What is intuitive eating? I get asked this question a lot, and I do not always find the answer to be simple. Perhaps the biggest premise behind intuitive eating is that food is not the enemy. Intuitive eating is based on getting back in touch with your hunger and fullness cues. It is seeing food as both enjoyment and nourishment, and not something to be dreaded or earned. Intuitive eating honors internal hunger and fullness cues; it is eating when hungry, but not famished and finishing when satisfied. It is giving into cravings that you cannot seem to shake, because maybe your body does know best and is not trying to constantly meet unreachable goals that it never wanted you to set. Maybe your body is trying to make peace with your mind. Through proper nutrition, there is a restored sense of normal eating patterns, which may vary person to person. For me, normal eating includes waking up in the morning and enjoying a hot, relaxing cup of coffee before getting going for the day. It includes my favorite breakfast foods, such as warm, buttery biscuits and sweet fruit. It means being spontaneous for lunch – if I am at work and my friends want to go get fast food, I am able to say yes without contemplation or justification. Normal eating meals feeding my body snacks when I am hungry. It means having pasta, pizza, salad, chicken and veggies, bread, or anything that constitutes food for dinner. It means enjoying a bowl of ice cream or cookies or a hot chocolate before bedtime if that is what my body is asking for. It is seeing food as carbohydrate, protein, and fat that fuels my body. It means not adjusting my food intake or exercise regimen based on what I have eaten or how my jeans fit that day. Intuitive eating is eating without rules, rigid plans, set times, or any external factors. When this happens, there is freedom and peace with food and fitness.
Intuitive eating rejects the diet mentality. It allows one to make peace with food. It consistently and constantly challenges the food police. You must scream “NO!” to the dangerous thoughts in your head that you are good for eating minimal calories or bad because you ate a cookie. Intuitive eating respects the enjoyment factor of eating and fitness. In our constant fury to be “healthy,” we often ignore the vitally important factor of enjoyment, and sacrifice our happiness and health for rigid man-made rituals. One of the most basic gifts of existence is the pleasure and joy that can be found in eating. When the joy in eating is restored, nutrition and health are also restored.
Intuitive eating is finding alternative ways to express emotions without using food as the means. Instead of “stuffing” our emotions by either stuffing our bellies OR restricting food, we must find other methods of relief from negative emotions or stress. Take a walk. Read a book. Take a bubble bath. Go outside. Call a friend. Write in a journal. Find what works best for you and make it a daily task to utilize it for stress relief in lieu of food. We must learn that food is not a reward or punishment.
Intuitive eating and intuitive exercising go hand in hand. Intuitive exercising is respecting your body by celebrating all that it does for you. If you have large thighs, maybe that’s so that they can take you on long hikes or allow you to run in half marathons. Whatever your perceived “flaws” are, use them to build you up. Be a part of intuitive, enjoyable exercise rather than militant, forced exercise. Focus your shift from calorie burning to feeling good about moving your body. Move away from weight as only indicator of success. Observe how your muscles grow when you lift weights and nourish your body properly. Take note of how you no longer feel so out of breath walking up the hill in your neighborhood. Success should be measured subjectively in how you feel, instead of objectively in numbers and measurements.
Intuitive eating and exercising come down to you. They are individualized, personal, and intimate. I cannot tell you how to eat or when to exercise, because one size never fits all. It is up to you to provide yourself with gentle, consistent nutrition by making food choices that honor hunger cues, health, cravings, and taste, while providing an overall sense of wellness and freedom. It is up to you to decide when to move, how to move, for how long to move, and who to move with based on how you feel each day. The best way to be intuitive is to check in with yourself daily – spend time becoming more in tune with your own body and mind, and finding the perfect balance between the two, not letting one or the other fully control you. That’s intuitive eating and exercising, and yes, you can do it.