The Cabbage Soup Diet, the Atkins Diet, The Beverly Hills Diet, Weight Watchers, the Mediterranean Diet, Zone diet... it seems like every year throughout history, a new diet trend pops up. Did you know that in the early 1900's one of the first "diets" was known as "Feltchersim." At the beginning of the 20th century, Horace Fletcher, an American entrepreneur, came up with a diet that involved eating as much as you liked, but you had to chew your food a minimum of 100 times. This was based on the idea that the more you chew, food would become liquid, and you couldn't gain weight from undigested food. Yeah, there are a million and one diets out there. But you know what has finally made its way back in the diet trend? The Anti-diet. Also known as intuitive eating. That's right, the newest diet is no diet.
Is the best diet, no diet?
Intuitive eating is based on the principle of the 'anti-diet.' This isn't a new concept, as it was first introduced in the book "Intuitive Eating" in 1995 by dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole and has since been adopted by many others. In many cases, this form of eating is utilized to help reframe relationships around food and replace the trends of constant fad dieting. There is nothing to track, weigh, measure - not in terms of food or body measurements. In fact, the thought process with intuitive eating is to learn to make food and eating choices based on the messages and feedback from your body.
This sounds awesome, right?! No worrying about tracking how much you're eating, when you're eating, what you're eating - seems like what we all want to work towards. However, there are some things to consider if you are considering trying out Intuitive eating. For example, suppose you are using your diet for athletic performance or for body competition goals. In that case, the freedom of Intuitive eating may prove to be challenging in measuring "progress." So the question is, is it possible to use the intuitive eating philosophy to make progress and create the changes you want? Can you just eat based on what you feel you need?
With all the fad diets, social media, how we were brought up, and current lifestyles (hello stress!), we aren't always fully aware of what we should truly be eating. It's tough to be aware of what we really need if we've never taken the time to figure it out.
This is why I typically suggest spending some time gaining awareness as to what your body needs to not just be functioning but to be thriving. In order to properly intuitively eat, I think you need to have a good understanding of how to assess your biofeedback: hunger, mood, energy, libido, motivation, sleep. You'll want to become in tune with these areas as well as performance and body composition if those are important to you.
Intuitive eating is essentially all about honoring your hunger (eating when you're hungry) and stopping when you're full. You allow yourself the freedom to have 'treats' when you want them, without the feelings of guilt or restriction.
Can there be meal planning and prepping with Intuitive eating? Sure, many people still plan to have a certain number of meals and snacks a day. The thought process is to keep this loose and flexible but also be prepared. For some, that means including a fat + protein + carbohydrate at each meal they plan. For others, it's just putting together food to have with them for the day without any specifics. In theory, though, this approach is supposed to feel like there are no 'rules.
Does this Work if my Goal is Performance or Body Composition Changes?
This can be a little more challenging when you've got specific goals in mind. This isn't supposed to be about bodyweight or looks but more about how you feel and your relationship with food. I'll go over some ways to incorporate successful intuitive eating.
Spend Some Time Tracking Your Food Intake First
No, you probably do not need to weigh, measure, and track every morsel of food you eat for the rest of your life just because you start doing it once or for a period of time. Hallelujah! This can be time-consuming, and let's be honest, we already spend loads of time on our phones and computers. So it's not for everyone for long periods of time; I totally get this.
What will happen when you spend some time tracking macronutrients is that you gain a better understanding as to what you're putting into your body by reading food labels and seeing what constitutes a protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
Many people end up overeating due to snacking or waiting long periods of time between meals and then having massive servings of calorically dense foods. If you always tend to overeat, it's tough to know what your body needs. If you're creating your meals based on the proper calories, you'll have a better idea of how to maintain, gain, or lose weight.
You should also spend time actually hitting your correct calorie intakes. Just tracking and not having any consistency doesn't really do much good. We gotta know the true portion sizes over a period of time. Otherwise, we wouldn't 'intuitively' know what we need. Probably gonna need to spend a considerable amount of time being consistent with this because they say it takes about 66 days for something to become a habit. Yup, gotta commit!
Pay Attention to Your Body
While you're diligently tracking your macronutrients, don't forget to reassess how your body is feeling. Higher energy, little tougher to wake up, brain fog, low motivation, lack of libido, increased hunger at certain times, or if you've under eaten on protein. All things to consider, as these types of messages from your body are what you'll be looking for in intuitive eating.
I like to do this as part of my morning routine, just writing down how I felt waking up in the morning. What was my carbohydrate and total calorie intake the day before? Did I wake up feeling energized with motivation to get into the gym or start work? If not, what did I think I could have changed, was there anything different from the other days? How was my concentration during my client programming and calls? Did I forget to eat post-workout to help bring my body back into a parasympathetic state? How did that make me feel? Lots of important notes to be taking, and it's not always just about the scale and photos.
Can You Have 'Cheat Days' with Intuitive Eating
There's really no such thing as a 'cheat day' with intuitive eating because there's no specific diet to be cheating on. The kicker here is that if you are concerned with body composition, you may want to pay close attention to keeping 80-85% of your food intake to whole food sources. Then the other 15-20% can be living life and enjoying some items you may not have every day.
The cool part about having done your due diligence with tracking previously is that you know chocolate, cookies, and desserts have carbs and fats, which are allowed in the daily nutritional intake. So there ya go! Not a cheat meal. However, it's important to keep this somewhat in check. Some people intuitively eat an entire sleeve of Oreos in one sitting because they're hungry. Again, you would have a better understanding of the calorie content of an Oreo from previous tracking and, hopefully, know that one isn't going to make a big difference.
How to Utilize Both Intuitive Eating and Macronutrient Tracking on a Continuum
This is actually my favorite way to do it, and I use this strategy in my coaching. Most of the people I work with start out by utilizing both tracking macronutrients and the habit-based principles of intuitive eating. When there is a goal such as body composition or performance involved, I do find macronutrients to be one of the best ways to individualize nutritionally intake for someone. On the flip side, each person's relationship with food due to past dieting history, stress eating, etc., is not to be taken lightly. I have to address that as well. Biofeedback is just as important to me as scale weight and photos - if not more so.
When we go on vacation or to an event, this is the perfect time to practice intuitive eating and base your intake off of what you've come to learn about your body's needs from tracking. But it's tough to estimate if you haven't actually had the correct portion sizes. Once you've been weighing and measuring for a while, the portion sizes almost become second nature!
You can also take a break from tracking, which is what I'll do after a big competition for a few days. No weighing or measuring; just keep an eye on my portions and what I know my body needs for recovery. Because I've been doing it for so long, I'm usually pretty close with my portion sizes! I don't feel guilty if it's not perfect or concern myself with gaining weight or feeling fluffy because I try to eat slowly, enjoy my food, and stop when I'm full (ha, this can be highly individualized).
So there ya have it! Hopefully, this helps you understand the importance of getting to know the fuel your body thrives on and how you can integrate the intuitive eating principles in your life. But remember, intuitive eating is a great *option* for those of us who are burnt out on dieting. "Diets" and ways of eating are not one-size-fits-all. Learning to listen to and trust your body is so so important!