Someone told me recently: I'm eating really intuitively now! Today, I had 15 almonds and 15 M&M's after my meal!
To me, it doesn't sound very intuitive. If you somehow figured out after eating that you really had exactly 15 M&M's, no more and no less, then yes, maybe. But if you counted 15 pieces out from a bag, you probably decided for whatever reason (number of calories maybe?) that this number is good. It wasn't your intuition.
Eating 15 almonds and 15 M&M's might be a great step forward though! If you used to be afraid of foods like this, or you used to be on a diet where this kind of things were out of question, then eating them again is a great improvement.
However, it's still not intuitive.
Here's how you know you're actually eating intuitively:
You're Not Counting Anything
When you're eating intuitively, you don't count calories, macros, weigh and measure foods. I think it's important to get all three macronutrients at each meal and make sure the food is good in quality, but weighing and tracking isn't necessary for most people who don't have very specific needs (like elite athletes, body builders etc) and who just want to look and feel healthy.
Eyeballing your portions should be a good enough strategy to figure out how much food you should put on your plate: about palm size protein, thumb size fat, a cupped hand size of carbs, fist size veggies are good general guidelines for women. Double all these amounts if you're a man.
Even these are not “rules” that you should always follow, no matter what. If you worked out hard and one fist size portion of rice is not going to cut it, eat more! If the full palm-size piece of meat feels too much today, go ahead, save some for later–no need to force it.
These guidelines should give you an idea of how much you'll likely need to eat. With this approach, we're taking a huge step away from counting calories, grams of carbs, fat percentages and other numbers, and take a huge step closer to intuitive eating.
You're Not Staring at the Clock Between the Meals
We may have told that the “right way” to eat is to snack every 2 or 3 hours.
It may work for some, but not others. Our metabolisms are different.
But even though snacking often may work for some metabolisms, it can mess up our minds, and living by the clock that often goes hand in hand with frequent eating, is definitely not intuitive. In very many cases, staring at the clock to see when you should, or are allowed to, have your next meal, is too stressful. By doing that, we often can't hear our bodies' signals and all we live by is our clock.
Isn't it strange that we let the most recent diet (or our personal trainer, a friend who has had good results eating at certain hours) to tell what time we should eat? Shouldn't we know it better?
Maybe we're told that we need to eat at 9 and then 12, but what if we aren't hungry by 12? Should we force it still? Or should we have smaller meal at 9, just because that way we can be hungry by 12? See how much brain work all of this takes. Deciding when to eat, changing the schedule, possibly measuring and re-measuring portion sizes to be hungry by the “right” time but at the same time, not overly full…
Not intuitive at all. And in most cases, not sustainable.
Eating by the clock also means that we arrange our lives around eating. But eating should support our other activities, not the other way around. Religiously staring at the clock to be sure to eat at the “right” time is as stressful as weighing foods and counting calories.
You're Not on a Diet
If we're on a diet, it's pretty clear that we don't eat intuitively. Diets always come with a set rules that we're supposed to follow and tell us exactly what to eat and what not to eat.
You can search for crash diets on Google and find the most ridiculous diets that you've never hear of. In a way, it's entertaining to see how creative some people are, but at the same time, it's worrying that there are so many people who actually try them.
On that list, there were things like apple diet, grapefruit diet, cabbage soup diet… None of those diets have anything to do with intuition. I don't think it's anyone's intuition to eat tons of apples or grapefruit for days.
Of course, we all have our personal preferences. Some of us naturally gravitate towards foods that are higher in fat or carbs, some of us don't like the taste of meat and others crave more fruit. That's all alright if that's what our intuition really tells us to eat. But if our eating ends up being only chasing numbers or depriving us from foods that we really want to have, that's not intuitive.
Should Everyone Eat Intuitively?
I think it at the end of the day, it should be our goal to eat intuitively, but I also understand that there are cases when some counting, measuring and following more specific guidelines are needed.
For example, if a person has had an eating disorder, like anorexia, she may have lost absolutely every connection to her body. If she's also really underweight, measuring foods is helpful to understand better how much she should eat to recover.
Following her intuition isn't going to help, because there just isn't such thing as intuition anymore. Or, it can be misunderstood, because the person thinks it's her intuition that tells her not to eat anything.
The same is true for those who have absolutely no idea about nutritional values of foods and who have never paid any attention to healthy eating. They may have zero idea why they keep gaining weight and feeling terrible. For them, it can be helpful to learn how to make better choices when their intuition tells them to reach for fast food, and explain them what are the reasons that they feel like crap after eating junk food.
Elite athletes may need to keep a close eye on their nutrition, because it affects their performance a lot. Especially for endurance athletes, it can sometimes to be hard to eat enough to support their performance, so calorie and macro tracking can be helpful. And of course, there are sports like powerlifting, where you have to be at a certain weight to be able to compete in a certain category.
But most people who know the basics about nutrition and know how to eat healthfully most of the time, should find the intuitive eating most relaxing way to eat. Our daily calorie and macronutrient needs can vary every day. Plus, there are always cravings, which should be respected–neglecting them all the time may eventually lead to binge eating.
In my experience, intuitive eating is the most freeing and relaxing way to eat. By eating healthy foods most of the time, also my intuition gravitates towards healthier foods. But my intuition definitely tells me to eat chocolate and other treats too.
It's really liberating to actually follow the intuition and eat according to that. Our bodies know what it want and let us know. Intuitive eating is freeing for the mind too, because it saves us a lot of time we'd otherwise spend on tracking, counting, measuring and stressing about food rules.
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