What if eating intuitively leads to undereating? How do you handle it if you really undershoot your needs? What if I find structure and portions helpful?
Yes to the idea that you need to feel ready to eat more intuitively. If you feel like you need more structure right now to avoid the restriction and overindulgence rollercoaster, you probably do. I did! Intuitive eating clicked for me when I was ready, and definitely when I was willing to practice and let things get messy. Weight fears cause control issues which make it tough to put in the practice necessary to get really good at reading and trusting what your body is telling you. You'll overeat for a bit and think, "Nope, this isn't working for me. I have to stop or I'll gain weight." This time, I'd overeat for a bit, realize I'd enjoy my food more if I didn't, and make adjustments. Weight never entered into it because I wasn't watching that.
It's sort of the same thing with undereating. I'd undereat for a week or so, get too hungry, feel my energy levels tank a bit, or notice my sleep wasn't so great. I could have thought. "Nope this isn't working for me. I have to stop and follow some guidelines or I'll starve." But, instead, I'd realize that I'd feel better if I ate more, and I'd start eating more. It does swing back and forth a bit while you're figuring it out, but it's always just a matter of coming back to the feel-good middle over and over again if you notice you're slipping too far in one direction. Going through that process is what teaches you how much food is enough, too much, or just right. That's how you learn to recognize and trust the subtleties of your appetite. You can't just read about it, try it a few times, and then dismiss it as not working. There has to be a willingness to go with it and learn, knowing you'll get better the more you practice. Too much of a weight focus or too much fear tends to bring up control issues and shut it down before you get enough experience. Or, it did for me.
That's a fascinating discussion of eating enough to last several hours without snacking. I think there are a bunch of elements at play. We probably all agree that if you get too hungry, you can eat, even if you're planning not to snack, even if it's not convenient. If we really undershoot our needs, we can always get food somehow and avert any kind of a crisis. Knowing that allows you to play with the amounts more freely than, "I can't eat anything else until noon so I'd better not screw this up." You CAN eat, even if that's not what you're going for long term.
Then there's the idea of eating until you're "too full" or "past comfortably full." What I found is partly that "too full" and "past comfortable" changed as I came out of restriction. "Too full" for a former dieter is very different from "too full" for an average person eating to appetite and enjoying themselves. The "Uh-oh, too much! Unacceptable!" alarm bells go off sooner for someone versed in restriction and weight focus.
So, there's that, but then there's also a volume/satisfaction element. Former dieters tend to eat big bulky meals of low-calorie foods. This will cause uncomfortable fullness, but not necessarily satisfaction, not necessarily a meal that lasts. I tend to stack fats in meals. I'll have flaxseeds, and walnuts, and full fat yogurt. Or mayo, avocado, cheese, and peanut butter. Or olive oil, cheese, grass-fed beef, and sour cream. I do not get hungry again soon, but the volume isn't huge, so my belly isn't stretched in an uncomfortable way.
Then there's the pleasure element. It's easier to go hours without getting hungry or thinking about food if you love what you eat. Emotional satisfaction is a thing. It doesn't always happen if you're eating what you always eat and not thinking about it, or if you're denying yourself the goofy choices that make a meal memorable and fun.
I eat meals without snacking more easily and reliably now than when I was trying to do it. LOL So much of that is just practice, consistency, time passing. When you get really good at satisfaction, you get really good at forgetting about food for hours. I think knowing that I could have more food in just a bit if I wanted helped me relax and dial things in better, whether I ate or not. If instead I was planning to tough it out for seven hours no matter what, it was all more fraught than, "Meh, if I get hungry later I'll eat."