Friday, March 16, 2018

Starting Your Intuitive Eating Adventure

By Rachel Baker, MA, LPC
Let’s talk about intuitive eating. We all know what “eating” is. We get that part, but what about the “intuition” part? has several definitions for “intuition.” Here are two of my favorites:
1. direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.
2. pure, untaught, noninferential knowledge.
            There are a few things that stand out for me in these definitions. First, intuition allows us to perceive “pure“truth.” Second, intuition happens without any “reasoning process,” meaning it’s not a cognitive or thinking activity. Finally, intuition is “untaught.”
            Now, for those of you thinking, “If intuition can’t be taught, and I can’t think my way through it, how will I ever learn intuitive eating?” Fear not! The beauty of intuitive eating, is that we were all born with this skill.
            As toddlers, we all intuitively knew when we were hungry, and we let our hunger needs be known. We did not pause to think about what we’d already eaten that day or if we should wait until we felt hungrier. Once we got our food, we also intuitively knew when we were satiated. We did not feel compelled, unless taught to be, to clean our plates. When we were done, we were done. It wasn’t until we got older and societal messaging told us to ignore our bodies’ hunger and satiation cues that we lost our sense of intuition.
            So, how do we find it again? Two of the most important concepts in intuitive eating practices are rediscovering our bodies’ hunger and satiation cues and trusting ourselves and our bodies to seek satisfaction in our eating. There are many ways to explore these concepts, but for now, I’d like to share one activity or practice for each concept.
            Let’s start with rediscovering our bodies’ hunger and satiation cues. I like to think about hunger and satiation on a Scale of Fullness from 0–10, 0 being, “I’m empty. I’m starving,” and 10 being, “I’m so full it hurts.” One way to begin to relearn our bodies’ hunger cues is pause periodically throughout the day, turn our attention inward, and genuinely ask out bodies, “On a scale of 0–10, how full am I right now?” The key here is to remember that intuition is NOT a cognitive or thinking process. Instead, of thinking about our fullness, we must practice asking our bodies and listening for their responses.
            Once our bodies’ respond with a Scale of Fullness number, it can be useful to ask our bodies, “How do you know that’s the number?” Your body might respond with anything from, “We have a headache,” “Our stomach has started to gurgle,” or “We’re having trouble concentrating,” on the low end to, “I feel comfortable and content,” in the middle to, “Our stomach feels full,” or “No more food,” on the high end. With practice, you may begin to notice patterns or typical ways your body let’s you know how hungry or full it is.
            Another important intuitive eating practice is seeking true satisfaction in eating. This may seem daunting, but as you practice, you will begin to discover that your body usually craves what it needs nutritionally. So, imagine that you’ve asked your body for its Scale of Fullness number, and it has become clear that it would like something to eat. Here is where the seeking satisfaction practice comes in.
            Before heading to the fridge, ask your body what kind of food would feel satisfying. I like to ask three main questions: “Body, would you like to eat something hot or cold? Sweet, savory, salty, bitter? Smooth and soft or chewy and textured?” Let’s assume your body said it wanted something hot, salty, and smooth. It might then find satisfaction in a bowl of miso soup or soft scrambled eggs, or anything else that meets those criteria. Your job then is to work to satisfy your body’s food desires as closely as you can with the foods that are available to you at the moment.
            Learning to eat intuitively can be a truly enjoyable exploration once you start. Remember, this is NOT about doing it perfectly. Instead, it’s about experimenting and staying curious. Getting support from a therapist or nutritionist can be helpful on this journey. Cheers to you intuitive eating explorers! Bon apetit!
Rachel is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she also co-leads the Yoga-Informed Therapy Group. You can reach Rachel at 773.929.6262.