What is Intuitive Eating?

Confession: I hardly even knew what intuition was until I started studying for my Certification in Nutrition. I mean, I knew what the word meant, but it had never really taken on much of a meaning to me. It was when I was in my program, where I started to be exposed to conversations about using intuition consciously in daily life, that my relationship with intuition started to deepen and transform.

More and more the concept of intuitive eating is being used by health coaches and professionals, popping up in articles, and being discussed on social media - but what exactly is it? And who is it really for?

In many ways, many of us are eating intuitively without even knowing it - we crave a particular food, we eat it, and then we move on. BUT as diet trends and massive amounts of opposing opinions and research have come out about the best ways to eat and the best foods to eat, many of has have become overwhelmed and over-preoccupied with following the “perfect diet” and as a result intuitive eating goes out the window.

In short, intuitive eating is simply about recognizing and listening to what your body is telling you. For example: you are at a restaurant and really craving a burger and so you order the burger. So if that is intuitive eating, what does it look like to eat in a non-intuitive way? Here is an example: you are at a restaurant and really craving a burger but you feel guilty when you eat a burger, and everyone always says burgers are unhealthy, so you order a stir fry. In this case, no harm is done because you ordered the stir fry instead of listening to your initial inkling for a burger - but where the trouble kicks in is when you constantly feel like you are denying yourself your initial urges, and you are constantly suppressing your nutritional desires, and as a result it ends up creating more trouble than good for yourself. For example, later that day, after eating the stir-fry, you end up going to the movies and binging out on a huge bag of popcorn and M&Ms and feel sick afterward. The concept of intuitive eating is that perhaps if you had listened to your first nutritional desire, the binges would be less likely to happen down the road.

Intuitive eating doesn’t always mean choosing burgers over stir-fries, or pizza over salads. When we eat intuitively, oftentimes we notice our body craves fresh, nutritionally rich, and nourishing foods as well. The beauty of intuitive eating is that we trust that our bodies want the best for ourselves - and if this is the case then we surely will want a fresh salad, or warm bowl of vegetable soup, or green smoothie regularly.

If you have found yourself feeling or saying “my diet is really stressing me out,” or constantly thinking and analyzing food to a point that it is driving you crazy, or you are no longer able to recognize when you are hungry or full or make decisions about what to eat or not eat - then there is a good chance that checking back in with your intuition may be a good strategy for you.

There are times when intuitive eating might not make sense - perhaps you have IBS, and you KNOW dairy really triggers your symptoms - then maybe if you are craving a block of cheese, it might just not be worth it to eat the cheese. But if you are not suffering from a health condition that is linked to a specific food, and what you have been trying hasn’t been working for your mental and / or physical health, then it might be time to throw away the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” and “bad foods” and “good foods” labels and start to empower yourself to listen a little closer to your body’s wants and trust that your body will not betray you in the process.

Intuitive eating sounds straight forward enough - eat what you want, but in reality it is one of the most difficult things for many of us to do. Learning to listen to your body can come with many ups and downs and doesn’t happen overnight, but with effort and patience, if you feel drawn to start trying, it will be well worth it in the long-run.