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Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating: What, When, and Why!?

What is it?

The idea of intuitive eating, in my opinion, would suggest following regular hunger signaling, eating to satiety, focusing on quality food sources right in micronutrients aka not using this as a means to eat like an a**hat, and then going about your business until the next time hunger strikes.

This sounds like a simple thing, yet many different interpretations exist. Cravings are not the same, in my opinion, and tend to be emphasized when talking about intuitive eating, but, I will save that topic for another time.

As I didn't want to limit this post to my own definition, I wanted to get other opinions on intuitive eating. It's important for me to disclose that my interpretation is reflective of my area of work, therefore I reached out to some RD's to get THEIR definitions to share with you. Here are some of the answers I received (swipe)

"Personally, I define IE a being mindful with your food, making sure you are eating a variety of foods to meet micronutrients, listening to your hunger cues/eating when you are hungry, not necessarily restricting but also not eating like an a**hole LOL" -Aliza S. RD

"I would define it as a framework to help people with disordered eating/ED. Its learning how to completely heal from an ED. To get away from any triggers and focus on fixing their mindset and not focusing on weight at all. It’s unlearning diet behaviors, getting over food fears, getting in tune with how foods make you feel, and learning how to detach self worth from your body." -April R. RD

"Intuitive Eating , put simply, is a series of concepts that can be used to apply to your lifestyle and mindset in effort to become more in tune with your eating habits. It was a program written by two registered Dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole that I highly recommend if this is something someone is interested in learning more about. The way I like to explain it is if you think back to when you were a baby, we were born very intuitive, we cried when we needed food, then we were given the food, and then spit out the bottle (or boob) when we were done. Very simple times - no peer pressure, no cravings, or sexy advertising from the media to alter our mind as to what we wanted to eat or needed. It was for many of us the one time in our lives that we were able to truly be intuitive.

As we grow up and learn habits from our families, remember being told you "HAVE To finish your plate" before you leave the table? That's one that stands out to me. These are things that can be instilled in us and influence our eating habits and choices in a way that goes against being in tune with truly what our body wants. Maybe you were raised hearing "good and bad foods", or certain foods were "off limits" in your household, or maybe you grew up seeing family members restrict or dieting, thinking that was the way. Maybe money and food scarcity was something that you recall from your childhood now influencing how you eat. For everyone it's different what we were exposed to that then shapes our eating habits as we become an adult and on our own to make our own choices.

Intuitive eating is somewhat of a gold standard for getting back to those simpler times of eating that does positively impact our total being. The framework & concepts can be used with anyone, but it can be challenging, especially with those who have been chronic dieters in the past because you have to unlearn many of what you have learned as a dieter. I always encourage clients to not expect to go from being a "dieter" to an intuitive eater overnight as it just doesn't happen that quickly like we may compare to other fad diets that can so simply be black and white. Intuitive eating comparatively to your fad diets are not one size fits all and will look different for EVERYONE. Which is why when someone decides to explore moving towards intuitive eating it can be a longer process of self discovery, and unpacking some baggage of some of those "rules" we've possibly created for ourselves. The process, while challenging, can have so many positive benefits to one's mental health when it comes to their relationship with food and overall quality of life." - Kara C. RD

The last one really REALLY resonated with me so for many reasons, Kara laid this out perfectly in my opinion. As we can see, experience dictates perception and this is true across many different aspects of life. I encourage you to challenge and reflect on your relationship with food and WHY it is the way it is.

WHEN would you do this?

This, in my opinion, is the most important part. As someone who works in a field that emphasizes body composition, for that that specific group of clientele (and I would argue everyone, really...) EDUCATION with nutrition is key.

If you do not understand what is in food, have the knowledge of macronutrient density and distribution, and haven't practiced portioning out food or manipulating serving sizes, then the odds that you are successful in this practice (relative to improving/sustaining body composition) is unlikely.

It's important to note that after coming out of a serve deficit such as post contest prep or a fat loss phase, it is absolutely NOT the time to go right into intuitive eating. I will elaborate on this in another blog post, but for now, just understand that hunger and satiety signaling are not anywhere close to operating normally along with a multitude of other physiological functions.

WHY would you do this?

Well, the answer to this is quite simple. Revolving your entire life around meal timing, 3 macros along with micros, and neuroses or anxiety around food doesn't lead to a high quality of life long term.

For MOST people, macro tracking daily for the rest of their lives isn't an appetizing option and rightly so. There is also a reason for biofeedback (feeling hunger and fullness) and it is important, in my opinion, to get in tune with these signals assuming everything is in check metabolically.

While intuitive eating can be demonized within the realms of diet culture, I do believe it is important for athletes, competitors, and those with ambitions alike to be able to understand and honor normal physiological signaling through different phases of their training. Most of my clients have periods within our coaching experience to honor this whether its untracked meals, intuitive eating days, or a combination of the two.

Structure and rigidity are important and absolutely serve a purpose but for long term satisfaction and sustainability I do support the notion that intuitive eating should be implemented. If you haven't taken the leap to try it (and you have the above experience and nutritional education) I would recommend you take the leap.

Remember this, no one got shredded by eating one salad just like no one got fat from eating a slice of pizza or two. It's the constant behaviors over time that have gotten us to where we are so do not fear that period of flexibility especially if you are focusing on the right things.

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