There are a vast variety of ways we are told to eat. Some diets that tell us that carbohydrates are the enemy and some tell us that you can eat as much McDonald’s as you want as long as it stays within your allotted macronutrient range.
Intuitive eating is an eating style that has been around for some time, but has recently gained more popularity. At first glance, intuitive eating seems like common sense. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t. It’s easy, right?
But when you’ve been tricked into falling for the same calorie counting schemes that many people believe will be their savior, it isn’t easy to let go and trust your gut. It’s much easier said than done to abandon what you’ve trained yourself to do and go back into the “free” world, as I like to call it. I call it that because, as I have learned and had to unlearn, you are not living a free life when all your thoughts are consumed with numbers.
It’s worth the try, though. Breaking free of diet culture and embracing that food is merely energy can be life-changing and, for some, life-saving. To shed the habit of counting how many calories are in the rice cake your meal plan tells you to eat for lunch, you have to start simple. Luckily, when it comes to intuitive eating, there are no strict “guidelines.” You don’t have to go carbohydrate free for X number of days before you’re allowed to eat again for a day or two. Instead, the idea of intuitive eating comes with principles to keep in mind when adapting.
The most important idea to keep in mind when practicing intuitive eating is to ignore diet culture. It’s difficult to do when nearly every magazine you pick up is telling you how to survive off of a 1,200 calorie diet. Instead, focus on your individual body and its needs. No two people are the same and each will require different nutritional needs, so you can be certain that none of the thousands trying a super-model’s “diet” will see the same results.
Focus on listening to your body’s hunger cues. Much like mindful eating, you are focusing your attention on your body, your emotions, and whether or not your body has received the fuel it needs. Though intuitive eating and mindful eating are used interchangeably, there is a heavier emphasis on focusing on the moment of consumption with mindful eating. While you are expected to consume whole foods, mindful eating also focuses on less distraction and more focus on the process of eating and fullness.
Granted, intuitive eating also promotes this idea. However, it deals more with ridding the stigma that diet culture leaves on food. In addition to straying away from diets, it aims to rid the idea that there are “good” and “bad” foods. Of course, no health expert will endorse fast food as a nutritionally sound option. However, intuitive eating aims to help individuals understand that food is just that – food. Consuming one “bad” meal does not undo every minute of exercise nor does it magically draw back every pound that has been lost. The notion that we must ascribe traits to food is fueled by the diet industry and overcoming that idea is another key principle of intuitive eating.
When practicing intuitive eating, exercise still plays an important role. If you spend your workouts concerned with how much you’re burning, or worse, using exercise as a punishment for a meal, then the satisfaction and energy that workouts can provide you will be lost. Exercise to celebrate what your body can do. Respect what it cannot do. Don’t exert yourself to a point of exhaustion because you feel you have to in order to eat. Don’t do it to burn what you’ve consumed. Do it because of the feeling in your lungs when you take those deep breaths during a run or the satisfaction of the soft ache in your muscles after that last repetition.
Lastly, as with any journey to better eating, it’s imperative to honor your body. Embrace what you have been given, even if it is a little more than you would like aesthetically. Everybody, and every body, is built differently and handles life differently. Accept that you may never be built the same as your closest friends – or even a direct relative. Instead of hating the body that you have, fuel it to continue to do the amazing things that it does. Nourish the cells that keep oxygen and blood flowing. Fuel the brain that allows such a complicated system to work seamlessly.