Intuitive Eating – Listening to your body
Eating whatever you feel like? No counting calories or other infuriating rules to achieve your goal weight? This is the core principle of intuitive eating. Instead of relying on advice from diet-experts, simply tuning in to your body and paying attention to feelings of hunger and satiety. We’ll explain how this works in practice and how you can regain a positive attitude towards your body.
Contents of this article:
- Intuitive eating - what does it involve?
- When am I hungry? When am I full?
- Mindful eating - for better self-awareness
- Intuitive eating - which foods are suitable?
- Does intuitive eating help with weight loss?
Intuitive eating – what does it involve?
Intuitive eating is the most natural way to ‘diet’. Already as infants, we know exactly when we want to eat, and when it's time to stop. However, as adults, we are overstimulated by so many external factors as well as habits we form over time, that we forget to actually listen to what our body is telling us.
We struggle with our weight, we try a variety of different diets, and polarise foods into good and bad categories. Intuitive eating teaches us that this stringent approach should be a thing of the past. Instead, we should focus on a balanced diet, that includes all food groups, and even the foods we previously labeled as ‘bad’. Intuitive eating is based on the principle of a developing body-awareness and tuning in to the signals our body sends us and naturally responding with a balanced diet.
When am I hungry? When am I full?
There are many different types of hunger. You pass a poster on the street featuring a delicious snack? Or you watch a food commercial on TV? Or you pass your local bakery on your way to work. The fantastic buttery aromas wafting around are likely to cause you to salivate and awaken your appetite. External influences in our environments can easily activate our appetite and make us feel hungry.
Then there are situations in which we eat out of habit or politeness. For example, if we’re visiting a friend or family’s house and cake or snacks are offered. You probably won’t say no because a) you don’t want to be rude and b) well it can be hard to resist when yummy food is placed directly in front of you.
And finally, there is ‘real’ hunger that is signalled from internal, not external signals. When your stomach growls, you have a slight tremble or you have trouble concentrating. These are signs from your body that you are really in fact hungry and need to refuel your energy levels with food soon. Sometimes, our body can give us quite precise demands of what specific nutrient it needs. A craving for chocolate can indicate a zinc or magnesium withdrawal, while cravings for chips, fries etc. could suggest low levels of sodium.
Once you’ve finished eating your plate, the question often remains, should I get seconds or not? This is when it’s important to tune in to your body. If you’ve eaten enough, you should be feeling a pleasant ‘full’ sensation (not too much) and your appetite should be satisfied. You should also be feeling more energised and refuelled. If you are feeling bloated and full to the point of ‘food-coma’ then you’ve eaten too much.
In addition to the feelings of ‘fullness’ and ‘hunger’, there are other tips and tricks that will help you become more in tune with your body.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. This is a great movie but shouldn’t play a role in your diet. Categorizing foods into good and bad is not a helpful habit and usually just leads to unnecessary pressure and frustration.
Mindfulness and enjoyment should accompany every meal. Mindful eating is essential. You should take the time to enjoy every meal and be present while you taste, chew and swallow. Select foods that are beneficial to your health, that taste good, and feel good for your body. If you allow yourself to eat everything, and you pay attention while you do so, you’ll quickly notice which foods your body really needs (and enjoys!)
Avoid emotional eating. You had a crazy day and are dying for some chocolate? Stress up the wazu and craving a bag of chips? Eating can often be an outlet for emotional stress. It can be soothing for a brief period, but problems can rarely be solved with food and will likely cause more stress in the long run if they’re unhealthy foods. Instead of eating try to go for a long walk, do some yoga or meditate to rid yourself of negative feelings.
Practice makes perfect. Over time, many of us have learned that it's important to finish your plate, even though we might already be full. Or it has become a habit to have a piece of chocolate after every meal. These ingrained habits are usually socially constructed and by no means a physical need. It is important to counteract these behaviours and try and un learn them or replace them with healthier habits.
Mindful Eating– for better self-awareness
According to scientific studies, mindful and intuitive eating lead to a higher acceptance of our bodies. This in turn can positively influence healthy weight levels as well as better psychological health. This is due to the fact that our body has a natural craving for nutritious and unprocessed foods. These don’t contain refined sugar, artificial ingredients or chemical additives. Logical, therefore, that avoiding these foods has a positive effect on our well being and physical health.
If you’re not entirely sure what signals your body is sending you, it can be very helpful to start your mindful eating journey with a journal. Write down exactly what you eat every day, and make note of how these foods make you feel. Are you bloated? Tired? Or energised and fit?
If we eat in a hurry, we forget to pay attention to how our body responds to the food we’re putting into it. This can cause us to overlook that a food we’re eating is having a negative effect on our body or our mood. However, if we take time for our meals and be mindful, intuitive eating can quickly become a hobby! After just a few weeks, it will be clear which foods you ate and why, and what effect they had. This is an essential first step, because only when we are aware of our eating habits can we proactively change them.
Intuitive eating – which foods are suitable?
As already mentioned, there are no taboos involved in intuitive eating. Of course this doesn’t mean its acceptable to eat chocolate all day long. But if your body is signalling it needs a piece or two that is of course totally fine and encouraged! For optimal bodily function, lots of natural, unprocessed foods are a must. Fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu, fish, meat and so on. You should focus on having a colourful and diverse plate and be sure to include all the major food components for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you want a detailed list of which foods are particularly healthy, protein rich or low in fat, take a look at our article on Balanced Eating for more information.
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Does intuitive eating help with weight loss?
Our body is far smarter than any diet. Intuitive eating is also not supposed to be a weight loss tool. The goal is to return to a more natural eating-rhythm and to live a life free of diet rules and regulations where some of your favourite foods are forbidden. For those who really want to lose weight, need to pay attention to the calorie deficit, regardless of whether their diet of choice is low carb, paleo or Keto. The most effective approach is to consumed less calories than you burn.
As intuitive eating is based on a foundation of lots of natural, unprocessed foods, this can definitely support you on your weight loss journey and help maintain your goal weight. Did you know that what we eat has an enormous influence on our hormones as well as our mood? Fruit and vegetable for example, are high in antioxidants which can positively influence your mood.
In conclusion, intuitive eating helps us develop long term positive and healthy bodily awareness. It avoids typical diet taboos or food rules aimed at losing weight or building muscle. Intuitive eating, is based on eating whatever you like with a good conscience. No taboos or ‘bad’ labels. It is a journey that shifts away from ingrained habits and responding to external stimuli, but rather focusing inward and listening to signals from within that will lead to a very natural way of eating. Only you know what your body needs for optimal function, and what you need to feel good and happy. To discover that, you need to start listening to your gut.