If I try intuitive eating I’ll never stop eating cookies, cake, wine, pasta!
I have a hard time with the idea of just listening for hunger cues because I don’t trust my body’s signals.
My intuition is to eat a lot more than my body needs and the things it doesn’t need either. I’m already tuned in and aware of what I’m eating so focusing on that doesn’t help me.
These are the most common objections I hear from people who think intuitive eating won’t work for them. Comments like these tell me they haven’t read the book or are new to the framework and trying to implement it based only on what they’ve read on social media.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some great teachers on the internet but there’s only so much you can say in caption.
At first glance, intuitive eating can seem too good to be true, eat whatever you want, but only when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. This is a common misconception that eating intuitively is just the hunger/fullness diet. But just like you and most humans, our hunger and relationship with food is more complex and nuanced.
If you’re tired of tracking each bite and looking to feel peace around things like cookies, cakes, pasta, and wine, there’s a few things to understand first.
The reason intuitive eating didn’t work for you could be that:
>> You Still Have Food Rules and a Diet Mentality
We are unaware how much influence food rules and labels affect what and when we eat. It’s very hard to intuitively know when you’re hungry if you also have rules that some foods are “bad” and others are “good”. Putting moral value on food muddies the waters of really being in touch with your body. If you check in to see if you know what type and amount of energy your body needs, it’s not going to be a clear answer if you also have 10 other thoughts about what you should or shouldn’t eat
Food rules create restriction, the feeling of deprivation, and for some rebellion. Just like a child, if you tell them not to touch the button, what do they become focused on? Your brain reacts no differently to rules and regulations around certain foods, the ones off limits tend to be the ones we think about most.
If you tried intuitive eating but didn’t genuinely give yourself unconditional permission to have any food, any amount, at any time, then yes, it will feel like you’ll never stop eating the chocolate. You probably still believe that only a certain amount of ice cream is acceptable (this is still a rule) even if you’re trying to be an intuitive eater. But this belief is one of the reasons you don’t trust your body, it continues to make some foods forbidden, increasing the novelty around them.
When you still have a scarcity mindset but try to allow yourself to have the cookie, the fear of never being able to have it again may kick in. When things, especially food, have been scarce in the past, then our instinct is to hoard what we can when it’s available.
The Fix: Start by becoming aware what food rules you still have. Write down all the foods you’ve labeled off limits or need to be eaten in moderation. Then next to each one list all your current thoughts about them. Check out this handout if you’d like some guidance on how to start shifting your food rules to food peace.
>> You Still Have a Weight Loss Goal
I think this is a tough one to hear and I get it, it is not easy letting go of a weight loss goal. But it will be very hard to fully adopt intuitive eating if in the back of your mind you’re still hoping to fit into a smaller pant size. I don’t care how someone sells it, if weight loss is the goal regulating and monitoring what you eat is required and that is a form of mental and physical restriction. A major reason we feel out of control around off limit foods is the mental restriction so if true peace with food is your goal, changing your body size can’t be the focus.
Fix: Start by looking at how much of your time has been put toward thinking about food and your body. This isn’t to feel guilt or shame but to bring awareness to how you’re spending your mental energy. When you look back in 10, 20, 30 years what do you hope to reflect on, the experiences you had or the size of your clothes?
Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, every day make a note of what you appreciate about your physical body (that has nothing to do with how it looks). Then write down 1-2 things you value about yourself that is separate from your body (if this is hard at first think about what your closest friend values most about you.)
>> You’re Not Providing Your Body Adequate Fuel
Sometimes our cravings are driven by simple survival. I see this all the time with my active clients and experienced it myself. Training 5+ days a week doing a mix of endurance and HIIT demands a lot of fuel, specifically carbohydrates. If you’re not providing enough energy throughout the day and around exercise your body will increase your cravings and hunger.
I remember in my dieting days I would restrict carbs where I could but was perplexed why by 7pm I couldn’t stop at 1 square of dark chocolate. As I started healing my relationship with food I noticed this was still happening in the evening, this strong craving for chocolate.
Then I realized I was still unknowingly avoiding starchy carbs at dinner. It was an old diet rule that I forgot and was just making dinners out of routine with just a veggie and protein. Once I started adding pasta, potatoes, rice, etc to my meals I was more satisfied and had less desire for chocolate. My body was just asking for the energy I depleted during my run or bike ride.
Also, there’s nothing wrong with chocolate and I still have it most nights but now I can fully enjoy it because my body is well fueled and I can focus on the flavors and eat it in a calm way because I know I can have more tomorrow.
Fix: Start looking at your meals and snacks and see if you’re skimping on carbs or the serving size and experiment with adding more. Make sure you’re having a carbohydrate rich snack pre workout and following that with a carb and protein rich snack or meal for recovery. If you’re an endurance athlete or exercising >5 days a week, it could be helpful to meet with Sports Dietitian (like me) to help figure out your specific fueling needs.
We’re all born intuitive eaters, kids are evidence of that, what gets in the way is our cultures messaging around food and body.
But it’s very possible to get back in touch with your intuitive eating ability and the first step for most people is questioning and letting go of food rules. Once you repair your relationship with food and body, the communication and cues will be clearer.
If you truly want to feel like you and your body are on the same team, working together, intuitive eating is the way.
Let me know below, what has your experience been adopting intuitive eating?