There is a group of people who have tried all kinds of diets and are fed up with setting too many rules for themselves. If you ever happened to ask yourselves the question: “What was my life like before diets?”, this post is for you. I have been through that stage when I tried to remember what it was like to choose my food without considering how much protein it contained or whether I had not overdone the fat or the carbs. That was a time when I was fed up with labeling myself as the follower of yet another diet and wanted to learn to listen to my body instead of fitting it into different molds and making it adapt to what I thought was right for it. Sometimes convictions are the result of the information we have focused on. But this does not mean that this focus is right. In most cases focusing too closely leads to ignoring the important things, namely, the body’s needs. That is why in this post I am going to give you a few tips on how you can start eating intuitively, but still achieve your goals.
1.Intuitively does not mean indiscriminately
One of the arguments brought most often against intuitive eating is: If I eat intuitively, I’ll always go for phyllo pies with cheese, chocolate and pizza. If you give it a little thought, this is not true. “Intuitive” means identifying your body’s needs, and in most cases junk food cravings are only a signal that something is missing in the body. What is more, identifying the body’s response to the foods we consume would soon lead you to the conclusion that a diet based on pastries and sugar is not what your body wants and is not where your intuition is taking you.
Anything that makes the body feel bad is against intuitive eating. This includes all kinds of extremes – both that of too many restrictions and that of too much self-indulgence. That is why intuitive eating includes having a general idea of what the body needs, how to spread out your food intake over the day in order to satisfy these needs and how to choose your food so that it provides sufficient nourishment.
And I won’t lie to you! The people who do best at intuitive eating are those who used to follow nutrition plans and now have a pretty good idea of what 30 grams of protein looks like; how much rice/potatoes/fruit provide 30 grams of carbohydrates, etc. Even I, who have not stuck to a particular diet for a couple of years now, but have simply combined everything I have learned and now eat intuitively, achieve success precisely because I have this previous experience. Now I no longer have to weigh meat on a scale in order to get an idea how big my steak should be – yes, sometimes it can be bigger and other times – smaller, but it is always more or less the size I need. So don’t regret the time you spent on a strict diet – it just helped you become an expert at eyeballing food amount without weighing.
2.Choose the number of meals that is not a burden to you
This is very important and valuable – knowing how to spread out your food intake over the day without having too many or too few meals. In the former case you eat by the clock, your meals are small and unfilling and you can’t wait till your next meal, because you are hungry all the time. Besides, it feels like a burden to find the right food for every meal. In the latter case you usually look too much at the clock again and eat amounts that make you feel too heavy, but you are always trying to make sure you will be full enough for the period that you will go without access to food. Choose the number of meals that frees your mind from this. For me this means 4 meals. It may be 5 for you, but it all depends on when your workout is and at what intervals you are going to be eating. Intuitive eating excludes waiting for the exact time to eat. How do you choose the right time to eat?
2.1. If you feel a drop in energy, you must definitely eat.
2.2. If you don’t feel heavy, when you are done eating, i.e. your portion was sufficient, but not excessive, you should have another meal within 3-4 hours’ time.
2.3. If someone around you is eating chocolate, cake, a chocolate wafer and you feel a strong craving to have what that person is having, even though these foods are not normally in your menu, you are probably hungry. Have your next meal and if this craving persists, only then should you resort to having a serving of the food you crave. If the craving vanishes, it means you ate on time and you have now learned how to interpret these cravings.
2.4. If your stomach is rumbling, this means you are late and absolutely must eat. You don’t have to be starving to eat. Monitor your energy levels and decide whether it is time for you to eat based on that.
2.5. If it has been several hours since your last meal and you feel a strong need for a caffeinated beverage with milk, this means it is time to eat.
As I said, intuitive eating does not boil down to indiscriminate eating. It is the kind of eating that provides the body with what it needs, and this excludes the regular consumption of some kinds of foods and shifts the focus to other food groups. Remember! You don’t forbid foods to yourselves – you simply choose from a number of foods most of the time, while you include everything else during the remaining 10-20% of the time. This means you don’t have to live feeling like you’re deprived and are not allowed to eat a certain food. You just realize that not everything you are allowed to eat gives the body what it needs. So you give it what it needs first, and only then leave some room for the food that is intended for your soul and mind.
4.Forget about right and wrong times to eat
There is no right time for a certain food. If you come home tonight and feel like having more carbs, then you include them in your menu. If it is 9 pm, but you are obviously hungry, then you eat and don’t stave off your cravings with cups of tea and water. Forget about the rules that are all over the Internet. The body knows when it needs more fat or more carbs. In this case this is what you need to do in order to avoid slipping. Say to yourselves: “I feel like eating carbs. Which carbs will provide my body with healthy energy?” Then answer the question. It can be rice, potatoes, oatmeal, fruit or even a slice of bread. Include this food in your menu and see how you feel 15-20 minutes after your meal. Is your carb craving still there or is it gone? If it is gone, then great. If it is still there, you can do some further analysis – did you have enough to eat during the day? Did you skip your afternoon snack and that made you ravenous? Did you have enough protein sources in your food? You do well at intuitive eating, when you take the time to analyze why the body feels a certain way. And every time you find the reason, you have discovered one more thing about yourselves which turns you into your own guru and helps you eat nourishing meals and achieve your goals.
You should also forget about having a cheat day and similar stuff that reprogram your mind the wrong way. You don’t have to wait all week to have chocolate. You’d better have 1-2 rows today instead of having a couple of bars on your cheat day. The former strategy helps you achieve balance and avoid feeling deprived, while the latter one makes you feel bad, while you deprive yourselves and then feel bad when you overeat. What difference does it make, if you spread out a chocolate bar over five days or leave it to be eaten in one sitting at the end of the week? The calories are the same, but the approaches are different and this leads to different results.
5.Choose macronutrient sources that will always be present in your food
Intuitive eating is structured, too, but the difference is that it is more flexible and does not restrict you. Intuitive eating has a foundation that you lay, and then you determine the rest on the spur of the moment – depending on how you feel and what you need.
For example, in my case this structure looks like this. I always have a protein source in each and every one of my four meals. What that source is depends on what I feel like eating.
The protein is always paired up with fat and carbohydrates, but at each meal I decide which one should dominate. If the meal contains more fat, I reduce the amount of carbohydrates, but don’t exclude them completely, and the other way around.
Every meal should have some color or a variety of colors. This means that I avoid eating all green, white or beige foods. There must be something red, something orange, etc., every time. This helps you get different tastes, and different tastes mean different micronutrients, which leads to more satiety, because the body gets more.
6.Analyze which foods give you satiety
Every person has foods that keep them full for a longer time and foods that make them get hungry sooner. Analyze which these foods are – how you cooked them, how you combined them and at what time of the day you ate them, how full you felt, etc. For example, in my first book, The IFS Gene: A Vision for Health, I wrote a lot about in what form and at what times to consume eggs so we don’t get ravenous and can feel full enough. This goes for every food. Monitor, analyze and learn. There is no harm in making a mistake once and getting ravenous, and then eating some more. But it is a sign of ignorance to repeat the same mistakes every day and expect a different result. Find the reason! Is something missing in your diet? If this is the case, try adding something and see what works for you.
Intuitive eating does not require you to stop thinking. It requires awareness of the ways different foods make you feel. It comes down to experimentation, but also to learning the lessons and applying them afterwards. Intuitive eating is the connection with the body that most people have lost and this is the reason why they resort to restricting and strictly regimented diets. No one else can know how you feel. Someone else can guide you and help you find your way to your own eating plan by sharing their experience and their point of view, but at the end of the day you should not follow something blindly, but use it as the foundation on which to build.
If you are still wondering what to do, in my new book #SayNOtoHunger: Repair Your Metabolism after Dieting you can read about each and every diet I have done and the pros and cons I found. How diets took me to a point where I could no longer bear to impose restrictions on myself, and my path to repairing my mentality and my metabolism after the dieting and beginning to eat intuitively.