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Intuitive Eating Basics: Feel Your Fullness

Intuitive Eating Basics: Feel Your Fullness

As we continue our exploration of the basic principles of Intuitive Eating, we are going to focus next on the concept of learning to “Feel Your Fullness”. 

In “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, they instruct:

Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is.” 

Take a second and evaluate – how comfortable are you with leaving food on your plate?  

Chances are, if you have a history of dieting, you are likely cleaning that plate without even thinking about it. There is an interesting correlation between diet mentality and the “clean plate club”. When you have been following a restrictive diet and it comes time to eat your “allowed” food, people typically consume everything permitted. Even if it’s a garbage-tasting weird-as-all-get-out diet substitute for a beloved treat – if it’s “allowed”, it gets eaten. A mentality of “eat while you can!” develops.  

This type of relationship with food is out of touch with your body’s natural inner hunger and fullness cues. When you engage in this type of extremely common and culturally promoted behavior, you are training yourself to deny your desire to eat and also to ignore your sense of satiety.   

Ignoring your fullness cue can also show up in another way-  by primarily focusing on external cues for information about how much you should eat. This may look like needing to eat the entire bag of chips or the entire burrito rather than letting your internal cues guide your eating. You may be numb to your body and your relationship with food has suffered because of it, and so you eat mindlessly until the package or serving is completed, and decide you are “done” – without ever checking in on what your body is trying to tell you. 

By learning how to fully feel and respect your fullness, you are allowing your body to guide your intake of food. 

How do you recognize your fullness or satiety cues? While this is something that can be very individual, you can learn to recognize the unique way your body is giving you information about how much to eat. It can be helpful to think back to your hunger cues. Do you primarily feel hunger as a stomach sensation? Do you notice feeling irritable, distractible, or thinking more about food when you are hungry? Often your fullness cues will mirror your hunger cues. You can feel a lack of the stomach sensation of hunger, or less irritable and distractible, or less interested in thinking about food when you are full.  

In order to really understand this individual cue, take some time to practice mindful eating. Rate your hunger cue at the beginning, middle, and end of a meal. How does it change as you eat? Slow down and focus on the experience of the taste, texture, temperature, and smell of your food.  

This approach to eating is like taking your body off of autopilot – either from dieting or feeling like you “have” to eat your serving size – and putting you fully in the driver’s seat. You take over the operation and navigation of your relationship with food and use your hunger and fullness as a guide to what happens. By empowering yourself in this way, you are getting one step closer to intuitive eating! 

Intuitive Eating Basics: Challenge the Food Police

Intuitive Eating Basics: Challenge the Food Police

When was the last time that you comfortably ate in front of others, not worrying about what they may be noticing about your eating habits? As you work to reject the diet mentality, the next principle of intuitive eating is to challenge the “food police”!  

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating, have this to say:

“The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step to returning to intuitive eating.” 

Were you surprised to hear the food police station described as being housed in your own psyche? Were you expecting the food police to be external forces or people? Like so much of our mental health, what is going on internally drives our ability to function well.  

We each have beliefs about the world that are formed even before our ability to speak. Some of the beliefs you pick up inevitably involve ideas, morals, and assumptions about food. As you work towards more of an intuitive eating approach, it is important to develop some awareness of what these thoughts are. Cultivating non judgmental mindfulness around your food thoughts will allow you to vanquish the food police!  

Think about the different ideas you may have picked up over a lifetime of interacting with food and the world around you. Perhaps you recognize a belief that carbs are bad and protein is good. You may also have thoughts about sugar, dessert, or “earning” your food. Do you have food rules for yourself, perhaps things like, “No food after 7pm”? Where did some of these thoughts come from?  

With non judgmental mindfulness, you don’t have to hand over the power of beratement from the food police to the intuitive eating police. You can observe your thoughts without assigning moralistic values to them (hence “non judgmental” mindfulness!) In doing so, you are able to get curious about the thoughts you have without having to hurry and “shush” them out of shame.  

Let’s take a specific example of someone who is fearful of carbohydrates. In that case, the person might examine: Where did my fear of carbs first come from? A parent’s disciplined adherence to a fad diet during my teenage years? Well, that absolutely makes sense!  Examine and challenge certain thoughts without beating yourself up for having them.  

Identifying cognitive distortions, a principle used often in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can also be helpful as you approach your thoughts mindfully. A cognitive distortion I see a lot in working with clients is black and white thinking. Do some of the thoughts you have about food illustrate that common distortion?  

In our example of the carb avoider, they might have a thought like, “All carbs are bad, so restricting all of them is good.” As they are able to identify thoughts that are extreme, they can begin the work of challenging or reframing the thought. They might ask themselves questions like, “Should I really never eat carbs? Are all of them bad? Are there times when it might be to my benefit to consume a balanced intake of all nutrients?” They can then examine what they have found to be true in their own life. Perhaps they have had times when they heavily restricted carbs and then felt low energy and struggled to not binge eat. They could examine that experience and then develop a reframed, balanced thought like, “My experience has shown me carbs are a normal part of my eating, and they help me feel balanced.” They can then use that reframed thought to remind themselves of the work they are doing every time the food police sound the red alert as they have a carbohydrate in hand!  

As you move towards intuitive eating, take some time to non-judgmentally observe your thoughts for the food police. As you do so, lovingly remind yourself that they do not have jurisdiction over your food thoughts and behaviors- you do not need to be policed and reprimanded! Intuitive eating will provide you with an opportunity to learn how to tune back into your natural body cues. No more red and blue flashing lights when carbs are around! 

Intuitive Eating 101: Make Peace with Food

Intuitive Eating 101: Make Peace with Food

“Call a truce, stop the food fight!  Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable craving and often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.” –Intuitive Eating

Unconditional permission to eat- does that sound like a recipe for disaster to you?  

Interestingly, the research shows that what leads to binge eating behaviors is restriction. What combats binge eating? Food access! When you give yourself permission to eat without conditions, your body trusts that food is available and stops sending you famine level food cravings. Those food cravings? They come from your biology being wired to keep you alive- if your body decides it is experiencing famine due to your restrictive behaviors, your brain will hyper focus on food acquisition.  

In fact, when clients I work with understand the connection between ignoring their hunger, restriction, and binge eating- it’s a powerful “aha!” moment. That binge eating often leads to guilt, frustration, and further commitment to restrict- setting the cycle up once more. It’s like being on a crazy roundabout! When you have had enough and are ready to find the exit- it will become visible by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.  

When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it may seem like the guard rails are off and you may go out of control. But remember- you were out of control on the crazy making roundabout of restriction, cravings, and binge eating. Trying a new approach and striving to make peace with food may feel scary, but that’s exactly what is needed in this situation- a new approach leading to peace!

To give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it’s going to be important to throw out the window the food rules you may be accustomed to holding yourself to. You can eat after any hour- and before any hour! You can eat what you really want. You can eat without keeping score and making plans to “work it off” or “earn” food.  

In Intuitive Eating, a 5 step process is outlined for how to make peace with food:

  1. “Pay attention to the foods that are appealing to you and make a list of them. 
  2. Put a check mark by the foods you actually do eat, then circle remaining foods that you’ve been restricting.  
  3. Give yourself permission to eat one forbidden food from your list, then go to the market and buy this food, or order it at a restaurant.
  4. Check in with yourself to see if the food tastes as good as you imagined.  If you find that you really like it, continue to give yourself permission to buy or order it. 
  5. Make sure that you keep enough of the food in your kitchen so that you know that it will be there if you want it.  Or if that seems too scary, go to a restaurant and order the particular food as often as you like.”

As you continue your journey to make peace with food, you will strengthen your personal insight and judgement related to food.  You will experience less out of control cravings and guilt ridden moments of binge eating.  You will come to know that food is meant to be enjoyed- not obsessed over! 

Intuitive Eating Basics: Honor Your Hunger

Intuitive Eating Basics: Honor Your Hunger

Have you seen the meme floating around social media that states something along the lines of, “Forgive me for what I said when I was hungry”? Extreme hunger can set the scene for impulsive behaviors. Whether it’s wreaking havoc on your personal lives or setting the stage for enormous cravings for food, deprivation of food can bring with it many unwanted side effects.  

When you have allowed your hunger to get to an extreme point, you’ve likely triggered your biological response to starvation. Sometimes that can happen unintentionally- through lack of nutrients and genuine starvation- and sometimes it can happen intentionally- through dieting and eating disordered behaviors. It’s interesting to observe that your body does not distinguish between unintentional and intentional restrictive eating behaviors- when you are in deprivation, your body responds by issuing strong biological cravings to focus your efforts on securing food.  

How does understanding your biology and honoring your hunger help aid in recovery from an unhealthy relationship with food? 

In Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch instruct, “Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.”

Food obsession starts with deprivation. By deciding to exit the crazy-making cycle of restriction and binging and clueing back into honoring your hunger, you allow yourself to reset. As you then refocus on meeting your needs for nutrition- not by obsessing- but through listening to and following your biological hunger cues- you are able to rebuild trust with your body, which sets the stage for overcoming  unhealthy food relationships. .  

What does listening to and following your biological hunger cues look like?  

First, it may be helpful to examine what ignoring those cues looks like. When you diet or intentionally restrict, you are numbing yourself to the very normal hunger signals of your body. In doing so, you turn down the volume of the signal essentially to a point where you may not even recognize it anymore. When you have done this, there is a process of relearning to listen to your hunger cues that must occur.  

Decide today to check in with your hunger cues. For some, it can be helpful to rank your hunger on a scale of 1-10 and observe what your body is telling you it needs through hunger cues throughout your day. It can also be helpful to look at how you feel hunger. Hunger cues are not just bodily, stomach feelings. They can also present as symptoms of irritability, inability to focus, lightheadedness, and more. Do you identify with any of those symptoms, or recognize other personal hunger symptoms? Taking some time to observe and be mindful of how your body experiences hunger can be a powerful tool in eating recovery.  

After spending time with your observations, you are then ready to begin to honor your observations. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Keep observing. Keep honoring your cues.  

In a world where you are sold a new diet plan every day- it can seem revolutionary to take a step back and focus on very basic ideas like honoring hunger. But imagine the freedom in trusting your body to do the simple biological things it was created to manage- without apps, macros, counting, and obsession. Just listen, honor, repeat.  


Intuitive Eating Basics: Reject the Diet Mentality

Intuitive Eating Basics: Reject the Diet Mentality

Chances are, if you or a loved one has been in treatment for any kind of eating concerns, you have heard your dietician or therapist talk about “intuitive eating”. I want to take some time to break down exactly what we are talking about with this concept, as it is far removed from the cultural ideas we have surrounding eating. For the next few blogs, I will be highlighting principles to help you grow in your mastery of intuitive eating.   (more…)