Intuitive eating is hard.

Intuitive eating is hard.
Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking otherwise. But it’s worth it.
I promise.

 But back to the “hard” part…

You hear the word “intuitive” and well, it sure makes it sound like it would just come naturally. To simply eat when hungry. And to not eat when not hungry.

But then things like cravings, PMS-induced or run-induced hungry horrors attack, and plain old temptations arise.

Now what? You might not be hungry, but intuitively, you want to eat, because well – eating is enjoyable. Let’s be honest about that.

But eating “just to eat” versus eating to satisfy a hunger pang are two very different things. Hence why I say intuitive eating is hard. It’s definitely much more of a learned behavior than you’d assume. At least it is for me. But I’m being real here – as I always am – when I say that intuitive eating may not be all that intuitive to begin with, but it’s so worth it once you figure out what works for you, how to “learn” to eat more intuitively …as oxymoronic as that sounds.

I was smacked with a healthy dose of intuitive eating reality just last weekend and was amazed at what I saw unfold before me. Learned behaviors *do* work. Go figure!

Picture this:
…Spent the day ziplining with friends on Sunday. Planned ahead by eating a good breakfast, and brought yummy, fueling snacks for the car ride home in anticipation of homemade pizza for dinner while watching the Patriots game with friends.
…Arrive home from ziplining. Tired. Exhilarated from the experience of ziplining. And starving. There were snacks sitting out (natch, I am the hostess with the mostest, afterall!) and we cracked open a few bottles of wine that my sister so lovingly brought back from wine country for us.
…And honestly? It took all of my self-control to stick to the plan: two glasses of wine, two pieces of pizza. A piece or two of cheese from the cheese plate. Golden.

But in reality? In those moments – it took all of my self-control to *not* revert back to old eating patterns.  Of mindlessly snacking. Merely because the cheese plate was sitting in front of me. Of going for a third slice of pizza, simply because it looked so good (and not gonna lie, the Sutera’s? We make a mean homemade pizza).

But instead of reverting back to old eating patterns though, my sis and I stuck to our guns. We sat at the table chatting with eachother waiting until our dinner had settled. To gauge if what we were feeling was true hunger or mindless hunger. About 15 minutes later, we both sat back and realized that we were indeed full. Two pieces of pizza and two delicious glasses of wine later. And we were satisfied. Completely and totally. In fact, had we gone for that third slice? We both admitted we would have been uncomfortably full. A feeling neither of us ever wants to feel again – after far too many indulgent girls nights, date nights, holiday parties, etc., where food took center stage, instead of the experience of the evening or event itself.

So why am I telling you all of this? No, not to gloat over the fact that I have excellent self-control (I’m not perfect, trust me). But to show you that intuitive eating, while hard work, it’s worth it – and it’s indeed an ongoing project. And over time? All of that hard work pays off – intuitively eating slowly trains your body  (and mind, perhaps even more importantly) to appreciate the food you fuel it with, and to be satisfied with the calories it needs to sustain itself.

Intuitive eating, at least for me, is a learned behavior; but one that is becoming more and more intuitive (duh) than ever before.
And it’s worth it.

…but, of course this is just my take, I’d love to hear what you have to say about the whole intuitive eating thing. I expect there may be a bit of debate on this one. Just a hunch. 😉

And don’t you worry – there *will* be more pizza to be had in the Sutera household, and in fact – it’s on the menu for our pre-13.1 carb loading on Saturday night. It seemed to serve us pretty well during the last race, so why fix what so clearly is not broken, right? 😉

36 thoughts on “Intuitive eating is hard.

  1. It is really considered “intuitive” if you’re thinking about it? I don’t know the answer to that. Because I have to work hard at it and “think” about my eating habits when I’m in a situation like that. It doesn’t come naturally for me to stop when I’m full and only eat when I’m hungry.
    Sigh…..maybe one day…………

    • Like I said on twitter – I struggle with this concept too, from that perspective. Like – if I am actively thinking and planning and all of that, how “intuitive” is it then? But then I think – being intuitive means thinking and planning, to a certain extent anyway…at least until you start to “learn” how to do it with less thinking/planning, if that makes sense?? To me, eating intuitively (i.e. when hungry, when thirsty, etc.) is a total learned behavior – hence why it’s so hard to master. In fact, I don’t think ANYONE could totally master something like that…too many variables come into play (like hungry horrors, PMS cravings, etc.).

    • I LOVE the idea of eating “lunch” at 10:30 – if you’re hungry then, EAT! That’s the point, right? Eat when you’re hungry, not just because it meets a certain “pattern” (i.e. it’s noon so I “should” eat lunch…even if I’m not hungry yet…).

  2. LOVE this post. It’s oh so true. If we would only stop thinking about Food and really start listening to your instincts… (That’s not only related to food, is it?) A free animal hardly eats more than necessary (does NOT include my Cat!) and nothing that does any harm. So intuitive eating imho could even help preventing allergies etc. I think I’m gonna link to your post in my Blog if you don’t mind. Well Done, Sutera 😉

  3. LOL love Lindsay’s comment…eating lunch at 1030 am 😉 If you’re hungry, eat! Right?? I agree, eat when hungry, not just because it’s there. hard for me especially as I work from home and food is there whenever i want it!

    • WAY harder to do when surrounded by food at home – or when surrounded by lots of temptations at parties and stuff. The trick is choosing your battles – have the glass of wine but not the pile of cookies at the party, that to me is intuitive too. Eating what you are in the mood for (or drinking what you’re in the mood for) to fulfill a hunger (or thirst) pang, but not just because it’s “there” and you happen to have easy access. SO hard to do though, so hard. But worth it.

  4. LOVE THIS! You spoke to me in a language I understand. You’re right, we really need to stop and go “it’s OK to be a little hungry.” You never regret not eating that extra slice.

    ZIplining, look at you adventure Barbie:) Glad you shared this!

    • EXACTLY! Just like you’ll never regret going to the gym once you get there, but you WILL regret hitting “snooze” and skipping a workout (most of the time, anyway). Same goes for eating intuitively and choosing *not* to eat that extra slice, realizing that you don’t “need” it hunger-wise, you just “want” it…two very different, very hard to grasp and put into practice, things.

  5. Girl, I am so working on this. But as you mentioned, there is that ONE time of the month where I get crazy, out-of-control. *Sigh* Damn you Peanut Butter M&Ms!!!
    For the most part I do good. I am trying to put my game-face on for that scary season of over-eating that is around the corner….the Holidays.

    • Yes, holidays are a total challenge – and a test of that intuitive eating thing. My approach this season? To choose the one “treat” you would NEVER normally get during the year – like my mother-in-law’s whoopie pies. She makes them once a year for Christmas Eve. I will eat one and enjoy every last bite. I will not go for the “everyday” treats like chocolate chip cookies or brownies that dot the dessert table. I pick that special treat, savor it and move on. That’s the plan, anyway, vs. using the holidays to gorge on every possible thing at every party I attend. It can be done – but again, it’s hard, and harder when surrounded by lots of temptations at parties and such.

  6. It’s funny….the more concerned I am with food, or the more I think about it the more I eat!!! I hate restriction, I drives me crazy. 2 years ago I never would have had a glass of apple cider…last night I had 1 and it was delicious…did it kill me, no.

    Over the past few months I’ve tried to abandon “rules” when it comes to food. If nothing is off limits, then I don’t want it as much (or honestly, I’ll just eat to much of it & not want to do it again). One of the “rules” in particular that I hate is that fiber is good. Yes, good for some people. Not so good for me 1-2 days before a long run. Big salad on the day before a run = many, many bathroom stops.

    Not sure if this is intuitive eating or not, but it seems to work & I’m not as obsessive as I once was or hard on myself when I indulge 🙂

    Big congrats on being mindful with your drinks and pizza – it is HARD work!

    • TOTALLY agree – the minute you start putting things on the “good” and “bad” list – the minute you automatically go into crazy deprivation mode. Instead of labeling things good or bad, why not enjoy that special treat – and enjoy it as such: a special treat, something to enjoy and savor, but not to gorge yourself on. And guess what? You’re right – you will not balloon up if you eat that brownie you’re craving…you just learn to balance out your eats the rest of the day to make sure you’re still eating well and wholesomely, without overdoing it on the other end of the spectrum either. And you’ll be far happier and never have that “deprived” feeling because nothing is ever considered “off limits.”

  7. Agreed on all counts. It takes some learning because we’ve often times been so far removed from intuitive eating and really paying attention to our signals. That said, over my time, I have also learned that sometimes emotional eating or just eating out of pleasure/for the experience is okay. I think the key is being aware and choosing to do so (like I know I will eat more than I need at holiday functions).

    • It is amazing what happens when you do start paying attention to those signals and cues. You learn exactly what each one means and when it’s “real” hunger or when it’s a signal for something else – like thirst, or boredom even.

      I also agree that there can be a place for eating for pleasure and being able to move on from that. It takes choosing your battles, like I’ve said, and being balanced about how you do it. (like me savoring that whoopie pie on Christmas Eve and not fretting over it as being “bad” for me – but savoring it and eating well the rest of the time…)

    • Tina, I love that you mentioned it’s okay to eat out of pleasure sometimes. Moderation is definitely key. I mean, I know it’s probably a surprise that intuitive eating doesn’t signal to us that it’s time for wine…wink, wink, Jess…but it doesn’t, but we cook. We drink. We enjoy. I think we definitely have the ability to balance IE with moderation & enjoyment.

  8. First of all, congrats on excellent self-control. I am not so good at that.

    Given my 8:30-5 desk job, I keep myself very regimented at work. Morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack. I avoid the donuts, the treats, etc – all the time. They don’t even appeal to me. That’s not to say I don’t keep sweet treats in my desk – but I can control those on my own (I crave chocolate – a lot, a lot a lot).

    I’m also very good at night, when at home, eating dinner and I almost never have an evening snack.

    So when I go out or eat at a friends, I put all carefulness aside – I don’t go crazy, and I won’t overindulge. But I don’t tend to think about it as much. I think I know that I’ve come so far in my eating habits that I know I won’t revert back. And of course I always remind myself, that I train my butt off, so if I want to have a day of indulgence every now and then, so be it. It’s not going to kill me.

    • I’m so with you on the regimented-ness (yes, it’s a word) at work, I take the same approach. I do, however, tend to have a little something sweet at night after dinner. But I plan for it, so I’m never caught overdoing it, especially late at night.

      The other thing I’ve learned more recently? How to eat “socially” without putting carefulness completely aside. This has been a big change and challenge for me but it’s where I’ve been able to make some really good progress – because I realized I was totally undoing all of my hard work and healthy habits during the week by overdoing it on the weekend (not just once in awhile like you said, but like EVERY weekend) and it was adding up to the point where I was basically treading water with my workouts and clean eating during the week. All that effort was lost on the weekends and that’s what “intuitive” eating has shown me. How to listen to my body cues, but also how to plan for those social occasions better so I can enjoy them without blowing my hard work out of the water. Know what I mean?

  9. Great post. I think a lot of people talk about it but fail to talk about the fact that even if you grasp the concept and follow it most of the time, it’s not always so easy, so utterly intuitive. And when you’re relaxing with friends and family, it can make it harder b/c you’re enjoying. Enjoying the conversations, enjoying the time, the wine, the food. You’re not paying attention to how much you’re really eating until after the fact.

    I find that I can do really really well until say Saturday afternoon, after a long run when I don’t want to make lunch. When friends are up for a patio lunch with drinks. Then I sort of make excuses like, well I just ran x miles…it’s sort of ok. Then of course I feel guilty the next day or even that evening. Sigh.

    • That’s the key, though – being able to eat well, wholesomely, balanced the majority of the time, and those instances where you do allow yourself a little leeway, to enjoy it, appreciate it, and to move on without the guilt. It’s a constant work in progress for me – but in the end, I know that I’m eating well and healthy almost always and that helps me banish those silly guilty feelings when they crop up.

      Another thing – you are spot on with the “enjoyment” factor of spending time with friends, family,etc. in a social setting – for me, the balancing act has been learning to enjoy that experience without the focus being stolen by the food, drinks, etc. And instead having that focus be on the quality fun time with friends or family, the food and drinks, secondary. VERY hard to learn, but trying.

  10. I can’t eat intuitively. I wish I could, but I have to tell myself either you should eat this or you shouldn’t eat this. I can’t really base it on if I’m hungry because I feel like I’m always hungry.

    • I find myself in those cycles sometimes too – where I can’t even tell if what I’m feeling is true hunger or not. When it does happen, and those hungry horrors rear up, I TRY to ask myself if I’m maybe thirsty vs. hungry or bored vs. hungry or what. And if it doesn’t seem to be something else other than hunger, I try to wait to see if the hunger “feeling” passes or not. If it doesn’t pass, that means feeding time for me, for sure.

  11. This flies in the face of what I’ve heard. I’ve heard that especially when active you should be eating every 3 hours, to make sure that you can properly recover and fuel up for workouts. Of course that being said I never follow this guideline. Although our households do share a penchant for Pizza!! 🙂

    • I think in general – your body *does* need food approximately every three hours. But what I’ve learned is that there will be times that I’ll feel hunger 2 hrs in or 4 hrs in and not exactly at the same time of day everyday. So rather than sticking to an eating “pattern,” I’m trying to eat when I feel hunger, and avoid eating “just to eat.” It’s very hard to do but the more I train my body / mind, the more I’m realizing that I am satisfied more often than not with what I’ve eaten, how much I’ve eaten, etc. and don’t need the mindless snack staring me in the eye. Know what I mean?

  12. there’s definitely a learning curve with intuitive eating – and for me (and I imagine others who have a past with restricting), there are times when I still have the desire to overcompensate for times when I barely ate any food at all. But I’ve learned to listen to my hunger cues…and I’ve learned to be patient. I eat a meal, and I give it time to digest. And I feel satiated. 🙂

    • Totally agree. The hunger cues thing is so much harder to be mindful of. Which is so interesting considering our body was designed to create these cues so we would know when it was time for food and when it wasn’t time for food.

  13. The way I see it is this: intuitive eating is what we SHOULD be doing, but because of the way we’ve been taught, intentionally or unintentionally, a lot of us have to reprogram our brains to be intuitive. Intuitive eating shouldn’t require thinking, but reprogramming does. Intuitive eating can be rediscovered for sure…the problem still lies in mindless eating. For instance, your cheese. If you’re enthralled in a conversation and intuitively your body tells you you’re hungry, you pick up the piece of cheese. You continue talking, and grab another. And another. And another. It’s really difficult to be focusing on everything going on around you in that conversation (and around you physically) and at the same time be “hearing” your body say “Stop!” (Especially when it takes two seconds to pick up a piece of cheese and about 20 minutes for your brain & body to relay the message that you don’t need anything more.) So, intuitively, you know you’re hungry and you eat to satisfy needs. Mindlessness competes with intuition in this case…big time. I also think that you can intuitively eat and control your portions, because of the whole mind-body communication relay and distractions (mindlessness). Does this make sense? (It’s like I said to Jo on one of her posts…this is after hours catch up time for me. lol)

    PS: Way to stick to your guns girls!

    • Oh how I heart you and your novel length comments!!! I totally agree with everything you have to say here – especially the whole rediscovery of intuitive eating. It can be done/learned/discovered, but it *does* take time and it isn’t very easy to do, but I firmly believe that with commitment and time, it can be done. And I’m fully in this to win it. And I have a feeling you are too!

  14. It *is* hard and i go through on/off bouts with it. What I am trying right now is that when I want to reach for food, especially when its at a time that I don’t normally eat, I ask myself if I’m actually thirsty instead. Most times I am finding that if I just drink some water the temptation to eat something actually goes away.

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