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What Is Intuitive Eating and How Can it Improve Your Health and Performance

Intuitive eating is all about letting go of dieting cycles and learning to listen to your body’s natural clues around food.

Intuitive eating is about making peace with food and learning to know when, what and how much to eat. It can be a great tool for athletes who have struggled with eating disorders in the past.

The intuitive eating approach to nutrition has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline or willpower. Instead, you learn to listen to your body’s on cues to make decisions about your nutrition.

What Exactly Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is a nutritional and philosophical approach to eating which focuses on listening to your own body’s hunger cues to guide what, when and how much you eat.

Eating intuitively means consuming what you want to eat, when you want to eat it, in amounts your body needs while aligning with your goals, without the necessity of tracking.

Intuitive eating is a sustainable approach to nutrition.

Extreme diets can have incredibly fast results, but they’re very hard to stick to long term and most results revert to what they were before the diet. You have to involve sustainability in your nutritional approach if it’s going to work for more than three months.

Intuitive eating gives you freedom towards what you eat and hopefully doesn’t trigger past or present negative emotions towards food.

What Principles Encompass Eating Intuitively

Intuitive eating is based on 10 key principles, which include:

  1. Forget about diets – recognise that sustainability is what matters most when it comes to nutrition, and that most diets (especially the ones that yield results fast) are incredibly hard to stick to long-term, and so more often than not end up failing.
  2. Recognise your hunger – becoming more in tune with your body and its hunger cues will allow you to recognise when you’re hungry and when you’ve had enough food, thus preventing binge eating.
  3. Let go of labels – there isn’t such a thing as “bad” foods, there’s just foods with different nutritional components, and you aren’t a “bad person” for eating foods with a lower nutritional value, as they can play an important role in your mental health or be paramount for performance.
  4. Make peace with food – food can be incredibly emotional, so by allowing yourself to eat what you want you remove the guilt you might feel about eating something that wasn’t in your nutrition plan or you “shouldn’t have eaten.”
  5. Enjoy your food – food isn’t only fuel, but it is tasty and it can be social. Taking the time to appreciate and enjoy your food might also help you feel satisfied with your meal, reducing stress, shame or guilt.
  6. Pursue consistency, not perfection – having a day where things don’t entirely go to plan or when the food you eat is out of your control won’t completely derail you off your track. Focus on building habits and pursuing consistency (perfection will lead to stress when inevitably it isn’t achieved) because what you eat most of the time is what matters.
intuitive eatingSource: Brooke Lark / CrossFit

How Do You Do Intuitive Eating?

People around the world struggle with the food they consume, whether it’s through wanting to eat perfect 100% of the time, restricting what you eat to then binge, feel guilty and start the cycle again, or taking labels applied to certain foods and applying them to yourself.

Intuitive eating hopes to address these unhealthy relationships with food and make peace with your nutrition.

How To Start Eating Intuitively

Before you start eating intuitively you’ll have to know what your goals with nutrition are and what your relationship with food has been historically.

One of the first steps towards intuitive eating and a better relationship with food can be finding help. Help can be a nutrition coach or it can be a friend; find someone that you trust, that understands your issues and can provide accountability.

If intuitive eating is something you want to try, you can start with these practices:

  1. Keep a food diary – write down what you ate, the time of your meals and how they made you feel. This will help you become more in tune with your body and its natural hunger signals. Keep a diary of your physical activity as well and note how it affects your hunger.
  2. Keep track of your performance – we all have good and bad days. While these can be the result of a big number of factors, nutrition is one of them. Notice when you’re having a weaker or slower day and remember what you ate in the lead up to (or during) it. Do the same when you’re feeling superhuman and try to replicate those circumstances.
  3. Rewrite your goals – intuitive eating is wholistic, so your approach to the way you eat will be less focused on looking a certain way and place more importance on achieving goals like acceptance, feeling full of energy or living with less stress.

Who Should Consider Intuitive Eating?

Nutrition approaches are individual to each person. While some people might find great success with intuitive eating, others might find the same following intermittent fasting or low-carb diets.

Ultimately, your nutrition should work for you and not the other way around.

In general however, if you struggle with the following, intuitive eating might be a good goal to work towards and a useful tool to help you address those issues.

  • People who constantly go on different diets but struggle to sustain them for prolonged periods of time. Accept that, for the vast majority of people, quick results in terms of weight loss come and go. The most incredible transformations happen over prolonged periods of time, when a diet is one you can stick to and becomes a habit.
  • People who will finish the food that was “off limits” to get it out of their system: if you are the kind of person who will eat a whole cake once you’ve sliced into it and have therefore “forbidden” it from your diet, realise that a reason why you might be doing this is because the food is “off limits” to start with. If no food is disallowed, then the temptation to have all of it is smaller. Eventually, foods you’re used to overeating become less exciting because you can have them whenever you want.

If you, however, like a very regimented approach to nutrition and want to know exactly how much fuel you consume day in and day out, intuitive eating might feel a bit theoretical.

Intuitive Eating – A Sustainable Approach to Nutrition

Strict food rules are the main reason diets don’t work and may have a negative impact on overall health and well-being.

The moment we let go of restrictions and realise we can make good decisions about our nutrition, even if they aren’t perfect, you are on a path to healing and feeing good about your choices.

Food plays a big role in our physical and mental health, so removing worry or guilt can be a huge step towards improving your health and performance.

Perfection is not the goal when it comes to nutrition, and one meal won’t make or break your chances of success. Instead, it’s through consistency over time (we mean years here) that results are generated.

If there are no rules to follow, then there no rules to be broken. Intuitive eating allows for a less stressful approach to nutrition.

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