Phase 3: Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is the next stop on the Integrated Eating train. Once structured eating is established and mindful practices have been polished, an individual moves into intuitive eating. Simply, Intuitive eating is a tool that encourages you to respond to your inner body cues. Whereas Mindful Eating was about noticing some inner body communication, Intuitive eating asks an individual to respond to what your body needs.  This is very much like taking the training wells off a bicycle. With the training wheels on you feel confident about riding a bike. This allows you to ride more and more and get really good at riding a bike. When you’re ready, you take the training wheels off and although you may at first feel unsteady and not confident that you’ll be able to balance, you’re body starts to move and shift to help you balance. All of a sudden, you’re riding a bicycle without training wheels!  In this phase, an individual learns how to honor their hunger and fullness cues as well as notice eating patterns.  In addition intuitive eating allows for the exploration of body based cravings and notice when cues are coming from an emotional place rather than from a physical place. The skill that gets developed from this important tool is the ability to listen to the body’s needs and respond in an appropriate way.

Here are some examples of intuitive eating:

  1. You’re walking to lunch and even before you get to the deli you have a pang for tuna. As you sink your teeth into your sandwich your body almost thanks your for giving it exactly what it wanted.

  2. You notice after eating a small portion of yogurt and granola and fruit for breakfast that even though it was balanced, you felt hungry too soon after. You make a mental note that next time you eat that breakfast you’ll have more than you did today.

  3. You join your friends for dinner at your favorite Diner. You order a burger and fries because you were in the mood for it. Half way through your meal you feel full and satiated and honor your fullness cues and decide you’re done.

  4. After a heated argument with your significant other you immediately noticed you were having cravings for chocolate chip cookies.

  5. On a sweltering hot summer day you come inside for a snack and your body is pulling you towards the snack draw towards the pretzels. You don’t really know why that is, but you eat a few handfuls and realize you feel physically better after having them.

Honoring Hunger and Fullness Cues: In the Integrated Eating Phase, individuals are encouraged to LISTEN to their hunger and satiety cues vs. simply following a meal plan of when to eat. This allows an individual to rely on their body cues more than the outside structure. For example, what would it be like to eat when you’re hungry without worrying what time it is? Or, how would it be to stop eating a meal when you’re adequately full even if it meant eating more than you ‘think’ you should. You may be wondering but what happens if I eat too soon and get hungry too soon after or If I eat more than I was allotted on my plan? This is a normal question as someone moves into this phase. This is the moment you take the training wheels off and realize the worst case scenario is that you fall. Yes, it’s disappointing to fall and you may even have a few scrapes but you know how to dust yourself off, and get back on the bike and try again. What does this mean in terms of food? Well, what would happen if you went by your hunger signals all day and realized you ate more often than on your meal plan? Or that you ate went for seconds at dinner because you were honoring your fullness cues vs. worrying about how much of each component?  Nothing terrible would happen, in fact, you may start to enjoy eating with your body’s cues!

Noticing Eating Patterns: The intuitive eating phase allows individuals to notice patterns in their eating. For instance, an individual may become aware over time that they are way too hungry each night at dinner time. They take notice of their whole day of eating and realize their breakfast and lunch are adequate but their afternoon snack is not enough thus perpetuating this pattern of being starving at the end of the day. After this awareness an individual can decide how to manage their afternoon snack. If we went further with this example during the intuitive eating phase an individual may decide one day to eat a little more at snack time and see if that helped not be so hungry by dinner. Another day they may eat a second snack closer to dinner to see how that changed hunger levels at dinner. During the intuitive eating phase, individuals not only notice patterns but also explore options to create better patterns and behaviors.

Body Based Cravings vs. Emotional Cravings: Have you ever felt that your body was trying to communicate something to you by asking for a specific food? This communication from the body is known as a craving. There are 3 kinds of cravings: physical, physiologic and emotional. The difference between physical and physiological is that ‘physical’ refers to the body, ‘physiologic’ refers to the functions in the body.  Let’s consider this. Let’s say you sweat a lot during a hot day. You’re body being slightly dehydrated might crave watery fruits or vegetables such as watermelon or a salad to re-hydrate the body or crave something salty because salt retains water. This would be a physical craving. However let’s say that you were chronically undereating during the day to the point that your insulin levels were very low. This would cause your body to crave essential carbohydrates to replenish blood sugar levels as well as re balance the endocrine system. This would be a ‘physiologic’ craving. Finally, let’s say you were feeling sad you thought about how eating ice cream would make things better. You started to desire the ice cream more than usual almost in a desperate way because feeling sad felt so uncomfortable and you wanted to feel better. This would be an emotional craving. Discerning the difference between these three types of cravings is a crucial component of the intuitive eating phase.

  1. Try eating a meal when you’re hungry vs. eating because it’s meal time. Notice what it’s like to eat from this body cue.

  2. Pay attention to your eating for a few days. Were you aware of any eating patterns? If so, what were they?

  3. Notice times when your body is craving a specific type of food. Can you discern if it’s a physical, physiologic or emotional craving? If so, how?