“For both excessive and insufficient exercise destroy one’s strength, and both eating and drinking too much or too little destroy health, whereas the right quantity produces, increases or preserves it.” – Aristotle
If you are someone who has been trying to get off the diet-binge hamster wheel and make peace with your body and food, you’ve probably heard of Intuitive Eating.
Upon quick investigation, intuitive eating sounds to good to be true – it boasts that you can make peace with your body, make peace with food, maintain a healthy body weight, all while eating what you want when you want. However it is not too good to be true, and it does exactly what it says. What’s not to love about that?
Intuitive eating relies on using our natural bodily senses that we have had since birth. We listen to our bodies’ signals to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are not. It allows us to honour all our physiological, emotional, and social needs that food satisfies in our life without overly restricting and depriving ourselves of food.
Intuitive eating gives us the balance that allows us to respect that sometimes our bodies need a delicious brownie and sometimes our bodies also need salmon and spinach to nourish us. It rids us of harsh food dichotomies that are damaging to our overall well-being.
Intuitive eating respects that our bodies’ weight will fluctuate and adapt depending on a variety of lifestyle factors that affect our metabolisms. Our bodies deserve nourishment and respect regardless of their shape or size – sometimes we need more food and sometimes we need less. Similarly, sometimes our bodies need to store fat and sometimes they do not, and that is perfectly okay. Learning how to trust your body can be scary, but it’s a very important part of ending the cycle of being a yo-yo dieter.
Gaining weight after ending a strict diet and returning to normal intuitive eating is a perfectly normal and healthy response for a body that has been starving and deprived. Conversely for someone who has been ignoring their satiety cues it is not uncommon to lose weight once they start eating intuitively. In each scenario, our bodies are doing exactly what they need to be doing to preserve our health.
Our bodies tell us what we need and give us exactly what we need, we just need to make sure we listen to it. And no one will ever be perfect at intuitive eating, but just being “a little bit better” is the perfect place to start.
WHERE TO START
When you start eating intuitively, we first want to look at our bodily signals: hunger and satiety.
HUNGER: Hunger is our body’s signal that we need nourishment. We may feel empty, we may experience hunger pangs, we may get lightheaded, and even nauseous in cases of extreme hunger.
SATIETY: Satiety is our body’s signal that we have been nourished and can stop eating. You may experience a lack of interest in food, a loss of hunger, a feeling of fullness. In some cases we may be overly satiated and feel very full and uncomfortable.
Hunger and Satiety exists together on spectrum of varying degrees. How different levels of hunger and satiety feels will vary from person to person. It’s valuable exercises to use a number scale (most commonly zero to ten to grade your hunger.)
For example my hunger-satiety scale looks something like this:
0 – So hungry I feel nauseous and have a severe headache.
1 to 2 – So hungry I could eat the bark off of a tree, I am also moody and irritable.
3 – I need to eat very soon, I may reach for any food that is available even if it’s something I do not want.
4 – I am hungry and my appetite is telling me that I need to, but my hunger is not uncomfortable.
5 – I am neither hungry nor full, I feel neutral. I am not thing about food.
6 – I have eaten but I am not fully satiated, if I were going to sleep I would need a little more food or I will wake up at night with hunger pangs throughout the night.
7 to 8 – I feel well satiated, I am not uncomfortable after eating and stopping at this stage. I should not need to eat for a few hours. I could part-take in light exercise or activity after eating.
9 – I have eaten a little too much. I may be a little bit bloated and feel slightly uncomfortable.
10 – I have eaten way too much, I am largely bloated. My stomach hurts, I may need to lay down. I might feel sleepy from eating too much. I usually don’t want to see or smell food at this point.
Understanding and respecting your hunger and satiety cues is one of the principle foundations of intuitive eating. In order to properly be able to listen to our bodies’ cues, this means that we need to eat slowly enough for our brain to process the information our digestive system is sending to it.
It typically takes our brain 20 minutes to catch up with what is going on in our stomach. If you’re someone who eats very quickly (I know I am!) – it may be a good exercise to try timing how long it takes you to eat. For some people even taking 10 minutes to eat a meal may be a feat, and that’s okay. There are plenty of ways to train yourself to slow down the pace of your meals. You could:
- put your utensils down in between bites
- chew your food thoroughly (this is good for your digestion and also the reason why our mouths have teeth 😉 )
- share a meal with friends and family and engage in social behaviour
- eat with your non-dominant hand or utensil you are not accustomed to (chop stick, etc.)
- set time aside (20-30min +) to eat your meals so you are not rushed
It may not be easy to develop the habit of slowing down and paying attention to your body’s cues, especially if you’ve been ignoring them and behaving according to external cues (i.e., I am on “x” diet, so I can only eat “y” type/amount of food – even I am hungry/overfull) for a significant amount of time. However, it is an integral part of healing your relationship with your body and with food. Starting with eating slowly and learning how to interpret your hunger and satiety signals is a great place to start.
If you want to further deeply explore the principles of Intuitive Eating and practice it daily in your day to day life you should read the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.