What it means to eat intuitively (and how that looks different for everyone)
this blog post is part of a series, #oneblogpostaday.
the first part of this series is focused on wellness + longevity.
The most common question that I get is: what do you eat in a day?
It’s understandable. As overachieving little humans, it’s really tempting to want to know exactly what you should do, eat, drink, think to feel good. That’s why plans and diets and cleanses and all that sh*t has become a multi billion dollar industry.
If you’re used to following a strict plan, it seems like eating intuitively takes work. It feels like listening to your body over counting calories takes effort.
But, I’m here to flip that idea on it’s head. Because, after lots of experience trying all types of food fads (think: grapefruit diet, water cleanse, juice + no carb + no sugar galore) I’ve realized that no one can tell me what makes me feel best.
And hey - it’s way easier for me to turn down a cookie at the office if I actually don’t want it rather than say it’s because my diet plan told me no (and then I’m really craving it for the next 3 hours).
I also found that since there are so many conflicting recommendations out there it’s hard to know what’s “right". Especially when “right” changes every ten years.
So, in my experience it’s most helpful to tune in. To listen to what your body is telling you (or not telling you). It takes a lot of experimentation, patience and intuition. But I began feeling my best (and even performing my best) when I decided to screw the rules and actually do what’s best for me.
The only issue is: how do you know what’s best to begin with?
The 3 Mindsets to Break
When you first begin to eat intuitively - or eating based on what your body is telling you it needs - there are three important mindsets to break. When you stop and think about it - it’s crazy to imagine all the “advice” we’ve been told throughout our lives when it comes to food, diet + mealtime.
Here are the three mindsets to begin to reflect on and see how shifting them also shifts your relationship to food.
1. “I need to eat 3 meals per day”
The first intuitive eating mindset to create is around how often we eat.
Growing up, we were told it’s essential to eat at least 3 meals per day. We build our entire lives around it. If we wake up and have a bowl of granola + yogurt at 7am - we believe we’re off to a great start.
But, there has been loads of research, especially as of late, around the importance of intermittent fasting - which completely flips this idea of 3 meals a day it’s head. Intermittent fasting experts tell us that our bodies actually need pockets of non-eating time for optimal brain (and overall) health.
This post is not to suggest one way or the other - more so to plant the idea in your head that rules aren’t always better.
Begin by experimenting with eating when hungry. Do you find that you automatically eat right when you wake up? Start with water first. Then, tune in to the times that you’re hungriest - and give your body some fuel.
I started my intuitive eating journey with this step first - and found that even though I was the Queen of Breakfast (oooh how I loved those 7am granola bowls) - I actually did my best when I didn’t eat until 11am. Crazy mindf*ck for me. That being said, there are some days that I know I’m starving upon waking up. If I have some lemon water and I’m still super hungry, I whip up a breakfast, usually with lots of protein, and move on with my day.
2. “[meat/carbs/fruit/etc] is completely cut from my diet”
It’s easy to feel strident about our eating habits - especially when we’re first entering this world of healthy eating.
And, it seems like everyone has a strong association with their way of eating, whether you’re paleo or vegan. But, what if we just ate with an affinity towards [fill in the blank] instead?
We often hear of people who ate a certain way for years and all of a sudden switched - and never looked back. Joshua Rosenthal, the founder of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition often talks about this. He was a strong follower of the Macro diet for a long time - until he spend a few months in India and found out that his body was secretly craving dairy. After a long internal struggle, he finally gave it - and realized his body was crying out for the soothing effects of dairy for a while.
It’s okay to give in to those cravings. It’s okay (and important) to quit being vegan/macro/paleo/whatever.
We’re all unique humans. And we all need a mix of different foods at different times.
This mindset is especially hard to break when we feel that we’re lacking control. “How could I eat intuitively if my body is telling me that it’s craving donuts?” one might ask. Well, food cravings aren’t always related to food - which we’ll get to in the next section.
3. “My food cravings are only about food”
Oftentimes, when we’re craving a certain type of food, there’s also something else going on in our lives that we’re craving too.
Ever feel bored at work and find yourself hanging around the snack closet with a sudden “craving” for chocolate?
Ever get into an argument with your mom and find yourself “craving” pizza?
A really important aspect of intuitive eating is to understand your cravings. Is it coming from your body…or your mind? Are you masking a personal struggle with the easy solution (food)?
Oftentimes, we get confused between our real, deep food cravings - like if you’re a vegan that’s suddenly craving red meat - versus our human cravings - like if you’re lonely in a new city and craving your mom’s pasta bolognese.
When you start tuning in to what your body is telling you, you’ll also notice that your mind weaves itself into those conversations, coloring what we actually need versus what we think we need.
This is a great time to start a food journal. It sounds wonky, I know, but it’s really interesting to begin to make connections about your relationship with food. It helps us get to those deeper issues behind how we use food as a crutch and a mask for other things going on in our lives (hint: do you find yourself craving a sugary drink after a long meeting?).
These reflections enable us to make better decisions around our cravings - and what our body (and mind) is actually telling us. We can then supplement our cravings with things other than food, like a walk in fresh air or a deep conversation with a friend.
Not all cravings need to be bad.
Of course, breaking free of your eating rules is just the beginning.
There are tons of ways to layer on and continue to enhance your health food journey.
As soon as you begin to tune in and break these (very normal) mindsets to have around food, it becomes so much more fun to experiment with all the different ways we can use food to enhance our lives.