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How to Start Intuitive Eating (October 2023)

Eating is and should always be an intuitive process. We get low on energy and require nutrients, so our bodies will trigger certain hormones to make us feel hungry (rumbling belly). Our brains activate from these signals and will start making us think about food (desire about what to have for lunch). If we look at food when we’re truly hungry, we may start to salivate over that donut or burger pictured on the menu board (our bodies preparing for digestion).

We eat, we feel full and satiated, so our bodies then release other hormones to alert us when we’ve had enough (no longer desiring the food you’re eating, even if there are some left over + a feeling of fullness from the volume in our stomach). When all digestion goes well, we can comfortably move on from our meal with no indigestion, no bad or guilty feelings, and we will feel energized.

However, this perfect mechanism doesn’t always happen. Our brains and bodies do extremely well when the communication between them is strong and healthy. Just like any relationship, communication is foundational.

There are many different reasons how this communication becomes dysfunctional or broken. Let’s explore the main ones, and then let’s discover ways to get back on track to intuitive eating.

Causes of Miscommunication Between the Body and Mind

  1. Calorie and/or macro counting: despite whatever reasons you have for counting calories or macros, focusing on the amount of energy or nutrients in our food takes the attention away from our energy levels, hunger, satiety and other needs.
  2. Restricted eating: by way of reducing the calories/energy we eat, our bodies recognize that we may be in some sort of danger, because we’re unable to eat enough for the body’s many processes. This can come from intentional energy reduction, stress, damaged sleep, etc.
  3. Skipping meals or eating only at usual mealtimes (i.e., noon lunch): Our bodies are complex in nature and require different nutrients and less or more energy at any given time depending on our lifestyles. When we either skip meals due to stress, scheduling or other reasons, we tell our bodies there is some sort of food famine even when our stomachs are rumbling and asking for food. This will confuse the body and inform it that no food is available.
  4. Processed food: as a dietitian, my arch nemesis is processed food, mainly because the original form of food has been denatured and adultered into something that is void of most nutrients. These are designed by food scientists to keep you coming back for more, because of their addictive nature by design. With this function, our bodies don’t and can’t recognize certain ingredients, so the communication process becomes dysfunctional.
  5. Stress: I know your schedule is very busy as a student, and not being able to handle stress well can lead to a miscommunication of the body and mind when it comes to food. Stress signals cortisol in the body, which increases insulin, which then spikes and lowers blood sugar, causing overall sugar cravings. Repeating this process over and over with chronic stress can influence our hunger and satiety hormones outside of what our body truly needs.

Intuitive Eating Practices

I like to use this scale for students who are needing to reengage the communication between their body and mind. It’s a way to recognize certain body cues (stomach growling, headaches, cravings, etc.) that will indicate the need for more or less energy and/or nutrients. Try to track your symptoms for all meals for three days and assess what you’re experiencing. View and download the worksheet.

Scale from 1 to 10 of hungry to full for each meal period

Practice These Steps Before Each Meal

  1. Take deep breaths to relax your body and mind. Box breathing is beneficial (4 seconds inhale + 4 second hold + 4 second exhale through nose).
  2. Once relaxed, do a full body scan. Close your eyes and begin with the top of your head. Notice any tension, stress or strain. Relax those muscles. Scan down to your neck and shoulders and notice any tightness. Follow down to your stomach, hips, all through your toes and relax any stress. Breathe.
  3. Now focus on your stomach and belly. is it growling? Is it tense? Do you need to breathe deeply to lessen any strain? Is it full? Do you feel any other stress? Notice all feelings.
  4. Now think of how you want to feel when you eat your meal. Nourished? Satiated? Complete? Comfortable? Envision these feelings and focus on them. Try to really feel them and connect them with your physical body.
  5. Complete the worksheet both before, during and after a meal. You may do this privately, just note these at time of meal.

I recommend tracking a few days with this scale in mind to assess and get back on track with your own intuitive eating. If you’d like more information, please contact me to set up an individual appointment so we can discuss more.

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