Calories In < Calories Out = Weight loss.
The formula seems simple enough and so for anyone who has undertaken a weight loss journey it starts here, but eventually it’s not enough.
I was no different. I spent years tallying every morsel, tracking the downward trend on number on the scale to prove I was doing it right…until I realized that I wasn’t in control of the food; it was controlling me.
But how do you let go of this idea when it’s splashed on every magazine?
Should we ignore calories completely?
Should we count something else instead like protein or fat?
These questions seem to be at the basis of fear around “Intuitive Eating”. If you aren’t tracking something then how can you know if you’re making progress, right? I’m a runner so that logic makes complete sense to me!
And yet, there is a reason so few people stick to a diet and why those counting certain things need “cheat days”.
Intuitive Eating Defined
What is intuitive eating? It’s basically as easy as it sounds:
Intuitive: using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive
Eating: consuming food.
Intuitive eating: choosing to eat foods that feel best without a focus on calories or macros
It can feel unnatural to let go of the numbers which had created a safety blanket.
How does one “feel” what foods are right… I mean I feel like a cookie is a great choice when I smell it and it makes me smile.
But if you, like me, have ever found yourself spending too much time worrying about food and very little time enjoying food, it’s time for a change. I couldn’t immediately drop the idea of counting and just eat, that was like a person who eats meat at every meal going Vegan overnight. Might work for some people, but my head would explode.
Instead, I made a choice to first focus on eating 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. I didn’t care how I got them, but that small switch helped me to start thinking of food in positive terms.
Eventually the shift allows you to actually see how different foods make you feel: high energy? bloated? hard to concentrate? alive? excited? clear skin? bright eyes? breakouts? aches and pains?
AH HA so feel doesn’t mean emotions per say…who knew!
Tips for Intuitive Eating
Let’s move on to how to put intuitive eating in to practice! The following tips will help with the practical advice of how to start intuitive eating, without feeling like you’ve let yourself slide in to eating nothing, but donuts and pizza.
Because isn’t that the big fear when we take away the control provided by calories?Let’s talk more about the how and why this can be so beneficial. Here are 3 intuitive eating tips to help you being implementing Intuitive Eating:
#1 Allow Yourself to Feel Hungry
How many times have you known that you were headed to an event, where you weren’t quite sure what food might be available?
Though you aren’t hungry, you begin grabbing things from the cabinet “oh maybe I better just eat a little bit of this because what if I get there and there isn’t anything” or you start putting stuff in your purse because “what if I get there and it’s not on my plan”.
It’s an easy trap to fall in to when we have a world designed around: good food vs bad food.
Now you’re not even hungry, but you’ve started thinking about food and you’re stressed about something that may or may not be an issue.
What to do instead? Embrace hunger.
Once you actually get back to the point where you allow yourself to feel your stomach grumbling, then you’re able to start recognizing what food actually sounds good.
Many times we’ve conditioned ourselves to follow patterns “I must eat this” or “I must eat this often”. It makes us anxious and we often force ourselves to eat because we should (i.e. it’s time for lunch, I must get enough post workout protein).
How to Better Listen to Hunger Signals?
As a grazer, step one is often eliminating the constant snacking and returning to meals. Not only do we tend to eat better at a meal than a snack, but time in between allows us to recognize our hunger.
Additionally a lack of nutrients can cause us to feel hungry, even when we’re getting enough calories, so a balanced meal might be just what we need. Another reason to focus on all those freggies.
Sit down to eat. Ah ha! We often eat snacks on the go right? So if you sit down, it’s a signal you’re ready for a meal and if that doesn’t sound good, you might not actually be hungry.
Finally is a practice from a sports nutritionist friend of rating your hunger. When you sit down to a meal, as yourself, “How hungry am I right now?”, and give it a number from 1 to 10 with 1 being ravenous and 10 being stuffed like a turkey at Thanksgiving. This simple practice will allow you to tune in.
As you’re eating check in with yourself, asking yourself… “How much more do I need to eat so that I feel energized for the next 3-4 hours or so”.
Eating to a gentle satisfaction (6-7) not stuffed (8-9) is a learned skill that only becomes easier with practice. Eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied turns the focus from the food and gives your body the energy that it craves.3 easy strategies to ditch the diet mindset without fearing weight gain! via @runtothefinish #health Click To Tweet
#2 Truly Enjoy Your Food
Speaking of sitting down, do you remember how people used sit down together at the table and pray over their food?
Not only where they connecting with each other, but a few other important things happened that were in essence part of intuitive eating for centuries:
We all need a moment to pause during the day and meal times used to be breaks. Can you put away the phone, stop eating at your desk and actually taste your food?
Being relaxed allows your body to digest food more quickly and more importantly if you’re truly tasting each bite then you recognize when you’re full!!!
According to the book “E-Squared” praying or blessing your food, can change not only your physiology about the food and your mindset about the food, but change how your body reacts to the food. This is a fascinating experiment to try yourself!
If prior to eating that slice of pizza you’ve been dreaming about all week, or your grandma’s famous cake, you start thinking about how bad it is for you, you make it worse for you.
While it sounds woowoo, there’s a number of sciencey things happening here – from impaired digestion, to eating too fast, to not savoring your food, to the post food guilt that leads to eating more.
I LOVED this idea of thanking my food because it does force you to pause before shoveling it in.
Now, I sit down and I have this amazing plate of food, and I will say “thank you for this amazing nourishing food, I know that it is going to fill my muscles and I know that I’m going to have a great, fantastic wonderful workout because of it. I’m going have a plenty of energy.”
You know what a crazy shift that is?
In the past it as more like “okay, I really want the pizza, and I’m gonna eat it, oh yeah it tastes good, god I’m gonna have to run this off so I don’t feel fat”.
Also a key here, if a food consistently makes you feel a certain way it’s either because you’ve assigned it a bad label or because it really doesn’t sit well with you.
How much time do you spent not actually enjoying the food you’ve been thinking about all day because you’re putting all this mental energy into “I should have it”, “I shouldn’t have it”, or “it’s not really the right time to eat”. You know how I feel about shoulding on yourself.
What to do?
Sugar receptors are in your mouth and that’s where your food digestion begins, so enjoying our food is going to help us in multiple ways.
Sit down, thank yourself and your food for doing something good for you. Then chew that food, taste it, set your fork down…slow down!
#3 Freggies (Fruits and Vegetables)
The last piece is actually the one that I started things with initially! Instead of worrying about calories, we’re looking for foods that make us feel strong, alive and healthy…hello freggies!!!
The gold standard is 7 to 9 servings daily, which ensures we’re really getting all the nutrients we need.
Vegetables are an amazing tool as we move away from calorie counting because the volume and fiber help to increase our feeling of fullness and to keep things moving right along our digestive track. I know I keep talking about digestion, but it’s key too good health. Read more about how it impacts everything!
How To Do It?
Can you find ways to sneak veggies in to breakfast?
That sets the tone for adding them throughout the day. Can you cut up fresh veggies each weekend to have them handy throughout the week.If you’re having trouble quitting calorie counting, Restriction Recovery Coach, Katherine Edgecumbe, teaches you three methods to stop without stress or anxiety.
Are the Numbers Keeping You Stuck?
A final thought on why calorie counting might not be working for you any more! (In case you still aren’t convinced!)
I kept calorie counting mind you because it was too scary to let that go.
Until I had another moment where I realized the numbers were working against me. If it was 8PM and my little journal showed that I “had calories left” it wouldn’t matter if I was hungry or not, the ice cream came out, the cookies were demolished.
I could feel ok about staying within my numbers, but my body wasn’t benefiting and I was kind of confused…what caused me to suddenly start eating when I didn’t even want food?
Just days after switching from all day grazing to eating meals, it became very clear that my cookie habit wasn’t about hunger or even cravings, but simply because the calories said I could.
I’m actually eating less now that I have let go of the calorie concern because when I am hungry I can honor that feeling with a full plate of food!
Science has also shown that when you ask people what they last ate, they will remember the meal they sat down for and not all the nibbling in between.
Starting out with just these 3 easy intuitive eating strategies we can begin to let go of the diet mentality and reduce food anxiety:
- Focus on enjoying whatever you choose to eat
- Thinking in advance about how to get in enough vegetables, instead of good/bad
- Allowing yourself to feel hungry
- The freggies nutrients are curbing cravings and decreasing the need to snack
Have you heard of Intuitive Eating?
What does it meant to you?
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Great tips Amanda. Though I will still often pack a snack when going somewhere where I'm unsure of food or when it will be served. Because embracing hunger is okay but getting over hungry causes me to overindulge.
Also, just as a quick note your first line is backwards. More calories in than out would cause weight gain.
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Totally agree, I do still take food with me when I travel or when I'm out all day. I think the difference is taking it as planning for something vs fear. :)
My recent post Does Intuitive Eating Scare You? 3 Easy Strategies to Get Started
Oh eating is such a struggle, isn't it? I often think that it should not be this hard!! I love how you broke everything down here and I was constantly nodding my head in agreement. Although I am not a calorie counter, I definitely feel guilty after eating certain foods and feel I have to "work them off" with exercise, etc.
I try to take it one meal at a time and I'm definitely a grazer who is trying to only eat meals! It makes a huge difference when I make time for it.
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Maybe it's because I work from home, the meals thing is hard for me! I graze because I can, so always a work in progress!!
My recent post Does Intuitive Eating Scare You? 3 Easy Strategies to Get Started
I love how you broke down the major concerns about intuitive eating and showed how great it is! After counting calories in college, it just seemed to take too much energy and I started eating intuitively, which helped me zone in fueling my body for running, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and enjoying food! I do feel guilty after certain foods (or more so, too much of certain foods), but I'm starting to realize that with an emphasis on whole foods, things balance out well.
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Wonderful post, especially in a time where the food market is so hot in saying “eat this, not that”. I need to get back into sitting down for my meals. Too often it’s on the couch with my phone in hand and tv on! Especially when I take a lot of time and effort into cooking, that’s definitely no way for me to be enjoying it!
I love veggies, but almost never eat fruit besides a banana. I feel like I need to try eating more fruit and get away from the evening dessert I've been having lately. (And get back to my 7-9 veggies I used to eat every day…)
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I LOVE intuitive eating. It also means I don't feel guilty for having an occasional treat. I often add a green salad to my lunch (or breakfast – over easy eggs with an oil and vinegar dressed salad is awesome and something I really crave) and always have a stash of frozen veggies to add to a meal.
I intuitively eat ALL THE FOOD – lol!! I always take note of eating and how delicious the foods are that I am eating! Dare I say… I live to eat? LOL!
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Do you have any suggestions for stopping the habit of nibbling when cooking? When I'm hungry or even not, I find that i crave whatever I'm preparing for dinner and I catch myself eating it before I even realize what I'm doing sometimes. I'd really like to just be able to enjoy my meals without eating before or snacking. I appreciated this post.
fabulous question!! I know some people keep gum around or mints for while they are cooking. Another option though is to have some baby carrots or celery around and nibble on those as an alternative. At first any change is going to feel weird, so set a timeline like I will try this everyday for 30 days to help it become a habit.
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Thanks so much for your help those are really good ideas! I liked your idea of a timeline too.
I’ve been tracking my calories because I’ve noticed that if I don’t…I’ll just eat everything. Although lately it seems that sometimes I’m full, even though I haven’t come close to the calories I “should” consume for the day. I would be interested to try this and see if it makes a difference!