Learning to Eat Intuitively – A Step By Step Guide

End the cycle of yo-yo dieting and stress eating and make peace with food.

Learning to Eat Intuitively

Intuitive Eating incorporates cognitive flexibility, emotional and physical cues, and body awareness into our relationship with food.  It is a process of:

  • Increasing awareness of the hunger and satiety signals in our body and
  • Removing barriers to these signals so you can more clearly hear and feel them.
learning to eat intuitively

Here are some common examples of both:

  • Common Signals: concentration difficulties, irritability, stomach growling, distracted, headaches, dry mouth, fatigue, etc
  • Common Barriers: lack of sleep, high stress, distraction, over-scheduled, lack of food/resources, etc.

When any of these areas are compromised, we are more likely to restrict, stress-eat, binge, eat in secret, choose foods that provide the comfort of safety, or a combination of all of these. It is important to understand that dieting behavior does not promote intuitive eating – which is why diets fail 95% of the time!

Principles of Intuitive Eating – Here are the first 5!

Reject the Diet Mentality

Diets haven’t worked for you so far, so why start another one? The diet industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry that promotes quick solutions and results and idealizes thin body types and frames. For the majority of us, these ‘solutions’ may work for a few days, weeks, or months, but ultimately may create emotional, physical, and psychological stress as our relationship with food often doesn’t change – only what we eat (low carb, high protein, low calorie, etc). The result of dieting is often a decreased metabolic rate and increased set-point (the weight range where your body naturally wants to be).  So, the first step is to abandon the idea that diets work…because they don’t.

Honor Your Hunger

Learning to tune into your body’s physical and emotional sensations and cues is a process and skill, it does not happen overnight. The process begins with being more open to noticing changes in your body, thought process, and mood. If you tend to get lost in your work sometimes like I do, it would require you to be more open to hearing and feeling what your body is communicating. The next part involves rating your hunger and keeping your hunger in a moderate range instead of waiting until you’re hangry to find something to eat (hint: being hangry leads to overeating). A key component to this is being compassionate and practicing self-care from a nutritional perspective.

Make Peace with Food

It will be nearly impossible to redefine your relationship with food if you don’t make changes to the way you label and describe foods. Listing foods as “bad”, “unhealthy”, “fattening”, or “sugary” and placing them on a “can’t eat that” list creates a paradoxical rebound effect. This is a fancy way of saying that the things we restrict we tend to crave the most. As a result may overeat. Making peace with food involves changing the relationship with food from a restrictive perspective to an ‘all-foods-fit’ and moderation perspective. When all foods are an option, you can begin to incorporate the skills from step 2 (Honoring your Hunger). Ask yourself questions such as “Do I really love the taste of this food?” and “How full am I feeling right now?” and “Would I choose to eat in this manner again?”

Challenge the Food Police

I love this step of intuitive eating! The food police are all of those nagging thoughts and rules we have come to believe about food. It involves understanding where these rules came from (family, friends, society, a diet book). You have to take an honest and objective look at what supports the rule in an effort to reframe it.

First, examine your thoughts or rules. “Carbs are bad” “Fatty foods will make me fat” “Diets are the most effective way to lose weight”. Begin to challenge your food police thoughts. “Our brains require mostly carbs and fats to function effectively, so if I restrict those I’m only hurting my brain and body” or “Fatty foods are delicious and restricting them will only make me crave them more”. This step is difficult. It requires you to change the neural connections in your brain. This takes time and effort! Practice challenging the food police every day!

Feel Your Fullness

Growing up, I was part of the “Clean Plate Club.” My Italian family served large portions on large plates. The only signal I received that I was to stop eating was an empty plate! Feeling your fullness requires us to be acutely aware of how satiated we are. Not by examining what is left on our plates, but by actually feeling those sensations and signals in our body that say “okay, that’s enough” or “one last bite and then I’m good”.

The volume of these signals can be turned down by various factors including initial hunger levels, timing, the amount of food on your plate, social influence, and the type of food. If you find yourself often feeling hungry – this step also involves identifying foods that help you feel the fullness signals longer.

***I’d like to make a note here. This step in learning intuitive eating is not appropriate for those struggling with low weight, malnourishment, or restrictive eating such as those struggling with anorexia. Those struggling to gain weight need to work on turning down the physical cues to fullness – not turning them up!

Interested in learning about the next 5 steps to Intuitive Eating!?  Check out our follow-up blog, Learning to Eat Intuitively – A Step By Step Guide (Steps 6-10). [COMING SOON]

If you are interested in learning how to put these steps into action, Integrated Care Clinic is starting a 12-week Intuitive Eating Workshop, starting on September 29th hosted by Licensed Psychologist Dr. Samantha Winton and Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Jacqui Supplee.

Dr. Samantha Winton

Dr. Winton is the owner and clinical director at Integrated Care Clinic. She is a licensed psychologist that specializes in eating disorders, body dysmorphia, food anxiety, body image, intuitive eating, and perfectionism.

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