I listened to the podcast Nutrition Matters #59 - Getting Extremely Practical About Intuitive Eating. I'd heard it before but it had been awhile. The thing that stood out for me was when Paige described a little graphic she draws for clients. It's a line. At one end of it is total food obsession, extremely restrictive, tracking every bite, worried about food constantly. At the other end is total food apathy, not caring one bit what you eat or what happens as a result. Black and white thinkers see intuitive eating as food apathy - not caring what you eat, giving up, letting go of all concern about how you look and feel. It's NOT that. Intuitive eating is in the middle of that line, something between the two extremes, and it's not one dot in the center. It's a range that may land more toward the side of being a careful eater, or more toward the side of flexible and carefree.
I love that discussion. When I first tried intuitive eating many years ago, I treated it like a free-for-all and it didn't feel good. I went running back to dieting. They talk about small changes you can make to still have some structure but to eat more intuitively within that. One is to create predictable meal times. Maybe you always eat breakfast, lunch, a snack in the afternoon, and dinner, but how much you eat at those times is determined by hunger and fullness. If you have a big breakfast, maybe you aren't very hungry at lunch, but you don't skip it, you scale it back according to your appetite that day. When you do get hungry again, you have your snack. So you're not totally winging it by eating so much you're full for 10 hours and skipping meals, or eating so little at a time that you're grazing all day. That was another thing that freaked me out about intuitive eating a long time ago. I'd been used to meal plans where I ate specific amounts at certain times. It sucked, but having no idea what or when to eat was even more overwhelming. If you know you're having breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack every day, whenever it's time for one of those you can practice checking in with how hungry you are and eating to satisfaction. Because you're practicing so many times per day, you get better at it quickly. I wish someone had told me that 15 years ago. My first intuitive eating experience was a festival of grazing and overeating. I couldn't tell if i was hungry because I was never hungry, and I couldn't tell if I was full until I was completely stuffed. Every day was a mess, so before long I went back to the safety of what I knew, which was restriction.