Episode 85 – Intuitive Eating

What is Intuitive Eating? 

  • Intuitive eating is defined as eating based on trusting your body to make choices in relation to the foods you eat and also the amounts you eat. It involves ignoring diet culture or rules, and listening fully to your body.  

Principles of Intuitive Eating 

This isn’t an official/specific list, but we would say the basic principles  

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality or “diet culture” 
  2. Honour Your Hunger 
  3. Make peace with food and give yourself unconditional permission to eat 
  4. Focus on the satisfaction of food. 
  5. Honour your fullness. Listen to your body for signs that you are comfortably full and no longer hungry. 

You can also extend this thinking beyond just the here and now. Like you might not necessarily be super hungry right now, but if you know you won’t be able to eat later in the day due to another factor, it can still make sense to eat. 

But all in all, it is about being in touch with those internal cues to eat and to stop eating and to let those guide you’re eating behaviours  

What is Intuitive Eating NOT 

  • It is not a tool for weight loss. 
  • It is not just “eating without tracking macros.”  

What Are The Benefits of Intuitive Eating? 

  • Incredible tool for re-connecting with hunger and fullness cues. 
  • Definitely improves your relationship with food. 
  • Very useful for managing disordered eating. 
  • Can improve quality of life greatly, particularly if dieting has had a negative impact on your life. 

Can Intuitive Eating Be Used For Weight Loss? 

  • It is not a tool for weight loss. 
  • The moment you try to use it for the purpose of weight loss, it no longer becomes intuitive eating. 
  • People might lose weight while intuitively eating, but it is not the goal.  
  • One thing that I also think explains why intuitive eating does not often lead to weight loss, even in circumstances where you might expect it to is that if you consistently stay in a calorie deficit, hunger and desire to eat often increases. 

Is There a Place For Intuitive Eating in Sports? 

  • This is a super complex topic. In some cases yes, in some cases no. 
  • One challenge people might not immediately identify is the potential for under fuelling to occur
    • When training load is high – there can be a mismatch between drive to eat and actual needs  
    • Exercise can sometimes dull appetite  
    • Maybe there is very little time in an athletes day to check in with hunger cues  
    • You may need to time nutrition in a specific way out of logistics and performance goals which may not always line up with hunger/fullness cues  
    • Also some athletes looking to build strength and size might not consume enough calories if they stop eating when they feel comfortably full.  

We also have research showing that athletes eat more calories on rest days than they do on training days, on average. And that is partly based on a combination of listening to their hunger cues as well as having more time to eat.  

But you could argue that they might have some further benefits from eating more on training days, even though that would involve being a bit hungrier on rest days and fuller on training days.  

 “Informed Eating” 

  • Since a lot of people in the fitness space often mischaracterise eating without tracking calories and macros as “intuitive eating” there is a need for another name to fit that approach. 
  • I like the phrase informed eating, although I’m sure there could be a better name.  
  • This is a combination of knowledge accrued through learning about nutrition AND listening to hunger cues. 
  • For example, somebody might still have set guidelines such as making sure each meal has a decent amount of protein, as well as consuming a decent amount of fruits and vegetables. They might also adjust their intake a bit based on changes in body weight e.g. if they want to be in a surplus, but have not been achieving that, they might eat slightly more food, even if it is beyond their normal comfortable level of fullness. 

When Would We Encourage Intuitive Eating vs Informed Eating vs A More Rigid Approach?

Intuitive eating is great when you simply want a stress-free, healthy relationship with food (which should be everybody).

The complexity comes in when there are other goals involved such as body composition changes, performance goals or anything that required a more rigid or informed dietary approach  

In those circumstance, intuitive eating may not be the best tool for the job at all times.

Examples where a rigid approach makes more sense:

  • Acute weight cuts
  • Carb loads 

Relevant Links/Resources

Related Blog Posts:

Mindful Eating: A Dietitian’s Guide

Flexible Dieting: Everything You Need to Know

5 Helpful Tips for If You Struggle to Eat Enough Calories