There’s a lot of buzz around intuitive eating. Many people believe that intuitive eating means sitting at the table for every meal, chewing slowly, and practicing mindfulness. As a busy mom this can feel unattainable. Moms are constantly on the go and not only do they have to worry about feeding themselves. They have to worry about feeding children as well. There are lots of other chores such as driving kids to and from practices. Endless loads of laundry and finding time to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For new mom’s the idea of eating intuitively can feel especially hard particularly if your breastfeeding. You’re probably not getting much sleep and the new baby is constantly demanding your attention. New moms are eating whenever they have a spare moment because they know it’s their only chance and sometimes that looks like eating with one hand while breastfeeding. Intuitive eating doesn’t mean perfect eating and it doesn’t mean you have to follow any rules. Sometimes you aren’t going to be able to mindfully eat every single meal but that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.
Disclaimer: I’m not a mom but I currently work at WIC where I provide nutrition education and counseling to mom’s with kids under age 5.
So what is Intuitive Eating?
The easiest way to explain it is to look at how infants eat. From the moment they are born they are wired to know when they are hungry and when they are full. Infants don’t ask themselves am I really hungry or am I tired, thirsty, upset, etc.? They just know because they are in tune with their bodies. That is intuitive eating. Humans are all born with the ability to decipher our mental and physical cues. We are born to know if the cues are telling us if we are hungry, thirsty, tired, etc.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating are outlined below.
These principles will help you to put intuitive eating into action and they can be practiced every day. Becoming better in tuned with your body’s hunger and satisfaction cues is a lifechanger.
1. Reject the diet mentality:
Dieting mentality can lead us to feel guilty about our food choices and can lead us to overeat because of too much food restriction. Diet culture has ruined our ability to trust our hunger cues. Instead we tell ourselves that “we’re not hungry, we’re just thirsty” or “I need to cut out carbohydrates and fat so I’ll just eat veggies and lean turkey”. What happens is that we neglect our bodily cues, and when we do this we end up feeling less satisfied. Fat and carbohydrates are both important nutrients that our bodies need. Fat provides a cushion for our organs and gives us energy. Carbohydrates give us energy also and both fat and carbohydrates help our brains to function. Diets don’t work because we’re not nourishing our bodies with the foods we crave. We our neglecting our body and our mind when we diet.
2. Honor your Hunger:
Allow yourself to eat when you are hungry. If we neglect our hunger than we end up in a downward spiral of wanting to eat everything and then overeating. Our bodies need to be nourished and they deserve to be. When we honor our hunger we honor our bodies, and in return we are mentally and physically stronger.
3. Make Peace with food:
Give yourself permission to eat food and to call food “bad” and “good” foods. Allow all foods to just be “food”. When we put labels such as “bad” and “good” or “forbidden” on food we end up feeling guilty when we eat supposed “bad” or “forbidden” foods and that’s not good for our mental health. It’s okay to eat all foods and to find pleasure in eating food. Food is meant to be enjoyed.
4. Challenge the Food Police:
As mentioned above there are no “good” and “bad” foods. And so challenge the food police after you eat a piece of chocolate cake (or whatever food it might be) and start feeling guilty for it. Get rid of the guilt around supposed “bad” foods and rediscover the joy of eating.
5. Respect your fullness:
Start trusting your body again with food and respect when you are full or have had enough. Pause in the middle of your meal and ask yourself how the food tastes? Do you want more or have you had enough? Are you enjoying it? Tune in to what fullness feels like. Stop feeling like you have to finish your plate. Know that you can always come back to it if you’re feeling hungry later.
6. Discover the Satisfaction factor:
Start to enjoy foods again. When you’re in tune with what your body is craving or needing, you will derive satisfaction from giving it just that. Learn the feeling of satisfaction. When we allow ourselves to eat food without guilt and shame we become satisfied with our meal. Tap in to those feeling and learn when you’ve had enough and are truly satisfied. Find the satisfaction factor helps us to not overeat. Eating less of a food will happen when you are in tune with when you’ve felt like you’ve had enough.
7. Honor your feelings without using food:
Incorporate other ways to deal with emotions in your life. Go for a long walk, practice meditation; do whatever it is that you enjoy that will help with what you’re going through that doesn’t involve food. Food is meant to be enjoyed but if we are constantly going to it for comfort, then it’s a good idea to find something else.
8. Respect your body:
Learn to accept that we are all different and unique. People come in different sizes and shapes and a body type that works for someone else probably won’t work for you. Learn to love the body you are given. This sounds a lot easier said than done but it is important to love your body and respect it. Put a note in front of the mirror that says “You are beautiful” so that you will see it every morning.
9. Exercise- feel the difference:
Identify joy in movement. Don’t do an exercise just because you feel like you should but you don’t enjoy it. Do what you really enjoy. Find the joy in movement again.
10. Honor your health:
Love the body you are given and what it can do for you. Enjoy your food cravings and realize that you don’t need to eat “perfectly” (such as not being able to enjoy dessert from time to time or just eating vegetables and lean meats all day) all the time. You won’t gain weight or be “unhealthy” from eating one food or one meal. It is what you eat over time that makes the biggest impact. Focus on knowing that.
How to implement into your busy life
As you can see from above intuitive eating is not mindful eating all the time. It’s honoring your body and your mind. If you’re in a time of your life that’s super busy and you have to resort to eating whenever you catch a spare moment, that’s intuitive eating. Being in tune with your body knowing that you will be hungry later if you don’t eat now.
If you are busy breastfeeding all day and while you’re breastfeeding trying to eat breakfast with one hand quickly, that is intuitive eating. Running around to after school practices and eating dinner at 8 pm is the same. It’s a temporary situation and sometimes you have to do what works for you. Be mindful of the food choices we are making when we can. There are lots of different examples that can all be a part of intuitive eating. When you learn to tap into your hunger and satisfaction cues, you learn to trust your body and that is so powerful.
Intuitive eating doesn’t mean eating “junk food” all day
Intuitive eating does not happen overnight. It takes time to learn to trust your body and to tap into hunger and satisfaction cues and to find peace with food. Many people mistake intuitive eating as meaning they can eat endless amounts of “chocolate cake” and “soda” all day. That’s not what intuitive eating is.
Intuitive eating is a balance of providing nutritious foods but also allowing dessert or other so called “forbidden” foods. It’s a process where you learn to tap into your hunger and satisfaction cues so that you eat a meal and feel satisfied instead of overeating. Being able to know when you’ve had enough of a food and how to stop yourself from eating too much. It’s also having the ability to listen when your body is craving vegetables or craving something salty.
You might be thinking what if I just want to eat sweet fatty foods all day? Try this and in fact I recommend that you do. If you are feeling like eating cake, ice cream, etc. all day, then try it and see how you feel. By the end of the day, you won’t be feeling too good and that’s where intuitive eating can come in to play.
Before you eat a food, ask yourself, how will I feel after I’ve eaten this? Why am I eating it? Do I enjoy it? How am I feeling right now? These questions help us to hone in on why it is we might be reaching for a particular food. Is it for pure enjoyment or is it due to an emotional reason such as sadness, frustration, anxiety? When we ask ourselves these questions we can better understand why we’re reaching for a particular food.
Raising intuitive eaters
Children learn by example which is why intuitive eating as parents is really helpful for children. If you teach your children to trust their bodies and minds when it comes to food, it might prevent them from ending up developing eating disorders or end up stuck in the diet mentality later in life. They will have better self-confidence and self-esteem because they trust their body enough to give it what it needs to nourish and honor it.
I could write a whole post about how talking negatively about our bodies in front of our children is hurting them. It’s setting them up for low self-esteem and leading them to diet culture and disordered eating. It’s so important to teach our kids to honor and respect the body they are given. Leave the weight talk out of discussions with your children and instead show them that our bodies are something to be cherished and respected and loved. Don’t call foods “good” or “bad” and don’t force vegetables down their throat because it will most likely teach them to not like those foods.
Cook nutritious foods for your family and provide lots of different choices so that they are getting the nutrients they need. Teach them that physical activity is fun and not “mandatory” or “punishment”. Take them to the park and let them play. Take them on walks and hikes, and dance around the house with them. Don’t feel guilty if you give your children fruit snacks for a snack instead of chopped carrots. Do what works for you.
Allow yourself time to discover what it means to make peace with food again and try putting the 10 principles of intuitive eating into action. It is not a diet it is how we were born to eat. If you want to learn more consider reading Evelyn Tribole’s book called, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works”. It is one of my favorites. And feel free to email me at [email protected]