Something I’ve been noticing is that there’s confusion around intuitive eating and how it can help with transforming our relationship with food.
The whole premise of intuitive or mindful eating, as I shared in this post and this post, is that when we eat intuitively, we listen to our unique body’s hunger and fullness signals, and honour our body by choosing high quality, wholefoods that will nourish us, and to take the time to eat and enjoy food using all our senses.
When we take the time to tune into our body and to truly savour the food we eat, and when used in combination with my own blueprint for having more fun and pleasure in our lives, then it’s much easier to stop the dieting mindset, put an end to emotional eating and to overcome over-eating and binge eating.
However, there are some traps that I see people getting into when they embark on the intuitive eating journey which can sabotage their efforts to move into a healthier lifestyle.
Mistake #1 Using intuitive eating as an excuse to eat whatever and whenever you want
Yes, with intuitive eating you are encouraged to let go of control and restriction and to allow yourself to eat what you like. However, it’s also about treating your body with respect and listening and feeling into your body and what it truly need and wants.
When you’re eating intuitively, it’s unlikely you will desire junk food all of the time, and if you’re really honouring your hunger and fullness cues then it’s unlikely you will want to eat anything and everything.
When you start listening to your body, you will likely notice that if you eat crappy food, you just feel lethargic, bloated and blah; but if you eat well, then you feel energised, satisfied and nourished.
There is no doubt that it takes practice to learn how your body works, but when you do heal your relationship with your body by eating intuitively then it becomes second nature and you will be able to ditch the diet books for good.
Mistake # 2 Holding onto the diet mentality
Another key element of intuitive eating is that this is NOT another diet. The reason that the majority of people end up over-eating, and gaining weight is because they have yo-yo dieted all their lives. For most, the years of diet obsession and focusing on ways to manipulate body size have only caused a lack of return- in money, time, and energy.
Despite this, the mental conditioning from years of dieting can make it really difficult to try an approach like this that requires you to trust your body, find your natural body size and focus on healthy behaviours rather than the numbers on a scale.
It can be downright terrifying to let go of the diet thinking, but being open to the intuitive eating approach and giving it a proper go is what will eventually lead to body and food freedom.
Mistake #3 Using intuitive eating as a tool to lose weight
With intuitive eating, the end goal is not weight loss. The idea is that intuitive eating will give your body a chance to reach its set-point weight range- and this can only happen when eating and exercise have been normal for several months.
Some people do gain weight when they first start intuitive eating, while others will lose weight. But this shouldn’t be the focus- healthy behaviours are what are important.
Once you’re living healthily, then the body will reach its set point weight naturally and this is what will bring the mind and body transformation that will allow you to also live without obsessing about the numbers on the scale all of the time.
Finding a way to have peace with your body size and by accepting that healthy behaviours are more important than weight are the key.
Mistake #4 Continuing to restrict or control your food
When people start using their willpower and self-control to eat mindfully perfectly, it is just an extension of the “diet mentality” that we are all so used to. Mindful eating is about letting go of willpower and self-control, and simply tuning into the body’s needs in the present moment.
When eating intuitively, it’s time to release the mind of all the rules and tools such as weighing food grams, measuring portion sizes and counting calories. These tools are not needed when we are in tune with our body and how it feels and what it craves.
Healthy habits that can be maintained, rely on being created based on your body’s internal wisdom, not by external tools which tell you what to do all the time. It’s useful to remember that intuitive eating is a moment-to-moment daily practice of mindfulness which allows you to be free from the reactive, habitual patterns of being on a diet.
Mistake #5 Judging your success and failure
Following intuitive eating requires continual practice- it is a lifelong learning and not a test that you can fail or succeed at it. Thinking this way will only keep you in self-judgment and the diet mentality- which is likely how you got to the place of needing to overcome cravings and put an end to over-eating in the first place.
With intuitive eating there is no such thing as perfection, and there is no need to try and strive to eat 100% intuitively all the time so as to be perfect.
Instead, when you eat, be aware of your thoughts, emotions, and feelings in the present moment without judgement. Let go of perfection and the idea that you must eat mindfully 100% of the time or that you can't eat a certain type of food. This is not another diet in another guise- it’s a whole new paradigm of thinking and living.
Instead of judging yourself, be curious and notice your thoughts. Rather than judging your progress by looking at your weight or level of restriction, start focussing on indicators such as how well you listened to your hunger and fullness cues, whether you honoured your cravings, and also by being aware of your negative thoughts and disordered behaviours and patterns learned from your past if they creep in.
Avoiding these five mistakes is important for being successful with intuitive eating. Remember that it’s a moment-by-moment daily practice, and the benefits that it will bring to your life will make any challenges 100% worth it. This approach will always be better than other diet methods you have unsuccessfully tried in the past and will help you to live a life where you are no longer controlled by food or obsessed with your weight, and allow you to live your life fully and happily.