Today I listened to a great RD Real Talk podcast, the March 29 episode, IE Q&A “I want to eat intuitively, but...”
There were some great questions that made me think about my own journey. What if I finish a meal at 8 on the fullness scale and find myself hungry an hour later? It doesn’t mean you did something wrong and need to troubleshoot a nutrition “problem.” That whole idea of having done it wrong and needing to correct it is a diet mentality. Maybe you needed a little more food overall. Maybe you were distracted. Maybe it’s due to previous activity. The point is just to notice that you’re hungry again and eat again. This was news to me! Coming off dieting, I found myself clinging to the idea of “times & plans,” reverse engineering and getting hungry at certain times. If I was hungry (or not hungry) at the “wrong” time, I had work to do, problems to solve, things to think about. Uh, no. If I notice I’m hungry, I just eat. Nothing is broken. No need to overthink it.
Can I follow a food plan and eat intuitively? The host Heather Caplan, RD believes that food plans are a form of disordered eating. If they’re where you are right now and serving a helpful purpose in recovery, great, but you don’t want to have to follow a food plan indefinitely. The idea is to become self-aware and to honor that awareness without question (in other words without a filter of diet rules). She says that if you’re following a food plan right now and interested in intuitive eating, a non-diet or intuitive eating dietitian can help you ease out of your structured food plan and into a place of curiosity and self-trust. I kind of eased myself with lots of reading and experimenting. I needed some flexible structure and loose rules at first or I’d have felt totally overwhelmed. I baby stepped toward freedom and built the trust over time, which I suspect is the way most people do it.
What about intermittent fasting and intuitive eating? Can you explore IF while eating intuitively? The short answer is no. It gives you time frames in which you can and can’t eat, which means external diet rules. That doesn’t mesh with intuitive eating. You don’t want a ticking clock in your head about when you’re allowed to eat. The health benefits of fasting primarily pertain to people with diabetes and issues controlling insulin and blood glucose. That is not most of us. If you don’t have a chronic health condition then the “health benefits” of fasting are likely a euphemism for weight management. Aaagh! Sneaky but true for me. I’ve done a lot of experimenting with intermittent fasting over the years and I’ve come to the same conclusion. There’s nothing intuitive and no health benefits (for most of us) from ignoring hunger for long stretches, or eating an uncomfortable amount because you got way too hungry, or overdoing it now because you won’t be able to eat again for however many hours. What’s interesting though is that if I’m eating to satisfaction, I can generally go hours between meals or a long stretch overnight and not get hungry or think about food at all. In a dieting mindset, I put long stretches of hunger first. In an intuitive eating mindset, I put satisfaction first. There’s a big difference in the experience and the results.
What about honoring hunger with crazy work schedules, while feeding small children, or with the late dinners and long mealtimes of other cultures when traveling? Luckily, you don’t have to do it perfectly. It’s not even possible to do it wrong. It’s not like if you eat earlier or later than your stomach dictates, you’ve done something wrong and need to go back and start over on the honoring hunger principle. It’s ok to graze with your kids at their meal and eat something you want later, or to eat something now even though dinner is in a couple of hours, or eat something an hour after a meal that “should” have satisfied. It’s not realistic to always eat exactly when and what you want, and that’s ok.
How can we redirect people toward intuitive eating when they want to diet or focus on weight loss? Not everyone is ready for intuitive eating. She talked a bit about letting people go go through their own process. You don’t need to sell intuitive eating. If someone is open to it, you might talk about how dieting rarely has a positive outcome but that there are alternatives. We don’t shun weight loss or people who want to lose weight but we also don’t filter our food choices through the lens of “will this lead to weight loss?” Because then you don’t tune into or honor what your body needs. That’s when you get the really unhelpful “I can’t possibly be hungry right now,” or “I should be hungry right now” inner chatter.
At the end, she asked people to complete the sentence “I want to eat intuitively, but...” What is something that holds you back, challenges you, confuses you, scares you, or makes you question the whole process? The idea is to be aware of what is standing in your way so that you notice it as it comes up over and over again. For me, it was, I want to eat intuitively but...
I don’t want to gain weight.I can’t feel hunger signals. I have no off switch. I’ll only eat junk food. I don’t trust myself.I know it will never work for me.I care about my health. I need to look like a fit person and that requires dieting.
That last one led me to a series of attempts at “happy” restriction. Happy paleo, happy intermittent fasting, happy vegan, happy macro tracking. “I’m going to incorporate the latest diet trend, I’m just not going to be crazy with it this time.” Right! LOL Looking back, that was all diet mentality. It took time to question it and untangle myself from it.
I’m curious what anybody else sees as their obstacles to intuitive eating.