. This woman was talking about how she would eat when she was hungry, and not eat when she wasn’t. Boom, done, intuitive eating. Sounds like the easiest “diet” in the entire world, right?
If it was the easiest way to eat, everyone would do it, but barely anyone actually does. Why? Why is intuitive eating so freakin’ hard to follow when it is instinctively how we are supposed to eat?
Stepping Stones to Intuitive Eating
Counting macros was the best stepping off point for me to learning about intuitive eating. It can be so easy to become obsessed with macro nutrients and eating exactly what is “prescribed”. But, like any food obsession, being obsessed with counting your macro nutrients can be detrimental to your physical and emotional well being. If you can do it in a healthy way and utilize support systems around you, then counting macros can be an amazing way to understand exactly what you’re putting in your body. It really opened my eyes to how quantity and portion control, and learning how to eat a balanced meal- balanced between fats, protein and carbs.
Once I started to understand what exactly I was putting into my body and how much I needed to put into my body, I started to eat intuitively without even thinking about it. I had a certain amount of time in the day to eat a certain amount of food, so I started to space out my meals into multiple, smaller snack times; at one point I was eating six times a day. And then, when my work schedule changed dramatically, (Remember my rendezvous with unemployment? Same.) I didn’t have to be as regimented with when I was eating. So I started eating when I was hungry. First step.
The next major change happened when I went home one weekend to visit my parents, and my mom mentioned how much slower I was eating dinner than she remembered me doing before. Growing up, it was like a race at the dinner table to see how quickly we could finish our meals; unintentionally, but a race, nonetheless. After grad school, I started eating a lot slower (a lot of it had to do with the fact I was dating a guy who could spend at least twice as long eating dinner as me). When I slowed down during my meals, I was finally able to hear my brain talking to me. I heard it tell me when it was getting full, and when it wanted to stop, and I started to listen!!
I’ve even had a few meals lately I haven’t finished.
I was the team captain of the Clean Plate Club for the first 24 years of my life, but a few times in the past month I have actually stopped eating before everything on my plate was gone. I was honestly shocked when it happened, and even more shocked with HOW OKAY I WAS ABOUT IT. Food has been a source of emotional comfort for me for so long that not completely cleaning my plate feels like a cleanse, and like I’ve regained a bit of control.
What Even Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is all about being in tune with the way that you feel. Are you really hungry? Is your hunger coming from stress, boredom, or some other emotion? What are you hungry for? Are you actually hungry for that or do you think it will make you feel better based on X emotion? Are you stopping when you’re full? Are you enjoying every bite of food? Are you chewing fully and completely or are you gulping it down because you’re starved or in a hurry?
So many questions to ask, and I never ask myself every single one. But I do take my time to actually listen to myself. Take today, for example. I was starving in the car while running errands, and just so happened to have a bag of popcorn sitting on the seat next to me. I opened it and started snacking while driving (for anyone whose ever seen the inside of my car after a popcorn indulgence, you know it needs a good vacuuming now). It satisfied my hunger until I got home, when I stood at the freshly cooked Crock Pot chicken and spooned several fork fulls of meat into my mouth. I didn’t track any of it, I just ate until I was no longer hungry. (Macro trackers are aghast!)
But, since I still track my macros about 90% of the time, I was thinking about lunch and the spaghetti squash concoction I had already factored into my numbers for the day. Maggie a year ago would have still eaten an official, “real” lunch after eating the chicken and popcorn even though I was totally full and content. But I checked in with myself and asked, “Am I actually hungry for more food or am I just anxious that I didn’t cook and sit down to eat a meal?” Naturally, it was the latter. How interesting it is that I could identify anxiety as a product of not sitting down to a meal, and how that anxiety would have made me eat even more had I not checked in with my emotions.
I will never be perfect at intuitive eating and I have a long way to go before I would even consider myself someone who eats intuitively a majority of the time. But it is absolutely amazing how listening to your body can teach you so much about your eating habits and how to fuel yourself in the most effective way.
Let me know if you’ve ever played around with intuitive eating!