how to start intuitive eating

How to Start Intuitive Eating

One of the biggest hangups I hear from people is: How do I start Intuitive Eating? Where do I begin?

A while back, I wrote an Intuitive Eating Introduction Series. Read it here if you missed it because it’s a great starting place to learn about the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating. 

If you’re ready to put these principles into action, you’re in the right place. Today, I’m sharing 5 action-oriented steps to unlock the intuitive eater inside you. 

how to start intuitive eating

5 STEPS TO GET STARTED WITH INTUITIVE EATING 

STEP 1: Identify restrictive food rules. 

Raise your hand if you blame your food woes on lack of willpower. Guess what? Lack of willpower is NOT the problem. Food rules are the problem. Restriction, in the form of food rules, leads to increased food cravings and guilt. This fuels the binge-restrict cycle. 

That’s why the FIRST step towards becoming an intuitive eater is undoing harmful diet mentality and releasing food rules. 

Do you still label food as good and bad? Do you fear eating carbs or fats? Are you afraid to keep certain foods in the house? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s likely that you’re holding onto food rules. 

Action: Make a list of the food rules that you consciously or subconsciously follow. Identify where they come from. Start challenging these rules by giving yourself permission to eat what you want, when you want. 

STEP 2: Make friends with hunger. 

Food is fuel and hunger is the body’s way of signaling it’s time to re-fuel. This seems like a straight-forward biological process…right? Yet, many of my client’s struggle with eating when they’re hungry. 

Maybe you don’t notice when you’re hungry. Or maybe you delay hunger to the point of *ravenous* hunger. Trying to push off hunger is like trying to stop a boulder from rolling down a mountain. 

Instead of fighting off your hunger cues, listen to them. 

Take action:

  • Notice physical signs of hunger ranging from slight headache to growling stomach. 
  • Use the hunger and fullness discovery scale to rate your hunger level on a scale of 1-10 before and after eating. 
  • Feel the difference between “over-hungry” and “comfortable hunger”’; eat before you get to the “over-hungry” range. 
  • Keep non-perishable snacks and quick fuels available to eat when you feel hungry. 

The more you listen to your internal hunger cues, the easier it becomes to fuel your body without overthinking it. 

STEP 3: Discover the difference between fullness and satisfaction. 

If fullness is the physical absence of hunger, satisfaction takes it one step further. Satisfaction goes beyond physical sensation and includes contentment at the emotional level. Satisfaction is the feeling when you’re no longer looking for something more–when you eat what hits the spot

Let’s say you eat a giant bowl of veggies for lunch. Afterwards you might feel physically full, but I doubt you’d feel satisfied (especially if it was a cold day and you were craving something warm). 

Furthermore, meals and snacks tend to be more satisfying when there’s a combination of the main macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Think about how you feel after eating a bowl of plain pasta versus eating a bowl of pasta with veggies, meatballs, and savory sauce. The latter sets the stage for a satisfying meal. 

Action: to eat for satisfaction, ask yourself these questions:

  • What food sounds good to me based on my hunger level? 
  • What food sounds good to me based on my taste and texture preferences? Am I craving something sweet or savory, soft or crunchy, etc.? 
  • Does my meal have a satisfying component of healthy fats and or protein? 

Asking these questions before you eat will help you build more satisfying meals and snacks. 

STEP 4: Honor your emotions. 

Food is more than fuel. It’s emotional. It connects us to our roots, gathers families around a table, and brings us comfort at the soul level. Part of intuitive eating is honoring that it’s okay to eat for emotional reasons. 

But if eating is your ONLY way of coping with difficult emotions, it becomes a slippery slope. You’re more likely to disregard true hunger and fullness when eating for emotional reasons. While it’s okay if this happens every now and then, you’ll feel more empowered to take care of yourself when you have multiple strategies for coping with emotions.

Action: Expand your self-care toolbox: 

  • Make a list of difficult emotions that you have a hard time coping with. For example: stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness, etc. 
  • Next, list 5 non-food ways of soothing that emotion. For example: when you feel stressed you could 1) take a walk 2) take a bubble bath 3) call a friend 4) practice deep breathing 5) write in your journal
  • Keep this list somewhere you can easily refer back to. Note that in addition to eating, you can also turn to these non-food strategies of coping with emotions. 

STEP 5: Embrace intuitive movement, too. 

Intuitive eating extends beyond just food. The skills you practice to heal your relationship with food also help you heal your relationship with exercise. 

Signs you can improve your relationship with exercise: 

  • You view exercise as a way to burn calories or make up for what you ate. 
  • You feel bad for not moving on rest days. It’s hard to take a day off.  
  • Only high intensity exercise counts in your mind. Walking or stretching doesn’t feel like enough. 

Alternatively, intuitive movement helps you view exercise as a means of caring for and celebrating your body versus punishing it. Intuitive movement is rooted in how you feel not calories burned. 

Action: write a list of the activities you enjoy for movement. Schedule 1-2 fun movement dates on the calendar for yourself next week. It could be as simple as stretching in the morning before work or meeting a friend for a walk in the nearby park!

YOU’RE READY TO START INTUITIVE EATING

So there you have it! Five action steps to practice intuitive eating. Remember, there is no pass/fail with intuitive eating. It’s an ongoing process of listening to your body to guide choices supportive of total well-being. 

Which action step are you most excited to begin with? Let me know in the comments! 

STILL LOOKING FOR SUPPORT ON EATING INTUITIVELY? 

Schedule a FREE discovery call with me to gain the 1:1 support of a non-diet dietitian.

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