Ep 50: How to Eat Intuitively
Here is the question I’m basing today’s episode on: “What does it actually mean to eat intuitively? I have listened to at least 10 of your podcasts (Stephanie) but I'm still not sure what to DO. I haven't changed anything yet. I'm not looking for quick weight loss, but I also feel like I need to make some sort of changes to keep up with my slowing metabolism.”
Note: there is more in this question than I can cover in one episode. I’d love to address the slowing metabolism piece but I’ll have to save that for another day. Let’s focus on what it actually means to eat intuitively, and what to actually DO.
If you’ve listened to more than one episode of this podcast, I desperately hope you’ve gotten more than a few nice ideas. I hope you’ve heard several action steps you can take. If you haven’t heard them, it’s not because I haven’t given them - it’s because they may be packaged in an unfamiliar way, or in a way you don’t understand as taking action.
“Tell me what to actually DO” is a really common question asked of people who teach this approach of anti-diet, body positivity, food confidence, intuitive eating. What the person is really asking is, “Give me a list of foods and amounts I can eat them in. Tell me exactly what to do, every day, until I get the body I want. Put me on a diet.”
Because you’ve been conditioned to expect diet rules, you’re practically begging for them - even from those of us who are trying to open your eyes to a new way.
So if you’re looking for a start to finish, here’s exactly what to do podcast or blog post or anything, you’ll never find that with intuitive eating. Because it’s not that simple. Eating, and your relationship with food, is not simple. Anyone who tries to sell you the idea that it is, that there is an easy or quick solution to fixing all your issues with food, is flat out lying to you.
Your relationship with food is as complex as your relationship with a child or a spouse. You would never go to a marriage counselor or a parenting expert and say, “Tell me exactly what to do, in every foreseeable situation. I need to know exactly what to say. Give me a script for how to create this relationship and I’ll follow it.” That would be insane, right? You would never expect that.
And yet you do expect that of non-diet nutrition professionals. You expect to be handed the stone tablets from on high dictating to you in exact detail every food scenario and how to handle that. Bad news, guys - there are no stone tablets for food. There is no definitive, step-by-step, “tell me exactly what to do every day” rule book on how to become a confident, competent eater. If you’re waiting for me, or anyone else, to send you a downloadable checklist with everything you need to know before you get started, then sister, get comfortable, because you’re going to be waiting a LONG time.
I want to say - with so much love and respect - that your request is unreasonable and completely impossible. Nobody will ever, until the end of time, be able to dictate to you exactly what, when, or how much to eat. Because nobody will ever, until the end of time, inhabit your exact body. Only YOU know how to live in YOUR body. Only you get the privilege of learning how to best be you.
Learning to eat intuitively is incredibly complex. It takes time, practice, patience, retraining your thoughts, undoing old patterns, and deep reservoirs of self-compassion.
I want to tell you what it means to eat intuitively and why it takes so much practice. Let me first define what is NOT intuitive eating: dieting. Dieting is not intuitive eating - they are opposites. So let me define dieting.
You know what dieting is, or you think you do. You’ve probably been on a diet before. Food restriction, right? Eating less, creating a caloric deficit. The dictionary says that the verb “diet” means to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.
My definition of dieting is any attempt to change eating patterns / behaviors with the purpose of altering the look / size of your body.
Diet culture prioritizes numbers above well-being. A non-diet approach prioritizes well-being above numbers. I’m interested in helping you improve how you feel - not how you look or how much you weigh.
In a nutshell, dieting happens because we have guilt or shame about our bodies, so we try to make that go away by micromanaging our food. We restrict our food in some way to fix the imperfections we perceive in our appearance.
Dieting can be counting calories, cutting out food groups, eating clean, counting macros, intermittent fasting, undereating, tightly restricting portion size, eating only certain foods, tightly controlling the amounts of certain macronutrients (like carbs or fat), and more. It looks all sorts of different ways, but at the root it’s all the same.
Now I want to be clear that if you love to diet or you are a person who sells or promotes dieting, I’m not mad at you and I don’t think that everyone necessarily needs to think the same way. What I think is important is that if you who are listening feel frustrated with your history of food and dieting, that you understand what is dieting and what is not. People are welcome to count macros if they want - that’s great. Let’s just call it what it is. What I think is irresponsible, and a little bit dishonest, is to confuse everyone by teaching them to diet and at the same time saying, “This is not dieting!” If you want to diet, go for it. Just be aware that dieting is what you are doing, and be honest with yourself or your clients about it.
If you’re trying to manipulate your body weight through your food, you’re dieting. And again, you are welcome to do that, but please know that it counts as dieting. If you’re wanting to get off the diet train, that’s what I’m here to help you do. Not to give you a new and improved diet, but to help you see the possibility of never doing that again.
Of tapping out of the game of constantly hating your body. Of calling a truce with yourself, making peace with your body and with food, and just in general learning to chill out. I want you to know that’s an option. It’s a great option. Again, it’s not for everyone and I’m not angry at people that think this is crazy.
But if you’re looking for a different solution to the stress you have around food, it doesn’t have to involve a new formula around food. It can mean opting out of the game entirely and realizing that focusing all your energy on the size and shape of your body is a choice that you have made up to this point. It’s not essential, it’s not the only way.
The alternative is to stop seeking outside of yourself for someone to tell you what to eat, and instead start figuring out how to develop your OWN confidence and competence with food.
THAT’S what this podcast is about, that’s what my mission is. It’s not to tell you to eliminate processed foods or sugar or teach you how to micromanage your metabolism or trick your body into dropping “extra pounds.”
I want to show you how to find space in your life for things that matter so much more than your appearance, to feel confident in your ability to take care of yourself, and to feel relaxed about food and all your food decisions.
With that said, now that I’ve defined dieting and also gone off on a bit of a tangent, let me define what intuitive eating is.
Intuitive eating is eating without following rules or guidelines around food. It’s being able to disregard things like “No eating after 7pm” or “x number of grams of protein in a day” and instead allow yourself to eat when you’re hungry.
Intuitive eating is learning to balance nourishment and satisfaction with your food intake. This means acknowledging that yes, eating foods that give your body fuel, nutrients, and energy is important. It’s learning to do this in a way that feels good. And it’s also giving yourself permission to eat treats and foods you love, simply because you love and enjoy them.
It’s learning to honor your hunger signals and eating when your hungry. It’s learning to recognize and consistently respect your fullness signals without feeling a need to compulsively overeat.
It’s expanding your emotional toolbox so that eating is not your go-to emotional response.
It’s learning to take care of yourself in every way - physically, emotionally, and mentally - and trusting that you’ve got your own back.
It’s the ability to go into any eating situation and make a decision based on what feels good right then.
It’s being able to zoom out and see the big picture of your relationship with food and not getting too hung up on any one eating episode, but also being able to be present and aware of how each individual food choice impacts you.
It’s building up a nice big collection of positive eating experiences so that food becomes fun, positive, and relaxing.
It’s learning to trust yourself. It’s setting boundaries. It’s learning to move your body in a way that feels joyful.
It’s eating regularly, consistently, and adequately and trusting that your body will make up for any mistakes in eating.
It’s respecting your body, regardless of its size or appearance, and trusting your body to handle your weight and all the behind-the-scenes body stuff and knowing that your job is to take care of yourself - period.
Intuitive eating is huge. It’s complex. It takes time. It’s highly personal. It’s a process of leaving behind the noise of the world that tells you your body isn’t good enough, and learning to come home to yourself. It’s a journey of learning self-compassion, respect, gentleness, presence, awareness, and love. It’s practicing these things, over and over and over and over again.
Hopefully you see why this isn’t something I can answer succinctly in a direct message on Instagram. I know I didn’t even do it justice in the time I’ve taken.
But I want to say this - the journey of learning to trust myself and developing my confidence around food has quite literally changed my life. Not just my food life - my WHOLE life.
If you are brave enough to embark on this process, with all the unknowns and question marks and uncertainties, to even just take one step toward eating intuitively, you will find that it spills over and affects you in ways you’d never imagine. You’ll start to see the world differently. Your other relationships - like your marriage, with your children, with friends - will start to change for the better.
Our relationship with food has the power to color our whole lives, for good or for bad. You probably know this already, if you’re listening to this podcast.
If you’re feeling like your relationship with food is a negative piece in your life, I invite you to take a step toward self-trust and see what happens. There is no mandatory first step - there is no prerequisite to becoming an intuitive eater. Just start somewhere - wherever calls to you.
Start by setting positive intentions. Start by speaking to yourself with more respect. Start by committing not to diet ever again and figuring out what that would even look like. Start by opening up to a blank page in your journal and writing down your own food and body autobiography. Start by asking yourself the question, “What do I want to do with my life?”
It doesn’t matter. Start somewhere - start anywhere. Stop waiting to know exactly what to do and just START.
Thanks so much for listening, and I’ll talk to you next week!