If you’re interested in intuitive eating, I am betting that you already understand why dieting doesn’t work.
If a title like “intuitive eating” catches your eye and makes you curious, then you already know that diets are all about promise, but very often don’t follow through on what they offer.
It’s sad, but true: the diet industry, and diet books, and the many well-intentioned “gurus”… they most often set you up for failure.
And because I truly believe most “gurus” really do want you to succeed, I want to say this: they believe in their way of eating most likely because it is intuitive for them. They have found a way of eating that works for them, and they want to share it with the world! But the truth is, it’s their way of eating, so it fits them best.
And so my wish for you is that, with some encouragement and tips and tricks, you will find a way of intuitive eating that works for you!
First, let’s explore why dieting doesn’t work.
- Dieting is a rigid, anti-intuitive way of eating.
- When you are listening to the rules of a diet, you are doing the opposite of listening to your body. Not only are you not tuning in, you are actually trying to tune out your body cues, so that you can follow the rules of the diet.
- You are telling yourself that you need someone else to tell you how to eat. That is the opposite of self-trust and self-love.
- And let’s really look at the facts:
- When you cut calories, your body actually goes into starvation mode. In the simplest, non-scientific terms (since I’m a counselor, not a scientist), when your body doesn’t know when the next calories will come, it makes the survival decision to slow down your metabolism, because it doesn’t know when the next calories will come.
- When you cut calories, again as a survival mechanism, your body may elect to take muscle and convert it into carbohydrates for energy. So, while you may be hoping to become leaner and stronger, you may actually achieve the opposite effect, losing lean muscle.
- Yo-yo dieting, or losing and gaining weight repeatedly, which is an issue for the chronic dieter, carries with it a whole host of health issues, from high blood pressure, to osteoporosis, to the aforementioned loss of muscle, to chronic inflammation.
- So I guess the question is: why would you ever diet?
Become a diet rebel
Decide to never diet again! Make the word “diet” one of your four-letter words. Instead, think in terms of “nutrition,” “nutrient-dense foods,” and “energy.” The easiest way to create a faster metabolism? Eat lots of healthy foods, and move a lot! What a wonderful, and yet resisted, idea!
Your goal, if you want to start intuitive eating: outlaw diets in your mentality, and while you’re at it, be really rebellious, and stop weighing yourself altogether.
You can check out a post I did on quitting the scale here, but I will tell you that quitting the scale was the catalyst for my becoming an intuitive eater. More on that in a minute, but in a nutshell, quitting the scale is an incredibly loving thing you can do for yourself, as you release yourself from measuring your success (and yourself) by numbers, and instead do it on things that truly matter.
When you stop thinking about your weight, and instead focus your energy on things like nourishing your body with healthy foods, savoring the occasional delicious treat, and resting and moving in healthy amounts, you will be amazed at how you will feel.
And what do you have to lose, anyway? If you were to quit the scale, and quit dieting, you might lose:
- The stress and the emotional toll of constantly trying new diets, praying they’re the answer, maybe loving the results for a bit, and then finding that you just can’t sustain them. And then beginning the process all over again.
- The stress of worrying about carrying extra weight… because you don’t pay attention to that anymore!
And what do you have to gain? How about:
- The freedom from obsessing and counting.
- The ability to enjoy food, to embrace every opportunity to go out with friends and family to eat, free of stress as to whether the restaurant (or the fun involved) fits in with your “diet.”
- The ability to eat whatever you want… because when you tune in, what you want will be what works for you and makes you feel wonderful.
- Confidence. The confidence that you can live a healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life.
Where Intuitive Eating Comes from: Self-Love.
My personal journey to intuitive eating, and never dieting again, began when I decided to get off the scale. You can see in the linked article that that was an act of self-love. Not weighing myself became a conscious choice, because weighing myself was a drama-filled roller coaster.
So, I chose to quit the scale. At that time, some of it was anger and resentment towards the scale, but a lot of it was wanting to form new ways of looking at my health.
When I no longer had the scale to rely on to tell me how I was doing, I had to tune in and start listening to my body.
I began to pay attention to how I felt when I ate whole, nutrient-dense foods.
I began to pay attention to how I felt when I ate less nutrient-dense foods.
I was able to feel how I felt when I struck a healthy balance.
I noticed how I felt when I drank water versus soda versus cocktails.
And on and on.
You can do this, too!
Become a Student of Your Body.
Not dieting means that you get to eat whatever you want! Not dieting means you are a living, breathing experiment, and every time you eat, you can pay attention to how you feel.
We are all smart enough to know what our bodies need and how to feed them well.
You don’t need a nutrition degree, nor do you need a nutritionist or a guru who wrote a book, to tell you what to eat.
(As an aside, here’s a secret about the gurus….
Most books get published because they have a “hook.” The publisher thinks that this could be the next big thing, and so they are happy to publish the book, in the hopes that they will millions of copies.
Did you catch that? Most books make it to print for money, for the author and the publisher.
Does that mean that the way the author eats is the answer for you? Not at all.
Again, I ask you to think about the diet trends that have been coming in and out of popularity for probably as long as you can remember.
Have any of them stuck around forever? No. That’s why they are called trends.)
So what’s the answer?
You. Your body has the answers. Your body, the experiment that is your body, is the secret to finding how to eat, forever.
The best nutrition plan? One that you create for yourself, by learning what your body loves. (And also what it hates.)
And you can get there faster by becoming a student of nutrition.
So do read! And try stuff on! And then decide what nutrition information you will keep, and what you’ll let go of, because you’ve tried it and determined if it worked for you!
Decide that there are No Bad Foods.
One way to move away from a dieting mentality is to decide that there are no bad foods.
If there are no evil foods, then there are no forbidden foods. No forbidden foods means you get to choose what to eat based on your intuition and your education.
Your body. And your brain. That is how you decide how to eat.
Crazy, right? You eat because of what you learn, and how you choose to apply it, and how it makes you feel!
Go on Amazon, or to your local bookstore, or online, and you will be able to find some resource, or many resources, claiming that the following foods are evil:
- The list is endless!
Pick a food and you will find a resource that will tell you why it’s bad. And before you say, “water,” I know for a fact there are books that will tell you your water is bad!
Part of not dieting means deciding that there are no bad foods.
Instead there are:
- Foods your body loves. These are the nutrient-dense foods that fuel your body and make you feel amazing.
- Foods your body doesn’t love. These are foods that may or may not be traditionally “healthy,” but for whatever reason your body doesn’t love them. Examples in my own life are wine and gluten. (Wine..how I miss you.)
- And treats. Treats are foods that may or may not be nutrient-dense, but your taste buds love them, and they bring you joy, so you eat them, in moderation. You may love Pringles, but since Pringles don’t really contain a lot of nutrients, we call them a treat. They’re totally fine, in moderation!
What kind of signs might your body give you?
If you’ve been listening to everybody else for years, or even decades, you may not even be aware that your body is trying to tell you what to eat! And that’s okay. Don’t feel bad, and especially don’t beat yourself up. The great news: you carry your body around with you 24-7, so all you need to do is start paying attention, and it will tell you what you need to know.
You don’t have to be perfect at it! Just start paying attention, and your body will help you along the way.
What are some signs you’re eating well?
- Feeling strong and clean and lean (no matter what your weight)
- Joy and happiness
- Freedom from body symptoms like headaches, joint aches, bloating
- Your menstrual cycles are as easy as they can be (you can cut symptoms significantly with clean living!)
- Healthy skin, hair, and nails
What are some signs something isn’t working for you?
- You feel sluggish
- Headaches, body aches
- Sleeping poorly
- Brutal menstrual cycles
- Dry, breaking hair and nails
- Sallow skin
If you are a visual person, or even have a long carpool drive and want to just listen, I did a video with all this info, you can check out here:
So, how then do you eat? Yes! Let’s get down to business!
The number one thing I want to say before we get into it is this: these are principles. Nothing more than suggestions, food for thought (pun intended). We are moving away from rigid diet thinking, so you are in charge and you are the boss! Take what helps, leave what doesn’t, modify what you like, and make your own rules!
Okay, now we’re ready.
Principle One: Eat!
Isn’t that the best ever? Your first principle is to eat! Enjoy food!
And then, pay attention.
Especially pay attention to the foods that keep you full longest. What are the foods that stay with you and give you long-term sustained energy without a crash? Those foods you will likely find you want to make the staple of your daily nutrition.
Protein, fiber, fat, and complex carbohydrates are all going to make you feel full longer because they keep your blood sugar even and prevent blood sugar crashes. Blood sugar crashes can make you feel cranky, shaky, edgy, and even cause hot flashes, but the bottom line is that you usually find yourself reaching for something, anything, to try to feel better.
So your mission is to find those foods that give you sustained energy, and make you feel ahhhmazing!
We will discuss journaling in a minute, but just know- this is about tuning in. You may want to be super diligent and organized in how you tune in, by keeping notes or journaling, or in the spirit of simply letting go of all the diet habits, just allow yourself to enjoy the ride. Enjoy food, without rigid rules and definitely without guilt, and see where your intuition takes you!
Principle Two: Small Changes, One at a Time
If the goal is anti-dieting, then we most certainly aren’t going to worry about totally overhauling our nutrition overnight! Instead, consider making one change at a time.
There are a number of reasons for this principle. First: you are being kinder and more loving with yourself. So there is no need to get super strict about how you change your nutrition. This is your journey, and you are striving to eat well for the entire remainder of your (hopefully very long) life. So, why rush the changes?
Along those lines, it is much easier to implement one change at a time, because your energy needs to be focused on just that one thing, and feeling how that change feels. That’s it. Many diets have 27 rules to keep track of, and that’s why many diets fail. This is the anti-diet. You can implement just one thing at a time here, and let that change settle in and become habit, and then move on to the next!
And that gets us to another reason for one change at a time: you can truly experience how that one change affects how you feel. After a week or so of being super diligent with your water, for example, and only your water, you can know that if you feel absolutely wonderful, it’s the water that made the difference, and not one of the 26 other changes (and how on earth would you ever know which one!?).
Again, this is your intuitive eating, so no strict rules here, but some changes you might consider adding might be:
- Drinking more water.
- Eliminating soda.
- Experimenting with mini meals (perhaps two servings, a protein and a veggie, or a protein and a carb) instead of the standard three bigger meals, and two snacks each day.
- Experiment with fiber, or protein, or fat- what happens if you focus on getting a bit of one of these macronutrients at each meal?
- Maybe consider eliminating something you’ve been wondering about. Suspect you might have an issue with gluten, or dairy, or even that you feel better off red meat? Honor that suspicion, trust that you are smart enough to know what your body needs, and experiment with taking a week or two off.
How long should each change take? As long as you like! You might elect to implement a change each week, or you might elect to implement a change and not add another change until you truly have made the last change a habit. Again- you’re the boss, and it takes as long as you want it to take! You have the rest of your life to become an amazing, healthy, confident intuitive eater!
Principle Three: Observe and Maintain Your Mindset Regarding Intuitive Eating
I talk about mindset a lot, but in case you’re not familiar with the term, it simply means “the habits of the mind.” Your mindset is the sum of the messages you send yourself. You may have a mindset surrounding your parenting, your fitness, your nutrition, or your career.
Your mindset can be positive and it can support you in your goals, or it can be negative and undermine you.
Your mission when it comes to becoming an intuitive eater: be conscious about the messages you send yourself! And be diligent about bringing yourself back on track when you start to doubt yourself, criticize yourself, or begin to think that you need to go find another diet because you just don’t know if you can do this!
The easiest way to work on your mindset is to plan out some phrases or mantras that you want to keep top-of-mind as you strive to become an intuitive eater.
As always, this is your journey, so your mantras are very personal, but some to consider might be:
- “I am smart enough to know how to eat.”
- “I don’t need a guru to tell me how to eat, I simply need to tune in and listen to my body.”
- “I want to nail my issues with food and dieting, so I can teach my children what I learn, and they will never have to have issues with food!”
- “I will learn to eat better to be a living example for my family.”
- And this is a big one, and one I really hope you embrace: “I will talk about my own body in the same language I would use to talk to my daughter or my friend. I will not allow myself to bully myself regarding my body and my habits. I am imperfect and that’s okay- I am doing good work, and I am worthy of love.”
Principle Four: 80/20
I’ve already touched on this one a bit. A great way to eat intuitively and still achieve your goals is to shoot for 80% clean, nutrient-dense foods, and 20% treats and fun foods!
Especially as you’re getting started, and especially if you’re trying to wean yourself off the diet mentality but still crave a bit of structure, this is a nice way to have a gentle guideline without being too obsessive or strict.
What is meant by whole foods? Whole foods simply refers to foods that are in their natural state, or as close to their natural state as possible. So, if you are eating a food that is as it would be found in nature, it’s a whole food. If you are eating a packaged food, your goal is to be able to read all of the ingredients and recognize them.
Here, I like to share a great tool. There is an app called Fooducate.
It allows you to scan the barcode on packaged foods, and it will give you the letter grade they’ve assigned that food. It is a wonderful tool for learning about how to eat better, and the best part? If the food in question doesn’t earn a great grade, they’ll give you healthier alternatives!
So, your goal is simply to eat nutritious foods that support your body’s health and help you have great energy, 80% of the time.
As you are walking your path towards intuitive eating, you will be educating yourself on nutrition in general, and paying attention to how certain foods make you feel, so you will soon learn which foods are the foods that sustain your energy and make you feel wonderful. Those are your 80%.
The other 20%? Fun! When you eat well 80% of the time, you will soon learn that guilt over food is a thing of the past. It’s a liberating, empowering feeling to be able to enjoy your treats without a hint of guilt, because most of the time you are treating your body well!
So, what are your favorite treats? Chocolate? Candy? Oreos? Cupcakes? Wine? Here’s the thing: in intuitive eating, there is room for them- every single day.
Yes! Every day! And in fact, I even recommend that you have a treat every single day. Or two!
Because when you know you there are no forbidden foods, you don’t obsess over them, and when you know a treat is happening later today, you will enjoy eating well and looking forward to savoring that treat- especially without the guilt! No more guilt! Intuitive eaters don’t feel guilt, they just enjoy their foods and trust themselves to make great choices.
And a great mindset mantra here?
Check it out: “I can totally have that. But I think I’ll save it for later.” No foods are off limits, all foods are okay, and some are special-occasion treats. And yes, the fact that you survived your Tuesday? A special occasion. 😉
Principle Five: Journal (maybe)
I personally don’t love journaling my food, for me it goes against my desire to keep my nutrition stress- and obsession-free, but many love it and find it to be a great tool. If you are used to tracking your progress by watching that number on the scale, it can be a wonderful transition “comfort blanket” as you move way from counting and tracking.
For those trying to let go of the scale, having something tangible like a journal can be a security system that helps them feel more control, and gives them just enough structure to help avoid going back to the scale.
You may not need this step at all. You may instinctively tune in and find the that you are better off without the scale, and without a diet plan. You may find that ditching the scale and diets, actually causes you to tune in. However, if you feel lost without the scale and someone telling you how to eat, and even with the principles outlined here still are uncertain as two how to proceed, consider a journal or a notebook to track your experience.
It can be any system you like! Remember, this is about self-love and self-care, so take care of you in the way that best suits your lifestyle.
Whether you choose a paper and pencil, or a note on your phone, or something in between, consider journaling the following:
- How you felt today physically
- What you felt like you did well, where you’d like to try to do better tomorrow
- How you felt today emotionally
- How you feel like you are progressing on your fitness goals
- Anything that helps you feel empowered, confident, and on the right track (kind words required)
Remember, you are the sum total of ALL your choices!
Intuitive eaters know that one afternoon, or one evening, or even one day or one weekend, or even one week, will not derail them from their goals!
Intuitive eaters know that life is meant to be savored and enjoyed, and that food is an important part of enjoying life. So, if an afternoon or a weekend is spent enjoying what might usually fall in the 20% category, intuitive eaters know that they just get back on track tomorrow.
It is not about one day, or even one week. Your health is the sum of all your choices, and you are striving to find a way of eating and living that will be easy, effortless, pleasant, and empowering- for the rest of your life.
A less-nutritious afternoon won’t tank your goals. Eat for pleasure. Eat without guilt.
And then just get back to your 80%!
It’s a joyful, loving, happy, and yummy way to live!
Want to learn more about intuitive eating, or get some one-on-one or group support to become an intuitive eater? Email me! I would love to help you!
Want all this in one place so you can remember it? Check out the link below!