What is Intuitive Dieting?
The internet is full of advice and opinions when it comes to overweight people and the obesity epidemic in our western culture. There are the miracle pills and fad diets promising the holy grail of getting skinny in ten days as well as several body consciousness movements from Intuitive Eating to HAES that tell us to stop dieting, ditch the scales and accept body diversity and practice body awareness. The problem that I have always had with all of this information is that I could never quite decide which approach to take and just thinking about it all would paralyze me and make me reach for the next tub of Haagen Dazs! Until one day I thought: why not do both? Why not use the methods of dieting and the principles of Intuitive Eating? Intuitive Dieting may sounds like one big oxymoron but suddenly things began to make sense to me.
At its core Intuitive Dieting means using dieting methods for portion control and Intuitive Eating principles to determine when to eat and what.
There is a very basic mechanism to weight loss: you need to create a calorie deficit. This is true not for all but for most people. Eat less energy than you expend and you will lose weight. I control my portions through calorie counting but I also keep asking myself: Are you hungry, what do you want? There are many types of hunger! Some of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating help me understand the difference between my mind’s and my body’s hunger and I am learning to create more alignment between the two.
My body is infinitely wise. An obese body does not, for instance, want a lot of food but I've been ignoring those messages for a long time. With Intuitive Dieting I am learning to reconnect with those messages and eat less without feeling deprived while at the same time working actively with my body to give it what it needs.
There are five main components to Intuitive Dieting that I focus on every day:
1. Calorie Counting
I use the LoseIt app to track my calories and activities. Calorie counting is made so easy these days! I love that it remembers my foods and meals and also appreciate all the additional data I get, like macros and other nutritional info. It’s easy to use and that’s key for my program.
I don’t sweat the details. If I am eating at a restaurant or a friend’s place I give it my best guess rather than fret over the exact calorie amount. There are lots of meals already stored in LoseIt and I can usually find something in there that is close enough. This part is crucial because when I start stressing over exact calorie values I start stressing over what I am doing and before I know it I chuck it all in because it’s ‘too difficult’. When I cook at home I can be pretty precise but learning to be happy with ‘best guesses’ for meals out has been a game changer for me.
I count calories as I go along. I mostly cook without recipes so when I make a meal I prepare the ingredients and weigh/count them there and then. I do have an eye on my allowance and will adjust portion sizes accordingly. This works really well for me because I function better within less rigid structures.
Everything is allowed. I do not cut out food groups or certain food items. I’ve tried that and it just doesn’t work for me. I can eat what I want as long as it fits into my calorie allowance. Funnily enough, having this freedom to eat anything makes me eat better because now it’s a choice rather than a rule.
Calorie counting is my tool, not my master. This is a very important disctinction and why diets are either successful or fail. Much of my program is about agency and taking responsibility for my weight and health, and calorie counting helps me be accountable and be more present with my eating.
I cook more at home. It is well documented that those who cook most of their meals from scratch have less weight problems and tend to enjoy a healthier lifestyle. As my blog title suggests I am indeed a reluctant cook so this one doesn’t always come easy. I enjoy cooking but not every day, and not so much the peripherals like food shopping, meal prep and clean up. So I’m working on that.
Organized kitchen. Now that we are back in our beloved condo I enjoy cooking a lot more again. The kitchen at the house was gorgeous and I liked it but our kitchen here is more functional, it has a great walk-in pantry and everything is within easy reach. When we moved back here I spent extra time organizing access to the staples and utensils I use the most and it works really well.
Pre-cook food. On Sundays I try to pre-cook things like rice, garlic shrimp, chicken and prepare chopped veggies. Occasionally I will make breakfast for the week, like Brian’s Muesli. This bulk cooking is something I am still getting used to but I can already see that it really helps during the week.
3. Intuitive Eating
Listening to my body’s cues. Because I am eating smaller portions and actually feeling physical hunger between meals it’s become easier to listen to my body and what it might want. Sometimes the cravings are very clear: eggs, bread, a big fresh salad, a nice steak with green leafy vegetables, sweet strawberries, pasta with veggies, a rice bowl with kimchi or other fermented foods, a German pancake! A lot of these things are staples in the house so I usually can give my body what it wants.
Eating by color and temperature. When I say above that some cravings are very clear what I really mean is that I am thinking of food in colors or temperatures, i.e. I crave greens or reds or yellows and cool or warm foods. As you can see from my Instagram I love colorful food, the visual enjoyment is definitely a big part of my meals.
Guilt free emotional eating. While out-of-control emotional eating can be a problem I believe that some emotional eating is normal. As someone who lives with anxieties sometimes the only thing that will do are a couple of Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups! Enough to scratch the itch and calm me down. And yes, occasionally two peanut butter cups becomes four or six or even eight, and when that happens I know that something’s going on. So I am also actively working on learning to feel my feelings as well as removing the triggers where I can.
Enjoy food. Eating isn’t just about fueling our bodies for energy. I grew up in a culture (Germany) and family where good food was very much something to be apppreciated and enjoyed. It’s why I look forward to eating certain foods and why meal time will never be just about feeding a hungry body for me.
4. Planner & Journalling
Weight Loss Planner. As per my previous post I am doing something a little different this time and using a weight loss planner. For this I’ve taken a plain journal and made up my own charts to record my weight, progress, food, mood, hunger scale and such.
Journalling. My planner also has two blank pages for each day for stream of consciousness writing. In those moments when I am having a tough time and want to binge I reach out to my journal instead. I have never done this before so it will be interesting to see if it helps long term.
I write a blog post every Sunday. And time/energy permitting during the week as well, given that I also run a full-time online business. A lot less people seem to be doing it these days but I believe that blogging can be immensly helpful on this journey, it can be very cathartic and a great way to keep track of our progress. Plus, being part of a weight loss blogging community can help us with accountability and support. I love it!
My biggest challenge is that I have always used food to soothe my anxieties and that is a big part of why I overeat and have gained so much weight over the years. I want to find other consistent ways of dealing with my anxieties so that I can also focus on evolving Intuitive Dieting into a long-term Intuitive Eating lifestyle. There is actually no goal here because even when I reach my desired weight range the journey doesn’t end there.
But it does start, right here, right now.