Intuitive Eating – A Non-Diet Approach

In Nutrition by Steph SaulloLeave a Comment

This post was written by RITTER Sports Performance Intern Catherine Beck, MS, RD.

Think back to your last meal. Where did you eat? What time? Were you watching TV? On your phone? Sitting at your work desk? Do you even remember what your last meal was, what it tasted like, or if you enjoyed it? Do you find yourself skipping meals because you are in the offseason or taking a break from training and you feel like because your training volume and intensity have decreased you don’t have to fuel? Or are you an athlete that feels like you are constantly being sucked into trying new diets and trends? It can be overwhelming receiving different food messages from coaches and teammates and hard to know at times how to best fuel your body without being obsessive.

There is no question that our world is full of distractions. We are constantly on the go with work, family, training, etc. and these things can pull us in a million different directions. Unfortunately, the hustle-and-bustle of day-to-day life can have a strong impact on our ability to nourish and fuel our bodies adequately. Additionally, as an athlete, it can be hard to grasp how to handle eating when you are not in-season or training regularly. Many individuals get stuck in the mindset that if they haven’t trained or participated in a grueling workout, they don’t “deserve” certain foods.  It can be easy to fall into compensatory behaviors like working out after a heavy meal to reduce guilt or limiting your intake throughout the day due to an upcoming event involving food. This type of thinking can lead to additional thoughts and behaviors that may harm your training intensity and athletic skills. Offseason fueling is just as critical to helping you achieve your athletic goals. It’s important to maintain a healthy and nourishing relationship with food throughout different seasons.

Maybe you’ve heard of intuitive eating, maybe not. It sounds obscure, and to those unaccustomed, to implementing it regularly it can seem daunting and awkward. Intuitive eating can be one of the best strategies to assist in adequately fueling for performance and facilitating a healthy relationship with food and your body.

The tenants of intuitive eating are straightforward–eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Eat when and what you want. There are no foods labeled as “good” or “bad.” This is simplified and you can find a more descriptive explanation of the 10 principles of intuitive eating here.

Sounds simple, right? Sadly, implementation can be challenging, especially when you’re accustomed to today’s food culture of eating quickly with distractions, counting calories and macros, and body shaming ourselves because we don’t look or perform the way we see others in the media. All of these distractions and messages from outside influences can lead to the loss of hunger and fullness cues, the cues we are born with to help us naturally regulate our food intake. When outside factors dictate what, when, and how we eat, it can be easy to ignore or misinterpret the messages your body sends you to distinguish when you are hungry and full. Intuitive eating is about getting back in touch with these signals and focusing on your physical hunger cues and what your body is telling you it needs. A hunger scale, like the one below, can be useful when trying to become more in tune with your hunger and fullness levels.

When you sit down to prepare or enjoy a meal, take 60 seconds to check in with yourself. What is your body craving? Are you hungry? How hungry are you? Do you simply think it’s “time” to eat? Is it physical hunger that is motivating you to consume food or is there more of an emotional reason behind your desire to eat? Examine your true hunger level. A good goal using the image above is to hover around 3-4 before eating, and 5-6 after eating.

Below are some small tweaks you can begin to make in your daily life that will help shape a more positive relationship and intuitive eating approach with food:

  1. Avoid distractions while eating. When you’re distracted during an eating occasion, you miss out on important cues that your body sends you. Moreover, you eat faster and chew your food less which can have a negative impact on the digestion of food. To start, try and consume one meal a day with no distractions. No emails, no TV, no Instagram. It sounds tough at first- but I promise the more you do it the easier it will get!
  2. Make peace with food. This is one of the main tenants of intuitive eating. Making peace with food means ridding yourself of pre-conceived beliefs about foods being good or bad. Get rid of the idea that there are foods you should or should not eat. All foods can fit and when you’re in touch with what your body needs you will know the best way to fuel it. You might be surprised what your body will tell you if you listen to it.
  3. Enjoy meal and snack times. Often meals are crammed into small time frames between other daily tasks. This results in a rushed eating experience. You’re left without a memory of how the food tasted or even if you enjoyed it. Next time you sit down to eat, really taste your food. Think about the different textures, smells, and the food’s appearance. Try rolling a bite around in your mouth and take a moment to experience the taste and texture. Before swallowing, evaluate how the taste and texture of the food changed in the few moments it was in your mouth. You will be amazed at how different eating can feel when you’re more aware of the properties and flavors of food as you eat it!
  4. Honor your body and its abilities. Remember, we only have one chance to treat our body well. Overall food patterns shape your health, not one meal or snack. Become aware of what your body needs, what it is craving, and treat it with respect.

If you’re feeling out of touch with hunger, food, or your body, make a goal to become more aware of how and why you eat the way you do and if those choices benefit you. Eating from internal cues of hunger and fullness and having a more mindful approach to food can lead to an overall improved body image and quality of life and less preoccupation with food.

If you’d like to learn more about intuitive eating, check out the 10 basic principles outlined in the book Intuitive Eating- A Revolutionary Program that Works, by Evelyn Tribole. MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD. The book and workbook are great resources.

If you’d like to work more on intuitive eating and fueling for your sport, connect with Steph today. And if you are really struggling with disordered eating behaviors, emotional eating, or if you have difficulty accepting your body, I encourage you to reach out for help. It is difficult to directly become an intuitive eater if you do have an eating disorder.

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