INTUITIVE EATING

INTUITIVE EATING

disclaimer: not a health professional, not a holistic nutritionist (yet), take everything with a grain of salt. this is from my personal experience, everyone has different experiences and learning curves - take what works, and reject what doesn’t, it’s all from the heart <3

You might notice that this blog post is formatted differently, this is so I can provide a full overview on intuitive eating cause I have so much to say :)

Post 1: An Intro to Intuitive Eating

What is Intuitive Eating:

Intuitive eating has been a buzzword thrown around on wellness pages, youtube videos (a day in my life: intuitive eating ‘version’) etc. so let’s demystify all the misinterpretations that come with the hype.

Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that is based on internal needs (including hunger needs, satisfaction, nourishment needs etc.) It’s about eating without the guilt, shame, judgement and mental exhaustion that is so often normalised.

But first, what is intuitive? Intuitive means instinctive, innate, what feels true without thinking about it. To me, intuitive eating means getting back in touch with how I would naturally eat if I had not been exposed to the subtle social messaging around food and eating. Our bodies have natural signals around food, and intuitive eating gives back the decision-making responsibility to the body, retiring the mind of anxiety inducing chatter (should I eat that, how much should I eat, what if I can’t eat it, what if I’m still hungry etc. etc.). These signals include hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues. Intuitive eating is a personal experiment, it’s not a quick fix. It’s being conscious about how you feel (hungry, full, satisfied?) before during and after a meal, and choosing what makes you feel the best (this is different from mental feelings such as the reassurance that comes with ‘oh I just ate a ‘good’ food). Feeling the best means satisfying hunger, feeling comfortably full and eating in a way that energises you in the long-term as opposed to dopamine hits. The existence of diets bases itself on the very fact that what you intend to eat (diet) is often different to what you actually end up eating - if this isn’t evidence of our body’s cues and cravings dominating over the mind, I’m not sure what is. Point is, time and time again, it is our body’s cravings that dictate our eating rather than mental decisions - intuitive eating involves becoming aware of these cravings (we often pretend they don’t exist or kind of blackout when they do - and attribute it to ‘getting back on track’). After awareness, we can get curious on what drives these cravings (often the way companies design highly processed foods - literally playing with our primal brains) and let our body develop cravings - where our body craves food that provide us with an optimal eating experience (hunger, fullness, satisfaction) and sustains our energy levels. As such, eating in a way that optimises health becomes the default - because the body learns to crave the foods that ACTUALLY nourish us.

It is the radical opposite to how most people have been brought up to think about food - that you need to consciously think about what you eat (eat the good/healthy foods, don’t eat the bad/unhealthy foods etc.) and control your eating. The main pitfall of this is that we need to always exercise conscious decision-making around food, whereas most things we eat are driven by physiological cravings - so inevitably comes the shame (what’s wrong with me, why can’t I just eat healthy, why do I feel out of control, that food is dangerous - gosh I could keep reeling off statements for ages).

People hear about intuitive eating and commonly think oh it means ‘eating whatever I want’. From there comes the myth that oh if I ‘eat whatever I want’ and reject diet mentality then I would eat everysecond of the day, won’t stop, can’t stop - and then they think they’re special and intuitive eating just won’t work for them.

Post 2: The Myths

The myths of intuitive eating.

  • That you can be successful or fail at intuitive eating
    • That it means only eating when you feel hungry (and if you eat when you’re not hungry you’ve failed)
    • If you overate or underate, you failed at listening to hunger and fullness cues
  • That it means disregarding your health, eating according to your current cravings without any awareness which are driven by disordered eating hunger cues (if you have years of dieting, restriction, binge eating - obviously your hunger cues are all over the place). This leads to exacerbated disordered eating, binge eating and people think that intuitive eating is a sham
  • You immediately feel more at peace with food (sometimes you feel even more uncomfortable because developing awareness of hunger and satisfaction cues feels so abnormal)
  • Intuitive eating means seeing models on social media eating societally ‘bad’ foods; pizza, burgers - you get the picture

Post 3: The Barriers of Entry

The most ironic thing for me is that the time where I have felt so uncomfortable and out of control around food, and actually had disordered eating - people didn’t see any red flags. Now where I feel so much more at peace (obviously there’s struggles and it’s a learning journey), my practise of intuitive eating means I have much more trust with myself around food and I actually have boundaries around eating, feeling comfortable saying yes/no to food. It’s often these boundaries that make people more concerned, thinking I have disordered eating or I’m putting on an act.

That said, these phrases and comments from others only truly sting if at some level, you believe them yourself.

The common:

  • Scolding: ‘hmph, i know why you’re not eating, you’re too scared to eat’ vs ‘go wild, go crazy - when a meal is ready’
  • Eat more, finish it (otherwise you’re incapable) - definitely subjected more to guys in my culture
  • Are you full = can you physically not eat any more? (even if you’re satisfied and can eat more but don’t want to because that is phsyically uncomfortable, you must keep eating otherwise you’re lying about being full and you’re offending the food I made)
  • Why are you not eating? do you not like the food? [like bro, if i savour it and am eating it slowly - it means I’m extending the experience i like the food, if I’m shovelling it down my throat how am I supposed to enjoy it]
  • Culture norms: overeating = continuous pleasure = happy life (the ultimate existence of happiness is 24/7 eating)
  • The gossip around other people’s bodies (fat = negatively seen as indulgent, people would rather die than be fat, undesirable, unable to control themselves OR thin = ‘must be starving themselves, vain and obssessed with physical appearance) - this def needs a blog post
  • Food is ‘sayang’- better to be eaten than ‘wasted’ even if you compromise your health doing so
  • Over-ordering, (more food = more love) but then shaming others for not eating it and ‘wasting’ food
  • Offering people food, encouraging them to eat even when they clearly don’t want to somehow equates to an act of care (like, come on ‘finish that plate, you can do it’)
  • Shaming people for gaining weight or viewing others who reject food as having something wrong with them
  • Viewing those who eat sugary/fatty processed foods as indulgent and the one’s who aren’t as being shy, starving themselves and scared to be ‘openly naughty’
  • and oh there is SO much more


Deep Dive on Part 1 

Part 1: Intuitive Eating vs Dieting

Why Dieting Doesn’t Work:

omg controversial I know:

  • honestly I think dieting is a starting point, it’s an intention and action that comes from the right place
  • it’s often a springboard to a healthier lifestyle and changing up your diet will have outcomes - people have experienced really positive changes from dieting which my perspective doesn’t account for

The diets I’m talking about are the ones with these qualities: requires restriction (cut out foods), excessive planning (have to eat certain foods at specific times - no flexibility lots of anxiety with this quality), counting something (calories, macros) and relying on an external source dictating what you ‘should’ eat.

The root of it - Why restrictive dieting regimes don’t work:

Restriction involves consciously labelling foods as ‘not allowed’ or ‘allowed’, or labelling how much food you eat as ‘not allowed’ or ‘allowed’.

The issue here is that like any restriction, labelling food as ‘bad’ or needing to be ‘cut out’ tends to make the food seem more desirable - in an ‘ooh this is naughty’ way.

It’s like you’re a kid and your parents ban you from watching TV after 8pm. Your kiddy, immediate reaction is to go ‘nooooo i want to watch TV after 8pm, why are you taking that away from me?’. Watching TV is pleasurable and hence, you feel disadvantaged by the ban. Watching TV after 8pm becomes even BETTER (more enjoyable) than watching TV at 1pm because this experience feels scarce. As a result, the child craves watching TV late at night more than watching TV in day time. You can imagine some children would probably have no desire to watch TV in the day and all the desire to just watch it late at night.

This has its roots in operant learning which is form of learning where the consequences of behaviour determine whether the behaviour is repeated (my psych degree coming in clutch). When you’re punished, labelled as ‘naughty or bad’ for watching TV after 8pm or eating certain foods, the moment you get to do those things and you don’t get any punishment (why people tend to isolate when they binge eat etc.), the lack of punishment acts as a reward (a rare reward which makes it even more rewarding) and therefore you’re reinforced to eat that food again. It’s like gambling, people aren’t addicted to gambling because they’re rewarded every single time, they’re addicted because the reward doesn’t happen every time so when it doesn’t happen they experience a surge of dopamine and crave that humongous dopamine hit.

Restriction is often a predictor of later binge-eating:

When we cut out food or have a fixed diet, there is less flexibility - more guilt is felt when you ‘get off track’, triggering even more restriction or binge-eating to compensate for restriction.

Hence, when someone in this mindset eats an ‘out of territory’ food, they perceive it like 8pm TV watching - a scarce experience they need to get the most out of (binge eating, feeling out of control around the food) because after that period of ‘bliss’ and mental blackout, it becomes off limits.

Similarly, when you consciously apply portion control (I’ll only have one of this, two of that - I’ll eating one this and that for lunch, I’ll eat at this time blah blah) - eating becomes a mentally exhausting experience. I remember there would be DAYs, where half of the day my mind was caught up on food and eating. Again, I felt out of control, rarely at peace with food.

The linking thread and pitfall of dieting is the undercurrent of feeling ‘out of control’, a ‘monster’ that has to be ‘tamed’ around food. As someone I know poignantly said - it all started with the ‘cookie monster’ (sesame street). As long as you unconsciously identify with ‘cookie monster vibes’ and this ‘out of control eating machine’ is your default perception [a perception that is profited off by many food companies] - eating will always be a struggle that causes a disconnection with yourself, because it feels like you can’t trust yourself around food.

Dieting = trying to be someone you are fundamentally ‘not’ - there is gap between who you unconsciously think you are and your conscious actions. Your unconscious is always stronger than your conscious, so the unconscious will bridge the gap (self-sabotage you) by engaging in behaviours that align with the ‘cookie monster’ you believe yourself to be (and you dissociate during binge eating periods - ever felt like your hand keeps going in the chip bag and you’re on a different timeline). When binge eating happens, it’s not because disordered eating feels good, it’s because you get a period of bliss where you get to be who you think you fundamentally are (cookie monster) before self-flagellating yourself to be societally acceptable (non-cookie monster).


Why Intuitive Eating Works

Intuitive eating is the sustainable road to the same outcome that dieting attempts to achieve (but please, don’t think about it as another diet). Intuitive eating results in unconscious portion control. Instead of consciously changing what/how much you eat, the practice of intuitive eating changes how you unconsciously think of yourself around food and eating (say goodbye to cookie monster, hello human).

Getting in touch with your hunger cues, learning to savour food, notcing how it makes you feel mentally, physically before, during and after eating is what helps reconnect you with how you naturally eat before you opted into the food rules society or your culture or family promoted. For example, you will often get side-effects from eating processed foods like a bag of lollies - maybe feeling bloated, tired, that sugar hit and then experiencing this hangover-like state. This isn’t labelling lollies as ‘bad’, it’s merely the experience it gives you. Contrast this to eating, say, blueberries - depending on quantity - you won’t enter a food hangover and maybe feel energised in the long-term. This is in no way saying that eating lollies is better than eating blueberries, it’s about giving your body the chance to choose what it wants to experience and associate foods that fuel you with positive consequence, developing cravings for them.

Intuitive eating reverts you from cookie monster back into unconsciously viewing yourself as someone who naturally eats to their satisfaction without going overboard on fullness (because that is physically uncomfortable). How do I know this is our true selves? - because as kids (1-2 years), we had no issues, we ate what we ate, were fully present with it, said no and ran off if we didn’t want more (exceptions = being forced to finish your plate etc.)

Unlike dieting where you force yourself to be someone you’re not, intuitive eating results in your eating choices being aligned with how you unconsciously see yourself. It’s important to have compassion, understand the innocent motivation behind dieting and binge eating, it’s not ‘disgusting’ or ‘unhealthy’ - there’s a purpose behind these that I can unpack in another post.

Also - when you don’t restrtict foods, for example I’ve never known someone who restricts eating apples. You tell yourself that you can eat an apple now, in an hour, later, tomorrow, basically whenever you want it. Hence, you habituate to it (you become less sensitive to it), you tend to not feel like it’s that appealing to eat vs food you’ve restricted.

When it feels scarce, just like if you feel like you are lacking in a resource - when you come across it, you overcompensate (think COVID stocking up on toilet paper), you go overboard to fill a feeling of scarcity. That’s why binge eating happens after restriction, around the restricted food there is an ‘all or nothing’ mindset resulting in no portion control. On the other hand, intuitive eating results in eating in a way where you unconsciously eat in moderate portion (not preplanning how you eat in moderation but it just happens inevitably) because when you don’t restrict food, everything feels abundant - so you only take what you need to provide the most optimal eating exerience (satiate hunger, satisfied/comfortably full)


Pro-Tip 💗 

Given that intuitive eating is basically an experiment, there are inevitably times where you undereat or overeat because it’s a process of becoming aware of what food and how much food satiates you without feeling uncomfortably hungry or full. It’s like you’re Goldilocks, you need to go to either extreme to know what suits you, for Goldilocks it was about learning the temperature she likes (so she needed the experience of porridge being too hot or too cold). Likewise, the dissatisfaction and discomfort of undereating or overeating is necessary for you to learn what food suits you and how much.

for example, my experiences

  • overeating = gassiness, lots of built up gas, feel burdened if I have to walk after meal (getting stitches), tends to be associated with mindless eating [differs for people but for me generally I can’t have any artificial distractions while I eat]
  • undereating = fatigue, knawing stomach, usually overcompensate in the next meal by overeating and experiencing the prior

fromtheheart mantras

  • I move and nourish my body for God
    • One of my fav content creators (breana cooney) talked about her own relationship with exercise and body image where she had felt dissatisfied with how her body looks after exercising. She talked about the reminder that she isn’t moving her body in order to fit her constructed version of what is ‘attractive’ but she is moving her body in order to use what has been created for her (if you believe in some higher spirit). Therefore movement and nourishment is not solely for her satisfaction/motivation which waxes and wanes, but movement and nourishment is an act of practising gratitude for the vessel you’ve been given and which you experience life through.

 

  • Don’t think about ‘how to intuitively eat’, start by developing an ear for hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues. Am I hungry? How hungry am I? What am I craving? Am I satisfied? Am I starting to feel uncomfortably full? How do I feel afterwards?

 

  • Get comfortable expressing these signals - like yep I’m satisfied, I can eat more but I don’t want more because I would feel uncomfortable or no, I’m not hungry at all, or yes, I’d like that or no, I’m hungry but the food you’re offering I know will make me feel light-headed or worse in the long-term. If I can do this in indo gatherings with tantes, you can do it ANYWHERE (trust).

 

  • Disordered eating has innocent motivations - whether it’s using food as a coping mechanism or conforming to how others eat, disordered eating typically stems from you being a child trying to please the people around you (noticing what kind of eating behaviour gets praise and what doesn’t, or what gets scolded) even if it means betraying your hunger, fullness and satisfaction signals

 

  • For the moments where food is a very attractive coping mechanism - where do i feel dissatisfied or not nourished in other areas of my life? Am I really craving foor or am I actually craving/anticipating the satisfaction of completing an activity/task that I feel scared of doing?

 

  • My favourite intuitive eating person: Alay Bowker <333 (her tiktok video in Year 10 is how I came across this concept)

 

lovenotes 💌

topic = my current muses

I've been so inspired by moya mawhinney, alay bowker, alia zaita and breana cooney recently - videography, fashion and their honesty is actually chef's kiss.

from, the heart <3

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