Before that, I was a classic “clean eater” (I know, Main eye roll) who was always looking for “healthy” ways to eat, constantly berated myself for eating nothing in the day, and spent at least one Sunday a month cleaning out my cupboard in preparation for the next diet.
My first job was as a dietitian in a hospital, counseling patients and cringing as I fulfilled another doctor’s orders for “obesity counseling,” knowing I wasn’t going anywhere feeling like I’m doing more harm than good. I spent years working on my own relationship with food so I could stop being a slave to Libra, and here I am training others to do the exact thing that caused so much stress and turmoil in my own life.
In my quest not to feel like I wasted four years of my life and $40,000 on my career choice, I found Intuitive Food Techniques. Created by nutritionists (a big win in my book), these nutritional principles have been around for two decades, and have had a mountain of research backing them up.
Finally, a way that I can actually help people improve their health without Demonizing food or focusing on weight as a key indicator of health.
In learning how to help clients integrate intuitive eating into their own lives, I’ve gone deeper into practicing what I recommend. While there are countless ways people have successfully eliminated diets and ended toxic relationships on their scales, here are my top ways to become an intuitive eater.
4 intuitive eating techniques that can improve your relationship with food
1. Follow a loose eating schedule
If you’re used to tracking, counting, skipping meals, or eating purely around the clock, trusting your body to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full sounds more like a pipe dream than a plan. Most likely, you’ve ignored your hunger signals for so long that you don’t remember what you feel, or they literally don’t exist until your body is screaming at you for food. At this point, eating until comfortable satiety is impossible.
I started sticking to routine meal and snack times so I got used to knowing when my body wanted food without the clock. During stressful periods, really hot days, or when I’m exercising more than usual, I still try to eat at regular intervals, even if my hunger cues are blocked by stress.
Giving your body food on a regular basis helps it to trust that food is coming and it becomes easier to recognize hunger cues. It also helps you stop when you’re full when you don’t let your energy stores completely deplete before you finally eat something.
2. Create balance – most of the time
Honoring your cravings doesn’t mean throwing all nutrients out the window. I know I feel better when I pair protein, fiber, and fat in my meals. If I want something sweet, I’ll eat something sweet, but I try to do it in a way that makes me feel satisfied—not overly sweet or sugary.
Combining logic with what I really want to eat helps me enjoy food and still feel good physically. D: While I might want a classic, face-sized cinnamon roll for breakfast, I know I’d feel better if I made it a little more balanced. Pairing them with eggs or a glass of milk adds protein and fat to help slow digestion and provide long-lasting energy. There is no forbidden food, but we do have the power to eat anything we want in a way that makes us feel our best.
Does this mean that every time I eat something sweet, I reach for a protein or fat to pair it with? never. It is important to allow yourself to eat just for fun or just for fun sometimes, without adding an extra layer of guilt.
3. Practice eating mindfully
Have you ever gotten so excited to eat something that you had it covered and realized you didn’t even enjoy it? Or eat without thinking, and before you know it, the whole bag of chips is gone?
You can’t honor your cravings or regulate your hunger and fullness without adding some mindfulness to your meals and snacks. Mindful eating begins before anything touches your lips.
Make an informed decision about what you are going to eat before eating it. Why do you want to eat it? Are you craving salty or sweet? Something hot or cold? Relaxing or refreshing? Do you eat just for pleasure, or are you hungry and ready to fuel your body as well? Do you eat the granola bar in your bag because you’re hungry and it’s all you have? By getting to the root of what you want and why you want it, you can bring each eating experience more in tune with your body and how it responds to the food you eat.
4. Include a pause in the middle of the meal
Are you a member of the Clean Plate Club? I know I was. My cue to stop eating was when my food ran out, not when my body had had enough. This trick made a huge difference in helping me stop overeating so much and start giving my body the right amount of food without counting, measuring or tracking.
My signal for taking a pause in the middle of a meal is when half of my food is gone. This halfway point is not a signal to finish the meal, but it does encourage me to take a moment and ask myself how hungry I am and if the food is still good or if I am now craving a different taste.
Doing this conscious pause makes it easier to stop eating when you’re comfortably full, not just when you’re out of food. Since I often crave something sweet after my meals, it’s also time to see if the food I’m eating is no longer satisfying and help me leave a little room for dessert if that’s what I want.