Nutrition • 3 min watch

Why Intuitive Eating Might Feel Wrong, But Not for Long



Let’s imagine a scenario: You’re walking through an airport. You pass a bathroom and wonder, “Hmm, do I need to use the bathroom?” 


Before doing a body check and letting that be your guide, you pause. You pass that question through a few mental filters instead. You ask yourself, “Well, when was the last time I used the bathroom today?” Then, “Has enough time passed for me to need to use the bathroom again?” You might wonder, “Will I have access to another bathroom anytime soon, or should I take this opportunity now?” You will probably check the clock and ask yourself, “Is this the right time of day to need to use the bathroom? Or do I need to wait?”  


The next step is to consult your phone. You have an app that tracks your bathroom stops throughout the day and will inform you whether or not you need to use the bathroom.  


Then you check your bathroom plan. Does this bathroom fit into the rules of your bathroom plan?  


And finally, you’ll decide to use that bathroom or to keep going and wait until the next one. Even though once you do that body check, you’ll realize, whoa, you DO need to use the bathroom! And by the time you get to the next available bathroom, it’ll almost be too late. 


End scene.  


Now, read through that again and imagine the “bathroom” is a restaurant in the airport. And instead of having to use the bathroom, you’re questioning your hunger and whether or not you need to, or “should,” eat.  


I know this example oversimplifies more complicated systems and hormones and cultural norms. And as with many surface-level intuitive eating ideas, it doesn’t account for some chronic health conditions and individual needs. But it does drive home a core part of intuitive eating: We have outsourced our hunger and fullness cues in ways we would never do with other body cues/functions (unless medically necessary).  


Instead of trusting ourselves to know our own hunger and fullness cues, and to be fluid and flexible with our energy intake and needs, we look to apps, plans, and food rules. Sometimes without even realizing how often we do that!  


We turn to external forces and influences to tell us whether it’s “okay” to eat, what we “should” eat (instead of trusting our preferences, cultural norms, etc.), and when we are “supposed” to eat.  


So it makes sense that when some folks decide to stop dieting — stop using the apps (as often, or completely), stop turning to the meal plan, stop looking at the clock to tell them when it’s okay to eat, stop listening to the influencers who claim balsamic vinegar in soda water is the only way to have a “healthy drink” that satisfies a craving—they feel a little lost. And trusting hunger and fullness cues doesn’t feel intuitive, at all. It feels really, really hard.  


If you are in that limbo—ready to stop dieting, ready to (re)learn how to eat intuitively, and what that will look and feel like for you—I want you to know that it’s okay for it to be hard. That the “intuitive” part may not feel so intuitive for a little while because your brain and body are used to outside forces figuring out those questions for you.  


Now, I’m curious: Have you found yourself feeling a little lost without diet plans or rules around food? If so, how did you cope? If you’re interested in intuitive eating and have given it a try, what has it felt like so far? Share your experience in the comments below. Chances are, you aren’t alone.  


Stay tuned for our next piece in this series:3 Ways to Ween Yourself Off Calorie Counting 



I have been intuitive eating without even knowing that’s what I’m doing. I eat only when I’m hungry and stop eating when I feel full. I don’t eat just because it’s lunchtime if I am not hungry. Same with breakfast or dinner.  I do have celiac disease, but I was diagnosed way back when you couldn’t find anything gluten free, let alone gluten-free menus or options. So I have learned how to cook and bake and how to improvise when going out for a meal with my family. All this to be said, I have often been told that my way of eating is considered to be an eating disorder. Following my hunger/not hungry cues are restrictive and controlling, which are indicators of an eating disorder. I don’t believe that to be true. What is your opinion about that?


I was really sick last year with pneumonia and lost a lot of weight. During that time I began to slowly start eating again when I was hungry. I ate until I was full and then saved what was left for later, if there was any. I also work night shift which messes up my eating schedule as well. I began to just eat what I wanted freely when I was hungry. Sometimes it is difficult because I eat more on some days, but overall I feel so much healthier and happier with my food relationship.


@Heather_C - I, too, have been eating intuitively my entire life.  I have always only ate when hungry.  I don't just eat lunch because it is noon.  I can eat something light at dinner if I need to.  I never wake up starving.  I think this is a great system ans it works for me!