• Amy Gorman

Why intuitive eating isn’t the beginners choice

If I was to describe how I eat or monitor what I eat, I’d probably say it’s ‘intuitive eating’ to some extent. If we really wanted to put a label on it.

The trouble I have with this term is that it’s thrown around as if it’s an easy option or you just eat whatever you want.

Realistically, the way I got to the point of being able to eat meals without often tracking calories and macros, or weighing food anymore is by spending years doing it. I remember when I first started tracking (almost religiously) and having a moment of, “oh wow, there are carbs in blueberries and that many? Huh, didn’t realise that.” I spent a lot of time learning more about the principle of nutrition and applying it to what I do and what I know about myself.

I understand how bad my body feels when:

  • I don’t get enough sleep

  • Cue sore throat and grumpy

  • I don’t drink enough water

  • My own body feels like the heaviest thing, never mind the weight I’m trying to move and my brain fog is real

  • I don’t eat enough protein

  • Hungry, tired, grumpy, irritable (a little like not enough sleep)

  • I don’t eat enough vegetables

  • Dirty and slow

  • I eat too much/any sugar/alcohol

  • Tired, sore head, sore belly, upset stomach, irritable

Ideally we don't want to look like this (left) every training day. Note long work day, then early start, poor sleep and not enough to eat.

Often it isn’t the good cues we need to pay attention to (more energy, focus, motivation), although these are helpful and good to know that our hard work is paying off. Funnily enough, they are often hard to spot until we stop doing the good things that brought them.

Besides, if we’re largely following a diet and lifestyle that we’re proud of, energy and focus should come as standard, by the bucket load the more we do it.

Instead paying attention to what doesn’t make us feel good can be much more helpful! This allows us to see what needs to change and why. Offering a reminder to be conscious and take actions that lead us away from feeling unwell.

For a long time I’d eat biscuits by the packet (yes, not that long ago - stress eater over here) and not care that I was guaranteed an upset stomach the next day and a crap sleep. Now, it’s enough to remind me that it’s not worth a morning of standing in the gym feeling like hell for. A couple is enough and even then I’d probably swerve it.

What can you do to eat more intuitively?

Listen to what your body is telling you - yes another cliche

  • Feel like a snack - Are you hungry? Are you thirsty?

  • Just because we have been programmed to think of eating three meals a day, doesn’t mean you need to eat as much or as little as that

  • Some people work best eating later in the day and having two larger meals, others respond to six smaller meals, and sometimes you feel one way on Tuesday and a different way on Saturday

Serving sizes

  • Avoid the giant plates when serving your food - studies have shown that if you have a larger plate, or greater opportunity for refills (think bottomless brunch prosecco) you’ll always have more than you really want or need

  • If you have the same amount of food on a big plate and a small plate, you are more likely to feel satisfied from the small plate because proportionally, it looks like more - therefore tricking your brain into thinking it’s getting more (we’re greedy buggers)

  • Fill up most of the plate with protein and veggies first

  • Two palm-sized portions of protein - chicken, eggs, tofu, beans

  • Three fistfuls of vegetables - peppers, mushrooms, spinach

  • Two handfuls of carbohydrates - whole grains and complex carbs wherever possible

  • Remember you can always have more if you need it, so don’t stuff yourself for fear that you won’t be fed again - you have the power to control what you have now and what you do later

Eat until you feel satisfied

  • Eat your food slowly - you’re not in a hurry, actually chew it rather than inhale

  • This is a good reason to eat more regularly, as often when we wait a long time between meals, we’re so hungry that we don’t breathe between mouthfuls and suddenly feel stuffed and sick

  • Concentrate on the task at hand

  • So often we’re living life at a fast pace - we eat on the go, we’re on our phone or watching TV whilst eating - and it leaves us not focusing on the present and the experience of eating and enjoying our food, which also leaves us unsatisfied and hungry sooner because we didn’t notice the meal happening

Consider the day ahead

  • Whether that be in the morning, knowing you’re training later today or you’re resting

  • Training later: consider meals that will give you energy, prime you for the session - carbohydrates an hour or so before the session, hydrate throughout the day

  • Resting today: get your protein in throughout the day, fats will optimise muscle recovery and veggies and fluids will keep the blood moving. You don’t need to skip out on carbs, remember you want to recover and get stronger, but if you don’t feel super hungry, don’t force down carbs if you don’t need them

  • If I know I’m training that could be as simple as making sure I have enough carbs (berries and jam) and protein powder in my oats, on a rest day it’s berries and nut butter. On another day breakfast may look more like eggs and veggies with veggie sausages for rest and add a bagel for a training day!

In our coaching, these are the principles we work through all the time. We are always working toward the point of eating without tracking and being able to listen to what our body needs. With this structure, it can make it easier to look out for the small steps.

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