IS INTUITIVE EATING RIGHT FOR YOU?
Intuitive eating is characterized by 3 big ideas: no food rules, no calorie counting, and no meal plans. It’s all about listening to your body and eating based on how you feel. It’s exactly what it sounds like, you eat based on your intuition! But what happens after you’ve been struggling with food?
If you want to eat intuitively, does that mean you go from total restriction to complete Food Freedom all at once?
Honestly, it just doesn’t work like that for most people. Which is why a great option for recovery from an ED, and finding Food Freedom, is to TRANSITION to intuitive eating with baby steps. My friend Katie wrote something amazing about transitioning from an eating disorder to intuitive eating on her Instagram (@katiesoneday). She said, “intuitive eating is not for everyone + definitely not for me right now.” AND SHE’S SO RIGHT. We don’t need to force ourselves to eat intuitively if it’s not something that works for us right now.
WE DON’T NEED TO CHANGE IT ALL, ALL AT ONCE
Intuitive eating is a LOT to handle all at once. And when we’ve come from a place of restriction with an eating disorder, trading all those rules in for intuitive eating can make us feel lost, overwhelmed, and like we’re failing. But we’re NOT failing! We just need an approach that makes SENSE right now.
After we’ve spent years dieting and following food rules, how on earth can you expect your body to understand intuitive eating?
It’s a HUGE challenge, and it’s not always one we need to take right this second, especially not all at once. My friend Katie also said she was sticking with her meal plan to keep herself free from her ED. She added this to the quote from earlier: “if you have to as well then don’t worry – it’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just where we’re at NOW. Things change + that’s the beauty of life.” #TRUTH
Grab your free Food Freedom workbook here + start creating your healthy bliss!
3 STEPS TOWARDS INTUITIVE EATING AFTER RESTRICTION
My favorite way to transition into intuitive eating after struggling with food is to follow these 3 baby steps:
- Redefine what real food is
- Replace restriction with structure
- Indulge more often than you think you “should”
1. REDEFINE WHAT REAL FOOD IS
The first most basic idea is to redefine what “real food” is to you. We tell ourselves that real food is whatever our diet beliefs, at the moment, are. For example, if you’re following the paleo diet, you have a specific set of beliefs about what real food is. If you’re a vegan, you believe something entirely different about real food. If you’re low carb, it means something different too. The idea of real food is funny like that – it does NOT mean the same thing to everyone, which makes it restrictive.
We hold onto the food rules and restrictions that shaped our restrictive mindset around food and eating disorders. Which means, we need to change those beliefs about food into something a LOT less restrictive if we want to find Food Freedom.
We redefine what real food is by:
- Ditching diet labels
- Accepting all natural sources of foods, from the earth, as real food
- Including all macronutrients and food groups
HOW TO REDEFINE REAL FOOD
Step 1: Ditch your diet label.
When I was strict paleo… grains, legumes, and dairy weren’t part of my idea of real food – and that led me into a battle with orthorexia. Allowing myself to eat ALL kinds of foods, instead of restricting myself from foods that weren’t “paleo”, allowed me to take the first step towards intuitive eating after my eating disorder.
Step 2: Accept all natural sources of foods, from the earth, as real food.
Real food is any food that comes from the earth. It can be food that IS processed, minimally processed, or in its whole form. Real foods are grains (whole grains and flours), legumes (beans, peas, soy, lentils, etc.), meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy (butter, yogurt, cheese, etc.), fruits, vegetables, and whatever else is living on this earth or grown on this earth that’s edible. The only restrictions are to avoid your personal sensitivities, as needed.
Step 3: Include all macronutrients and food groups.
You must include all macronutrients and food groups (unless otherwise told by a medical professional). You should not be forcing yourself to minimize fats, carbohydrates, or protein as part of a diet. You should include all food groups and not exclude them because of a diet label you had in the past.
2. REPLACE RESTRICTION WITH STRUCTURE
The second step of transitioning to eating intuitively is to replace restriction with structure. You should create a basic eating structure that keeps you healthy – so that you don’t have to constantly think about what you’re going to eat. Having a plan or “structure” allows you to focus on other areas of your life and eliminates that stress of having to constantly think about what you should eat. The goals are to have a structure that:
- Is NOT restrictive
- Is flexible
- Provides enough calories
- Provides enough nutrients
We do NOT want more restriction. We want a basic idea of regular eating habits so we can R E L A X around food. We want something flexible, that allows us to change the plan to fit our life. The food in our plan should be easily accessible and be able to change as we go on vacation, eat out at restaurants, and go to parties with friends and family. We should be eating enough calories and nutrients, and we should not restrict our portions or calories.
Get down to the root… why did you struggle with restriction in the first place?
Grab your free Food Freedom workbook here and break free from restriction for good!
HOW TO CREATE STRUCTURE
1. Have go-to meals.
Creating a menu of 3 basic options for each meal makes it super easy to create regular eating habits. For example, your breakfast menu might be… option 1: eggs, avocado, spinach, and toast; option 2: oatmeal with nut butter, berries, and collagen protein; option 3: quinoa pancakes with peanut butter, banana, and maple syrup. And these can all change to include different variations. For example: with the pancakes, you could always make blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip pancakes, waffles instead with the batter, or make savory pancakes with an egg and crispy bacon.
When I say a “menu”, I don’t mean that you should make a formal, written menu. It can just be an idea in your head. When something works well for you, by keeping you full, healthy, and happy – remember it and use it as a go-to meal option. If you like to experiment and cook, this step might not even be needed – but if you feel lost, creating a menu can be a big help.
Having this loose idea of a “menu” for each meal eliminates the need to constantly decide what and when to eat. And while it can be altered at any time to fit what you have access to, it can ensure that you don’t skip meals and that you’re fueling your body with enough nutrients and calories. Make your menu something that follows your redefined idea of real food from step 1, and always make a balanced plate (below).
2. Make a balanced plate.
In order for the menu to work, your meals must be balanced. Which means, the plate must include all 3 macronutrients: carbs, fats, and protein. Your menu must also include a wide variety of foods each day. A plan like this works because it keeps you from falling into restriction because it allows you to PRACTICE eating all foods.
3. Include snack options.
Don’t forget about allowing yourself to snack if you’re hungry! Make sure you have at least 3 go-to, balanced snacks included in your menu. You can eat them at any time between meals.
4. Adopt a meal prep strategy.
If you’re busy and the idea of making all of this food seems unrealistic and intimidating, make sure you follow a meal prep strategy that works for you! You can batch cook big portions to have purposeful leftovers, meal prep once a week, or make the time to prepare foods as you need them.
5. Don’t be afraid to go off of your menu.
The purpose of having structure is not to restrict yourself from enjoying things that aren’t on your menu. At any time, you have the power to change your menu, eat out at a restaurant, go to a dinner party, or WHATEVER IS NEEDED. Food is there as a tool to live your life, but it is not something that must dictate your life. For more help with breaking restriction, check out this post here.
Note: if you were prescribed a meal plan or calorie count by your certified medical professional, stick to it – they prescribed it for a reason!
3. INDULGE MORE OFTEN THAN YOU THINK YOU “SHOULD”
The reason we need to indulge more often than we think we “should” is that restriction is what led us to disordered eating habits in the first place. And most likely, that restriction made food become a source of fear, guilt, and frustration. So, in order to heal our relationship with food and learn to eat intuitively, we must prove it to ourselves that indulging can be a source of health AND happiness.
Eating delicious foods (indulging can mean all sorts of things from ice cream sundaes to grandma’s homemade lasagna) is part of being mentally healthy because it makes us happy to enjoy delicious foods. When we enjoy our food and allow ourselves to satisfy all of our needs free from restriction – we can take another step closer towards eating intuitively!
TAKEAWAY: INTUITIVE EATING IS A TRANSITION
Intuitive eating is truly a transition and does not need to be taken on all at once. You can take baby steps toward intuitive eating after restriction and in eating disorder recovery. There is no one-size-fits-all, so do what YOU need to do to find FOOD FREEDOM – the balance between healthiness and happiness that works for you!
Food Freedom is not the same thing as mindfulness and intuitive eating – it’s the place where food doesn’t control your life, it enhances it! So don’t ever feel like you have to eat intuitively right now just because “everyone else” is doing it. Do what works for YOU and make it a transition that fuels your life in more ways than just food.