The Book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Directory of intuitive eating counselors
A great blog and website by Taylor Wolfram if you're also navigating the intersection of being an ethical vegan and wanting to practice intuitive eating
Our series of episodes on my experience with Intuitive Eating, briefly introducing you to the book, principles and framework
In today's episode and post I'll be answering a listener question all about mindful eating, intuitive eating and snacking. If you've been on this journey of tuning into your internal signals, if you're on a mission to improve your relationship with food and let go of the external rules of dieting, it's common to wonder if you're "doing it right". Questions can come up when it comes to when to eat, how much to eat, what to eat, and it can feel like a bit of a minefield to suddenly have the reigns back in your own hands. It can be so helpful to remember that throughout this process, the guiding post is within you, within those internal signals your body can be so good at sending you provided that you re-learn how to listen.
The question shared by one of our "Sams" goes like this:
"I try to eat mindfully. I know if I eat slower I am more in tune with how much my body needs. However, sometimes during the workday I need to take a quick snack. Often, I don’t take enough or I take too much. I find it hard to figure out the right amount for a snack when I don’t have time to eat slowly and mindfully. Any advice?"
What a great question. We can't give you personalized health or dietary advice of course, but I can explain a bit more about some of the concepts behind mindful eating and honoring your internal signals which I hope can shed some light.
Part of the idea behind concepts and frameworks like mindful eating and intuitive eating is that you are listening to your body’s hunger cues and honoring that hunger as well as respecting fullness. That means that if the amount of snacks you’re having daily varies, it isn’t only perfectly normal, since your hunger cues and caloric needs won’t be the same from one day to the next, but it also varies because of how much you ate before, or if you had a particularly hectic or stressful day, a day in which you exercised or moved more than usual, and many other factors.
Honoring your hunger and fullness are just two principles of the intuitive eating framework (check out this wonderful and evidence based way of eating through their website and especially their book "Intuitive Eating" by registered dietitian nutritionists Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole). They are a part of a well rounded set of principles that can help you re-connect to what your body needs, let go of dieting and find true peace with food and your body.
Mindful eating is a separate concept (although very much at the core of intuitive eating too), and contrary to popular belief (people often mistake it as a way to trick yourself into eating less), mindful eating takes its concepts from mindfulness, and is in essence, the ongoing practice of paying kind and gentle attention to both the moment of eating (enjoying the pleasure of food, the physical sensations, your hunger and fulness levels and more), but also your body sensations and thoughts before, during and after meals, so that throughout the process, you're eating in a way that respects your body's needs, that is filled with conscious awareness and gratitude, and that is also internally led rather than externally led.
You can hear me talk much more about intuitive eating in our intuitive eating series of episodes here, and on mindful eating in upcoming episodes and posts.
In my own experience, when we find ourselves disconnected and unable to eat mindfully it’s because:
A) It’s normal to not be perfectly attuned always, some days are simply more stressful, worrisome or distracted than others.
B) We didn’t honor hunger signals when they arrived earlier.
Other things could also be going on:
- It could be that you ate too small of a meal in your previous meal and were overly hungry.
- You waited too long to have your snack.
- You were mentally restricting in some way and were understandably hungrier sooner and less attuned.
- You might also be choosing meals and snacks that aren’t filling or satisfying to you and when that’s the case, it’s so common to want another snack shortly after.
- and many other factors (both internal and external).
The good news is that within mindful eating and listening to your internal cues there is no rigid guideline that says you can only snack once a day, or only snack a particular portion or set of foods.
This means that until you find the snacks that are filling and satisfying to you and that work with your schedule, you can listen to what your body is telling you and honor hunger when it arrives.
Meaning, if you had a snack and you’re hungry a bit later but you can’t have dinner until you get home, honor the hunger and have something to help you reach dinner time with normal hunger levels and not famished.
It’s also important to remember, and this was something I would often skip over when I first got started on my intuitive eating journey because I was so used to judging or feeling guilty after eating when I thought “I wasn’t supposed to” or when I was hungry “again”, is a HUGE part of the intuitive eating process and that is the voice of the food anthropologist.
For more on the food anthropologist and all the different sides within you that can help you in your healing your relationship with food, read the book Intuitive Eating. I've shared a brief introduction to its principles and this wonderful framework in episodes 172 - 177 of our podcast (episode 174 which is part 2, talks a bit more about the food anthropologist).
The food anthropologist is basically one of the voices that intuitive eating teaches us to develop, in order to counterbalance all the policing voices. I like to think of it as a voice of both self compassion and your very own research assistant. The food anthropologist gathers data in a non judgemental way of what’s been going on with us and our experiences with food.
I like to think of it as asking myself questions. In your example Sam, when you either had the feeling that you ate too much or are judging that you’re hungry again too quickly, ask yourself the questions and then make a note of what may have happened if this was unusual for you:
“Did I maybe have too little a snack?”
“Was it that my snack wasn’t satisfying enough?”
“Is it just that I’m eating to self soothe on a stressful day?”
“Is it that I waited too long between meals or that I had more activity or did more exercise than usual?”
“Am I going through hormonal changes right now and that might be why today I have additional needs?”
When we slip into the downward spiral of judgement with food, we sometimes miss the golden opportunity hidden behind what we might be perceiving as a misstep, and it comes back to that mindfulness and awareness:
"What was going on for me just then?".
"What can I do to better support myself instead of judge myself?"
When we've been controlling and regulating our food intake for so long, it can feel scary to listen and attend to hunger when it arrises if it does so more often than usual, but within any change like this lies so much information that can inform the way your eating day has gone and where you might need to make sure you’re eating enough and eating in a way that satisfies you.
It's equally important to remember that we all have moments in which we go past fullness sometimes, this is normal. Don’t judge yourself in these moments (less food isn’t always better), and use it to get to know yourself and your needs in a deeper way.
You can also use this moment to check in and see, if you might be applying some perfectionism to your goal of being more mindful when eating.
Mindful eating isn’t a tool to help you eat less, it’s a tool for attunement and that means being able to be present with what is going on for you in that moment with kind attention, it’s a tool to help you enjoy food more not bring along guilt or judgement, it’s a tool to help bring you more peace with food, not less.
This is all coming from my personal experience with these tools, and always remember that if you ever need personalized guidance, there are wonderful registered dietitian nutritionists and intuitive eating counsellors that can help you navigate this journey in a more individualized way, based on your nutritional requirements, lifestyle, time restraints, likes and dislikes, cultural foods and preferences and more. You can find a full directory of intuitive eating counselors and dietitians here.
Also a little reminder, for all my fellow ethical vegans out there, to listen to previous podcast episodes where we discuss that intersection between intuitive eating and being vegan, which is highly nuanced, as veganism inherently includes the restriction of certain foods due to ethical reasons. There is much more to say about that and why it’s important to be very aware of your motivation behind being vegan, so listen to the intuitive eating series. and more will come on that in future episodes as well.
As a little bonus, and because I know how much you love our meal idea episodes, I’m coming with tons of snack ideas in next week’s episode and post.
I hope this answer helped you Sam, and remember that ultimately, our journey within mindful and/or intuitive eating is not about each individual choice or about perfectionism, it's about a continuum of choices that are ultimately based on kindness, self reflection and re-learning how to tune inwards instead of outwards for our eating cues, and this process takes time.
If you would like a question answered on the show, send it as an email to [email protected] and we'll include it anonymously in an upcoming episode.
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