I’m sure at some point in your life you have downloaded MyFitnessPal or a similar app and dove into the world of tracking your food. Maybe you loved it and felt it kept you organized or maybe you found it cumbersome, boring, and just a flat of pain to deal with. I feel you on that. We know calories are important. We know protein, carbs, and fats play a vital role in our well-being. But do you HAVE to track in order to make progress? What if you just want to feel good and not have to worry about every ounce of food that goes in your mouth? Enter intuitive eating.
Even though we can’t ignore the fact that tracking your food intake would be the most
accurate way to gather data to ensure you are making continual progress, it is not the best option for everyone.
Tracking your food would not be a good idea if:
- You suffer from a negative relationship with food
- You would feel guilty if you overate or would try to eat severely under the suggested calorie amount to “make quicker progress”
- You don’t track your intake accurately (skipping weekends, not including drinks)
- You don’t enjoy it and won’t keep it up
I will turn around and contradict my point immediately before diving into tips on how to eat intuitively by saying that everyone should at least track for 2-3 weeks. Every bite. Every dab of ketchup. Every beer. You need to learn the rules before you break them so to speak. The reason for this is because most people actually have no idea what they are putting in their body. They don’t actually know which foods contain protein, carbs, or fats or how many calories are in that “healthy” salad dressing they always use. Some people really struggle to lose weight even though they swear they have been eating perfectly. They track for two weeks and realize that a handful of almonds might be running them a few hundred calories and they are gaining weight because of unintentionally being in a caloric surplus. Track for just two weeks. Learn about yourself. See about how much you need based on your goals and then we can hop into intuitive eating.
What are the benefits?
- Healthier relationship with food
- Less pressure
- Increased self-awareness from being in tune with your body
How to Eat Intuitively
Eat protein with each meal
Protein is extremely filling and also will help you recover from workouts. Don’t worry, protein won’t make you “bulky.” In fact, it is the most thermogenic macronutrient, meaning that it will actually burn a small amount of calories just by being metabolized. Get your protein sources from chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, and even some red meat as well in moderation!
This seems obvious right? Those small little snacking sessions add up quick! Most times snacks lack nutrients and don’t fill you up what so ever. They are super easy to overeat and are often the culprit of weight gain. This doesn’t mean never have them by any means! A treat here or there to keep you on track is perfect for your adherence. A great tip from Peter Baker and Layne Norton is to not keep snacks in your house and instead make yourself go out of your house to get a treat if you’d like one. Make it an occasion or a celebration. The amount of effort to walk to your local store might make you think twice about how bad you really need that pint of ice cream you are craving. And if you do… have at it! Don’t feel guilty and get right back on track. We are human.
Eat 3-5 servings of fruits and veggies everyday
This will help you get plenty of micronutrients and fiber into your diet to help keep your body functioning how it should! Fruits and vegetables are typically very low in calories, so you are getting plenty of bang for your buck. They are hard to overeat and will keep you full! High volume and low calorie is a great recipe for success.
Cook the majority of your meals at home
Consistently eating out is not the best option for your health, but also it gets quite expensive! Most fast food is cooked in oil, deep fried, and incredibly dense in calories. It’s delicious and I love it. Unfortunately, it’s a tough habit to break and it’s so hard to have enough discipline to choose the low-calorie options when the tasty burger is one dollar and McDonald’s ice cream machine is finally working. Cook your own meals so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. It’s a much better experience to be able to prepare your food you are about to eat. The extra effort I feel like makes me more appreciative and grateful and it’s cool to get to enjoy the finished product. But also… definitely go to McDonalds or your favorite place every now and then with friends and celebrate and socialize!
Eat slow fully and mindfully
This is a good way to let your mind and stomach to get on the same page. Your body is sending you hunger signals and if you are scarfing down food, maybe it’ll be too late before you’ve overeaten, and your body didn’t have enough time to tell you that you’ve had enough. Take your time and start to develop a sense of your own hunger satisfaction meter. Remember, you don’t need to be stuffed every time you eat. Aim to be satisfied.
Develop a consistent eating schedule
Eating at the same time is a little more important than you might think. It’s not make or break by any means. It’s not going to be more important than how much you eat or what you are eating, but your body loves routine. Eating at similar times of day will help your appetite get under control. If you are going long stretches without eating and then binging at night and then snacking throughout the day, odds are you aren’t going to feel your best and you might experience some funky swings of energy too. I would aim for 3-5 meals a day as a general rule of thumb, but that can vary based on goals and preference.
Keep hydrated (drink water every 1.5-2 hours)
If your pee is yellow, you’re already dehydrated! Water is individual. 8 glasses a day is a random thing someone threw out there. Just drink water often. That’s it. You’ll be fine! Try not to let yourself get thirsty before you drink. Also, being properly hydrated can also curb hunger. I avoid liquid calories as they add up so quick, so I usually stick to water, almond milk, or a protein shake.
Monitor your progress
Now since you don’t want to track your food, it’s doubtful you want to track in other ways, but I insist that you do in some way to make sure you are headed in the right direction, even if that direction is maintenance. You don’t have to step on the scale necessarily either! You can make a log of your energy and mood every day. You can keep track of your workouts and if you are gaining strength or becoming a better endurance runner. Start being conscious of how your clothes are feeling!
Be patient, be aware, and don’t be afraid of trial and error
Change takes an annoying amount of time. Way longer than you want! But that’s okay, start being concerned about the journey and developing habits. Once you nail down lifelong habits, it won’t even feeling like dieting anymore, it’ll just be living. And don’t be afraid to try a bunch of things out to see what will work for you. You only have your whole life to figure this all out!
Food is so much more than just a pile of calories and macro-nutrients. We are meant to celebrate it as part of culture and to share with others. If you love tracking, awesome, stick to it! I track a little myself even. But it’s nice to know you can still live a healthy life by just following a few rules and listening to your body.
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