I’ve gone through each of these stages throughout my life.
Picky, bored, and stressed led to body image issues as a teenager. Cautious helped me lose weight—perhaps not the healthiest way. Now, being seven months pregnant, I want to eat constantly. (I tend to get “prangry”—pregnant, angry, and hungry—a lot.)
After getting over morning sickness, I’ve started following internal cues regarding food. If I feel hungry, or my tummy rumbles, I eat—which happens quite frequently these days.
This physical internal cue is called intuitive eating. Rather than rely on emotions (eating due to depression or boredom) or the environment (eating due to food odor), intuitive eating follows satiety signals.
Intuitive eating is a relatively new nutrition philosophy—at least when it comes to research. However, it shows the potential to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Often called the non-diet or conscious eating, intuitive eating relies on listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, while understanding when to eat and how much. Additionally, you can reconnect with food by not allowing it to control you. This also means trusting yourself around foods you would normally consider off limits. (I’m looking at you, chocolate cake.)
- Listen to Your Body—If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat.
This is the basic principle of intuitive eating.
It seems simple enough. However, emotional or environmental factors can overpower the ability to listen to your body. It takes time to understand when you’re hungry and when you’re not, especially if you’re “required” to eat.
Parents encourage their children to “clean their plates” during meals. And if you go out to eat with friends in a social setting, they might question why you’re not eating. That pressure to eat is part of the problem.
If you’re thinking this will cause you to overeat, pay more attention to when you’re hungry. By eating foods you like when you’re hungry, you may be less likely to binge eat.
For me, I’m almost always hungry at the same times every day, so I have snacks—mostly healthy—for when hunger hits.
2. Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food—We live in a diet-obsessed society. South Beach, Atkins, and Slim Fast are some of the more popular diets. The issue comes when people can’t stick with them.
Dieting, especially if started at a young age, can have a negative impact on healthy behaviors. In fact, dieting can have the opposite effect and lead to weight gain.
Simply taking away the stigma associated with restricting a certain food or food group from your diet—and not putting limitations on eating—can promote a healthier relationship with food.
Intuitive eaters are more mindful of what they eat and when. Focusing on the food’s nourishment, or the satisfaction of “forbidden” foods, provides a healthier approach to eating. With intuitive eating, there are no good foods or bad foods—and nothing is off limits.
3. Trust Your Mind—But don’t focus on “brain hunger.”
In order for intuitive eating to work for you, you have to be mindful and trust yourself. Don’t take hunger cues from your brain, but from your body (like it was mentioned in No. 1).
Eating intuitively can help you focus on the foods that make you feel good (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) instead of those that may not. That’s not to say you can’t ever eat sweets when hungry, but listen to your mind and body when you eat certain types of food.
If it makes you feel good and gives you lots of energy, eat more of it when hungry. If it makes you feel lethargic, maybe don’t eat so much of it. Eat that cake, but stop when you’re full.
How Can I Lose Weight if I Eat Anything?
This is one of the downsides to intuitive eating. There’s no structure. With an “anything goes” mindset, it can be easy to binge or overeat—especially on junk food.
But the point of this eating philosophy isn’t necessarily to lose weight. It’s about getting better in tune with your body and your hunger cues and enjoying food again, especially if you’ve had a negative relationship with it in the past.
Like anything, learning how to eat intuitively can take time. While this may not be the non-diet for everyone, it can at least help you listen to your body.