Burnout Recovery Spectrum video course: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/burnout-recovery-spectrum-later/
Learn more about 1:1 coaching with me: https://urbanjane.co/work-with-me/
Macro Coaching for Reverse Dieting and Healthy Body Composition Change: https://urbanjane.co/macro-coaching-with-kersten/
Book your Solution Session: https://urbanjane.co/the-solution-session/
Precision Nutrition Plate Method: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/pn-my-plate
“I Don't Know How To Eat Now!” – how to eat after you've recovered: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-f-PBuGM2no
Is Intuitive Eating Right For You After Burnout Recovery?
Firsts off, when I talk about intuitive eating in this post and video, I don't refer to the book Intuitive Eating. I am using these words in more general way, referring to eating to “what our bodies tell us to eat”.
Intuitive eating can work perfectly if we know how to do it right. My mom for example has always been an intuitive eater. As far as I remember, she has never dieted (I'm lucky, I know!) but if we don't know what just eat intuitively means, it can be a hard thing to do. In addition, it may be very hard to achieve more specific goals by just eating intuitively.
So just eat according to your bodies' needs may not be the most helpful thing to hear for everyone. “Eat anything you want whenever you want and however much you want” is confusing for many.
5 Steps To Take If You Feel Like Intuitive Eating Doesn't Help You
Today I want to bring you 5 steps that you can start taking if you're finding that you don't know how to eat intuitively or if eating intuitively doesn't give you the results you want to get.
Before we get to these steps, I want to give you little bit of my backstory.
I ate intuitively for about 3 years after Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery.
What I noticed within the first year after recovery was that I continued to gain weight, and a year after I had gotten my first recovery period, I was bigger than right after recovery. Nothing bad or wrong about it if it doesn't bother you, but it did bother me a bit.
I was gaining weight because I had learned some habits during recovery… Snacking randomly, sometimes eating fro-yos for dinner, some days 2 protein bars a day, frequent chocolate bars, cookies, maybe 2 real full meals and the rest snacking, etc. This was what I intuitively wanted and this is what I listened to.
Look, I'm not saying that eating fro-yo is a bad thing, but looking back, I know it happened too frequently for me.
I didn’t want to continue eating this way. Not because it made me a bad person, but I didn’t want to gain more weight when it wasn’t necessary. Your weight gain doesn’t stop just because your period came back. If you continue eating more than you burn, you keep gaining weight. In some cases, it may be necessary because getting your period back doesn’t always mean that all systems in the body are healed. But in my case, I was really healthy otherwise, so there was really no reason for me to continue to gain weight.
I started to realize that intuitive eating alone wasn’t going to help be feel better and lighter so I started taking some steps to change this. I’m sharing them with you too, in case you want to try them out as well.
Step 1: Becoming More Aware Of Your Eating
The first step was awareness. I was noticing that sometimes I would eat my favorite snacks just because they were there, or bought them out of the habit and scarcity mindset. I would even open a bag of chips and eat them in the car even though I'm not even a big fan of chips.
I started bringing more awareness to my eating. Instead of mindlessly grabbing a handful of whatever snacks, I started asking myself if I really want it. If I did, I would have it, and if I didn’t, I would not have it. It was hard and of course, the answers were not always clear… Sometimes I would still eat it even though I didn't want it. I'm sure we've all had this experience when we weren't even thinking about cookies but after smelling them, we all of a sudden want them.
I started paying more attention to my hunger and fullness. I also started asking myself: Am I full or still hungry? Is it time to put the food away or do I need more?
I also started practicing eating a few bites of something, then putting it away and seeing 10-15 minutes later if I still want it. If I did, I had it, but a lot of times I found that I didn’t want it until later in the day or even the next day.
Step 2: Brining Back the Veggies & Proteins
During the Burnout recovery, the focus of our meals is often on carbs and fats. The reason is easy: These are the macros that most of us have restricted. I often say that probably about 75% of women who apply to work with me have been on a low carb diet for a period of time. The other group of women, and that was me too, are the ones who have heavily restricted fats.
Carbohydrates are really important for the thyroid function and if we cut them off, it’s almost sure that our thyroid stops producing enough hormones. Even if the TSH, which is most commonly tested, is okay, the conversion between T4 and T3 may be off. And when this conversion is off, our metabolism doesn't work properly and periods start getting wonky too.
When we don’t eat fats, then our hormone production will be low.
During recovery, we focus a lot on calories. Many people don't really care about where the calories come from, and eat anything. Many people cut their vegetables really low to make room for real calories. I totally get this because if we load our plates with veggies only, we’re probably not getting enough calories and it's going to be very hard to recover.
So because during recovery the emphasis has been on carbs, fats and calories, we’ve forgotten about the proteins and veggies. This was the next change I made in addition to becoming more aware of my eating habits: I started eating more vegetables and protein.
What that does is filling you up more, because protein is the most satiating macronutrient. It makes you feel full so you naturally decrease your calories a bit. Vegetables are rich in fibre and water, and for that reason, fill you up more too.
That’s why when you bump up the veggies and protein, you likely naturally decrease your caloric intake.
I started seeing a little shift in the way I looked. These first two steps helped me to feel a bit better because I think I stopped gaining weight, at least I wasn't gaining noticeably anymore.
Step 3: The Plate Method
Next step that you can take, if you find that intuitive eating doesn’t really work for you, is to start using the Plate Method the way that is described in Precision Nutrition program.
This method describes a simple way to put together a plate, using your hand to roughly measure the portions: One palm size protein, one cupped hand size carbs, one thumb size fat, and one fist size of vegetables. If you have that three times a day, and have a few healthy snacks in between, you are doing really well.
To be honest, I never made a specific effort to plate my food this way. I think it's a great tool, but I simply didn’t think about it as specifically when I was working on all this. However, I definitely see how this is a really great way of eating enough and eating in a balanced way without weighing and measuring your foods if you don’t want to!
I often recommend this method for my clients and often even for those who may not have resumed their periods yet, with a caveat that they can always eat more if they want more, and that they should not rely heavily on veggies because if they do it's hard to get the real calories in that are needed for recovery.
What about fun foods? You can have them. We all have cravings at times and especially those who are in the Healing phase, so it’s important that we let ourselves to have those foods, but in general I believe that we should focus on whole, real, nutritious foods.
Many people find that if they only listened to their intuition, that intuition would not tell them to have a palm size portion of protein but maybe a huge pasta bowl with no protein on it whatsoever. And it would be great to finish this meal with a slice or two of cake. And there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want and if it makes you happy and feel good, but also if you’ve found that eating this way doesn’t make you feel good, or you are past recovery and don’t want to add any more weight it’s worth it to give the Plate Method a try.
Step 4: Calories and Protein
For me, the next step after increasing protein and veggies and becoming more aware of my choices, was to tip my toes into macro tracking.
Macro tracking isn’t for everyone because it can be strict and time consuming, and may be triggering for some. For me, it started out with simply protein and calorie tracking.
In March, my friend and coach helped me to come up with a plan for this. We looked at my 7 day average calories and based on that, created a small deficit and calculated my macros. When I got started, I only looked at my protein first and wanted to hit that, for two reasons: I wanted to look leaner, and I wanted to get stronger. I did follow the calorie numbers as much as I could but I let the fats and carbs fall wherever they and I treated them pretty much interchangeably. I also didn’t track any vegetables.
And this was a nice easy way to get started with macros. It didn’t feel too restrictive which had been my question mark going in to it. I wanted to hit my protein and calories, which was enough for me on the fist few months to see results.
Is this intuitive eating? No, not in its traditional sense. In a way yes in that I ate what I wanted — but I was definitely looking at my portions closer because I wanted to hit my protein and roughly hit my calories (I went over many times if I was still hungry!). And I always respect my hunger. I also ate out occasionally (and still do) even though I didn’t know the macros.
This is how you know that your mindset is healthy and you're ready to pursue some weight loss — you know that you won't get too obsessed with it, and so that you can still eat out.
Step 5: Macro Tracking
I had learned from protein tracking that I had to eat more protein than I normally would, so that had been a useful experience.
About 5 months after I started tracking my protein and calories, I enrolled in the macro tracking program myself because I saw that it works and that I was able to do it with no problems.
I now started making more changes and trying to hit the carbs and fats little more accurately. This is what I’m doing now. I know that this is not for everyone but honestly, it only gets as obsessive as you let it get. The way I do it is this: I do my best and get as close to my numbers as possible, but I also don’t panic if things don’t go the way my macros say 🙂 My goal is to live my life and enjoy it, not to eat perfectly.
So, Is Intuitive Eating A Good Idea After Burnout Recovery?
So, what about intuitive eating then? It can be a great tool for some, and not very helpful for others. I know that as I continued intuitive eating, I also continued gaining weight during the first year after recovery, and I was feeling little sluggish. I didn't need more weight for health.
There are many steps between eating intuitively and logging every single food item you eat. It’s a spectrum.
Awareness is an important thing for everyone.
The Plate Method is a very good guideline for everyone too.
If you’re ready for more change, them some kind of tracking might be helpful.
And even this is not forever. The idea is that after a period of tracking, you’ve learned what it takes to feel good and achieve your goals, and you’re able to do it without tracking or logging everything.