You were born an intuitive eater. As a baby you cried when you were hungry and you ate until you were satisfied. Pretty simple. Even as a toddler you did this. You might have taken a few bites off your plate were then disinterested, or you might have shamelessly eaten everything and asked for more. You weren't worried about how many calories were in your food or if it was going to make you fat. You just ate – intuitively.
And then somewhere along the way things became more complicated. You learned that you could ignore your hunger and choose not to eat, or you could eat past the point of fullness. You also started to learn how our culture labels foods as "good/bad" and "healthy/unhelathy". Perhaps your caregivers told you that you had to clean your plate or eat your vegetables before you could have dessert. This guidance was well-intended, but upon further reflection probably wasn't all that useful.
You see, when you were told to clean your plate what you were learning was to eat all of what is in front of you regardless of whether it matched your body's needs. You learned to eat mindlessly without paying attention to your satiety cues. And when you were told to eat your vegetables you were learning that you have to eat the "good/healthy" food in order to earn the "bad/unhealthy" food (i.e. dessert). The result – vegetables are now less appealing and a chore to eat, and you feel guilty for eating dessert.
The good news is that because of neuroplasticity (a fun buzzword in the world of psychology and neuroscience right now), we can retrain you to eat intuitively again. Remember, you were born this way, and the mindless eating was a learned behavior. So you can re-learn intuitive eating.
Here are some simple steps to get you started:
- Check in with your body before you eat. Are you hungry?
- Then ask yourself what you are hungry for. Tune out the food rules. What does your body want?
- Give yourself permission to eat that food and stay connected with your body while eating.
- Stop eating when you are satisfied.
While intuitive eating sounds simple, it's actually a lot of hard work at first because our relationship with food has become so clouded by external factors. Rest assured that as you develop this skill it will come naturally to you over time. You'll once again be the intuitive eater that you were born as.