What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating means mindfully eating what you want, when you are hungry, and stopping when your body is satisfied. Although this may sound simple, if you have battled your weight for most of your life, chances are that your body is sending your mind signals it doesn't want to hear.

For example, have you ever stood in front of the refrigerator or wandered around the kitchen thinking, "I'm hungry, but I don't know what I want eat"? Chances are you aren't really hungry. If you think to a time when you were really, truly hungry because you hadn't eaten for hours, you probably weren't all that choosy about what you were going to eat.

Also, have you ever done preventative eating? In this case, you think, "Oh, I should eat a big lunch so I can get through the rest of the day and then go to the gym after work." While eating, you don't stop to think, "gosh, I'm stuffed," you keep eating because your mind is telling you that you will need lots of energy in the next few hours. (But, chances are, if you overeat, you'll feel groggy.)

Or, have you ever avoided taking a slice of birthday cake, even if it is your favorite chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and instead nibbled on some carrot sticks while at the party, only to go home and start binging on anything you can find (stale crackers, gummy ice cream, raw Ramen noodles ... it's all up for grabs).

Intuitive eating promises that you can step away from the behaviors that have left you overweight, while learning to become mindful and trust your body. It sounds like a wonderful dream and physically, mentally, and spiritually beneficial plan for life that I am truly interested in working toward.

Photo by Susan Caplan McCarthy

Eat When You Are Physically Hungry

A key to intuitive eating is to eat when you are hungry. If you are overweight, this is trickier than you may think. For example, if you've ever walked into the break room and noticed that someone brought in doughnuts, your stomach may have grumbled in response to the sight of this treat, even though you went into the room just because you wanted a cup of coffee and you hadn't noticed that you were hungry.
  • Physical hunger comes on slowly, not suddenly.
  • Physical hunger gets you thinking about what you'd like to eat; emotional hunger gets focused on a particular food (I need a donut, bag of chips, burger and fries, candy bar, pint of ice cream, plate of ultimate nachos).
  • When you are physically hungry, food smells and tastes wonderful. When you aren't hungry, or are no longer hungry, food no longer has a distinctive flavor.
  • When you are hungry, you know that you need to eat. You don't think, "What do I want to eat?"
  • Physical hunger isn't connected to emotional distress. If you are thinking, "I deserve a treat; I just want to unwind; I'm bored; I'm tired; I'm lonely," then food won't help. (Well, it will numb your feelings, which seems like it is helping, but in the long run, it isn't an effective solution.)

Willpower ...

or Will You Listen to Your Body?

What is the reason you feel that you are battling your weight? Do you feel that you need to control your body's urges or do you feel that you should listen to what your body needs?

What Contributes to Your Body Being Overweight?

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My lack of willpower

radex78 says:

I am eating only three times a day lol

WeeCatCreations says:

I wouldn't say that you're weird. I understand the desire to find the key to unlock the answer behind binge eating ... it's like if I could figure out that one thing, everything else would fall into place naturally. My best wishes to you.

WeeCatCreations says:

I do think that it is important to figure out what your body wants to feel satisfied. Sometimes that will be salad, but other times something heartier.

abderrahman-aamoud says:

hello .............

d-artist says:

I say it's my willpower, but I also have a craving for anything made with sugar!...sometimes I'm so desperate I'll eat brown sugar till I'm sick, I just can't stop...I just hate myself for this and wish I knew why I do it. I have no "desire" to eat regular food or salt, no taste of satisfaction from it. Guess I'm weird...

The challenge of listening to what my body needs me to do

flinnie says:

I have lost and gain weight. I tried willpower and listening to my body. Willpower only last so long. It's best to listen to what our body need us to do.

spgamble12 says:

My brain! Or perhaps more accurately - my emotions.

says:

stress eating

WeeCatCreations says:

It is difficult to listen to your body when it is changing. Much luck!

CarolHoule says:

I think it's wine and chips.

 
view all 16 comments

Eat What You Really Want to Eat

Photo by Susan Caplan McCarthy This is a tough one. I know, you are thinking, what if I only want to eat cupcakes and burgers and pizza and Doritos and ice cream and, and, and…..

This step catches me time and again because I think I’ll only want to eat junk food. However, I’ve learned it doesn’t. Proponents of intuitive eating suggest that if you eat what you want, even if you don’t think you should be eating that food, you will regain your body’s trust that you aren’t going to starve or deprive it. When food starts to lose its emotional component, you realize that you want to eat healthful foods that give you energy.

Photo I took of a food I’ve learned I can avoid with ease.

For example, a suggestion that I’ve read numerous times, tells you to keep a no-no food in the house. You know what this food is; this is the food that traditional diet books tell you to get rid of when you are planning on “being good.” I adored Goldfish crackers. The bar my husband and I went to would set carafes of Goldfish crackers along the bar. And, I nibbled on them there although I would never, ever buy them. One day, I said, I’m going to follow this suggestion from intuitive eating and buy not just one but three bags of Goldfish crackers.

The packages sat at the back of the kitchen cabinet for maybe a week and then I had a bad day and I ate, yes, all three bags. My body didn’t feel good after eating that much salt. The odd thing is, I’ve almost never eaten these crackers since that day. Not because I don’t trust myself to buy them (because I have a couple of times), but because I remembered how awful I felt after eating them. If I really want Goldfish crackers, I will buy them; but, now I notice that I don’t really care all that much for the flavor.

I have found that I have to work through individual trigger foods individually. I try to follow the other “rules” of intuitive eating, eat what I want, when I’m hungry, and be mindful so I notice when I’m satisfied. This is an ongoing process.

Eat Mindfully

If you pay attention to what you are eating, you will enjoy the food more. Chances are you will even start to notice when you are feeling full, or better, satisfied. Instead of zoning out in front of the television while eating, and only stopping when you hit the bottom of the package, you give yourself permission to eat what you enjoy.
  • Sit down. If you are walking around, you probably aren't paying attention to what you are eating.
  • Eat in a designated eating zone which discourages you from eating while sitting on the couch or in bed.
  • Use a smaller plate that isn't too small. Go to an antique shop and you'll notice that dinnerware from your parents' and grandparents' eras were much smaller than the plates you own today.
  • Make your meal visually appealing. Use a cloth napkin or a real plate instead of a paper plate. Serve yourself a plateful of food that looks appealing.
  • Turn off the television don't answer the phone, don't text, don't read. If you are eating with others, pause every so often to check on how your body feels with the food you've already eaten.
  • Set your flatware down between bites. Put the sandwich or slice of pizza on the plate as you chew. Don't take another bite until you've chewed and swallowed the previous bite.
  • Eat the best part first. If you don't like green beans then you may eat them off your plate in a sort of bribe to allow you to then eat your mashed sweet potatoes. Eat the potatoes first and consider why you are wasting calories on a food you really don't like. You can also ask why you are forcing yourself to eat when that goes against intuitive eating. Serve yourself broccoli if you prefer that to green beans.

Check Out Geneen Roth's Books

Geneen Roth is one of my favorite writers on the subject of overeating. She discusses her own issues with weight and she points out that intuitive eating isn't an easy solution, particularly if you are eating non-diet foods that others feel someone who is overweight shouldn't be eating. Each book is an honest reflection of her experiences.

Stop Eating When You Feel Satisfied

Another tough skill for the overeater to learn. First, try to notice that after a few or several bites of food that it loses some of its flavor. Other actions that you can try as a way to help you notice if you are still hungry include:

Take half of the food you would normally put on your plate. If you usually take two servings, take one. If you usually eat pre-portioned diet meals, then ignore the suggestion to take less because you’ll probably just feel more deprived.

After you have consume half of what is on your plate, take a break. Stand up and get a drink of water. Sit down and sip some water, judging if you are still hungry.

If you have people monitoring how much you eat (even if they intend on being helpful), you will probably feel too stressed to notice signals of hunger and satisfaction. You will need to address this situation if you find yourself paying attention to someone else instead of your own needs.

Photo by the author.

Some people have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat. For my part, I mind my belly very studiously, and very carefully; for I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else.

Samuel Johnson

Some of My Story

I was a slightly chubby kid who became an obese adult. Snacking on treats from the vending machine was a way to deal with the boredom of a series of frustrating jobs. When I was 27 and my mother had a series of strokes, sneaking food became a way to unwind from working toward a master’s degree, teaching freshman English classes, and trying to do more to help out my parents.

Food became a drug, a way to feel numb instead of looking at the emotions I was feeling. I started carrying around a backpack because I could sneak bags of chips and packages of cookies into the house without anyone noticing. Of course, everyone noticed that my weight was skyrocketing, but I could ignore that stress by eating a Sara Lee pound cake.

In my 20s, I started experiencing migraines. Most days, I would force myself to go to work and pretend I was okay. This was just another way I ignored the signals from my body.

I would love to say that I’ve tried intuitive eating and it worked for me and the excess weight just fell off. Nope. Listening to my body is a skill I’m still working to develop, not just for weight loss but for understanding that when my body is in pain I need to take care of it and when I need to sleep, I shouldn’t push myself to one more thing.

One of my parents took this photo of me when I was in a dance recital at age 5 or 6.

Have You Tried Intuitive Eating or Are You a Natural Intuitive Eater?

What tips would you offer people about developing the skills associated with intuitive eating?
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  • flinnie Mar 18, 2014 @ 2:37 am
    Congrats on LOTD. Because of many health problems I need to keep my weight down. It can be hard keeping the weight off and not overeating. I like your tips, thanks for sharing. Great lens.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 19, 2014 @ 6:56 pm
    Thank you.
  • nathanjaquez Mar 12, 2014 @ 5:05 am
    Thx for the stuff...
  • joycepearljones Mar 10, 2014 @ 6:28 am
    Eat protein in the morning. Focus on trying to eat 7- 9 servings of fruits & veggies per day . Put some of these veggies & fruits into smoothies Or make juices without added sugar.
    Buy a Juicing recipe book.
    I did this when I had cancer in 2009.
    I wore a size 10 then.
    I began this nutrition program when I was taking chemo. I take the product Juice Plus which is 17 fruits and vegetables in a capsule. Once you start and a lot of fruits and vegetables in their natural form or lightly steamed or cooked, You begin craving it and not craving the bad food as much.

    Begin a qigong meditation practice

    Walking in garden to become more mindful .

    Yes hypnosis is helpful & seeing a psychologist
    Joyce
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 10, 2014 @ 3:57 pm
    Thank you for all your suggestions. Be well.
  • grammieo Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:32 pm
    Great lens, congrats on LoTD, well deserved! I don't know what my path is to losing weight, I know that once I get in the garden, I will forget to eat a lot of the time. I think because my mind is focused on something other than my hunger.......
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 10, 2014 @ 3:58 pm
    Doing something you love is a great way to occupy your mind so you don't think about food. Thank you!
  • Mar 09, 2014 @ 8:30 pm
    Excellent lens. A lot of really good information here. Congratulations on getting LotD!
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:06 pm
    Thank you.
  • Designery Mar 09, 2014 @ 4:26 pm
    interesting article about psychology of eating.
  • MelanieMurphyMyer Mar 09, 2014 @ 3:54 pm
    Unfortunately, I do all that and it still doesn't work. :(
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 7:16 pm
    I understand.
  • CarolHoule Mar 09, 2014 @ 3:23 pm
    I can buy bags of cookies, candies and cake and never touch them. If I don't bring chips into the house, I still won't eat the sweets, I'll eat something else that's salty. Crackers, soup with extra salt... It's a real problem.
    I will try intuitive eating now. I also read that sometimes thirst for fresh water will make you go check the fridge and food pantry, not knowing what you're looking for. Thanks for the information. And congrats on your LOTD.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:13 pm
    I do find that a craving for salty foods can mean that I need more fluids ... like I'm trying to make myself drink water. Everyone's cravings are different, which is why I hope that intuitive eating can offer personal guidance as opposed to just trying to follow generic rules from a diet book.
  • bloomingrose Mar 09, 2014 @ 2:25 pm
    This is one of the best articles I have ever read about how to obtain and maintain a healthy weight. I appreciated your suggestions on the many ways we can learn to listen to our body, which I think is really wise. I particularly appreciated your suggestion on getting your trigger foods and bringing them into your house. I can see how avoiding them just makes the situation more intense and strengthens the appeal that the forbidden item has for us. I am going to buy some Krispy Kreme glazed donuts and try it out! the Along with all that you have said let me point out that scientists don't always know what is best for us. For the longest time they said that avocados, eggs and olive oil were not good for you because we are avoiding fat - now we know that is not all of the picture at all. Congrats on your LOTD - and best of luck to you on your perfect weight journey. Social bookmarked to several sites.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:15 pm
    Thank you for your support. I have found that allowing myself trigger foods does diminish their appeal ... but I've also eaten more than my fair share of trigger foods while learning that lesson. Good luck to you.
  • Sensuintell Mar 09, 2014 @ 1:24 pm
    Oddly, after I broke my foot (and sprained my ankle) and was immobile for two months, I found that I began eating intuitively. I have no idea why. But I was on a health eating track for a month prior to the incident. Afterwards, four months after I broke my foot, I found that my weight had not changed at all, not one pound. Interesting.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 7:19 pm
    Very interesting. I've read how changes in your life can cause habits to change in The Power of Habit.
  • d-artist Mar 09, 2014 @ 12:53 pm
    Congratulations on LOTD! This is great info and hope to apply it to my craving of sweets! I know it's a mental game with me, but now I have something to go by.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:08 pm
    Thank you and good luck!
  • partybuzz Mar 09, 2014 @ 11:47 am
    I think this would be a great way to lose weight. Congratulations on LotD! Great lens and info.
  • RenaissanceWoman2010 Mar 09, 2014 @ 11:25 am
    The important thing for me is to eat smaller portions more regularly throughout the day. If I wait too long, and I am exceptionally hungry, I will eat the first thing I see (which is not usually something very nutritionally fulfilling). This is the first I have heard of intuitive eating. Thanks for the introduction and congrats on Lens of the Day! I wish you well as you continue your quest for healthy living and eating.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:08 pm
    Thank you. I also find that if I get too hungry I don't make the best choices. It can be difficult to find that point between getting hungry and ravenous.
  • tonyleather Mar 09, 2014 @ 11:00 am
    I have always subscribed to the idea of eating only when I am genuinely hungry. I am not slim, but nor am I too heavy. It seems to stay balanced, in the main.
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:05 pm
    Congratulations of hearing your body's needs and staying balanced.
  • Lewisgirl Mar 09, 2014 @ 10:59 am
    I find when I am really engaged in a project, intuitive eating kicks in. Because, I will work and work, until my body says it is hungry and even then I find it hard to stop to go eat. Keeping busy is the key for me. Great lens! Congrats!
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:04 pm
    Yes! Staying busy with things that truly interest you is a great help. Thank you.
  • ibidii Mar 09, 2014 @ 10:43 am
    Congratulations on LOTD! Lots of good info here. I will have to see if I can be hypnotized! I keep a food journal and I can see I am an emotional eater. I now am in tune with that and try to not over eat the bad things when that is going on. I hope to be able to step up my exercise this year swimming since there is a pool at my apartment complex! Yay! :)
  • WeeCatCreations Mar 09, 2014 @ 9:02 pm
    Thank you. Good luck on your journey of being kind to your emotional eating-self.
  • Merrci Mar 09, 2014 @ 10:34 am
    Congratulations of LotD! Well deserved, and something so many of us can relate to! I'm trying to be more intuitive, but need a lot of work on knowing when to stop! This is very helpful with great suggestions. Thanks for sharing it.

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