Posts in Intuitive Eating
Intuitive Eating Principles: How to Find Satisfaction in Everyday Eating

Satisfaction is considered the hub of the wheel in intuitive eating, but what does that mean? For those of us with a history of disordered eating, the concept of eating what you want, in the amount that you want, when you want (while paying heed to hunger and fullness cues) can feel like a tall order. When your food choices have largely been determined by extrinsic values, like a points system, carb counts, or weight goals rather than intrinsic ones, ordering a burger and fries (with a Coke, #pleaseandthanks) can feel equal parts daunting and ridiculous. 


Let’s break it down. 

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Satisfaction isn’t (only) about eating “forbidden” foods.


In my dieting days, I thought the only foods that were truly delicious were “forbidden” foods like salt and vinegar chips, pizza, and sour gummy candy. While I enjoyed salads, I never thought of them as crave-worthy. Perhaps you feel similarly? 


While pleasure is central to the intuitive eating process, safety is an important consideration. It’s tough to derive pleasure from foods we don’t feel safe around. You can work toward a more relaxed relationship with food while working through your restrictions in the present moment. It takes time to neutralize the morality our culture attaches to food (see “sinful” or “guilt-inducing”), shelve the weight loss goals, and to integrate true unconditional permission. 


Satisfaction can mean eating cheeseburgers and fries, if you like, but you may prefer or need to start with more manageable steps, like eating safe foods to satisfying amounts (rather than measuring), playing with condiments (like rooted garlic mayonnaise and cheesy dips), and broadening the variety you currently consume before moving on to more challenging meals. 


Satisfaction is fluid. 


“Nothing’s certain in life but death and taxes.” Surely you’ve heard that old adage, too? Satisfaction follows suit. The foods you found satisfying in childhood (like Mom’s tuna casserole) may no longer appeal to your adult self, in the same way that what you enjoy now may not be as enjoyable even ten months from now. 

Intuitive eating has truly taught me that our desires are flexible; in the winter I may crave heartier meals and more complex flavour profiles, while I may be perfectly content with a simple egg sandwich come mid-July. My palette is constantly widening in response to new recipe attempts, travels, restaurant meals, and interactions with people whose food interests may vary from my own. 


The foods you find satisfying at the beginning of your intuitive eating journey may not be the same foods you derive satisfaction from several months in. 

Satisfaction is context-dependent.

What passes for a satisfying breakfast on a weekday morning may look vastly different from the satisfying 3-course meal you enjoy on a European vacation. Not every meal is going to be gourmet. There’s nothing wrong with starting your day with a simple bowl of oatmeal, or ending it with some scrambled eggs and toast. The most important thing, always, is adequate, regular, and consistent intake, and it’s okay if that happens to also mean boring, economical, or quick. 

At the same time, you’re welcome to cook a more elaborate meal if you enjoy it, or if you have some extra time and want to cook up something special. 


And while we’re on it, satisfaction isn’t limited to pizza and pasta, either. Many outsiders commonly (and falsely) believe intuitive eating is anti-health. While you may crave more fun foods at the beginning of the work and eat disproportionally more cookies than celery, a salad with chicken or a vegan burrito bowl loaded with vegetables may also be satisfying. Intuitive eating, after all, isn’t about the food, but about the mindset you carry about nutrition. 


Satisfaction is a sign of privilege. 

Even though satisfaction may be an intuitive eating principle held near and dear to many folks, what it means to you depends largely on your privilege. Some of us can afford to eat the take-out we like, eat at nice restaurants, and make balanced meals on the regular. For many others, satisfying may mean sating our hunger at the very basic level. 


You may not always have access to the foods you prefer, particularly if you are traveling to different countries, experiencing changes to your income, or, hey, in the midsts of a natural disaster. Years ago, when I lived in Tallahassee with my then-partner, we lived on corn tortillas, ham, grits, cheese, pasta, yogurt, cereal, strawberries, big bags of grapefruit, and vegetables we stocked up on for cheap at a produce stand on the outskirts of Plant City. 


When I moved to Toronto, my grocery staples included cartons of eggs bought for two dollars at my local drugstore, discounted produce at the grocer, rice, and many, many legumes. I simply couldn’t afford meat, cheeses, and more expensive ingredients that I now gratefully enjoy. 


Satisfaction may become more nuanced in time.


Intuitive eating is a practice, not a one hit wonder of a diet. It takes time to incorporate the principles and to unlearn all of the lessons of diet culture. As you move through the process, you may find within you a growing curiosity regarding about different ingredients, recipes, and cooking styles. I’m always excited to see how my interest in food changes from week to week: sometimes I’m all about chicken fajitas and burrito bowls, while the next I may crave steak and mashed potatoes or a Greek salad with shrimp skewers and lemon potatoes. Sometimes I only want to snack on chips, while other times I enjoy charcuterie plates or crackers and hummus. Give yourself space and permission to discover, learn, and grow. 


That’s always been the most satisfying part of the process for me. 



5 Ways to Improve Your Body Image Without Losing Weight

Many people I speak to regarding intuitive eating are magnetized by its 10 principle framework around making peace with food and body. For those possessing histories fraught with dieting, weight cycling, and self-loathing, the prospect of intuitive eating feels Heaven-sent. 


Prospective clients will share how they’re open to challenging the diet mentality and examining their own complicated history with body size and shape manipulation. Perhaps they’re intrigued by (and even excited at) adopting an all-foods-fit philosophy. Maybe they want, as Jen Knoll so beautifully captured, to extricate themselves from wellness culture and the temple of clean eating. 

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But shelving the weight loss goals and accepting your body the way it naturally is? That’s something else entirely. 


While many folks come to intuitive eating carrying hopes of weight loss or weight maintenance — so expected given the pressures our culture places particularly (though not exclusively) on women — this perceived conflict prevents some from doing the deeper work inherent to the intuitive eating process. 


I say perceived because just about everyone I speak to not only wants to make peace with food, but they want to feel better in their bodies


And you know what? 


Weight loss doesn't offer this, because weight loss cannot correct poor body image. 


I know this because I’ve worked with women (and some non-binary folks) in all kinds of bodies. I’ve worked with women in smaller bodies who hate the way they look, and women in higher weight bodies who love their curves. There are plus-size models rocking crop tops and body con dresses, and thin women who feel self-conscious wearing anything other than an over-sized sweater and loose-fitting yoga pants. 


So if you feel you need to lose weight before starting intuitive eating, are concerned about potential weight gain during the intuitive eating process, or can’t imagine liking — never mind loving — your body the way it is, I’d say you’re actually in the right place. 


Here’s 5 tips to help you to improve your body image today — in your today body:


  1. Spend more time with people who have a positive body image. While fat talk — you know, where (predominantly) women trash talk their bodies to glean social acceptance and a positive social standing — can lead to body dissatisfaction, a study revealed that those with a positive body image purposefully chose not to associate with peers who engaged in negative self-talk and intentionally surrounded themselves with people who spoke positively about their bodies. Also, here’s a hot tip: studies have also shown that engaging in fat talk doesn’t make you more likeable. What do we hope to gain from being so mean to ourselves? The short of it: do your best to hang with people who are not dieting.

  2. Detox your social accounts. While studies have shown Instagram can and does make us feel worse about ourselves, you can actually use Instagram in two meaningful ways — to support point #1, as well as to more broadly conceptualize beauty. I recommend unfollowing accounts that leave you feeling worse off than before especially if the account owner engages in self-objectification, and sourcing accounts that uplift you. I personally recommend: @aerie, @thirdwheelED, @kristinabruce_coach, @ifd_bodies, @chr1styharrison, @trustyourbodyproject, @ragenchastain, @fyeahmfabello, @mskelseymiller, @summerinnanen, @fierce.fatty, @_kellyu, @nourishandeat, @4thtribodies, @bodyimagemovement, @bodyposipower, @sonyareneetaylor, @thelindywest, @thefatsextherapist, @diannebondyyoga, @yrfatfriend, @kenziebrenna, @bodyposipanda, @nadiaaboulhosn, @tessholliday, @beauty_redefined, @virgietovar, and more. Short of it: expose yourself to all kinds of bodies of different races and ethnicities, sizes, ages, abilities, etc. This kind of exposure is a critical step to making peace with our own bodies.

  3. Offer yourself small acts of kindness. Massages and pedicures are nice and all, but also considerably more advanced, expensive, and time consuming forms of self-care. As far as small acts go, think of applying a favourite body lotion, listening to your favourite song, wearing lipstick (if that’s your thing — it’s totally mine), buying yourself flowers, or ordering your favourite coffee beverage. While we often think about body image in binary ways (love my body vs. hate my body), small acts of kindness can slowly shift us away from self-loathing and toward body appreciation, trust, and respect. When engaged regularly and consistently, we can begin building a different kind of relationship with our bodies — one founded in self-care vs. self-control.

  4. Choose joyful movement. While exercise can be challenging for so many people (do I need to go on?), joyful movement — that is, pleasurable exercise — is helpful for stress relief and may be a way of taking care of our bodies. What kinds of activities, if any, do you enjoy? Perhaps it’s throwing a frisbee, going for a walk with a friend, joining a yin yoga class, riding your bike on a hot summer’s day, rollerblading with your BFF, or jumping on a trampoline. If you are currently in treatment for an eating disorder or disordered eating, please speak to your treatment team prior to engaging in exercise.

  5. Eat regularly, adequately, and consistently. Nourishment is a really vital part of our body image — it’s actually not possible to cultivate a positive body image when we’re malnourished or dieting. By feeding your body and taking a flexible approach to eating, you’re actually strengthening your body image. Bite by bite, you’re helping yourself to like your body a bit more. It may feel counter-intuitive, especially if you feel very connected to the diet-centric paradigm, but listening to and taking care of your body is vital to seeing yourself more positively (or less negatively.)

Which of these tips is your favourite?

Will Intuitive Eating Stop My Sugar Cravings?

I’ll be honest: most of the clients who come to me want to lose weight (or at least are looking to maintain or “manage” their weight without a restrictive meal plan or eating style.) Weight loss goals must be shelved when pursuing intuitive eating, for even the perception of restriction can compromise your ability to tune in to your internal wisdom and embrace an intuitive approach. This is really intuitive eating pre-work, a mindset shift that must occur for intuitive eating to truly be effective (you know, to experience food freedom.)

But let’s say you’ve done the pre-work to shelve the weight loss goals. Ready, set, go. 

Not so fast.

Even if you’ve shelved the hope of weight loss, it can come up again in the desire to limit “forbidden foods” like cookies, cake, and ice cream by becoming an intuitive eater — which is just another layer of restriction. 

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If restricting sugar doesn’t work, maybe giving myself unconditional permission will, right? 

While intuitive eating is a wonderful tool for reducing the charge associated with some of your favourite (off-limits) foods, it doesn’t mean you’ll eat fewer of them or enjoy them any less. 

If you’re embarking on or are currently working your way through intuitive eating in the hopes that one day, when you are cured of your dieting ways, you will be completely satisfied eating carrots and hummus, never dare dreaming of those to-die-for chocolate chip cookies at the coffee house down the street, I have three words for you: hold up, homeslice.

What do you hope you will gain by limiting your sugar intake? 

For some people, this desire to stop “eating so much sugar” arrives in the guise of health. We've been conditioned to believe the every bite of chocolate, every nibble of donut, and every spoonful of ice cream is slowly leading to disease and killing us. 

While all nutritional information or recommendations necessitate context to be of any real value, even the World Health Organization — who lean more conservative when it comes to sugar consumption — deem deriving up to 10% of your daily energy needs from added sugar to be safe. Translation: you can enjoy dessert every day, allowing your cravings and food interests to guide the way.

The notion that every food choice is healing or harming oversimplifies a terrifically complicated interaction. 

Keep in mind the root word of disease literally stems from desaise (Old French), meaning discomfort, distress. This unease isn’t limited to the physical realm, but applies equally to the psychological. If you spend more time stressing over the chocolate cake than eating it, talking about how you’re going to compensate for the chocolate bar you ate too quickly to enjoy, or overthinking the potato chips you ate at last night’s party, it’s time to consider your mental state in the maintenance of good health.

For other people, the desire to limit sugary foods while intuitive eating is more covert. Diet culture can be super sneaky, and you may find the desire for weight loss pops up wearing different clothes (such as in concerns over sugar consumption.) 

I say this with a lot of compassion.

It’s tough work to give up the trappings of diet culture and embrace the wild world of intuitive eating when diets have provided so much safety and comfort for so long. But it’s also important to unpack what diet culture has (or hasn’t) provided you with, and how you can get your needs met in a deeper way. 

Ultimately, though, intuitive eating may or may not lead to a diminished desire for sugar. What’s possible is that by developing a healthier relationship with sugar you will feel less out of control around the office cookie jar, actually enjoy the chocolate you do eat, and have that coffee shop pastry on Saturday morning without post-experience guilt and shame. 

While you may sometimes want more “nutritious” foods over fun foods, this can’t be the goal of intuitive eating. In the same way that work must be balanced with play (or time off) to prevent burnout and promote self-care, it’s completely natural to want to balance intake of nutritious foods with a steady supply of pleasurable foods. Prioritizing extrinsic values — like needing or expecting your eating to look a certain way to feel okay — will interfere with your ability to connect with your internal wisdom and ultimately come to a place of self-acceptance regarding yourself and your body.