Until recently I assumed that intuitive eating meant “watch out for when you are hungry, then eat until you are not hungry”. I’d toyed with the idea that eating regularly was better, but I felt rebellious and eating under structure was a euphemism for control. And I wanted no-one to control my eating! So I merrily munched along in an ad-hoc fashion, but always slightly worried that I wasn’t listening to my body and eating too much or when I wasn’t hungry.
Then I came across Ellyn Satter’s approach to intuitive eating. It has shifted my mindset when it comes to food and feeding, as it focuses on enjoyment and structure. She argues that eating regularly and in amounts that are pleasing to you are more helpful in solving food issues than floating around wondering when and what to eat and when you will next get fed. She also emphasises that eating until you are no longer hungry is not realistic. Instead you should stop eating only when you feel like it, without worrying when this is the more you let your body take control the more naturally you will regulate food and nutrient intake. It is mostly about permission.
This made a lightbulb go off in my head. I was constantly thinking about food at the back of my mind because I was always on edge waiting to see if I was hungry or not. If I just made sure I ate what I wanted regularly, and got enough of it, then my food preoccupation would go away. So I tried it:
I started eating breakfast when I got into work. Not when I got up, mind, as I usually feel sick in the mornings, but I made sure I ate something I liked before I started work. I was then satisfyingly hungry by lunch time, and didn’t have to worry about food all morning as I knew I could eat a good amount and something tasty in a couple of hours. If my stomach starting growling I ate a snack.
I’m not going to go through my whole routine but you get the idea. The first step is to eat fully three times a day. Don’t be rigid when this is, and I don’t care what you eat, but make sure you allow yourself the courtesy of feeding yourself. Giving yourself a specific time to eat puts into your subconscious mind the notion that you will be fed regularly so there is no need to panic.
That’s why the traditional sense of intuitive eating doesn’t work for some people, as their subconscious is always wondering where the next food is going to come from. Here are some tips to help tell your body you will be reliably and regularly fed.
If you normally snack all day, then eat all your morning snacks when you get into work, then go with your coworkers for lunch. If you like to eat when you get home, then do it! Just be purposeful and concentrate on your food. Make sure you provide foods that you like and in quantities that will make you happy! To start with actually allocating time to eat will feel odd, and you may not be able to eat very much. Eventually your body will begin to regulate and give you reliable hunger signals that tell you when, and enable you to, eat.
Eating regularly is an important part of self-care, don’t deny yourself! It’s not a chore, its a nourishing experience, give yourself permission to enjoy food.