An Introductory Guide to Intuitive Eating

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Have you ever had a brownie craving so fierce that you’d do almost anything to combat it?  Maybe you’ve tried a low-cal chocolate flavoured yogurt to stave off the craving. When that doesn’t work, perhaps a pack of sugar-free “thin” cookies might do the trick.  Half an hour after that, still unsatisfied, you might reach for a piece of dark chocolate. Finally, after all of this trying to ignore and ward off a craving with “healthier” choices, you give in and eat half the pan of brownies.

Sound familiar?

We are born as intuitive eaters.  If you’ve ever been around young children, you may have noticed that they’ll go through eating phases; sometimes they want nothing but bananas, the next week they’re all about avocado and crackers.  When we let kids eat what they want when they want, their diets usually balance themselves naturally.

But we intervene.

Eat whatever, whenever?  How reckless! How will kids make healthy choices if we don’t tell them what and when to eat? These are the thoughts that eventually train the instincts out of the child, and lead to adults who may not completely trust their bodies and their abilities to make healthy and balanced food choices.  

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch is a fabulous guide to re-learning intuitive eating skills.  Their 10 principles help us to take the power away from food, break free of rigid diet rules, and learn to trust our bodies to settle at a naturally healthy weight.  

How intuitive eating can help you reach your goals

Have you ever been stuck in the diet mentality?  This is a pattern of restriction and reward that often leads to weight loss, but eventual weight gain…sometimes even more than you lost in the first place!

Intuitive eating is not about weight at all, but it can definitely help us settle into our natural healthy weight range.  Allowing ourselves to eat what we truly crave will help to avoid future binges, and learning to be mindful and balanced with our nutrition is a wonderfully freeing experience. For intuitive eating to “work”, we need to let go of all weight expectations and desires; we may gain, maintain, or lose weight along the journey.

My Story

Learning to be an intuitive eater was a long journey for me.  I spent 20 years battling anorexia and bulimia, and finally found my way to recovery with intuitive eating as one of my core learned skills.  

Trusting our bodies is absolutely a scary concept, especially when we are bombarded with so many mixed messages about food, diet, and our weight.  I remember being absolutely terrified at the thought of trusting my body. I thought that if I relinquished “control” over my food my body would put on weight exponentially and I’d be doomed to a life of constant bingeing.  Ironically, thinking that I was so in control of my food was actually masking the fact that food controlled me. Every food decision was calculated and thought about for hours or sometimes days, off-limit foods were earned through exercise or restricting, and my list of “bad” foods held a strong power over me.  

Intuitive eating allowed me to break free from all of my food rules, remove the idea of “good” and “bad” foods, and actually helped me to re-develop my love for food and pursue my passion for nutrition.   

The Learning Process

Trusting our bodies is scary, and we have to undo a lot of learning and ideas about health that we have learned to believe over the years.  The website explains the 10 principles of intuitive eating, and their book is an amazing read.  Here are a few key concepts that helped me immensely:

  1. Spend time journaling: No, not food journaling.  Take some time to sit and think about any food rules that you might have for yourself.  Some common rules are avoiding eating after a certain time, avoiding specific foods, or having to earn food with exercise.  Lay it all out there so that you can see what you’re working with. It can be eye-opening to see all of our rules put into writing.
  2. Make a list: In your journal, explore a few different food lists.  Try writing down your favourite foods, foods you’d like to try, and foods you don’t allow yourself to eat.  Try making a Good and Bad list, sorting foods according to your beliefs.
  3. Challenge these thoughts: Now that you’ve gotten to know your personal food beliefs a little bit, it’s time to reject those ideas.  This won’t happen on the first try. One of the goals of intuitive eating is food neutrality; there are no “good” or “bad” foods!  Food is just food; when we feed our body what it wants, we won’t need to go overboard with over-eating. Try tasting a food off of your “bad” list, giving yourself unconditional permission to do so.
  4. Pay attention when eating: Try to be mindful when eating, and really get to know your food.  What are some textures, tastes, and smells that you notice? Check in with yourself a few times throughout your meal for hunger and satiety cues.  

Allow yourself freedom to explore: Intuitive eating requires a leap of faith.  It will be uncomfortable, scary, and overwhelming, but trust that everything will be ok.  It will be absolutely worth it. Play with recipes, explore new foods with bright colours, and allow yourself to have fun with nutrition.

Learning to be an intuitive eater takes time, but the rewards are amazing.  No longer am I controlled by thoughts of food, or feeling chained down by the need to exercise.  My body is the healthiest it’s ever been, and I truly eat whatever I want and move my body in ways that feel good; some weeks that might mean long-distance running, other days might include yoga and naps.  I maintain my weight without trying, even with holidays and treats thrown into the mix.

Remember that pan of brownies?  Go for it. Don’t waste your time with other stuff trying to fill a void when you know what you truly want.  You’ll more than likely end up eating less overall if you just listen to your body. Take a deep breath. Savour that brownie, and move on.

AND! If you are looking for a guided program to get you started with mindful and intuitive eating, check out my Coaching Programs

If you would like to learn more about the intuitive eating process or would like some guidance for yourself or your family, please feel free to contact me and hit me up on social media @devonhoholukwellness

Until next time,

Devon Hoholuk, BA CHNC

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