Everything you need to know about intuitive eating, plus 7 great habits to consider adopting

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Illustration. Photo by Getty Images
Illustration. Photo by Getty Images
  • Intuitive eaters are people who eat when they are hungry and stop when they feel they have had enough.
  • According to a growing body of research, eating intuitively is the way to go if you want to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Adopting the habits of intuitive eaters means you can enjoy eating a diverse range of foods without the guilt, have higher self-esteem, and greater life appreciation than dieters.

If you're an ex-dieter who has spent most of your adult life agonising over portion sizes, kilojoule content, and fat grams and have learnt to override your hunger and satiety cues, attuning food, mind, and body can be anything but easy.

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The good news is you can get back in touch with your natural hunger signals and recognise when you've had enough. Copy the habits of intuitive eaters to get on the right track.

Here are seven ways to becoming an intuitive eater

1 - Eat when you're hungry

When our bodies need fuel, the sensations we feel when we're hungry are its way of asking for it. But years of dieting might mean that you no longer pick up on hunger cues, and you're less likely to trust your body and more prone to overriding the signals to eat.

Get back in touch with your body by paying attention to what hunger feels like. Everyone is different. For you, it could be an empty sensation in the pit of your gut, or a growling, rumbling stomach, while for others, it could be difficulty concentrating, or feeling shaky.

If you're still not sure, think back to when you ate last. If you haven't had food for three or four hours - you're likely to be experiencing the signs that your body needs energy and it's time for you to eat.

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2 - Don't get overly hungry

You're more likely to binge when you're starving. Ideally, you want to eat when the first signs of hunger are felt and you have the distinct feeling of 'I'm ready to eat!

The key to fine-tuning your eating cues is to develop body awareness. Keep a journal and write down the time you ate and what you ate, and give yourself a hunger rating on a hunger/fullness scale.

Hunger pangs are usually one of the first signs of hunger, letting you know that it's time to eat. If you let your hunger go on for too long, you will feel uncomfortably hungry.

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3 - Pay attention when you eat 

If you're doing your tax return, watching TV, or checking Facebook while you're eating, you could miss fullness signals and overeat. Aim to be fully present for your meals.

Eat with awareness. Turn off the TV, shut down your computer, turn on some soft music, set a place at the table, or make a place at your desk, sit down and value your food, even if it's just a salad sandwich. Eat it slowly and savour every bite.

4 - Feel your fullness

You might be able to describe in great detail what stuffed feels like, but do you know what comfortable satiety feels like? If you don't, you need to develop eating awareness.

The next time you're in the middle of a meal or snack, pause, and check-in with your body. Ask yourself, what is my hunger or fullness level? Am I still hungry, or is my hunger going away, and I'm beginning to feel satisfied? If you're still hungry, continue eating. When you finish, note where your fullness level is? Did you reach comfortable satiety, or did you pass it, and by how much?

When you reach your last-bite threshold, make a conscious decision to stop eating. Place your knife and fork on the plate and gently nudge the plate forward to remind you of your choice to stop eating.

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5 - Eat what you want

It's hard to believe this is part of the prescription for maintaining a healthy weight. But it is the key to intuitive eating. When you permit yourself to eat what you want, allowing yourself to enjoy your food, you ditch the guilt and feel satisfaction and contentment instead of making Overeating less likely.

For example, the next time you feel like hot potato chips for lunch, go for it! Eat attentively and notice how satisfied you feel.

Eating what you want is a much better option than choosing, say, a salad, resulting in grazing all afternoon in search of satisfaction. Commit to choosing the food you love.

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6 - Eat as often as you want

Intuitive eating enables you to make peace with food. You can now eat unconditionally and as much as you need to satisfy your body. You may find when you tune into your body that you eat six or seven small meals every couple of hours as opposed to say three large meals four or five hours apart that may leave you feeling uncomfortably full and sluggish.

Work out what is right for your body by following the intuitive-eating principles - eat only when you're hungry and stop when you feel satisfied.

7 - Recognise your emotional appetite

It's unhelpful to use food to fill an emotional void, or to avoid dealing with painful emotions. It does nothing to solve your problems and can cause overeating and weight gain.

You will no longer need food as an emotional prop if you learn how to deal with difficult feelings. Recognise that your drive to overeat happens when you feel overwhelmed by uncomfortable emotions. Instead of avoiding these feelings by eating, see if you can sit with them for a moment.

Explore where these emotions reside in your body. Don't label your feelings as 'good' or 'bad; just be aware of them. Ask yourself if a particular feeling evokes memories or associations, or specific conversations.

Try to stay with the feeling as long as you can without eating. Just one minute of sitting with your feelings might be long enough to learn something about how you feel, help reduce its intensity and find a solution.

Share your diet or wellness story with us here.

SOURCE: Bauersyndication.com.au/ Magazine Features

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