Inspiring success stories: https://urbanjane.co/testimonials/
Work with me: https://urbanjane.co/work-with-me/
FREE 5 day course on BURNOUT recovery spectrum (you need this!!) https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/burnout-recovery-spectrum-later/
Simple Strength For Women: A Bodyweight Strength Training Program for Women After Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Recovery: https://kersten-kimura.teachable.com/p/simple-strength-for-women
Is Your Metabolism Slow? FREE guide to faster metabolism: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/slow-metabolism/
How to Eat to Get Your Period Back: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/how-to-eat-for-ha/
5 Tips to Reverse Overtraining Quickly: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/overtraining-recovery-new/
Your Fit Personality Quiz: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/fit-personality/
Nicole Jardim's Fix Your Period program (affiliate link): https://nicolejardim.com/programs/?oprid=14189&ref=168736
Glucometer that I use to check my blood sugar (affiliate link): https://amzn.to/2CjLwI1
Why “Just Listen To Your Body” Isn't Helpful Advice
Sometimes people say: You don't have to do anything special, just listen to your body and eat what it tells you! Stop when you're full, eat again when you get hungry. Easy as that?
Cool! That's actually what my husband who has never had an eating disorder, told me when I asked him how he decides what and how much to eat. But someone who has had an eating disorder, may not have any idea what that looks like, because
- She has never had an experience with that. For many people, disordered eating starts very early on, so the last time she actually ate intuitively was maybe in their childhood.
- She has always had a plan to follow. Without any structure or guidelines at all, she doesn't even know where to start.
- She has a lot of fear around food. Because she has always followed rules, she has also had lists of good foods and bad foods. She's afraid that if she breaks a “rule”, she's bad. And if there's no rules, what if eating anything makes her “bad”?
The Diet Spectrum
You know that I like talking about spectrum, because most things are a spectrum! You can learn about my burnout recovery spectrum here, and understand what you have to do to start feeling better and fully recover.
Similarly, there's a diet spectrum.
On one end of the spectrum is the Strict Plan eating. On the opposite side, there's the No Structure eating. What's in between, is Intentional Eating, what I'm going to discuss today.
Strict, Rule Based Diet
Let's first look at the first end of the spectrum, which is the Strict, Rule Base Diet. This is what many of us have followed. Here are some things that describe this way of eating:
- Prescribed number of calories
- Prescribed number of each macros
- Lists of “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong” foods
- Specific eating times.
No Structure Diet
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the No Structure Diet. When I say diet here, I mean the way of eating — not rules. Because No Structure Diet has no rules. Here's what describes this way of eating:
- No specific calorie numbers, even no estimates or rough guidelines
- No specific macro numbers, even no estimates or rough guidelines
- No “good” or “bad” lists, but often also no attention on nutritionally higher and lower value foods
- No specific eating times — eat whenever you like.
Both of these ways of eating have their upsides and downsides. Let's look at them next:
Upsides and Downsides of the Strict, Rule Based Diet
Here are the upsides of the Strict, Rule Based Diet:
- They can help you achieve your physique goal
- They help you manage health conditions (allergies, intolerances etc)
- They give us the sensation of “being on track” which many people enjoy
Here are the downsides of the Strict, Rule Based Diet:
- They can create restrictive behaviors, potentially causing food obsessions
- If the plan is too strict/not right for you, can lead to eating too low calories, or not get enough macro- or micronutrients
- Time consuming
Upsides and Downsides of the Strict, No Structure Diet
Here are the upsides of the No Structure Diet:
- Relaxed mindset, food is not causing fear or obsession
- Can help understanding your body's needs, because foods are not off limits
- Less chance of creating eating disorders or disordered eating
Here are the downsides of the No Structure Diet:
- Hard to reach any goals (physique or health related)
- May be harder to eat the right amount — over or under eating can be common
- May be harder to get all the important nutrients to feel great – protein is a common example
- May feel “all over the place” with food
- Irregular eating patterns — some days over eating, some days under eating
Intentional Eating: Combining Best From The Both Worlds
As you see, there are a lot of positive things about both of these ways of eating. Intentional eating is the grey area between these two. At the end of the day, the goal is to feel good and have enough energy so we can live our life the fullest, right?
If you have certain goals, for example building more muscle, keeping chronic illness at bay, or recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea — intentional eating is the best way to achieve them.
Next, we're talking about what Intentional Eating can do for you, and finally, how to start eating intentionally.
Intentional eating can help you…
Achieve Your Goals
It's no secret that getting our diet right is the most important thing if we want to see a change. Even if these changes are completely opposite!
Here's an example: If you want to build muscle and look leaner, you will have to eat a certain way, to achieve that. Of course, you have to exercise a certain way too, but diet is still the number one thing that helps you achieve that.
On the other hand, you may have a completely opposite goal which is to recover from burnout (that includes overtraining and under eating), and you may have to actually gain weight to get better.
We have to be intentional with our eating, regardless of our goal.
For example, in the first case, you really want to emphasize protein intake. To build muscle, you need building material. Protein, and to some extent, carbs, will help with that. Your body won't start putting on muscle magically if you keep eating the same way you did before.
In the second case, you want to increase overall calories. Some women have asked me if they can just eat intuitively to recover from burnout. You may be able to do that, but more often than not, women who have been under eating have lost their hunger signals so if they relied only on their intuition, they would continue to under eat, and keep waiting for their symptoms to get better.
If you have your intention in place, actually achieving your goals is much more likely.
Regulate Your Blood Sugar
Blood sugar regulation is important. If you doubt it, I don't blame you… I didn't think it's that important either. I used to eat all sorts of sweets (especially during and after my Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery) and not feel terrible. I didn't feel the blood sugar ups and downs.
But it wasn't until I started tracking my blood sugar and realized that mine actually does swing up and down quite a bit! I've shared this before, but I'm so passionate about it that I do it again: After learning about foods that spiked my blood sugar up really high, and then significantly reducing or even eliminating some of these foods, my period pains completely went away.
Look, my goal is not to scare you, but I am saying that sugar can really affect our hormones, as was my case. It may not be like this for everyone, and I don't encourage becoming obsessive with avoiding sugar, but it's worth taking a look at your consumption. I am eating something sweet most days, but I generally don't eat regular sugar; I do like Lily's stevia sweetened chocolate bars and chips, and I do have some protein bars, and I like homemade baked goods. I just don't make them with regular sugar.
I don't think that everyone should use a glucometer to track their blood sugar, but if you have period issues such as super painful or super irregular periods, tracking it may help to find out the foods that aren't the best fit for you. I use this glucometer. I highly recommend Nicole Jardim's Fix Your Period program that helped me to figure out the root cause of my pain. I followed the Fix Your Period Track 2 course (this is an affiliate link).
Balanced blood sugar can also help sleep better, if you happen to wake up at night a lot!
It's obvious how intentional eating can help if you want to keep your blood sugar in check. If you are intentional about your eating, your blood sugar will be more stable. If you don't pay any attention to it (like I did in the past), it will likely not be in check quite as nicely…
Being intentional about blood sugar means prioritizing healthy whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats and healthy carbohydrates. It also means being moderate with high sugar foods, pairing your high carb foods with protein and fat, and having treats as a little sprinkle-in, not main meals.
Manage Your Weight
I know that this is a controversial topic but I stick with myself when I say that there are people whose health and wellbeing would benefit from weight loss. I am not talking about self-worth here, and how many people tie that to their weight. I am talking about the fact that there are plenty of people whose quality of life would improve if they lost some weight.
Intentional eating helps people to understand what foods consist of, understand about calories, what each macronutrient does for the body, and so on. We cannot deny that there's real value in education. No, we don't have to be nutrition scientists or experts to eat well.
Intentional eating helps to achieve that.
And even if you aren't overweight but simply want to change your body and lose some body fat, intentional eating can help you do that.
People argue that calorie tracking and macro counting are too obsessive and mess up our relationships with food. But not always. The problem happens when we start attaching emotions and good or bad labels to tracking. On the other hand, if we're able to track for a week and look at our foods, calories and macros just as plain data, this can be a really valuable tool to manage your weight if it's needed and appropriate.
Note that I do not recommend tracking if you have an eating disorder if your goal is to still make sure you don't eat over a certain number. Also, if you had an eating disorder in the past and you feel like tracking can turn into an obsession again, please do not do it.
I didn't want to hear anything about tracking for years. Now, I've found it a valuable tool, and I do use it.
We have to stop doing random diets and figure out what foods work for us and what not so much. We also have to learn about our personal preferences so we don't give up the foods we really love (which is what many diets want us to do).
Only then can we become what dr Jade Teta calls, our own metabolic detectives.
When we eat foods that work for our body, at intervals that work for our body, and quantities that are right for us, then we feel good. Of course, these things can change! Two eggs and bacon may be a really good breakfast for you now, but maybe you increase your workouts and you find that this doesn't give you quite the same energy, so you have to switch it around.
But the idea is that intentional eating helps us to feel good and have sustained energy most of the time.
How To Start Intentional Eating
Here are some tips that help you get started with the basics of intentional eating:
Roughly Follow the Plate Method
Here's a great resource from Precision Nutrition:
Most of your meals for women should consist of roughly one palm sized portion of protein, one fist size portion of veggies, 1 cupped hand portion of carbs, and a thumb size portion of fat.
After your workouts, your food should look slightly different: 1/2 of your plate is good to have veggies, 1/2 protein, and this meal should be lower in fat. Not fat-free, but lower in fat, so that you can properly absorb the protein and carbs. Precision Nutrition also recommends that the post-workout meal is the largest meal of the day.
If you're a vegan, most of your meals should consist of 1/2 plate of veggies, 1/4 plate of protein, 1/8 plate starches, 1/8 of fat.
Most people get most of their needs met when they follow these guidelines. You don't avoid any macros, the way most diets do. You don't extremely over-empahsize one at the expense of the other. Of course, you can adjust everything one you have tried this approach out. Maybe you found yourself hungry sooner than you expected, then you may have to add protein. Maybe you found yourself with low energy — you may have to increase your carbs, especially if you're active.
Eating regularly is important if you want to become an intentional eater. If you have no clue how often you should eat, start out by eating 3 meals and a few snacks a day. Again, we want to keep the blood sugar stable and also avoid hanger. And I hope you already know that skipping meals is not the way to your dream body but comes with price!
So, after eating 3 meals and a few snacks, you start understanding what your body really needs and maybe change it later. And that, too, can be different during the different times of our lives. During the quarantine when I spent all my days at home, mostly working from my computer and leaving the house just for walks, I realized that I really didn't care much for a big lunch. I ate a large breakfast, then had a small shake or a snack, and then bigger dinner again.
Now that life is back to normal, I find myself eating lunch again.
These observations should be for your own knowledge, not for restricting foods or doing what someone else is doing!
Keep a Food Log For A While
Before taking this step, read again what I mentioned before about eating disorders. If you find this tip triggering, don't do it.
Everyone else — this can be an eye opening experience. Again, look at your food log as data.
Some of my clients figured out that the reason why they woke up hungry at night was that their dinner was either too early, or had barely any fat or carbs in it. Adding a bedtime snack changed that.
Another one didn't know why she was sometimes farting a lot… After logging her food for a while, she realized that it happened only on days when she made herself a whey protein shake…
My colleague at the chiropractic clinic found that she was eating only 1100 calories a day! I'm not sure how that's even possible… But that's what happened, and this was the exact reason why she felt so tired.
So, food log definitely has its benefits.
Don't Try To Be Too Perfect
There's a good chance that you're a Type A person who wants to do everything perfectly.
But don't apply this to intentional eating. This is not another diet, this is not a set of rules. Rather, see it as a set of guidelines that help you look and feel your best.
In the dieting world, rules are rules and if you break them, you feel ashamed of yourself and run an extra hour to get rid of the guilt.
With intentional eating, there are no rules. Follow the guidelines most of the time, but don't let it become obsessive.
Remember, the goal was to feel good, not worse. Be dedicated, but relaxed at the same time.
Intentional eating can be very helpful for you if you don't ever want to go back to dieting, but you also don't like having absolutely no structure with your eating. If you figure out what your gaols are, and then put together a game plan — which is a set of guidelines, not rules — your eating becomes much easier.
What is your intention when it comes to eating?
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I like the term intentional! It’s so balanced, which is the message you’ve been trying to share.
Kersten Kimura says
Thank you Sarah! I’m glad it was useful!