Tired of diets that don’t work? Me too! Enter mindful, intuitive eating. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it before. This beginners guide to intuitive eating provides a snapshot of what I’ve learned along the way.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is not a fad diet. It’s actually something we’re born with. Some of us just lose it along the way to the hustle and bustle of life, and the diet mentality. However, when we allow awareness back in, we’re able to reestablish a healthy relationship with food.
Food is NOT the Enemy
Unlike diets, mindful, intuitive eating never restricts what we eat. Say what? It’s true. But that doesn’t mean we can eat an entire supersized fast food meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner and maintain a healthy weight. It just frees us from the mentality that food is the enemy. It does so by asking us to bring awareness back into our relationship with food. From the moment we think about food, to when we eat it, to when we stop eating, we’re asked to be aware of not only what we’re eating, but why we’re eating it.
Why to what we’re eating? Research shows that we eat with our eyes. They help tell our brain what to eat, how much, etc. Our mouths simply follow the way. However, we lose the ability to include these senses when we take part in distracted, mindless eating. Distracted, mindless eating happens when we think we’re too busy to stop. So we eat in the car, in front of the computer, on the couch watching TV.
It can also happen when we decide to reach for food to fill a void or deal with inner angst. When we’re in this distracted, multitasking zone, we can mindlessly eat a whole bag of chips and not even realize it. And since our eyes are focused elsewhere, our senses end up feeling gypped of the food experience. As a result we end up eating more to try to placate them. It’s this vicious cycle that disconnects us from our natural hunger and fullness levels. It’s also what leads us to distrust our senses and look for something outside ourselves to help us deal with food. As the queen of multitasking, this is how I generally allow mindless eating back in, end up gaining weight, and turn to the latest diet fad for help.
When we let go of mindless eating, and allow awareness back in through mindful, intuitive eating, we’re again able to experience food with all of our senses. This allows us to reconnect to our natural hunger and fullness levels, which allows us to separate our body’s physical need for nourishment, from our emotional needs for love, understanding, etc. As a result, we’re able to move food back to being just food, and more clearly see the issues we’ve been avoiding with food.
Whew, sounds like a lot of work right? I’m not going to lie. It is. The need to sit in awareness and untangle the feelings we’re trying to quiet with food, is generally what makes us turn to diets. It just seems easier to seek someone or something outside ourselves to tell us what to eat and when. Unfortunately, skipping this step is also why there are no quick fixes to weight loss and why diets don’t work in the long run.
How to Reconnect to Intuitive Eating
When you’ve been dieting for years, eating because you’re hungry is generally not something you spend time thinking about. Let’s face it. Dieting generally means you’re always hungry and thinking about food. So having to make the hunger and fullness determinations needed for intuitive eating, can seem a bit confusing and scary at first. I know it was for me. That’s why I was happy to have something similar to this Hunger-Fullness Scale to help.
It gave me something to check in with as I decided whether I was truly hungry, or if I was trying to keep from feeling tired, lonely, etc. Then once I decided food was truly what my body was asking for, it gave me something to keep me from overeating. Here’s a run down of what intuitive eating looks like in relation to the Hunger-Fullness Scale.
How to Use the Hunger-Fullness Scale
When you’re about to eat, ask yourself – “What’s my hunger level?”
- Ideally, you want to be in the green zone, between 4-6. That’s the zone where you can freely eat.
- Anything in the red/orange zone means you need to tread lightly.
- A 1-3 means you’ve waited too long and may be setting yourself up to overeat. So you’re encouraged to check back in to your fullness level after every few bites.
The only thing to remember is to never eat anything out of a box or bag. Always eat off a plate. Studies have shown that when we’re able to see how much we’ve eaten off our plate, our mind is better off in deciding just how full or hungry we still are.
As to what you put on your plate, that’s completely up to you. Remember, no food is off-limits. In fact, you’re encouraged to eat the best part of your meal first. When you eat what you really want, you light up your pleasure centers, which can ultimately help you feel satisfied with less food. Just remember to chew slowly to allow your senses to really taste and enjoy the meal.
Since they say it takes about 20 minutes to feel full once you start eating, that’s a great time to pause and check in with your body to ask – “What’s my fullness level?”
- Ideally, you again want to be in the green zone, this time between 5-6.
- Once you’re satisfied, take your plate to the sink, and put away any leftovers to keep from picking at your plate.
- Studies show that when we have food in front of us, we tend to eat it regardless if we’re really hungry or not.
- If however, you’re at a 7-10, that means you’re at, or well beyond your fullness level. STOP! Listen to your fullness level, push the food away, and ask yourself “Why do I want to eat more?”
- It may be because everyone else is, you’re at a gathering surrounded by food, or you’re trying to use food to mask an emotion which eating can’t solve (tired, sleepy, lonely, bored, etc.).
- If it’s the latter, a journal can help you get to the root of your hunger. Write down how you feel both physically and emotionally at the beginning and end of each meal. Look for patterns and triggers. Slowly you’ll be able to identify the feelings/emotions you may be trying to avoid with food.
Practice using the Hunger-Fullness Scale, and the tips within this guide, for as long as it takes you to reconnect to your hunger and fullness levels. Just remember to take it one meal at a time. What left you satisfied yesterday, may not be enough to leave you satisfied today, and that’s ok. What you eat is not important. Being able to reconnect with your natural hunger and fullness levels is. Sure, it’s a huge mind shift and it takes time, but it’s a total game changer in reconnecting us to our hunger and fullness levels and ultimately, bringing our mind and body back in balance.
What mindful, intuitive eating habits help you maintain a healthy weight?
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Having kids keeps me so busy that now I really only eat for fuel, not for pleasure. So that’s helped me ingrain that in my mind – food is for fuel, and can occasionally be for pleasure. Hopefully this mindset will continue as my kids become more independent and I will have more time on my hands.
That’s awesome! When I’m able to reconnect it’s amazing how freeing it is to not have food on the brain 24/7. It’s keeping that awareness up that sometimes fails me, but that’s ok, there’s always the next meal ?