Tuning in to your body’s cues when it comes to eating is easier said than done. But with practice and patience, intuitive eating is a great way to figure out what your body really needs.
There’s a lot of discussion about intuitive eating right now and for good reason. Research has shown it provides a wealth of benefits for both physical and mental health.
Although the concept is simple—ditching rules around food and exercise and tuning in to your own body’s cues to guide your decisions instead—the actual practice is harder.
Here are five ways to get started on your intuitive eating journey.
1. Reject diet culture.
To embrace intuitive eating, it is necessary to make space for it in your life. This means that you need to get rid of your diet books, calorie counting apps, and clothing that no longer fits you. You need to unfollow (or at least mute) anyone on social media who makes you feel badly about your body or who is obsessed with dieting. Removing these external distractions will allow you to be able to get more in touch with what feels good for your body, rather than what you think you should be doing.
2. Stop labeling foods as good and bad.
Foods all have different nutritional properties and that’s okay. There is no need to restrict or eliminate anything that you enjoy. Research has shown that putting certain foods off-limits makes it a lot more likely that you will overeat them later. Instead, if you allow yourself to eat all foods when you want them, it’s much easier to have them in amounts that feel good for you. If you’ve been restricting for a long time, it is likely that, initially, you will want these foods in larger amounts to compensate. But, if you practice patience, this will subside over time.
3. Get in touch with hunger and fullness.
If you’ve been following rules about what, when, and how much to eat, you’ve likely gotten out of touch with what hunger and fullness feel like. It’s important to note that hunger is not just stomach rumbling—it can also make you low on energy, more likely to experience brain fog, foster irritability and poor concentration, or just give you a general sense of emptiness. This is unique to each individual so it’s worth spending time figuring out what your symptoms are and making sure that you respond to them, rather than ignoring or trying to suppress them. If you’re not sure what fullness feels like, practice pausing midway through a meal to check in with yourself.
4. Find exercise that you enjoy.
When you’re focused on trying to change your body, exercise often becomes a chore. Instead of thinking about what burns the most calories or makes your body look a particular way, consider which activities are the most fun for you. Maybe that’s a dance class, a swim at your local pool or an outdoor boot camp. Whatever it is for you, make time for it in your weekly schedule and be sure to incorporate plenty of rest days to make sure that you can recover in between sessions.
5. Honor your emotional needs.
Food is so much more than fuel. It is a way to celebrate, connect with others, and practice self-care. Though some use food as a way to cope with emotions, it’s important to have other ways to honor these needs. Choose what feels best for you. This might be using coloring books, reading a novel, taking a bath, listening to a podcast, or a bike ride through the forest. Ensure that you make time for these activities regularly to help maintain your physical and mental wellbeing.
Intuitive eating can seem daunting at first. When you’re used to eating and exercising in a prescriptive way, the idea of loosening the reigns is scary. However, with patience and practice, it gets easier over time. You’ll find that your confidence grows in tuning in to and honoring your needs and that you have so much more energy to devote to the things that matter to you.
Discover the benefits of intuitive eating and why it’s more than just a fad diet.