Intuitive Eating…or Not?

by danielle on January 24, 2013

I still have vivid memories of my first experience with “intuitive eating”. I was drastically underweight in college, dancing for hours a day, and eating very little. I read intuitive eating and was inspired. Inspired to just listen to what my body wanted, needed, desired. This resulted in me consuming 1/2 a jar of chocolate peanut butter. Not one of my finest moments but at that point in time my body probably needed it.

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One of the biggest struggles for me has been figuring out a happy medium between controlled, restrictive eating, and eating exactly everything I’ve ever wanted. Here’s the thing, eating is not black and white. The more I learn the more I realize how different what I “desire” is from what I “need”. When I was first recovering from that very restrictive time in my life it was easy. I could eat what I wanted without much control or attention to my energy levels, how my body felt, and how I looked. But then I hit that point where I was at a healthy weight but the confusion stuck.

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If I were eating “intuitively” why did my body always want chocolate, sweets, and bread? I’m not saying these things are “bad” but for me they’re not everyday foods. I know now when I eat them I don’t feel my best but getting there was a process. It took me a long time to realize that I may “desire” foods that my body doesn’t necessarily need or want. When I am tired and low in energy and I desire carby bready foods I know that they are not going to serve my body the best. Instead I may take a nap and fuel up with meat for dinner because my body needs the energy boost. Another example. I have celiac disease. While my family is eating cookies and cake on birthdays, I may desire a piece, but deep down I know that my body doesn’t want it. In fact I’d be sick if I ate it. So intuitive eating takes a much deeper listening than just giving in to those “desires”.

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As much as I would love to stuff my face with chocolate everyday like this…I know I’d not be feeling so great if I did! 

Intuitive eating is asking not only what does my body want but what does my body need. Tomorrow how am I going to feel after eating this meal. Intuitive eating is not a free for all of ice cream, candy, and cake. Does this mean I won’t ever eat a cookie because it is not the fuel my body needs? Nope. I will because sometimes I do need some instant sugar. Sometimes I do just have a craving and I know that the more I put it off the more I will want it. It’s all a balancing act. One that takes intricacy, careful listening, and constant leanring. I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. Everything from giving in too much to not giving in enough. It’s still a work in progress and I believe to some extent it always will be, but I also believe that about life so I guess things aren’t so bad after all.

What’s your take on “intuitive eating”? Has it become a buzzword for you that you don’t quite understand or is it something you strive for? 

Happy Thursday,

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda @ .running with spoons. January 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm

I actually find the whole concept of intuitive eating kind of confusing. It seems to be one of those things that everyone strives for, yet no one really knows exactly what it is. I think you’re right, though, that it’s a balance between what our bodies want and what our mind knows that our bodies need. That’s where it gets a little bit tricky because our minds are influenced by so many different factors… But like you said, it’s a constant learning process that I’m not sure we’ll ever have down 100%, but we can do our best :)

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I totally agree that it is very confusing. I think the less we overthink it, the easier it becomes!

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Kelly January 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I just want to say thanks soooooo much for posting this! I took my healthy clean eating lifestyle to an extremely unhealthy level where I was not eating enough….I am now working hard to gain my muscle back and increase my food intake. But I have recently been struggling with some cravings and then feel horrible after a huge binge :( I need to listen to what my body needs, not just what I want and make sure i am getting enough of it!

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Absolutely. Take care of yourself and listen to your body. You will be able to figure it but it definitely takes time. Feel free to reach out if you’re in need of a little extra support (dprestejohn@gmail.com)

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Lindsay @ Lindsay's List January 24, 2013 at 1:07 pm

love it! makes complete sense to me!

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Thanks Lindsay!

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Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin January 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I don’t really fully understand intuitive eating either! I’ve heard it used a lot to refer to eating according to our body’s hunger cues, so we should only eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full. In general I think that makes sense but I don’t think that should be followed to a T. I don’t think it’s always wrong to eat when you’re not hungry! Eating sometimes happens for other reasons, like pleasure, social gatherings etc, and I think that’s okay sometimes!

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I agree Chelsea! It’s finding that line between overthinking every meal and sometimes just relaxing and enjoying. No we don’t really need chocolate but sometimes it just tastes good ;)

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Maria @ Pappa Don't Preach January 24, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I love your thoughts on this! Oddly enough I’ve been picking up on this more and more lately and I don’t know if it’s because I started eating more of a Paleo diet (my stomach has never felt better.) It’s as if my body knows when I need more greens and I actually CRAVE them. I’ve never had that feeling before.
I think sometimes people confuse intuitive eating with cravings. Your body knows when it needs more fuel and it’s easy to say, well I’m hungry and chocolate sounds so good right now so that must be what my body needs. It’s almost as if you need to check yourself before you reach for the Hershey bar and ask your body – Is this it?
I am loving that baby picture! If only we could eat like that as adults! lol

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Thanks Maria. I totally agree with your thoughts and I experienced the same difference when I made the switch to more Paleo. I just felt better with more vegetables in my life!

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Katie @wishandwhimsy January 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Great post, Danielle. Very well written about intuitive eating, too.

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Thanks so much Katie!

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Nadja January 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Totally agree with you! In the past i could never find the “balance”, i was or 1) eating all the time and everything or 2) undereating. It took me a long time to find the space between these two states but now i try my best to honour my body and not to give it too much or too few calories! Great post (and cute picture of baby you ;) )

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm

It’s such a balance and is definitely a journey. So happy you have found that balance that works for you!

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Linz @ Itz Linz January 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm

we are really on the same page this week with our posts!! haha. i do like to practice intuitive eating but i think itz hard! i always eat breakfast lunch and dinner but i struggle when there is food available (aka teacher’s lounge) and i eat just because itz there – not because i’m truly hungry.

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Hahaha I know great minds think alike ;)

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Danica @ It's Progression January 24, 2013 at 1:45 pm

For some reason I’ve always steered clear of the phrase ‘intuitive eating’ because, to me, it’s gotten this stigma of meaning to eat whatever junk I’m craving. Unfortunately, I think that’s how many people use the phrase….I love how you put it though–it’s about listening to what our bodies are craving/desiring, AND THEN thinking it through before acting on that desire. It’s about choosing what our body NEEDS not just what our minds want….It’s such a learning process, which is probably never truly ending!

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Thanks Danica. I could not agree more that phrase has become overused and just misunderstood. It’s definitely going to always be a work in progress!

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Kierston January 24, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I listen to my body and feed it what it needs to feel good and healthy :)

That includes the occasional sweet nothings too!

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Sounds perfect to me!

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Kaitlin @4loveofcarrots January 24, 2013 at 2:54 pm

never ever before was I an intuitive eater. But in the past few years I have been making huge efforts to pay more attention to my hunger signals, and stop when I am full rather then be a member of the clean your plate club.

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm

That is so awesome Kailtin! Good for you!

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kim@hungryhealthygirl January 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I seriously really try to stick to this. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but I know that I will feel better when I don’t overindulge. Adorable picture!

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I totally agree. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, it’s definitely a balancing act!

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Katie January 24, 2013 at 3:51 pm

When I talk about IE with clients and just in general, I focus on teaching more about focusing on hunger cues not hunger cravings. I think their is a big difference.

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Perfect! Totally agree. There is a huge difference :)

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Kelly January 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm

There definitely is a fine line!

xx
Kelly
Sparkles and Shoes

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Agreed!

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Lisa January 24, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Man, for me intuitive eating is kind of, no actually, really confusing. It almost seems like there has to be rules places on what’s right for intuitive eating, but isn’t that exactly not the point of it haha. I’m not too sure. I’m a weirdo who actually really likes numbers. I still do struggle with counting calories, measuring, weighing, and all of that. I’m trying to slowly back away from these obsessions. I love this post! Very eye opening, making me think a lot about my own situation!

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danielle January 24, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Hang in there Lisa. It is never easy but I almost find the less you think about it the more it all falls into place!

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Brittany @ GOtheXtraMile January 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Great post as usual, Danielle! Intuitive eating is such a simple concept, however, SO many people have trouble with it. I think people have a hard time truly listening to their bodies, so they either don’t eat enough or they over eat. It’s so crazy how such an easy-sounding thing can be so difficult. Oh, and that baby picture is way too cute!!

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danielle January 25, 2013 at 12:20 am

Thanks Brittany! I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s definitely a tough concept to learn to listen to our bodies!

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Madi January 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I’m dealing with this same issue! I was a restrictor/binger back in the day and when I gave in to my cravings, I went wayy over board. I like to think now that I have a better idea of what my body needs by the signals it gives me of what it wants. When I am craving loads of orange juice, I know I need some more vitamin C, when I want an entire jar of peanut butter, I satiate that with some protein and healthy fat. I find I don’t have to eat as much (though sometimes I still do) and I’m having a much healthier relationship with food! It’s really exciting/intimidating when you kind of hands the reigns over to your body instead of your mind, but finding balance (like you said) is definitely key!

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danielle January 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

That is so great to hear you are in a better place now too! It is all about finding that healthy balance between giving your body what it needs and sometimes just giving into cravings!

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Kristen@Change of Pace January 24, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Oh man I think I just contacted you and thought I was commenting! Oh lord I haven’t had enough coffee today. I think I was just too excited about your new page! Yay! :)

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danielle January 25, 2013 at 12:21 am

You did but it was a nice message :) Drink some extra coffee and thank you!

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Eva @ committed2nutrition January 24, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I love this post. And I definitely agree that there is such a fine line between intuitive eating and what you are craving. I definitely always eat when I am hungry, but I always make sure I reach for things that I KNOW i’ll feel my best ever. Will I feel my best ever a sh*t ton of sugar? heck no! I think once you realize how great you feel when you eat WELL, that, for me, is motivating enough. Do I definitely induldge in dessert when I am out at restaurants? oh yes! But once you get the IE thing down, it’s much easier to stop before going over board, if that makes sense.

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danielle January 25, 2013 at 12:22 am

Eva! I’m so excited to see you back. I was happy to read your blog today! Thanks for your kind thoughts!

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table January 24, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I really like your take on this. Intutive… with a dose of common sense. :)

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danielle January 25, 2013 at 12:21 am

Thanks Laura!

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GiGi Eats Celebrities January 25, 2013 at 1:40 am

For me, I definitely eat when I am hungry (which actually occurs on a schedule)… but sometimes I forget to stop when I am full because I just love food so much! Luckily I only eat REALLY HEALTHY foods – I crave spaghetti squash and salmon, so I don’t get hard on myself if I do happen to “over indulge”.

PS: That photo of you with cake all over your face, PRICELESS! I am sure I have a few where I am knee deep in Kraft Mac & Cheese! LOL

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danielle January 25, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Couldn’t agree more. Nothing wrong with a little extra spaghetti squash!

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Sarah @RunFarGirl January 25, 2013 at 3:15 am

As someone who struggled with an eating disorder, I really appreciate your take on intuative eating. I think your description is totally acurate.

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danielle January 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Thanks so much Sarah!

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Melissa @ Fit 'n' Well Mommy January 25, 2013 at 4:41 am

Great post! I used to be a calorie counter, logging all of my food and just thinking of food as calories. After starting CrossFit almost two years ago, I realized that I needed to change the way I looked at food to eating for performance and truly listening to my body’s needs. After making that switch, I feel so much happier, healthier and stronger. I eat intuitively, eating clean, but allowing myself to indulge in a cookie or a piece of dessert every once in a while, if I crave it. If I’m craving meat, I know I need to increase my protein intake at my next meal. If I’m feeling like a snack only an hour after I ate lunch, I probably didn’t eat enough or drink enough water. Our bodies have the answers, we just need to listen to them!

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danielle January 25, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Yes! I did the exact same thing with starting crossfit! It’s such a relief to have to worry as much about calories and just listen to my body instead.

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Cheryl (Happy is the New Healthy) January 26, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I can 100% relate. Have you read any of Geneen Roth’s writing on emotional eating and giving up the roller coaster of bingeing? She literally went through a phase where all she ate was chocolate chip cookies and writes about it eloquently. She says that it’s not about the food, but it’s not NOT about the food either.

For me, it took removing the emphasis on being perfect at intuitive eating to really ease into it. If you try to control intuitive eating too much, it turns into another way to control your eating–precisely what I was trying to get away from with the approach! Eventually I could move into a way of eating that felt like I was health conscious (i.e. I don’t eat grains because I don’t see the point and they don’t agree with me) without being restrictive. :)

One other resource that has seriously helped me is “peaceful eating” with Christie Inge. Her blogs and her coaching is phenomenal…http://www.christieinge.com and she just posted on why she doesn’t tell her clients to eat whatever they want! :) Check it out.

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danielle January 27, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I love Geneen Roth’s books! I’m happy to hear you’re in a better place now too. I’ve never her of Christie Inge but am going to check her out now. I’m always looking for new sources of inspiration!

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Brittany @ Delights and Delectables January 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm

This is so good girl!! I’m really bad at giving into my cravings and use the excuse that i’m “intuitively eating”. lol I have gotten so much better though now that I’m off my sugar high!

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danielle January 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm

So glad cutting back on the sugar helped!

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Anna @AnnaTheApple January 26, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I like to think I eat intuitively but I know in reality I don’t. I always eat around the same times and I tend to eat similar meals and sizes of meals… So I think I’ve programmed my body to get hungry at certain points of the day because it’s expecting food. Plus I’m one of those people who needs to have routines… In theory I love the idea of it but in reality I’m not sure it’d work for me!

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danielle January 26, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Nothing wrong with routines! It’s all about figuring out what works for you!

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Shelby January 27, 2013 at 6:46 pm

I think that intuitive eating encompasses many different aspects that are so important for rebuilding and maintaining a healthy relationship with food! It’s so hard for many (I know myself included) to relearn when your body is actually hungry and when it is satisfied (and not uncomfortably full). There’s so much out there telling you what and when to eat mixed with expectations we give ourselves to eat and look a certain way. I really enjoyed reading Intuitive Eating and felt that all of the principles were extremely helpful in reconnecting with your body’s hunger and satiety cues. It’s so hard at first! I also think that an important aspect of eating intuitively is the realization that when you may be craving a piece of cake or greasy pizza, while those things are absolutely fine to eat (no food is “off limits”), you need to truly think about whether that is a good investment or not. Will it make you feel better or worse? Sometimes I know that all I truly want is that freshly baked cookie that just came out of the oven and I will thoroughly enjoy it but then sometimes I know that I may be having that craving because I may be tired or not get enough protein that day. Realizing that I can have those foods when I truly want them, but also realizing when that craving is just a craving and nothing more- that’s huge progress! I think that when our bodies are being properly nourished- we tend to crave healthier foods anyways, because they make us feel good! I do love my sweets, though. And that’s A-okay with me!

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danielle January 27, 2013 at 8:45 pm

That’s awesome Shelby! It’s definitely a complicated thing to figure out and it’s all about finding a balance!

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