In part 1, I talked about what mental changes must take place for the chronic dieter to transition to intuitive eating. If you haven’t read that post yet, check it out. In this post, I will describe my basic method of intuitive eating. It’s not that complicated. This is essentially what I talk about in my free guide on intuitive eating called “How You’re Meant to Eat,” which you can get by putting your email in the box below this post. I figured some posts on the topic would help explain it for readers further, so here we go.
Table of contents
Most intuitive eating approaches vs. my approach
Most intuitive eating tips you can find from a google search focus on hunger and emotions. The idea is to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. The other part to it is to identify what emotions you have and if you’re eating because of emotions. What I’m describing here attempts to go further than that, with the goal of understanding what foods you really want.
Body awareness is a key step to eating intuitively. This is where learning to listen to your body, then follow your body, are really important. If you’re not listening to your body, you won’t realize that there are emotions guiding you to make unhealthy food choices. You also won’t know when your’e hungry and when you’re full. And you also won’t know what you want to eat! Achieving a high degree of awareness often involves letting go of our dietary beliefs and attachments, as discussed in part I.
Can we actually construct an ideal diet for our bodies based on intuition alone? Duh. Of course we can. What did we do for most of our evolutionary history!? It’s only now where we think we need “evidence” to understand how to be healthy. We definitely don’t need published evidence in journals to be healthy, but we definitely need evidence derived from experience.
Although my methods aren’t perfect and haven’t been adequately tested for me to claim it’s the gospel yet, I believe it’s so straightforward that it can indeed help us come pretty close to understanding the ideal diet for our bodies. It also draws on elements from Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and in general aims to activate our primal minds and deactivate our modern ones.
Choosing what to eat
In order to let your intuition guide you to the optimal diet for your body, you first need to try a lot of foods. This will form memories which you can rely on for future use. But since the memories can become distant after a while, an active process of mindfulness is required to tap into what foods you want at any moment. And one of the hardest parts about this actually is to decode the intuitive signal that you get.
For example, the hungrier we get, the more savory foods we may crave. That does not mean that every time you crave a brownie your body is telling you eat a brownie. It means that you’re hungry and just need some kind of food. After that, it’s figuring out what types of food you’d like…lighter foods, heavier foods, crunchy foods, salty, sweet, etc.
So to understand this you need to understand that foods have different qualities. We think of food in nutrition science as groups of foods and chemical composition. Dairy, meat, fruit, grains, fish, vegetables, and bread are examples of food groups. Nutritional recommendations are based on achieving a variety of food groups but also a balance in the macronutrients in these foods and adequate intake of micronutrients.
But we will forget all of that. Instead, we will think about the taste, texture, sight, temperature, and smell, among other qualities of a food, to form our memories. Foods within the same food group may have different qualities. For example, fruits are in general are cooling but some are different than others. You don’t have to determine exactly what a foods texture is before you eat intuitively, as that defeats the purpose of intuitive eating. Less thinking and more intuiting is the goal. Just have a general idea.
So I encourage you to think about the basic qualities in your food. A potato for instance is starchy. It has carbs, but think of the quality of those carbs: starch. If you don’t even know what starch is, it doesn’t matter. When you eat mashed potatoes, you have a sense of what kinds of foods have this quality. As you eat those mashed potatoes, it melts in your mouth. It’s now on your tongue, and feels soft, smooth, and warm. Oh god this is getting a bit too intimate. But you get the point. Does an apple feel that way? Didn’t think so. but apple pie might come close. The same food can take on different qualities depending on how it’s cooked.
Let’s examine fruits briefly. Fruits have carbs, but they aren’t starchy they are sugary and watery. Dates have more concentrated sugar than apples, and you can sense that when you chew these foods. Meats also have different qualities. Meats in general are warming foods. They are a dense source of calories and nutrition. As you eat it, think about this taste. Who cares if it’s a good source of nutrition if you hate the taste and don’t feel good after eating it? Then you should try something else. If you crave meat, and don’t like steak, maybe there are other meats you will like. So you need to try a variety of things before your intuition can figure out what it works best with.
After-effects of food
Sometimes the effects of food aren’t immediately apparent. It may take a few days for inflammatory processes to occur for example. It may take some time after changing your diet significantly to see changes in how you feel. Regardless, our goals are the same: to pay attention. Here are some areas you can pay attention to in order to determine if what you’re eating is working for you:
- Satisfaction: how does the food make you feel emotionally? Was it what you wanted? This is one of the most important markers to assess. Energy and all is great, but ultimately we want to tap into what our intuition wants. If we get what we want, we will be satisfied.
- Emotional eating and feeling emotions from food are two different things. The emotional eater uses food to cope with their emotions. This has nothing to do with observing the emotional after effects of eating food. For the emotional eater, food doesn’t usually change their emotional state. It’s just a way to cover them up temporarily. When foods contain the nutrition that you need, they will improve your emotional state and balance neurochemistry.
- Satiety: are your cravings going away after eating? Are you full? For example, you might try to eat two pounds of broccoli for dinner to suppress your appetite. If that’s all you eat, you might feel somewhat full, but perhaps in a weird way. You might still want some more calories and you need to tune in to figure this out.
- There are different types of fullness, and that is beyond the scope of this post. But the simple answer to assessing satiety is by asking yourself if you want anything else. This is really simple, so don’t overthink it.
- Energy: assess your energy levels after eating.
- Mood: Food may improve your mood, make it worse, and it really depends on a million things. It’s not just the food too it’s how you digest the food. For example, eating a good meal might make me more aggressive by giving me energy. I take this to be a good thing, as long it’s not a stressed aggressive which signals stress. The aggressive I’m talking about is more like a “fire in the belly” type feeling. I love how abstract this stuff is.
- Digestion: This is one of those effects which can appear immediately or after a period of time. Digestive issues from food include bloating, gas, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, and numerous other symptoms. Just pay some attention and keep experimenting.
- Any other symptom that you can think of that possibly correlates with what you ate counts as an after-effect.
Observation is key here. Don’t ignore symptoms. When things arise just notice it, change up something in your diet, and see if there’s an effect. It’s a scientific process and you’re in charge!
Intuitive eating isn’t perfect in my opinion. I think with more advanced intuitive methods like pendulum testing and things I don’t have much experience with yet, it could get incredibly accurate in predicting what foods you respond best to. I hope in the future I can take these kinds of intuitive methods and test them out with nutritional testing.
But none of that is necessary to figure out what foods you actually like. And the benefit of this is avoiding dangerous ideas that could possibly ruin your health like low-carb, raw foodism, or ketogenic diets. Within these three paradigms, you can use your intuition to determine what’s working. But the restrictive nature of those diets prevents the development of your food memory. They can even trick your intuition into thinking that the only foods available to you are those which you have permitted yourself to eat.
That’s what I experienced on a raw vegan diet; I only craved foods which I told myself I was allowed to eat. After the diet I had an intense craving for cheese. When I ate it, I instantly felt more energized and happier, which showed me that I was very deficient before that. By following your gut, you may be able to prevent deficiencies and choose those foods which nourish you best and are right for your body based on your needs and activity levels.
Start developing your intuition; it’s powerful.