Our relationship with food is ever-changing and very often, extremely complex. How we eat is a direct mirror-image of how we’re treating ourselves and it’s no surprise that with our busy modern lifestyle – more often than not – our bodies get the last thought.
Childhood memories, good times and bad times, and our own individual experiences all shape our relationship with food, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. Add to this a world where we can order food in an instant – where packaged food trumps fresh and where time and money play a huge role in our decision making – we’re left with a very confusing space. We live in a society that makes healthful food choices harder than it should be and our decision making far less conscious. We all want to eat well, be at peace with our bodies and have an enriching experience with food, and we all deserve to have these things.
For some, detailed eating plans are needed to springboard change and healing. Some of us may need to follow specific eating guidelines, such as an anti-inflammatory approach, but all of us need to be better listeners to our own bodies. The key to reconnecting to your body’s innate wisdom about food is to help your body trust itself again.
Listen to your body, feed your soul
On a basic level, intuitive eating is about getting in touch with your body cues (such as hunger and fullness) and learning to trust your body when it comes to food. For many people, the traditional diet approach leads to nothing more than years of weight loss and weight gain and a negative relationship with food and their body image. Intuitive eating helps you to stop obsessing over your weight, stop binge eating, and end feelings of guilt around food. Of course, you first need to understand the basic principles of how eating intuitively actually works and how to make it work for you.
Unsurprisingly, intuitive eating is about following your own innate intuition. The focus is on tuning in to our internal cues rather than our external rules. Intuitive eating uses feelings of hunger, fullness, satisfaction, and body knowledge to dictate eating choices in the moment. Conversely, traditional diets use external factors such as nutrient counts and calories with little room for flexibility. While you can lose weight by following an intuitive eating approach, it’s not necessarily the goal. Instead, the goal is to foster a healthier, happier approach to food.
Eating intuitively slows down the pace and allows us to start feeling into our food choices. It allows us to distinguish the physical and emotional cues of hunger and acknowledge our choices in a positive, joyful way.
Whilst in theory this may sound simplistic, it does take some work to achieve. With the modern world adding layers and layers of stress and imbalance, our intuition is fighting its way through the noise. We’re all born knowing how to listen to our body’s hunger and satiety signals, but, as we go through our life, our natural intuition is blunted on so many levels. As children, we may have constantly been fed snacks, whether we were hungry or not; perhaps we were told to finish our meals even though our bodies may have been perfectly well-nourished; or we may have been rewarded with food for good behaviour. At the same time, we’ve been taught that hunger is an emergency, even though it’s a completely natural sensation, just like being tired.
Although intuitive eating may offer the alluring promise of an eat what you want approach, the reality is that the process of re-establishing (and following) your natural cues takes time to relearn and retraining our eating habits means we sometimes have to fail before we can succeed. But this mind body approach to finding peace and freedom with food and your body is a personal process that empowers you to reconnect with your own internal wisdom about eating.
The upside is that once you learn to eat intuitively, weight control often becomes infinitely easier, as your body possesses all the tools to guide you. At this point, you can easily eat only when you are truly hungry and stop when you are satisfied. This is mindful eating at its very best. It’s time to start trusting your body and feeling the freedom and enjoyment of food that comes with it.
So, how can you become a more intuitive eater? Intuitive eating is really instinct, hunger, fullness. Here are 10 powerful tools for intuitive eating and living:
Keep a food diary
To start identifying with your food habits, you need to see it, right there in front of you. You’d be surprised how many people eat a very specific thing at a certain time of the day, on automatic pilot mode. It’s only when we write it down, we realise why and can connect the dots (fatigue that hits post lunch, stress from your kids at 4pm, etc). Start a food diary and note down what you ate, why, how it made you feel and how hungry you were on a scale of 1 (ravenous) to 10 (not hungry at all). To start to understand your relationship with food you have to connect with it and seeing it on paper allows this to happen.
Start tuning in to your hunger signals
Start noting when you tend to feel hungry during the day – and more importantly, what you tend to do in those moments. Hunger is not the enemy; it’s your body’s signal for survival. Honouring your hunger with healthful food choices is an important step in building back body trust and healing your relationship with food.
Feel your satiety
Once you’ve learned how to recognise true hunger, it’s time to feel satiety. This is difficult in our modern culture which encourages eating while working, on our smartphones or on the go. To counter that, make meals “sacred time” as much as possible. Create a space free of distraction, take pleasure in setting the table mindfully in the evenings, take your seat and slow down. Research shows that eating until we are 70% full is the ideal. In the middle of your meal, pause for a few minutes before picking up your knife and fork again. Check in and see how you feel and rate your fullness – do you feel good, uncomfortable or neutral?
Practice inward eating
Bring your attention to all bodily sensations when you eat. Take something small like an olive, raisin, or a piece of dark chocolate. Engage your senses – smell it, touch it, look closely, and then put it in your mouth and keep it on your tongue for a few minutes before you start to chew, very slowly. Listen to the sound of your food nourishing your body. Notice the taste, texture and mouth feel. Develop a new-found respect for your food and allow your mind and body senses to connect deeper to it. Once you’ve tuned into these whole body sensations, see if you can sense what emotion(s) are expressed with the experience. Identifying the feelings becomes clearer with practice.
Quit the food rules
Who made the rule of breakfast, lunch and dinner with a snack at 4pm? This fixed way of eating is far from eating and living intuitively. Start to eat in-line with when you are hungry. Use your hunger scale – you had a big lunch and you’re not hungry at 7pm – do you really need a proper dinner, or something light? Eating intuitively means asking your body what it needs at any moment. It all starts with asking yourself this question and creating your own rules.
Cope with emotions without using food
Everyone eats for comfort now and then. However, connecting with your body will allow you to recognise when you are stress eating or sad eating. We need to be aware of how our emotions may cause us to make different decisions about eating. The reality is that food doesn’t fix feelings. Try instead to take a walk in nature, reach out to a trusted friend or family member, or take a few minutes to practice some breath work or meditation. The chances are that when you switch your mindset the cravings will subside and your body will tell you it’s not hungry after all.
Whole body nutrition
The whole point of intuitive eating is about either healing or cultivating a healthy relationship with food, mind and body. It’s listening to what’s going on with your whole body. This means addressing the mind body nutrition aspects of optimal health: enough sleep, stress reduction, work-life balance, movement that makes you happy, all the things you do as part of self-care and wellness.
Maintain a mindset of abundance
You are abundant. You are a living, growing organism that needs to be nourished. An abundant mindset means not telling yourself, I have to remove things from myself but rather, I need these, and only these, to be well. This approach turns the things you love into true nourishment rather than rewards or vices, giving you full control over your body and spirit. An abundant mindset tells you to enjoy greens because they give your body what it needs. This simple yet powerful mantra is a direct line to your intuition. It allows your true self to come forward in confidence so you are more readily able to listen to your body cues and sense what you need in any moment, whether that looks like a grounding walk in nature or a nutritive elixir.
Sink into the space around you
Intuition is more than listening to your body. It’s dropping into the present moment and recognising what’s around your body, the space it occupies. By sinking into the present moment you’re no longer focused on where you need to be, what you want or think you need – you can just be. Meditation, soothing breath work and movement medicine are all great ways to explore and understand the place in which your body exists. See yourself as a natural element of the world around you, put away devices whenever you can and simply exist because it feels good to and there’s no pressure telling you to be or do something.
Break away from labels
It’s human instinct to categorise. In fact, many a psychological study indicates our brain naturally desires to put things into categories, organise things and find relationships between new objects and those already stored in the brain. Imagine how good it would feel to break away from this stigma, to shift the perspective. You don’t need to state yourself as vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, or pescatarian – you don’t have to call yourself anything. Intuition is learning about your body and how it reacts to different things. My own journey has been about discovering how different foods and life experiences make me feel. I now consciously connect my mind and body and continue to listen to internal mechanisms. Just as women “know” they are pregnant before seeing a physician, no doctor, or expert can lead you completely. You are your own expert.
Ultimately, listening to your body and figuring out what works for you is the key to intuitive eating and living. Listen to what draws you and by following it, life will begin to align with you. Once you begin to unlock your intuition, trust it, follow and sharpen it. It will always be there for you to access and once you do, it provides the most profound experiences in life. We are all born with this internal wisdom. We just need to listen to it. You might be surprised at how much of your life opens up when you start trusting your body – and yourself.
"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill. Where the two worlds touch The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep." - Rumi