Intuitive eating for weight loss sounds like a great idea; simply listen to what your body is craving, eat it, and lose weight without fixating on good or bad foods, self-loathing for slipping off the diet, or obsessive calorie-counting. If you’ve tried it and the weight isn’t coming off, it’s time to look at these four simple tips for making intuitive eating work for you.
Making the transition to intuitive eating can be tricky. We’re so used to the idea that we should artificially restrict what we eat that giving ourselves permission to eat whatever we want can lead to over-eating previously forbidden foods. If this has happened to you, don’t give up! You can make a fresh start and decide that you want to take your body’s need for supportive nutrition seriously.
Make Your Own Food
Cookies, cakes and burgers are not forbidden with an intuitive eating plan, but buying these foods from supermarkets or fast food outlets might not be working for you. If you make your own instead of buying them ready-made, not only do you get exactly what you want in terms of flavour, you can also avoid ingredients which are nutritionally empty and don’t cause your body to feel sated. Some additives and ingredients can even make you feel hungrier and undermine the whole point of intuitive eating, which is to ensure you only eat what you need to eat.
Making your own food means you can use real butter or olive oil instead of hydrogenated fats, and cane sugar or honey instead of high-fructose corn syrup. You will be able to avoid monosodium glutamate or similar flavour enhancers which fool you into believing you are hungrier than you really are. If you have ever opened a bag of artificially flavoured potato crisps or chips just to grab a handful and found yourself eating all of them, then blame the monosodium glutamate. It’s far easier not to start eating flavour-enhanced foods than to stop once you have had a taste.
You can choose to make a rich chocolate cake by using as much cocoa as you want to fulfill those chocolate cravings. Since you’re making it yourself, you can pick a recipe which uses some coconut flour or mash in a banana to add moisture, fibre, and some extra nutrients. It’s possible to cut the amount of sugar in a cake by substituting some desiccated coconut or finely chopped dried fruit. You will find that you need to eat less cake to satisfy your cravings.
A burger made with salad leaves grown on your windowsill, a fresh ciabatta roll, and a top-quality frozen burger might take a few minutes to assemble, but tastes much better than convenience food. It will fulfill your need for the nutrients which come with the fast food with a smaller portion.
If you want sweets or candy, melt a small amount of the best quality chocolate you can afford and dip fruit into it, or make jelly or jello with fruit mixed in. Jello or jelly will set very quickly if you tip the liquid mixture over frozen berries. After a while, you might find that you only want the fruit.
If you want to, you could even buy a breadmaker. These are simple to use and you can avoid the added sugars and excessive yeast which are an unwelcome addition to some supermarket breads. You can use whole-grain flours and more unusual flours such as oat or millet to add variety to your sandwiches.
Are You Thirsty or Hungry?
Telling the difference is not always easy. If you reach for a sugary and caffeinated drink every time you want some liquid, then your body might have forgotten what the difference is. Following the intuitive eating plan does take some time to re-program your body’s natural responses and tastes. We were not born craving sugar and caffeine!
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Choose to drink sparkling water with a dash of fruit juice or unsweetened tea before deciding that you do really want a high-sugar caffeinated drink. If you find the taste of unsweetened tea unpleasant, try cutting down on sugar gradually. Half a teaspoon less is still a reduction. Remember, caffeine is addictive and cutting it out overnight will give you withdrawal symptoms. Cut down over several weeks to reduce the chances you will have headaches and unnatural cravings.
In a few months, you’ll find that you want your favourite tea with only half a teaspoon of sugar instead of a can of sugar-laden soda. Getting used to no high energy peaks followed by sugar crashes does take some time, but you’ll be living more in tune with your body instead of forcing yourself to consume more than you naturally would if refined sugar had never crossed your lips.
Eat Whole Foods
The point of intuitive eating is to not eat more than we genuinely need. Hunger and satiety are complicated mechanisms which are meant to react to food with minimal processing. Food with all the natural fibre stripped out of it is never going to be as filling as less processed foods. The same goes for fats: dairy which has had the natural fat content artificially removed and replaced with sugar is not going to be as satisfying to eat as the more complete original.
Instead of fat-free yogurt or cream substitutes, try a small portion of full-fat yogurt with just a little honey or real maple syrup to add flavour. Add a spoonful of real unsweetened cream to your fruit. Try meat with some natural fat instead of fat-free cuts which need dressings and gravies to make up for the lack of flavour.
Include extra whole foods into your meals by adding beans and lentils to casseroles, chili and curries. Get into the habit of having a few cherry tomatoes, a few raw carrot sticks and some salad leaves with your meal and sprinkle seed mixes onto steaks. As you get used to eating whole foods, you’ll find that you need to eat less to feel full and your taste buds and digestive system will slowly adapt to your more rounded meals.
Take It Slowly
Intuitive eating is a great way to change your relationship with your body, but your body will only tell you that it wants to eat foods that it knows are available. If you never eat vegetables roasted in olive oil and topped with tomato-rich Bolognese sauce and a sprinkling of mozzarella, for example, your body won’t know that this option is available and won’t tell you that’s what you want for your evening meal.
Eat very slowly and enjoy every mouthful. Stop just before you are sated and put the rest of your food to one side for later: it isn’t going to escape if you don’t eat all of it at once!
It’s fine to microwave your leftovers if you find you want to eat again after a few hours. If you find you are doing this often, then try halving your normal portions and doubling the number of times you eat in the day. You’ll be eating the same amount of food to start with, but by telling your body not to worry since you’re not going to go hungry and so don’t need to store food as body fat, you’ll find that you slowly need to eat less.
Re-programming your cravings is a core part of intuitive eating. It does take time to get used to the idea that you can eat anything that you want, and that what you really want is vitamin and mineral dense, genuinely tasty food. It’s much better to adjust slowly to your new way of eating than to rush it, cut out all of your usual foods immediately, and find that your taste buds and sugar-rush adapted body object to the lack of sugar and artificial flavourings.
An unpleasant bitter flavour might mean you can’t stand to continue eating according to what your body really needs. You didn’t lose touch with your body’s needs overnight, and you’re not going to re-connect with yourself immediately.