12 Essential Tips to Start Intuitive Eating without Gaining Weight
Intuitive Eating is an approach developed to help people heal from the side effects of chronic dieting. An intuitive eater is defined as a person who “makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating.” Intuitive eating is not a weight loss technique, however it promotes mindful eating and can teach you how to eat in moderation which ultimately could lead to weight loss.
Eating intuitively is a way of eating that has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline or willpower. It’s about getting back to your body’s natural intuition and making peace with foods. Much like flexible eating, it’s about rejecting a diet mentality, whilst also focusing on your internal bodily cues like hunger, fullness and satisfaction, and moving away from external cues like food rules and restrictions.
Developing these internal cues can be challenging though when you’re not sure how much to eat in the first place and when your body is accustomed to eating processed or sugary foods that throw off our bodies signals. If you’re a victim to snacking, have a sweet tooth, or easily give in to cravings, then you could struggle with weight gain like many other intuitive eaters. That’s why we tend to recommend that you combine the principles of intuitive eating with also keeping some form of food diary or journal, at least in the beginning.
If you’re already familiar with tracking macros and wondering how to implement intuitive eating, then we have some practical ways you can get started. Incorporate these 12 essential tips into your eating habits and behaviors and you will likely be successful in developing your appetite awareness and avoiding weight gain. You might even become more successful with your weight loss goals!
1. Use smaller plates
If you’re the kind of person who can’t leave a morsel of food on their plate then serve yourself food on a smaller plate or bowl to give the appearance of more food. When you’re out, order a half-size or appetizer side for your main course. If you’re at a fast food joint then order the kids meal. Whether it’s fine dining or fast food, most entrees or individual dishes contain enough calories to satisfy two people! You could also ask for your server to bring a doggie bag and a small plate with your meal so you can save half of your meal right away for later and then enjoy the rest of your meal on a smaller plate – a lot of restaurants purposefully serve their meals on oversized plates to give the appearance of less food, so that you will continue to order more. Restaurants have caught on to the psychology of eating and the fact that we eat more with our eyes than don’t tune into feelings of satisfaction in our stomachs.
2. The 80/ 20 rule
Serve yourself 20% less of the food you REALLY enjoy. Or to put it another way, only serve yourself 80% of what you’d typically serve yourself for those overindulgent foods. You’re not really going to notice that you’re missing 20%, but you are immediately diminishing the quantity you consume. Another approach is to eat 20% more vegetables with your meals. If you combine this with the smaller plate approach above then you should find yourself feeling very satisfied after every meal.
3. Eat Protein at every meal
What’s significant about breakfast is not that it’s the most important meal of the day – if you’re eating stacks of pancakes with syrup then you’re better of skipping it! Although getting a head start on your energy needs can be helpful for avoiding sugar crashes and cravings, what’s more important is that you eat some protein. Meals that are high in protein will help suppress appetite and feelings of insatiability. So make sure you start your day with some healthy protein – omelets, smoothies, etc. – and include a palm-size portion of protein with every meal.
4. Eyeballing & Building your Plate
Just because you decide not to weigh and measure your food, or keep track of your daily intake in an app, doesn’t mean that you can’t maintain awareness about how much you’re eating. A good way to ensure you’re staying on top of your daily caloric needs is to use your hands and build your meals around measurements that manage portion control.
This is representative of intake for women. Obviously individual needs will vary depending on activity. Experimenting and evaluating is key! If you find you’re still starving, try adding ½ a palm-sized portion of protein and/or ½ a thumb of fat extra with one of your meals. Try it for a few days and then tweak it from there. Similarly, if you find you’re not losing weight, you might want to try switching out starches for an extra fist full of veggies at one of your meals.
5. Keep snacks out of sight & hard to reach
Study after study has shown that people eat a lot more when food is visible rather than put away where it can’t be seen, even if they know it is there. Research has also demonstrated that the harder food is to get to, even if the extra effort is just removing a lid or walking to the cabinet, the less likely you are to eat it. The extra work forces you to question the value of your action, and this gives you the opportunity to talk yourself out of a decision you may regret later. To avoid extra snacking, keep tempting foods out of sight or, on the flip side, keep healthy foods prominently displayed and easy to reach.
6. Keep a well-stocked kitchen
This goes hand-in-hand with tip #5. You need to prep your kitchen like you’re living with a long-term house guest. How would you stock your fridge or pantry if your in-laws or best friend came to stay? You’d probably make sure there was tons of fresh produce, but also some of their favorite snacks on hand too. A person who eats like they love themselves always has options and favorite foods readily available; that way you don’t feel the need to overindulge when you’re out. You know that you can enjoy a portion – don’t forget about fun-size packets and single-size servings for managing quantity consumption – knowing you can have more whenever you want, without restriction. Evaluate what foods you have available, create a system and analyze whether any foods might trigger poor decision making or unfavorable eating patterns. Some foods are too addictive and should be eliminated from your household.
7. Don’t eat in front of the TV
For the vast majority of us, distracted eating is overeating. The end of a show or movie is another powerful cue signifying that a meal is over, so parking in front of the TV with your plate for a Game of Thrones marathon is probably not the best idea. There’s no reason not to take thirty minutes to sit down and have an engaging conversation with friends or family before you enjoy some Netflix and chill.
8. Don’t eat free food
Free things are often cheap, and food is no exception. You may tell yourself that this free meal will keep you from eating later, but there’s a good chance you will eat again anyway. Processed foods can be harmful in more ways than one. On the one hand you may be mentally satisfied but on the other, you may actually stimulate your appetite and strengthen future cravings. Try to avoid eating food just because it happens to be free and put in front of you. Remember to question whether you’re really hungry in the first place.
9. Don’t eat straight from a packet
Your stomach can’t count. When you can’t see how much you’re eating, you’re more than a little likely to lose track and consume double or even triple the amount you’d eat if you took the time to serve yourself a proper portion. Use a plate, a bowl, or a serviette. Make sure you get a good visual of everything you’re going to eat before taking your first bite.
10. Slow down & chew thoroughly
Once you start paying more attention to eating speed, you may be horrified to observe that most people don’t chew. If you’re one of those who chew the minimum number of times before swallowing or shoveling in another forkful, chances are you’re eating substantially more at every meal than your thoroughly chewing peers. Slow down, chew each bite (counting your chews can help develop the habit), and watch as you fill up faster on fewer calories.
11. Wait 20 minutes
If you’re slowing down your eating, you should find that you notice feeling satiated and full much more easily. Even still, there may be times you don’t experience that feeling of fullness. Before you dive in for a second helping, wait 20 minutes. Drink a tall glass of water and occupy yourself with something else. If others at the table are still eating, do your best to engage them in conversation. Challenge yourself to really find out about someone else’s day or make plans for the weekend. If you still truly feel hunger after 20 minutes then allow yourself some more!
12. Keep track of your appetite
If you’re eating well-balanced meals 80% of the time, then you should find that somewhere between every 3-4 hours you will start to feel hungry again. Two of the Principles of intuitive eating state that you should honor your hunger and respect your fullness. If you keep track of your hunger and fullness and keep in mind this timeline, then you should be on track for maintaining a balanced diet that promotes fat loss.
Implementing intuitive eating when you have no concept of how to construct your meals is extremely challenging. We would recommend that you at least start by keeping a food diary or working with a coach who can help guide you through the process and deconstruct any residual dieting mentality sentiments you might be holding on to. It’s important to keep in mind that if you choose to eat intuitively without tracking your food, that you may gain weight, lose weight or your weight may simply stay the same. Try not to get frustrated with whatever happens in the first couple of weeks. Be patient and keep working at reinforcing the principles of intuitive eating and implementing these practical skills on how to eat like an intuitive eater. Slowly, over time, you will find that you develop a mindful eating practice and are fully engaged with your body’s intuition. But it will take time! For more support check out our 8-week course on Intuitive Eating.