Intuitive Eating: Is It Right for You?

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Intuitive eating – sounds like another fad, right? Actually, no. Unlike flash-in-the-pan diets, intuitive eating is a concept that relies on basic ideas of awareness and ultimately, changing your relationship with food. Through some simple steps you can reshape the way you eat and think about food – nary a ‘diet’ in sight!

Created by two busy, successful women – Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who are highly credentialed in dietetics and nutrition – the practice of intuitive eating helps you feel nourished, balanced and most importantly, satiated. Chicago’s Fitness Formula Clubs registered dietitian, Amy Silver, shares some things to consider about intuitive eating and simple steps for getting started.


What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating involves mindful eating (being present while eating and not judging your food choices in any way) and rejecting negative diet messaging to change your overall relationship with food.


What’s the easiest way to get started with intuitive eating? 

A good way to get started is to practice single-tasking your meals. This means to take a break from your busy life and just eat. Intuitive eating means limiting distractions such as work, TV or your phone to truly enjoy the food and how it makes you feel. This small step will help you to limit mindless eating and nourish your body and mind.


This sounds like a diet - does this mean I can't eat certain things?

It's actually the exact opposite of that. Intuitive eating rejects negative messages that surround food and allows all food to be consumed without judgment. If you're craving ice cream you should get your favorite ice cream, enjoy it mindfully and stop once you've been satisfied. 


If I can eat whatever I want, won't I gain weight?

In the beginning when you first reintroduce foods that were once off limits, some people do overindulge and gain weight. Over time, with the foods are no longer off limits, you'll be able to enjoy them in moderation instead of feeling like it's your last chance to have that food. 

Think back to the example in the last question: you might overindulge in your first ice cream cone, but if you begin to truly feel that it's okay to have ice cream when you crave it, you won't feel like you need to overindulge each time. The result is that over time, you'll actually consume less of these more indulgent foods.


How will I learn what foods nourish me?

Most people know intuitively which foods are nourishing or provide more nutrients. Even the most mindless eater knows that an apple has more nutrients than a doughnut. The more challenging part is to put that knowledge into practice when choosing what and how much to eat. 

While single-tasking your meals and snacks, think about how the food tastes, how the texture feels in your mouth, and how satisfied you are after the meal. I like to use a hunger scale with my clients. You should stop eating when you're satisfied, but not overly full, and meals should keep you feeling satisfied and at an even energy level for about 4 hours. This is an easy sign to make sure you were nourished properly, outside of general nutritional guidelines.


Does intuitive eating have anything to do with meditation?

Not in the way that most people think of meditation. Certainly, while eating, you are 'meditating' or mindfully thinking about the food's taste and textures. However, you don't need to follow all the typical meditation practices. That said, yoga and meditation are great ways to round out a balanced, mindful, lifestyle outside of just your eating habits.


I am a busy woman on the go –  this sounds kind of time consuming. Is it?

Initially it may take you some time to determine which foods make you feel the best and how much is enough for your body and activity levels. However, you'll actually find it's easier for you to make food choices and save time once you know which foods make you feel great.


Will this mean my meals take longer?

You will want to slow down while eating to really enjoy the foods you're feeding your body. So if you're someone who usually eats on the fly, then yes. However, once you experience the benefits of enhanced digestion, longer satisfaction, reduced stress level and overall feeling great, you won't mind the time it takes! 

One of my favorite things to remind clients is that we spend our time on what is highest on our priority list. If feeling good and treating your body well is one of your top priorities, time will need to be spent there.


I can barely remember to brush my teeth; how can I remember to eat more mindfully?

Many people will set a reminder in their phones at meal times to take time to eat, along with some questions to ask themselves while eating. For example: What food(s) or drink(s) does my body need right now? How much does my body need? How does this food taste? Halfway through the meal, how full am I? Do I need to finish this or save it for later? Just like everything else, over time this will become second nature and you won't need alarms to remind you.


I'm trying to lose weight. Will this help me?

Intuitive eating isn’t a weight loss technique; however, it often leads to weight loss in the long run for those who aren't at the current healthy weight for themselves. By slowing down eating, stopping when satisfied and eating foods that are nourishing without overindulgence, your body will be more likely to get to its healthy weight.


How will intuitive eating improve my overall health?

How will it not?! Through all the changes you'll make to become an intuitive eater, you'll enjoy more energy, better digestion, lower stress levels and an overall better relationship with food. 

Additionally, you'll be more likely to stick to healthy eating habits once you throw out negative feelings towards food, and therefore consume higher quality food more often. While no one should be perfect, eating in a quality way most of the time will also lead to improved blood sugar levels, improved cholesterol levels and more. 


Do you have any other resources you recommend on the topic of intuitive eating?

If you're interested in beginning intuitive eating, start by seeing a registered dietitian. These professionals are trained to help people know which foods will fuel their body in a positive way, and make the behavior changes necessary to follow through. For at-home learning, I also recommend the book "Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works" by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. These women started intuitive eating and are the true experts!


Amy Silver of FFC

Amy Silver is a full-time registered dietitian nutritionist at Fitness Formula Clubs in Oak Park, and is also FFC’s nutrition coordinator. She studied at Clemson University and in Augusta, Georgia, and then came home to Chicago to pursue her passion for both nutrition and fitness. Her expertise is in weight management and exercise nutrition, and she counsels people of all ages to use nutrition to reach their wellness goals. Her goal is to not only help people reach their goals, but also to sustain them for a lifetime. She's learned that by diving into intuitive eating, clients are more likely to stick with changes and love their new habits.