We are born intuitive eaters. Babies eat when hungry and stop when satiated, able to self-regulate. As we grow up, we’re bombarded with messages that tell us to eat certain foods while limiting others, when to eat and when to avoid eating. We become disconnected from our body’s internal cues and rely on external rules to tell us what, when and how much to eat. Here’s how you can begin to reconnect with your body’s inner wisdom.
• Eat adequately. It’s important because if you’re not eating enough, your body’s hunger and fullness cues may not reliably communicate what, when and how much food to eat. For most people a helpful place to start is with structure, eating 3 meals and 3 snacks throughout the day, every 3-5 hours. This helps build trust with your body, reduce chaotic eating and decrease the likelihood that you’ll eat until you’re uncomfortably full. I encourage you to eat before you’re ravenous, so you can give yourself space to respond to your body’s needs rather than to react.
• Reconnect with hunger. We all experience hunger cues in a different way. Some examples of hunger cues include a gnawing sensation, growling sounds, the thought of food, difficulty concentrating, irritability (AKA hangry), shakiness, headache, dizziness and low energy. Your body is likely communicating to you subtle forms of hunger before you reach extreme hunger. How do you experience hunger? How does it feel when you are snack-hungry vs. meal-hungry vs. ravenous?
• Ask yourself what you want to eat. Seems like a simple question, but it’s actually a powerful one. Diet culture tells women what they “should” eat (e.g. salad) and this can disrupt the ability to access what food your body actually wants. Consider asking yourself “What sounds good right now? What foods would feel good to eat?” You can make choices that are nutritious but not having them for one meal, day, or even week will not make or break your health. Focus on what you can add instead of subtracting.
• Notice how you feel. Pause during a meal and think about how the food tastes or how the amount of food feels like in your body.
• Respect your here-and-now-body. Hunger is a normal physiological cue that deserves to be respected in all bodies. Nourish your body based on your current needs, not what you ate 24 hours ago or what you will eat days from now.
As with all things, trust is built not when we maintain control but when we slowly release control. In other words, it’s really hard to trust your body and trust yourself around food if you’re not allowing yourself to have it. Be gentle with yourself and take it one day at a time, one meal at a time. Remember, intuitive eating is not a weight loss plan – it’s a journey to learn more about yourself, and when you’re learning more about yourself there’s no way you can fail at that.