I got a good question on a recent video, asking where the line is between intuitive eating and overeating. Given that intuitive eating involves eating whatever you want, whenever you want, as much as you want, I can see how from the outside, it would just seem like constant overeating!
But in fact, intuitive eating is one of the BEST ways to prevent overeating, and there’s a lot of great research backing it up. (See my how-to guide for more details, and to start eating intuitively)
In today’s video, I go over why overeating and intuitive eating are completely different.
For most of my life, I HATED vegetables. But over the last few years, I’ve turned into a vegetable enthusiast. I often even enjoy them raw with nothing on them. (I can be seen biting into a plain beet or cauliflower, and even having plain arugula, on a regular basis…)
In today’s video, I go over how I went from hating to loving vegetables, and how you can too! Featuring the results of scientific studies (citations below).
As a kid, I HATED vegetables. My parents wouldn’t let me leave the dinner table until I finished my meals, and I often opted to sit for hours rather than eat my salad.
I only started eating vegetables in my undergrad years out of desperate attempts to lose weight, and even then I still didn’t actually like them. They felt more like a punishment.
I started to somewhat enjoy them about 6 years ago when I started eating a high carb low fat diet, and noticed that some foods (like sushi bowls) just happened to taste better with vegetables. And then ~5 years ago I magically started to find salads somewhat enjoyable rather than boring torture. (It also helped that I learned how to make vegetables more exciting with better recipes!)
And then, about 2 years ago, I started completely focusing on intuitive eating instead of following any diet. I stopped caring about weight loss, and started caring about having a healthy relationship with food. I just ate whatever I craved, whenever I wanted to.
And inexplicably, a huge chunk of the time, what I naturally craved was (and is)… VEGETABLES!
Now that I was fully eating according to my cravings, I could see just how much I craved healthy food. And I noticed I naturally stopped liking sugary or hyperpalatable things as much.
So how did I have such a dramatic shift in tastes?
Based on all the studies I’ve read on diet science, I have a feeling that it was because of gut bacteria.
First, we know that what we eat changes our gut microbiome, by changing the types and relative quantities of different types of bacteria. And those bacteria do a lot of our digesting for us. For example, studies show that eating more plants changes our gut microbiome to have more plant-digesting bacteria, which then makes us more efficient at digesting plants1.
Second, there is evidence that our gut microbiome can actually influence what we crave2, and even how much we eat3.
So what we end up with is a feedback loop where eating more vegetables changes your gut microbiome to have more veggie-loving bacteria, and those bacteria then make you crave more vegetables.
On the flip side, it can also be a vicious cycle, depending on the food: if you eat a lot of processed food, you get a gut full of processed-food-loving bacteria, which then makes you crave more of it.
The key is to get yourself into the cycle you WANT to be in. And to get into a vegetable-craving cycle, the first step is to just eat more vegetables. (A mix of both raw and cooked, ideally!)
I suggest doing this in the most palatable ways you can manage so that you’re not having to force yourself to eat them. You don’t want to associate vegetables with torture. For example, you can try hiding vegetables in other foods: add spinach to your smoothies, riced cauliflower to your normal rice, and greens in your chili. (If you want to get extra creative, you can add pureed mushrooms to soups, chilis, pasta, etc… that’s how I get my husband to eat them, since he hates their texture!) I have more suggestions in the video too.
And at some point, I bet you’ll naturally find yourself naturally liking vegetables even without having to hide or disguise them.
(Another tip: if you fall in love with vegetable gardening as much as I have, you’ll discover that vegetables are actually pretty magical 😛 )
In this study, the researchers looked at how much weight was gained over the holidays by dieters versus normal controls (nondieters). And, more importantly, what kinds of dieting habits these groups had.
The dieters were people who had successfully lost weight in the past and kept it off for years–so they really knew how to diet. Before the holiday, many of them reported having “extremely strict” holiday diet and exercise plans in place: they had solid plans to control their portions, cut out treats, and exercise like crazy. Many of them also lost weight before the holidays to have a safety net in the event of holiday weight gain.
Sounds like a lot of people around November, right?
Not a single one of the 100 nondieters, on the other hand, reported having strict diet or exercise plans. None of them reported losing any weight to prepare for the holidays, either.
So the dieters were completely focused on weight loss, had strict plans in place to do that, and even preemptively lost weight to have a holiday safety net. And the nondieters didn’t care about weight or dieting much at all.
Guess who gained more weight?
During the holiday, the dieters reported exercising much more, and successfully sticking to their strict diet plans. They followed self-imposed rules, like only eating at home and not allowing snacking after dinner. They intentionally stopped eating before they were full, focused on their portions, and weighed themselves more often.
And yet, they gained weight: almost half of them gained more than 2lbs. Only 15% of the nondieters, on the other hand, gained weight.
The kicker is that even a month later, in February, three times as many dieters were still holding onto that holiday weight than nondieters.
But why did this happen?
The researchers found that paying less attention to their weight and dieting over the holidays predicted more weight gain in the dieters. And yet, the dieters were still paying more attention to their weight and diet overall than the nondieters, so that can’t explain why they gained more.
This seemingly paradoxical result really shows how dieting affects you: if you’re used to dieting, then the second you take a break from completely obsessing over your weight and diet plans, you start to gain weight.
So, what does this mean for you?
The only way dieting really works in the long term is if you maintain complete control 100% of the time, with no binges or overeating or slip ups. And that isn’t realistic. It’s usually more like a cycle of doing well for a little while, then overeating, then trying to make up for it by dieting more strictly, which leads to binging… rinse and repeat.
Dieting just doesn’t work in the long term.
So what can you do?
Be like the nondieters: try intuitive eating (here’s my post on how to do that). Don’t focus on your weight. Don’t make strict diet plans. Don’t impose eating or exercise rules on yourself. Instead, just learn to tune into your body’s signals so you can eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full–that’s it!
It takes some time to escape from a diet mentality and the cycle of strict dieting and slip-ups, but it is so worth it.
And if you want to lose weight, just focus on eating whole, plant-based foods. (No need to cut out treats though!) There’s a ton of research that shows that eating this way, without any dieting, leads to effortless weight loss.
The holidays should be a time that you can spend focusing on loved ones, relaxation, and self-care. Not a time that you have to spend all your mental energy on keeping up your diet.
The holiday season is a mostly wonderful time… but between the fun of getting together with loved ones, having more free time, and being surrounded by holiday decor, there lurks the fear of seemingly inevitable weight gain.
I spent years and years being so afraid of weight gain, and so desperately planning my post-holiday diet, that it was hard to enjoy the holidays at all. Especially Thanksgiving, because the whole day is so focused on food. But now that I’ve learned how to escape that cycle, I want to share some tips to help you stop worrying about your weight this holiday season too, so you can focus on what’s important instead 🙂
1. Eat more (of some things).
Sounds counterintuitive, I know.
But the science is clear: some foods are more satiating than others. Studies have found that if you eat 250 calories of potatoes, for example, you’ll feel more than twiceas full as you would from eating 250 calories of cheese1. And as a result, you also eat much less after eating potatoes than after eating cheese.
And you can take advantage of this fact to help you pace yourself during your holiday meals.
If you’re mindful about having a good helping of those satiating foods (think starches & veggies), it’ll balance out the high calorie density, low satiety foods (think meat, cheese, & desserts), and help prevent you from overeating.
So what exactly does that look like? Try having a dish as close as possible to a plant based whole food–maybe mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, a veggie side, or even stuffing–that you eat first or that you serve yourself extra of, to give you that baseline of satiation before going for seconds (or thirds) on everything else.
Another strategy is to have some snacks or appetizers before the big meal. This can help by making sure you don’t go into dinner feeling ravenous and overstuffing yourself before your brain can catch up.
2. Don’t plan to diet beforehand or afterwards.
This is a big one. Almost everyone who has ever dieted plans to diet before and/or after the holidays. But it’s exactly that mindset that leads to overeating and weight gain in the first place.
In fact, studies show that people who are most successful at losing weight in general are the ones who gain the most weight during the holidays2.
Sounds crazy, right?
A few years ago I would have thought so too, but now it makes perfect sense.
First, we know that dieting leads to yo-yo weight gain and loss in the long term. So dieting before the holidays is the perfect way to set yourself up to go into binge mode during the holidays and gain all that weight back… and then some3.
Second, when you go into the holiday season expecting to gain weight, that’s exactly what happens. It’s a very easy self-fulfilling prophecy, because the expectations are all in your mind, and it’s your mind that causes you to overeat. (Your body never asks for that!) When you start eating, you probably have negative emotions about how much weight you’re going to gain. And we know that for people who diet, negative emotions lead to more overeating.
It’s a vicious cycle that leaves you miserable during the holidays, and heavier (and still miserable) afterwards.
So what should you do instead? Ditch the diets, and start eating intuitively instead. (Check out my guide for how to get started.) Your mind and waistline (and probably your loved ones too) will thank you.
3. Plan to make yourself more holiday foods afterwards.
Part of what makes us overeat at holiday meals is that the food is scarce. Maybe it’s even “forbidden” the rest of the year.
If you don’t eat that pecan pie today, you might not get to eat it again until next year.
But the reality is that the only reason holiday food is scarce or forbidden is if YOU decide that you aren’t allowed to have it at other times. And that makes it so much more alluring. After all, there’s a reason they say that the forbidden fruit is sweetest.
And, science shows that people who avoid eating certain foods for dieting purposes end up overeating them later3.
If you don’t allow yourself to have certain foods most of the year, you end up overeating them even more during the holiday season because you know you’ll be deprived of those foods again soon.
This is not your last chance for pecan pie, so you don’t need to eat it like it’s your last time having pecan pie.
So this tip is an easy one: just allow yourself to have your favorite foods. (This is a good anti-weight-gain tip in general, not just for the holidays!) Either make some of your holiday favorites before the season starts to test out some recipes, or schedule a day after the holidays to make or buy those holiday foods you always crave. (And, of course, save leftovers from the holiday meal itself!)
Or best of all, go all out with intuitive eating and just eat what you want when you want it. No scheduling necessary. That’s how I’ve lost weight and maintained it–it just works.
With this tip, you’ll go into your holiday meals knowing that the pecan pie really isn’t that rare–and if you know there’s more where that came from, you’ll feel much less of an urge to overeat it.
(Can you guess that I really love pecan pie? 😉 )
4. Treat it like any other meal.
Try changing your expectations going into your holiday meals. If you don’t treat them like a big daunting event where you’re expected to overeat, you’ll be less likely to overeat.
Like the last tip, this is also about reducing the scarcity of the food: the goal is to get rid of that feeling that the Thanksgiving food (or other holiday food) is a limited resource. Don’t treat the food like it’s the special part of the day. That’s not what makes a holiday a holiday.
It’s the loved ones, the focus on what you’re thankful for, or even just a day off from work that makes it a holiday.
If you want to create something special and rewarding in your day, in place of focusing on the meal, you could also try treating yourself to some self care: is there a book you’ve been wanting to read, a videogame you’ve been dying to play, or some bubble bath you’ve been wanting to try? Treat yourself or set aside some time for yourself during the day to make it feel special.
5. Shift your focus.
Changing your mindset is so powerful. Mindset makes us overeat in the first place, and mindset can be the reason we stop.
This holiday season, try shifting your focus. Instead of thinking about how food will affect you and your body, focus on who you’re sharing that food with. Focus on why you’re there eating a holiday meal in the first place.
And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, try replacing guilt, shame, and fear with gratitude. Gratitude that you have food to eat, loved ones to eat it with, and a body that allows you to enjoy the holidays. Maybe your body doesn’t look exactly how you want it to (yet), but try to appreciate it for what it allows you to do.
After all, practicing gratitude has been shown again and again to make people happier4, and even to improve their body image5.
And with that, I wish you all a very happy holiday season. I hope that these tips can help you enjoy it even more. ❤
A few weeks ago, I was on vacation in San Diego: aka a vegan foodie’s paradise. It was a great opportunity to be challenged and grow in my intuitive eating, and more importantly, to learn some insights to share with you!
For years and years, going on vacation meant a constant cycle of binge eating at restaurants, feeling guilty about it, trying to eat less at the next meal, failing, packing in as much cardio as possible… rinse and repeat.
Followed, of course, by the post-vacation constant, failed dieting attempts.
My last few vacations since getting the hang of intuitive eating, however, have been a world of difference.
This last vacation was an especially tricky case, because I was set on making a guide & video to the best vegan restaurants in San Diego… all over the course of a week! And I wanted to try as many dishes as humanly possible for it. (Luckily I collaborated with some of the restaurants, like Kindred in these photos, so I didn’t spend alllll the money.)
In the past, this would have spelled disaster: trying so many things would have meant cleaning my plate for every. single. dish.
But this time, I went with my gut, quite literally. And it went wonderfully. No binge eating, no guilt, no restriction… and all my clothes fit the same when I got home.
So here are 5 tips I’ve picked up along the way: how to make sure you’re eating just as much as you need (no more, no less!) while eating out at restaurants, being on vacation, or having any other big change in your usual diet!
1. Eat slower.
Your body has learned the approximate mapping between the volume of food you put in your stomach, and the amount of energy that volume usually results in. If you’re used to eating less calorie-dense food, like vegetables and grains, this is an especially important one. With salad or bread, for example, you might need to eat ~5 cups of it to get 500 calories. With the types of food you tend to get at restaurants or while on vacation, though, you could easily get 1000 or 1500 calories with 5 cups of food.
Now, I am DEFINITELY not advocating you count your calories. (Repeat: do not count your calories!) Rather, try some strategies to be more mindful of your hunger and satiety signals. Try eating slower to give your body a chance to catch up, start digesting a little bit, and realize that you gave it more calories per volume than it expected. For me, this is as simple as having appetizers first, then letting myself digest for the ~15 minutes it takes for the food to come.
Don’t think this would help? There are studies showing that eating slower actually reduces the amount of food and calories that you eat!1
2. Get appetizers.
To piggyback on the last tip, if you’re really hungry when you get to the restaurant, ordering appetizers (to share, especially!) can be surprisingly helpful for preventing overeating. Paradoxically, getting appetizers ends up making me eat LESS because I’m not ravenously hungry when it’s time to start on my entree. And not feeling as hungry to start with will help you pace yourself and be more mindful of when you’re satiated.
3. Plan to take home leftovers.
Unless you’re sure you’ll need to eat all the food to be satiated (which is totally reasonable, I usually finish a whole entree), go in with the mindset that you’ll take some food home.
This is NOT the same idea as the tip I’ve seen circulating in the dieting world, saying “put half your entree in a leftovers box when you get it to stop yourself from eating it all.” This is simply aimed at preventing you from going in with a “clean your plate” mentality… if you end up wanting to eat it all because you’re not full yet, you should absolutely go for it!
4. Don’t force yourself to eat your next meal.
This is the most important tip so far, because it’s an example of how intuitive eating works beyond the level of an individual meal: your body’s ability to regulate your intake (so you eat what you need) operates over days, weeks, even months (thanks, hunger hormones!). It may sound weird, but hear me out.
Not forcing myself to eat at prescribed times has been huge for me. In the past I subscribed too heavily to society’s “3 meals a day” norm, and it got in the way of me listening to my body.
When I eat at a restaurant, I usually eat way more calories in a meal than I would at home, simply because my body is so used to eating a large volume of food. AND THAT’S OKAY! (Tip #1 can help, but probably won’t completely prevent it.)
Once you’re used to eating intuitively, you can trust your body to know what to do with those extra calories.
This tip helped me the most. My first day in San Diego, I ate a ton of incredible food at this brunch. I was still full around 5pm, 5 hours later. But my family wanted to make dinner together.
So naturally, I joined in. I was still mostly full, but I ate quite a bit anyway–because I had pretty much shut off communication with my hunger signals by choosing to eat when I wasn’t hungry in the first place. After feeling sick and overstuffed (on veggies, beans and rice, no less), I realized that eating dinner was not staying true to my body’s signals: it was telling me “I’m good, thanks”, but I ate dinner because I felt like I should.
No one can tell us when we should or shouldn’t eat. Only our bodies know that!
I redoubled my dedication to listening to my hunger, and it worked beautifully over the rest of the trip. How it usually worked was one day I’d do a big breakfast and dinner, with no lunch. (I’m like a snake when it comes to restaurant meals: I stock up, then feel full and satiated for like 8 hours. 😛 )
Then the next day, I wouldn’t feel hunger signals all morning because of the leftover energy from that big dinner. Then I’d get hungry around lunch, eat a big lunch, and feel full the rest of the day. Then repeated that two day pattern.
It was the usual 3 meal routine, just with double the meal size, spread over 2 days. And I felt great. No ravenous hunger, no feeling overstuffed, just eating when hungry & stopping when satisfied. I didn’t have to think about food at all in terms of what or when to eat, I just focused on enjoying myself. The bonus was I could spend less time finding food & more time at the beach!
Another way to think of it is naturally occurring intermittent fasting. Without the whole forcing-yourself-to-eat-in-a-prescribed-time-window part.
I don’t recommend forcing yourself to eat like this, at all. Some people do better eating more frequent meals, whereas I tend to prefer the snake-type eating style.
The main lesson from this tip is you may have to throw your usual eating routines out the window, and fly without the autopilot of habit: rely more on your hunger and fullness signals instead!
5. Go easy on yourself.
If you do overeat til you’re sick, just dust yourself off, move on, and try again. Vacationing and eating at restaurants is about relaxing and enjoying your life (and your loved ones), not feeling bad about yourself! You may be tired of hearing it, but self compassion is an absolutely KEY part of intuitive eating.
Maybe you’re working on getting the hang of intuitive eating, maybe it’s your first time trying to do it while on vacation. Maybe you’re an old pro and it was just difficult this time. (Newsflash, no one’s perfect!)
That’s okay. If you gain weight, it’s not the end of the world. Feeling guilty can only make the situation worse, but self compassion can prevent and reverse it. Work on loving yourself where you are and the rest will follow!
* * * * *
I hope these tips can help you the next time you find yourself thrown out of your eating routine with the fun of restaurants and vacation. And most of all, I hope you enjoy yourself!
Maybe you’ve been dieting, maybe you’ve been binge eating. Maybe you have uncontrollable cravings, or overeat because of emotions or boredom. Maybe you want to heal your relationship with food, or lose weight without having to diet.
If any of these sound like you, intuitive eating can help!
It may sound too good to be true, but science supports it: a big review of 20 scientific studies found that intuitive eating leads to weight loss and increases in happiness; improvements in body image, quality of life, and self-esteem; and reductions in binge eating and restricting, depression, and anxiety1. And these benefits are maintained even for years afterwards. It’s also much easier to stick to than any diet plan: 92% of people stick to it long-term.
It just works.
This guide is for those of you who want to get started with eating intuitively. I’m basing this advice off of my own experiences with breaking a cycle of bingeing, restricting and weight gain by learning to eat intuitively, plus evidence from scientific research on it and experience from my psychology/neuroscience PhD.
Read on for 11 tips to start intuitive eating!
(All the little numbers like this link to studies that are in a reference list at the end!)
1. Break the rules.
Throw out any and all diet rules that you might be consciously following, or subconsciously incorporating into your eating decisions. The only “rule” you should follow is:
Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.
No more rules on when you should eat, like no eating after 9pm, or always eat breakfast first thing in the morning. No more rules on how much you should eat, like eat small frequent meals or eat a big breakfast and a small dinner.
You don’t even need to follow nutrition rules on what you should eat, like having a balance of fat, carbs, and protein in a meal or eating lots of fiber. That can come later on!
Right now, the goal is just to undo the years of intuitive eating unlearning we’ve gone through, whether it’s thanks to diet culture or childhood rules. Over time, intuitive eating actually makes you crave healthier foods on its own2.
2. Eat mindfully.
Do you ever drive somewhere routine, then wonder how in the world you even got there because you were spacing out the whole time?
We tend to do that with eating all the time. And it really gets in the way of feeling satiated.
Eating in front of the TV is fun, I know. But mindful eating–paying attention to the process of eating–has been shown to be really helpful for binge eating, weight loss, and healing your relationship with food3.
You don’t have to do it forever once you get the hang of intuitive eating. But at the beginning, eliminating all distractions (this includes talking and using your phone!) and really focusing on eating is essential for learning to listen to your body’s signals. It’ll also make your meals more satisfying, and you’ll actually like them more4, because the feedback from your brain is a huge contributor to feelings of satisfaction.
3. Eat what you want to eat, not what you “should” eat.
When you’re first starting out, the most important thing is to just allow yourself to eat. Eat what you want, as much as you want of it, when you want it. Without guilt or shame.
This may involve baking and eating entire batches of cookies at a time. (It did for me, at least!)
The key here is to let yourself eat whatever super unhealthy, decadent, “bad” foods you’ve been craving and forbidding yourself from eating. Once they stop being forbidden, they lose their power over you. In fact, you may find yourself eating less overall because you’ll feel more satisfied when you eat whatever it is you’re actually craving. (If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably tried to eat healthy substitutes for the thing you’re craving, and end up eating more than if you’d just eaten the cookies in the first place!)
During this process, it’s important to try your best not to feel guilty. It’s easier said than done, of course, but if you ever want to beat yourself up over eating something “bad”, just remind yourself that it’s part of the process. Just about everyone who has restricted their diet in some way or another has experienced this.
For example, research shows that in people who have restrictive mindsets around eating (“restrained eaters”), being deprived of chocolate makes them overeat chocolate way more than people who don’t have restrictive mindsets5. So right now, focus on training yourself to be one of those nonrestrictive eaters. You’ll reap the benefits–like peace of mind, self love, health, and weight loss–later on.
Remember: It’s not your fault if you want to eat tons of chocolate, cookies, fast food, etc. It’s years of diet culture and labeling those as forbidden foods. All you need to do now is release yourself from guilt and trust the intuitive eating process.
Now, healthy eating is important, of course… but an important part of healthy eating is having a healthy mindset around eating. And you can’t do that if you’re forcing yourself to eat things you don’t enjoy, or feeling bad for eating things you enjoy.
So right now, focus on fixing your mindset. Later, it’s easy to reintroduce the healthy foods if you don’t find yourself naturally craving them. (And I’ll tell you how 🙂 )
4. Practice self-compassion.
If you’re on the more scientifically-minded side like me, you may be skeptical about this tip actually helping much. But research supports it: being kind to yourself actually stops overeating while it’s happening6. (In fact I plan to dedicate a whole post/video to these studies at some point, because it’s so cool!)
Practice compassionate self-talk. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend or partner if they were feeling the same way.
A lot of fitness and diet culture focuses on treating yourself like a tough-love coach would: try harder, suck it up, no pain no gain. Maybe this can work for a select few people, but I think for most of us, this kind of mindset just perpetuates feelings of guilt and not being good enough.
Next time you feel like you failed, remind yourself of the struggles you’re overcoming, the ways you succeeded, and how all that really matters is that you’re trying. No one’s perfect, and the journey to healing your relationship with food is really difficult… everyone stumbles.
Love yourself just where you are, and celebrate the growth you’re experiencing (or about to experience).
5. Start learning your hunger & fullness signals.
The ultimate goal of intuitive eating is to follow your hunger and fullness signals, but for many of us, the problem is that we forgot what they feel like. I’ll do a full post on this too, but for a shorter version for now–experimenting on yourself can be a great way to figure this out.
One helpful thing is to realize that there are hunger signals besides just hunger pangs or a growling stomach. Maybe you get shaky, grumpy, suddenly tired, or a bit dizzy. For me, I get a fun cocktail of tired, grumpy, and shaky.
The goal is to learn what your signals are, and the feelings that lead up to them. (Because I certainly don’t advocate letting yourself get dizzy regularly, but rather you should learn when you’re about to start feeling that way so you can eat and prevent it!) Now, I can tell what happens before I get grumpy/tired/shaky, so I can prevent it from happening without eating sooner than necessary.
Try eating a meal later than you usually would, or skip a snack you’d usually have. What do you feel? If the beginnings of stomach growls or other hunger signals don’t start for a few hours, then you were probably eating earlier or more than you needed.
That may sound like torture because a lot of us are afraid of hunger pangs, especially if we’ve ever dieted. But no need to be scared of them anymore: they’re a useful signal, and you can eat immediately, as much as you want, once you get one!
Do the same thing with fullness: try eating a little more than usual and see what cues your body gives you that you ate too much. Besides feeling overstuffed, maybe you feel sluggish or sleepy an hour later, maybe the idea of food sounds disgusting to you.
Then, once you’ve started to identify your hunger and fullness cues from these little experiments, use those cues to guide when and how much you eat.
6. Say no to habit.
You may have longstanding habits that get in the way of you being able to learn your hunger and fullness cues. For me, that was eating first thing in the morning–I would always do it, thinking I was hungry, but I realized it was just the habit. One morning I finally decided to try not eating until I was completely sure I was feeling actual hunger signals.
Turns out, when I thought I was “starving,” I was actually just thirsty!
Running little experiments on yourself can be key for learning to eat intuitively. Practice breaking your habits, and see what you learn.
Maybe you don’t actually need an afternoon or late night snack. Maybe you actually need a bigger lunch than you can fit in your current tupperwares.
7. Quit counting calories, measuring portions, etc.
Unlearn what you think you know about food. Contrary to popular opinion, calories don’t count (much). There are a LOT of scientific studies supporting this.
You also don’t need to eat certain portions of food. Serving sizes are arbitrarily created by companies for marketing purposes.
Throw away your calorie journal. Delete Myfitnesspal. Free yourself. Use that time you would have spent counting calories to take a nap, meditate, cook something healthy or fun, or pet your dog.
I was a calorie counting addict–I counted my calories every day for over 5 years. 5 years! On Myfitnesspal, I had a recording streak of over 1200 days (the only reason it wasn’t longer is because I went on a vacation out of the country and didn’t have service!) If I can quit it, so can you.
8. Don’t clean your plate, and don’t be afraid to take seconds (or thirds).
A plate is just a thing that holds your food. Its size shouldn’t have a say in how much you eat!
Sometimes, we don’t know exactly how much food to dish ourselves: only your body can tell you how much you need, once the food’s in your mouth. (You may be skeptical, but I swear, after practicing intuitive eating my body is a finely-tuned energy-sensing machine. It knows exactly how much I need to eat, somehow.)
If you dish yourself too much, stop eating once you’re satiated. Stop once another bite doesn’t sound that exciting.
I was taught to clean my plate. That led to years of overeating, especially at restaurants.
Just breaking that simple habit made such a huge difference to me. I started breaking the habit by always leaving a bite left on my plate after eating (I give it to my fiance when I can, but don’t be afraid to throw it away or compost it)! Now I regularly have leftovers, even in teeny tiny containers if it’s only a little bit left, which makes for a nice snack the next day.
Learning not to eat everything on the plate can be really, REALLY hard to learn, but it is so rewarding once you do. Try fast-tracking the process and serve yourself way more than you know you can eat, so the serving size holds even less control over how much you eat. That way you HAVE to put some back, and can’t convince yourself you need to eat the whole plate.
On the flip side, if you finish your plate and you’re still not satiated, you should absolutely serve yourself more. If you run out of the meal you were eating, eat something else. Don’t deprive yourself–don’t let a predefined portion tell you how much to eat!
9. Trust the process.
An important part of intuitive eating is just believing it’ll work. Mindset is a huge part of the battle with everything you do, not just intuitive eating.
Placebo is one hell of a drug. Just the belief that something is working can make it work, even if it wouldn’t have otherwise7.
On the other hand, if you believe something won’t work, you reduce how effective it is even if it would have worked otherwise… or even have bad effects that wouldn’t have happened otherwise8.
Here’s a simple daily life example: if you believe someone likes you, you’ll be nicer to them and act like their friend, and they’ll grow to like you more even if they didn’t actually like you before. And the opposite is true too: if you believe someone dislikes you, you might act cold and distant, making them like you less.
Your mindset affects your world because it changes what you think and do, and even physiological processes7,8.
Because half the goal of intuitive eating is psychological, putting faith in it can really do wonders. It has worked for SO MANY people1, and it worked for just about all of us back when we were young… before rules and guilt took over our eating. Luckily, you don’t have to go just based on faith or anecdotes or placebo, because a lot of research–like all the papers I’ve been citing in this post–supports it.
If you believe it’s working, your cookie binge becomes a part of the process instead of a failing. Your current weight is just your starting weight before intuitive eating can work its magic, not something you’re stuck with. And that mindset actually makes it work faster, because the sooner you release the guilt and shame, the sooner you can eat intuitively.
10. Throw yourself into something you love.
Many of us looking to do intuitive eating are obsessed with food. Trust me, I understand, I was there for 10+ years.
A HUGE help for me was throwing myself into other passions: photography, cooking, animal activism, blogging, and writing, for example. The more excited you get about other things in your life, the more you’ll be thinking about them instead of food.
I used to always be thinking about my next meal… sometimes before I was even done with the current one. Now, eating is sometimes a bit of a chore for me because it takes time away from my passions, and I occasionally forget to until the hunger signals start getting quite strong!
11. Exercise: especially if it’s fun.
Exercise is not only great for your mental and physical health, but it can give you the reward hormones you might have been using food to get. It can help deal with overwhelming emotion, boredom, and other causes of overeating. It even suppresses your appetite, so it can help you make sure you’re eating out of actual hunger and not just mental appetite9.
A key difference from how you may have treated exercise in the past is that you should choose something that you enjoy, not something that burns a lot of calories! Exercise should be fun, not a punishment.
Maybe it’s a slow stroll in nature, maybe it’s dancing or yoga or swimming or basketball. Whatever you find the most sustainable and enjoyable.
If you don’t find any exercise particularly fun, then you could try motivating yourself by focusing on the health benefits. Or just do some stretches!
But, try not to let guilt creep in. Don’t feel bad if you miss a workout. Don’t feel like you need to push yourself to go faster or harder. If it’s fun and stress-free to keep improving your times or the amount of weight you can lift, go for it. Go at a pace that feels good, mentally and physically.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Reversing years of dieting, rules, guilt, shame, and suppressing our body’s signals takes time. But it is so worth it, for our relationship with food and our body, our physical and mental health, and our daily quality of life.
I know many of you are here looking to lose weight: if you have weight to lose, it will happen. (I even lost fat while already at the lower end of a healthy BMI, in line with my ab-related goals, just by shifting what I ate!) But take it one step at a time: you have to get your body’s trust back and heal your relationship with food first, and then losing weight without trying becomes a breeze.
Following these 11 tips should allow you to get most (if not all) of the way to intuitive eating, but there’s always more to learn and more ways we can grow. I’ll be continuing this series of blog posts to cover specific issues that might be especially difficult to deal with, how to fine-tune your intuitive eating and shift towards more weight loss if you’ve already got the hang of the basics, and more.
In the meantime, this book (and this one) also explains ways to eat intuitively, if you’d like more in-depth advice and explanation.
Hey friends! Today I have a video (& post) for you with 10 tips on how to stop overeating or binge eating out of boredom! Boredom eating is an important habit to kick whether you’re looking to learn to eat intuitively, or looking to lose weight.
Today I’m wearing my psychologist hat: I do have my master’s degree in psychology (cognitive neuroscience emphasis) after all! Some of these tips will address the eating side of the issue, and others will focus more on solving the boredom side.
I go over all these points in detail and with concrete examples in the video, but here’s the list:
Figure out if you’re eating from actual boredom, or if it’s really hunger! (Try the broccoli test)
Exercise: the hormones suppress your appetite!
Meditation: turn boredom into something that’s good for you physically & mentally
Plan something exciting
Find something else that’s mostly mindless to occupy yourself, especially your hands
Find an activity that’s rewarding in a way that replaces the reward from food
Channel your food-related thoughts into cooking something healthy!
Find & solve the root cause of your boredom, like stress, depression, dissatisfaction with life circumstances, etc.
I’ve been talking about intuitive eating for quite awhile now, and I thought it was finally time I make a post all about it. Specifically, what it is (my take on it, at least), and especially, whether it can help you.
But first, let me ask you a question. Do you find yourself having issues with…
Wanting to lose weight and not being able to?
Eating because you’re stressed, emotional, or bored?
Feeling hungry or craving something because you saw food on TV, social media, friends eating, etc.?
Overeating because you’re starting your diet tomorrow, or because you failed at following your diet that day?
Feeling guilty for eating?
Not letting yourself eat even though you were hungry?
So did I. And intuitive eating is the reason I don’t have these issues anymore.
Intuitive eating is a term coined by the authors of this book, but the idea has been around in different forms for a lot longer than that. There are scientific studies from before 1995 and in more recent years showing that following the tenets of intuitive eating lead to weight loss, treat disordered eating like binge eating, reverse obesity, heal relationships with food, reduce depression and anxiety, and improve self esteem and body image.1,2,3
The basic principle of intuitive eating (and related ideas) is simply:
Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.
That may sound too simple, too good to be true, or just something you’ve tried before that hasn’t worked. But it can be tricky to get right, especially with society’s attitudes about food these days. We start out doing it as kids, but somewhere along the way, most of us lose the ability.
Maybe because we learned to use food to deal with our emotions, maybe because of our culture’s obsession with dieting as THE way to lose weight, maybe because we’re taught that desserts, carbs, sugar, etc. are “bad”.
If you’ve tried dieting, followed meal plans with scheduled eating times and portions, overeaten or undereaten, or felt guilty for eating, chances are you’ve fallen out of tune with your ability to eat when hungry and stop when full. I know I did, completely–hunger and fullness were almost irrelevant in my eating behavior for 10 years.
The more we learn to ignore our hunger and satiety signals, the more we start to rely on cues like emotions, stress, the presence of “bad foods” in the kitchen, and other people’s diet plans to dictate when we start and stop eating. And that’s how weight gain, guilt, and constant dieting sneak in.
Intuitive eating is all about undoing this: getting back in tune with our hunger signals, and learning not to let external or psychological factors determine when and how much we eat. As a result, it involves effortlessly maintaining a healthy weight, improving your health, and healing your relationship with food and your own body.
With intuitive eating, there is no such thing as dieting, restricting, binging, “bad” foods, or guilt for eating.
No more calorie counting. No more food scales. No more portion control. Just reaching your goal body by eating as much as you want, when you want it. Channeling all that time and mental effort that you were once spending on food into the rest of your life: your relationships, your work, your hobbies.
If it sounds too good to be true, don’t worry… I thought so too. Until it worked.
So, I’m starting a series of blog posts all about how to get started with intuitive eating, no matter how unattainable it might feel for you. I was stuck in a restricting/dieting and binge eating cycle for over 10 years, so I think I qualified as one of the more hopeless cases out there… so I’ll be sharing what worked for me, and incorporate tips from scientific research on it.
Maybe you already do intuitive eating, and still can’t lose weight. I still have advice for you coming up, and part of that involves tweaking what and how you’re eating (notice I didn’t say how much)!
So stay tuned for posts every other weekend on how to eat intuitively or troubleshoot your intuitive eating. If you’re looking to lose weight, escape disordered eating habits, or improve your physical and psychological health, this series is for you.
Some of the posts I have planned so far are:
My 10 year battle with “unintuitive” eating, and my journey since
How to get started with intuitive eating
How to troubleshoot your intuitive eating
How to stop binge eating
And more! (I’ll add a table of contents with links as the posts come out)
If you’d like to keep up, sign up below to get email notifications when I post! 🙂
(I know I probably sound like I’m trying to sell you something, but honestly, I just want to share this because I want to help other people not have these issues anymore too. Getting rid of them seriously changed my life… not only have I finally achieved my goal appearance, but more importantly, I’m so much happier. And I want to turn my gratitude into a way of helping others. I even paid to get rid of ads on this blog because I don’t want them to get in the way!)
Once you’ve done intuitive eating for awhile, your weight tends to be more of a curiosity than anything to actually care about.
Until it isn’t.
I didn’t weigh myself much at all while learning to eat intuitively, because the number on the scale used to be a bit of an obsession, and a major source of guilt and shame.
But after feeling firmly settled into my unrestricted eating and body positivity habits, I started to weigh myself again… both out of curiosity, and because my fiancé is always talking about his day-to-day weight fluctuations. We’re scientists and we love our data, for science’s sake. (Did running after that high salt meal negate the water retention? Did we actually manage to lose weight on that beach vacation from all the swimming?)
But today I realized that at some point, it stopped just being data. I’ve noticed that my weight on the scale is affecting how I see myself again, and daily fluctuations are having an influence on my mood.
I’ve been lifting weights more, so this is especially damaging because I want to gain muscle. But my lifelong conditioning is that weight going up = bad.
But either way, why should an arbitrary, irrelevant number have an effect on my mood?
So I’ve stopped weighing myself.
If thoughts about my weight creep in, I can just shake them off by deciding that I think I look fine. Instead of the other way around where I let the scale decide how I feel, when otherwise I would have felt happy about how I look.
And, most importantly, I remind myself that it doesn’t really matter either way if I gained a bit of weight.
Would my career suffer if I gained weight? Not at all.
Would my fiancé leave me? Nope.
Would it really affect my life in any way besides my own self-perceptions, which I can easily change? No!
(Now, I know there are some careers and circumstances where gaining a bit of weight could negatively impact your life. But still, feeling bad about yourself won’t prevent it at all. Feeling good about yourself and nourishing your body with satiating foods will prevent it1.)
I’ve found that the key to maintaining intuitive eating is to be mindful of what kinds of thought patterns and habits you might fall into. Some of us may naturally trend back towards bad habits and thought patterns if we’re not actively maintaining our new, better patterns. And that’s okay!
For some of us, thoughts are like teeth that way… without a retainer, they slowly drift back towards old, pre-braces patterns. It’s worth having to pop in a retainer occasionally to avoid being stuck with painfully crowded teeth. We don’t feel bad about ourselves because our teeth do that, it’s just how it is!
So every once in awhile, take a moment to self reflect about your feelings towards yourself and food. Check in with yourself to find any bad habits or worries that are forming, and stop them in their tracks. Better yet, replace them with something good: freedom to eat, self love, and good food.
Here’s a great book on intuitive eating for those looking to get started. I’m also starting a series of every-other-week posts on how to eat intuitively, both for beginners and for those facing issues later on the process (none of us are perfect!), so subscribe to stay tuned!
See my weight loss videos for scientific research on how to lose weight without restricting.