Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy based on the principle of becoming attuned to the body's natural hunger signals, and eating based on these signals, as opposed to tracking calories, protein, fat, etc. in order to manage weight.
For those dealing with any sort of emotional, compulsive or binge (ECB) eating, intuitive eating can be very difficult to connect with. You are likely quite disconnected from your body’s hunger cues due to frequently eating outside of physical hunger. You may even rarely experience hunger cues due to continuous eating, or binging patterns around food. This can create much uncertainty regarding how to connect with hunger signals.
Furthermore, ongoing eating patterns can throw off your body’s ability to recognize and signal physical hunger. Stomach pains may feel like hunger. Hunger may actually feel good on the digestive system due to its usual inundation with food. As you can see, when eating patterns are all over the place, or out-of-control, hunger cues can be challenging to decipher.
In addition to intuitive being a struggle due to the body’s physical reaction to certain eating patterns, it can also be a struggle merely for the sake of the struggle with food itself. When you are an ECB eater (this doesn’t mean you fall into each category – think LGBTQ), you mostly eat based on mental/emotional cues, not physical. Physical hunger comes secondary, if not, even third or fourth.
It may feel like such an accomplishment the moment you experience a hunger signal after days (weeks, months, etc.) of over-eating. The thought of eating intuitively sounds like a dream – like freedom. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Done.
Eating intuitively tends to holds the flag as the ECB eaters’ favorite way to measure how “good,” or “bad,” they are doing with food. This is when intuitive eating starts to look like any other diet or cleanse – you likely know them well.
When intuitive eating is followed strictly, you create more guilt around food when you eat outside of the intuitive process. This causes more feelings of inadequacy and emotions around food, further rousing out-of-control cycles and shame.
Using intuitive eating as a diet, even if you don’t call it so, perpetuates more spiraling out of control, making you feel bad about having eaten, thus creating more baggage with food. Check in with yourself. Is that your #1 goal? What happens when you eat outside of hunger? What happens if you eat past the point of contentment? Where does your brain go? Did you fail?
Here is a little secret: you didn’t fail.
Eating intuitively is not a diet you pass or fail. It is okay if you sometimes eat when you are not hungry. It is okay if you eat outside of mealtimes. You can even eat over the point of contentment. Just do not turn yourself into the enemy. Intuitive eating is not a diet. It is a journey.
Of course, intuitive eating can be beneficial, but do NOT turn it into another form of dieting and control. The root of your stuff with food is actually a deep desire for control. Relinquish.
If you feel out-of-control or out of sync with your hunger cues, learning the intuition process can take time. Food has been a means of coping and managing life and that does not change overnight. This is a process. Allow for some patience and even playfulness when it comes to eating patterns.
Allow for your body time to adjust. Your body will get better at offering cues when needed, and you will get better at reading them.
Notice your thought patterns when you eat something slightly outside the zone of intuitive eating. It is likely that in this very moment the shame and/or the spiraling out-of-control with food kick into gear. The moment you feel shame is the moment you say, “Fine, I’m going to just go for it.” In this moment, instead, choose to be gentle. You do not need to crumble because you slightly ate outside of the zone that makes you feel in control. Pay attention. It will get clearer.
Lastly, this is a matter completely letting go – not of control. Your brain cannot control your body’s hunger cues. In order to get to a place where eating intuitively gets easier, you first have to let go. Your relationship with food is an opportunity to start practicing the process of letting go (in life). Then comes the journey which takes you towards, into and through more ease with food. Then, comes the ripple effect, allowing for peace around food and throughout your life.