Do you trust me?” I asked, staring at the food lineup in front of me one morning at work. I’m lucky enough to work in a “start up” culture where snacks are free for the grazing, and lunch is served daily. It’s the perfect set up for a dietary test of willpower. Or, as some might say, a dieter’s nightmare.
I was pretty hungry. I’d woken up at 4:30 a.m. to coach two CrossFit classes. Though I wasn’t the one doing the work, I had been on my feet for three hours prior to this, and I’d had my first gentle hunger pangs around 5:15 a.m. By now they weren’t so gentle.
I asked myself again, “Do you trust me?”
I honored my hunger and grabbed a banana, a packet of peanut butter and some Hippeas. I didn’t think about the bagels, cream cheese, Andes mints and various snack mixes I left behind. I also didn’t skimp on the peanut butter because it contained fat and sugar. I told myself if I was still hungry after the food I chose, there was more food available – I could eat again.
I sat down, ate and felt satisfied. Intuitive eating success.
Intuitive eating is the newest trend in the nutrition space, but Evelyn Tribole, author of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, would like to remind you that it’s not a diet.
Originally published in 1995, Tribole, a registered dietician, published her book after working with chronic dieters in her nutrition counseling practice. The book and program have experienced a renaissance in the past year. While the name itself may seem self-explanatory, Tribole has specific principles of intuitive eating that mean more than just, “eat what you want.”
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Feel your fullness
- Cope with your emotions with kindness
- Respect your body
- Movement – feel the difference
- Honor your health – gentle nutrition
If you’re like me, the last time you didn’t really think about what or how much you were eating was in elementary school. We ate when we were hungry, stopped when we felt full. Food for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary-school children isn’t associated strongly with emotions, guilt or pressure.
Somewhere along the way we learned there are “good” foods and “bad” foods.
We unlearned how to trust our literal gut and started questioning what we put in our bodies.
We started feeling guilty for our body’s hunger signals and started stamping it out.
We started binging when the hunger was finally too much.
And we started to forget what true hunger felt like. Tribole explains that when the body goes through a period of deprivation, it has no idea you’re dieting and it’s for a “greater good.” The body just knows it hasn’t had food and doesn’t know when it will get it again. Famine mode takes over, and at the next opportunity, overeating is likely to occur. Maybe not at first – we all know the fun of shiny, new motivation – but eventually it wears away and we’re back in a rut.
Calories, points, macros. Low carb, low fat, keto paleo. Evenly timed meals, meals within a timeframe, meals timed around workouts. These are all ways of “manipulating” our body for the goal of weight loss. We “trick” our body into fullness.
Tribole emphasizes the need to trust our body and our hunger cues. Our bodies are incredible specimens – they like homeostasis, and are pretty good at self-regulating when given the trust and space to do so.
The first steps are scary – and that’s okay.
In addition to not being a diet, Tribole says to truly be intuitive eating, you can’t go into it with the goal of weight loss. Tribole maintains that if any coach or influencer promises you intuitive eating with weight loss as the intended outcome, run – it’s unethical and not truly intuitive eating. The body has a weight where it may stabilize, which may be higher or lower than the starting weight.
Which also makes the beginning of intuitive eating scary. No rules? Eat… whenever? It can be downright terrifying to approach your refrigerator with no guardrails. Tribole says to start slow and give yourself grace: in coming back to homeostasis, there may be some overeating, especially of carbohydrates as the body learns to trust that it WILL eat again and there are quality foods coming its way when it wants.
Tribole says she tells her clients to keep exactly this in mind: You will eat again. And if you don’t feel satisfied, guess what? You can always eat more. Which means you don’t have to eat it all in one go. Remember when you first started driving a car?
Every step felt so intentional and conscious: key in the ignition, foot on the brake. Check left, check right, check left again. Now, the car feels like an extension of your right foot. So follows learning
The road to unwinding years and decades worth of emotional ties can be long, and that’s okay. First, it might start with simply principle two: honoring your hunger. Eat when you’re hungry! The more you give back to your body, the more it will give back to you. Soon you may recognize when you’re in need of protein, carbohydrates, the difference between feeling just thirsty over hungry.
Great, you’re on the right track, you’re off the diet train, you’ve eaten BREAD and you even ate twice within the same hour. WHAT?!
Then you come home and your husband offers you a beer. Truly, it doesn’t sound great. Certainly, it doesn’t sound bad, but you didn’t really have one in mind.
“The joy of being an intuitive eater is the freedom of not needing to explain your food choices to anyone,” Tribole says.
An offer is an offer: You are not obliged to accept food or drink to please anyone but yourself. Learn to keep principle four: challenge the food police an principle eight: respect your body.
“When you eat in a way that fully satisfies body, spirit, and mind, you are liberated to live more fully aligned with your values. You have headspace and the nourishment to ask the big questions: What is most important to me in this life?”
Truly, since I’ve started checking into my body, I’ve also found myself checking my emotions. I’m honoring my hunger, eating when I need to. I’m also trying to respect my body, and giving it a deep breath, hot shower or honest conversation when it needs it more than food. And I’m not perfect, but I am feeling more “me.”