82: How to Become an Intuitive Eater
Join Paige and she discusses the concept of intuitive eating with registered dietitian Lauren Fowler. Lauren shares her personal history with Intuitive Eating and her wisdom about making it work in your life. Learn why intuitive eating is working for so many people to find freedom from dieting and to enjoy the eating experience again.
In this episode published in the earlier years of NMP, Lauren and Paige outline how to become an intuitive eater. This is a great episode for anyone new to these concepts, wanting to know where to start and how to wrap your mind around a counter-cultural approach to food.
Links mentioned in this episode:
Lauren’s website: www.laurenfowler.co
Lauren’s 14 day break up with diets challenge
Leave a review for the podcast here
Positive Nutrition online course coming soon!
Join the Nutrition Matters Podcast Community on Facebook
Donate to the podcast
Hi everyone! Thanks again so much for joining me for another episode of Nutrition Matters podcast! As you already know, my name is Paige Smathers and I’m the host and in case you are new to the podcast and this might be one of the first ones you are listening to, I just wanted to give you a heads up on what I’m up to with some of the episodes that I’m releasing in the next year or so. What I’ve done is I’ve taken the first few episodes that I recorded and released and I have taken them off of the queue, off of the podcast currently and what I’m doing is that I’m republishing a few of my favorites, a few of the ones I feel are most important for my listeners to continue to have access to. So this episode is one that I recorded a few years ago with Lauren Fowler, who’s a Registered Dietitian, who specializes in Intuitive Eating. She’s also a certified yoga instructor. So, that’s a fun angle she brings to the idea of connecting to your body. So, in this conversation, Lauren and I talk briefly about Intuitive Eating. So, if you’re new to it, if you’re still try to wrap your head around what it means, this is actually a really good place to start. It’s also a good episode to share with friends and family. Maybe you’re trying to work on your own journey with intuitive eating and maybe you’re family is confused or has no idea what that really means and if so, this can be a good resource to share with them as well.
And before we get into my conversation with Lauren, just wanting to remind you really quickly about some resources that are available to you. First, is the Nutrition Matters podcast community on Facebook that you’re welcome to request to join and participate in the discussion there. That’ really a fun little community we’ve built there, so feel free to join us. And also, as always, I like to let you know that if you like what you hear on the podcast and if you want a little bit more in depth guidance and training and letting go of dieting and figuring out what to do instead and how to take good care of yourself, I have an online course. It’s 10 weeks long. And that’s something to check out to see if it might be a good fit for you.
And as always if you have questions about it, you’re more than welcome to reach out to me and we can see if it’s a good fit for you. So if you want to check that out, head on over to paigesmathersrd.com/course.
Okay, with that, let’s get into talking with Lauren Fowler who again, is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist in Vermont and she and I have a really fantastic conversation all about Intuitive Eating. Enjoy!
Paige: I like to encourage my guests to share their own personal story with nutrition and their journey to kinda discovering what really matters to them about nutrition. And I’ve read through your story both on your blog and also through that eBook you have called Hips, Hunger and Pursuit of Healing, Lessons on Intuitive Eating and Body Image. So I’ve learned, and gotten to know you quite a bit just with reading your writings. But, would you be comfortable sharing your story about your intuitive eating journey, or your dieting journey as a young kid to today?
Lauren: Yeah! Sure! I shared a little bit of what it was when I was in college but it really started as a teenager like a lot of young teenagers, that girls and even boys as well go through. Having this feeling that my body wasn’t good enough or that I had to lose weight or change my body to have a flat stomach or look a different way. So I started counting calories for myself and it kind of went to an extreme of restricting calories, restricting certain foods and kind of going back and forth even if I knew intellectually that I wasn’t treating my body with the care that it deserved. I always had that knowing, but I still was hoping that if I found this perfect body then I would have great friends or great relationships or I would be happier, all of these things that I put on to my food and my body image.
So when I found intuitive eating, even though I wasn’t really restricting my food intake at that point in college, it was still coming from this place of disordered eating thoughts in terms of I have to eat these certain foods or just putting all the focus of my health on nutrition, when there is so many other aspects of health that don’t necessarily include nutrition, like working with your stress levels or sleep or movement. So through the process of intuitive eating, I started to listen and actually, listen to my body in terms of tuning into my hunger cues like recognizing when I was full. Giving myself permission to have vegetables but also have chocolate or wine or whatever it is I was craving and not feel guilty or ashamed of myself for having those foods and through that process, I really was able to feel more comfortable in my body and my weight even didn’t really even change. It kind of stayed around the same. And I still feel comfortable in the body I have now even if years ago, I was at the same weight and I didn’t feel comfortable then. So, this process of tuning back in, back into my body and finding this place where I can honor my hunger and fullness cues, honor the cravings I have and being able to meet my body’s needs, whatever those needs may be on each day.
Paige: Got it! Wow! That’s great! When did you notice that you were kind of starting to develop some behaviors, some eating behaviors that were problematic?
Lauren: I think I started to feel uncomfortable in my body probably in the 7th or 8th grade. And then probably in high school, I started to change how I would eat. Of just being aware of how I was eating and starting to count calories.
Paige: Okay. And then when did you feel like it kinda came together for you and how long did it take for you to experiment with trying different things to find something that worked well for you with intuitive eating?
Lauren: It came together more in college. Going through high school going in and out of these phases of counting calories or being more obsessive about food, and then phases where I wasn’t necessarily obsessive about food. Then in college, when I found the book Intuitive Eating, going through the practices suggested in the book of just being more conscious and aware of my body and going through this process of foods that I may not have let myself have. Like I would go through phases where I would tell myself “oh, you can’t have any sugar or chocolate” and breaking down those rules or mindsets I set for myself. And giving myself permission to actually have those foods and notice what I like about them. So, there were foods that I would that I wouldn’t necessarily actually like and when I started to eat them, then I could notice “oh! What do I like about this food or what don’t I like about this food?” And really honoring what I was craving and letting myself have that even if that meant I ate a lot one day and wasn’t as hungry the next day. Recognizing that my body’s needs and hunger and fullness levels definitely changed day to day. It definitely came together through college and since then, it’s still been a journey of practicing intuitive eating on a regular basis. Because it is a practice. And having to tune in each day and recognize that there’s something going on in my life that’s affecting how I eat.
Lauren: And I think that’s really important of a question that you did ask because it does take time. A lot of times with my clients with eating disorders that could be going from this phase of weight restoration, focusing on that for a while, and then finding maintenance around that and then transitioning to intuitive eating. It could be several months to several years of this process or journey.
Paige: Definitely! And I really liked what you just said about how you were nervous that about the idea of intuitive eating that says, “hey, you should honor your cravings. You should eat when you’re hungry. You should stop when you’re full.” That seems a little scary for a lot of people because they think, “well, the minute I start allowing myself to eat what I really want to eat, I’m going to just lose all control. I can’t practice control around cake. Or chips.” Or whatever it might be for them. So, you’re experience was the opposite and I know most people find your experience to be their experience. So, tell me a little bit more about what that was like - giving yourself permission to eat those foods. Kinda dive into that and explain what happened with your relationship with food as you gave yourself unconditional permission to eat.
Lauren: First, I was really resistant to that idea. “Oh no, that may be other people’s experience, but it won’t be mine.” Then I think a lot of my clients have that same experience as well. So, when I actually did it, I started with these foods like chocolate, for example. I just let myself have a bar or two or dark chocolate in my house and then I’ll let myself have it whenever I wanted. So actually in the first few weeks, I did have a lot and have it several times a day, like have a few squares several times a day and first it did feel a little bit out of control. But the more I had it in the house, I could realize “hey! It’s just food! I can have it any time I want.” And I started to trust that and actually believe that statement that it’s just food and I can have it any time I want and then I was able to work through and realize “oh, I do want chocolate right now. But, chocolate is not satisfying this need. So maybe I have this emotional hunger or emotional need that I need to look at.” And starting to explore what those emotional needs were for myself. And for me, it was this process of first realizing that I had this emotional need, but not even being able to name it at first. And then over time, I was able to name “oh, I’m feeling anxious. Or I’m feeling overwhelmed. Or I’m feeling I’m fearful about something.” Then over time, even more I was able to meet that need in that moment. So, other things seemed more appealing to me because eating the chocolate or eating the food [didn’t] satisfy that emotional need. Because I’m never going to feel emotionally satisfied from eating the chocolate. Finding that pause of breathing into the space and that pause and that moment to realize what I need and giving myself the chocolate if I need it, because sometimes it would be too hard to actually do this process and I just wanted the chocolate. And other times I can actually do it.
Paige: That’s really realistic! I love that! I love that what you described about allowing yourself to have chocolate in the first couple weeks, yeah, you might’ve had more than you needed or more than you should have or more than you felt good about. That might’ve felt really scary. But, I love that you stuck with it and found this balance for you where you were able to recognize and believe and trust, like you said, that it really going to still be there and you don’t need to get it all in now. And you can have more tomorrow and I like that realistic approach. Because a lot of people say “oh, intuitive eating if it’s around, you just wont want it anymore.” And I think that sets people up for this expectation of “well, I’m failing at intuitive eating because I still am going overboard with this chocolate that I really love that’s in my house. Why is it not magically working?” So, I love that you’re describing that process. That it’s a practice and a process and that you really might go overboard for a little while and that’s okay too!
Lauren: Yeah, you’re not going to develop any nutrient deficiencies from going overboard for a while or even if it’s a little bit more nutritionally imbalanced for a little bit. Just trusting that your body obviously wants to get into balance. And also, what was important for me, was recognizing why I liked that time of eating chocolate. It did give me this moment of escape, or this moment of pleasure that I wasn’t allowing myself in other ways. And being able to realize, “oh, how can I meet these other needs?” Not necessarily using food.
Paige: Yeah! That is really, really important information for people to hear. I love that. Thank you for sharing that.
So, it was a practice. It was a process for you to develop these behaviors. Would you say that reading that book and being introduced to that dietitian who did intuitive eating was your a-ha moment? Or would you say that there really was one moment or was it more just ….
Lauren: I would say there was one a-ha moment that definitely was really a pivotal moment for myself because I didn’t go into that experience expecting to change my relationship with food at all. It was just kind of a surprise. And I’m really grateful for that surprise. But, it’s all these moments over time that I realized when I tried these practices of learning these lessons along the way - allowing myself to have these foods around or learning what my hunger and fullness cues are. Exploring how my body wants to eat. Starting to do body image work of respecting my own body. In the book Intuitive Eating there are 10 different principles. So, even if you can’t necessarily work with the hunger and fullness cues - like a lot of my clients don’t have hunger cues. They are absent. Or they’re fullness cues are distorted, so they can’t necessarily trust those at first. But, they can work with other principles. So there’s the 10 different principles, so it could be working with the hunger and fullness cues, but it also could be learning to respect your own body or make peace with food through some of the practices that I was just mentioning.
Paige: Great. Yeah, so I think we’ve laid a good foundation of who you are, where you’ve been, how you’ve evolved through the years and through your education and then also through your own introspection. And now, I want to move on unless you have something else to add?
Paige: Okay. I want to move on to defining intuitive eating. Maybe someone will just listen to this one episode and not go back and listen to the others about intuitive eating. So, to you, Lauren, I just want to hear your own personal definition or understanding of the term intuitive eating for someone who’s never heard of what this means. How would you define it?
Lauren: I would define it as tuning into your own body rather than using external rules or external diets. I always describe it as kids tend to be natural intuitive eaters that they eat food, they can enjoy it and they can move on. Some days they eat more, other days they eat less. But over time, they really are meeting their body’s needs for their own growth and where they are. So, connecting back, we all have that natural sense in us. But, we tend to lose it over time with these rules we pick up of our parents telling us to finish our plates or reading these magazines that talk to us about restricting carbohydrates or other senses like that. So, it’s starting to break down these diet rules and this diet mindset to get back to listening to your own body.
Paige: Yeah. That’s great! And I’m just anticipating people’s questions here. So, I know how I’d answer these things. But, I want to hear your perspective. Is intuitive eating a catchall for everybody? If someone is listening to this and they’re like “yeah, that sounds great. But, I just do better with structure. Or I can’t listen to my body. I don’t trust it. I can’t exercise control when I’m around certain foods. That’s for someone else. It’s not for me.” What would you say to those people? Who are you trying to target with intuitive eating?
Lauren: It’s super important to work with where you are. So you may not be ready for intuitive eating and that’s okay. Intuitive eating can be pretty broad. So there are these other principles that you can work on if you’re not ready for listening to your own body, using hunger and fullness, but in general, this works well for people who identify as emotional eaters, for disordered eaters. For people with eating disorders, I know a lot of people want to work on intuitive eating, but if you’re more active in your eating disorder, or if you’re not necessarily weight restored, I usually don’t work on this until they’re at a place where you can actually trust those hunger and fullness cues. I will work with clients with eating disorders with meal plans to provide the structure they need in the beginning before they can eventually trust their own body.
Paige: And are your meal plans “Monday morning, you eat this for breakfast, this for lunch..” or what is a meal plan look like for you for someone who’s struggling to restore their weight or just get back on track?
Lauren: I try to make them as flexible as possible and based on what eat client needs. So, each person, each body, is unique and has different nutritional needs compared to someone who’s working on weight restoration or someone is pregnant or other aspects of their health. So, it could be asking them what are some of their favorite foods. How do they normally like to eat if they are vegetarian or if they’re not vegetarian if they have any dietary restrictions. And helping them come up with meal ideas or snack ideas that they actually enjoy and would eat. And that are pretty balanced as well. So, the basics of nutrition - I usually just view it as the foundation of nutrition that most people know and understand. Nutrition doesn’t have to be super complex or super complicated that a lot of people make it. It’s important to figure out what works with your body, but the meal plans definitely have a balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. And depends on the person’s needs, but if it is weight restoration, it could be eating 5 to 6 times a day, having these balanced portions of the meal. And eating 75% - 100% of your meal, because there will be days that it’s harder and that you’re struggling and there will be days that you’re doing really well. So, not getting upset or feeling bad about yourself if you don’t meet your meal plan that one day because you can always work on it again tomorrow.
Paige: Great.. Yeah. Back to that question little bit ago about intuitive eating. Is this a catchall for everybody? I mean, in my opinion, I’m always trying to get people that I work with toward intuitive eating. At least, in some aspect. Kind of like you said - maybe it’s not hunger and fullness. Maybe it’s not making peace with food. Maybe it’s just starting off with challenging those deep seeded beliefs about dieting and just seeing if those really make sense. Seeing if that and questioning if that really works for you. Typically, my approach with people whether it’s someone who’s trying to lose weight or someone who’s trying to work through an eating disorder or even someone who is just here to talk to me a little bit about new diagnosis of celiac disease or whatever. I’m always looking for those red flags of someone who has this damaged relationship with food. Because, I think most of us struggling with that in one way or another. So, I like to at least bring in some topics of intuitive eating, kind of under that umbrella, in each of those people that I’m working with because I think that the reason it is the answer, in my opinion, for everybody, is universal. The reason it is, is because what we’re trying to encourage you to do, is to be who you really are and to trust who you really are eventually. Right? And to really instead of looking outward toward rules and regulations and restrictions, you’re looking inward to figure out what you really need. So, if someone is listening to this and they’re saying “yeah, that sounds great. But, that’s not what I need,” I would really encourage you to think about that and maybe just challenge that and look at which aspects of intuitive eating you might be able to apply into your life right now. What more would you add to that though, Lauren?
Lauren: Yeah, and even thinking about why intuitive eating doesn’t sound appealing to you. You could have a lot of barriers or feel stuck because that’s not your experience and everyone has their own experiences and belief systems about food [based on] how they grew up or different things that they were exposed to during their life. Kind of exploring “what would a healthy relationship be for you?” Because that’s a question I always ask clients on my first session with them. “How do you want your relationship with food to be?” A lot of times it’s a pretty simple answer of “I just want to enjoy food. Or I want to feel free around food. Or I want to be able to eat and feel good.” And when people over complicate nutrition or over complicate intuitive eating - feeling like they’re not doing it right, it just takes all the pleasure and joy out of it. So, just working where you are and finding more play and ease into this situation because this could definitely be challenging work. It is at times. But, if you can add more ease into it and find more joy along the journey of being able to laugh or go along with things, it’s going to make it a lot more enjoyable of an experience. So, what I mean by that, is if you have a day where you’re just not paying attention and you’re super busy and you just don’t notice your hunger/fullness cues, just being able to recognize and be aware of “okay, so I didn’t do so well today, but I can try again tomorrow!” - this intuitive eating isn’t another diet where you can’t really fail at intuitive eating. It’s just this process that you learn and connect back to over time.
Paige: Yeah. And one thing I would add to that is that part of being successful with intuitive eating and I use that term kinda loosely because I don’t think that it’s black and white line of success or failure of intuitive eating. But, part of being able to be successful in your own world with intuitive eating, is having this attitude of curiosity. So, what I mean by that is if you can take the perspective of just being curious about your own body and how your body communicates to you hunger cues and what it feels like to be full or satisfied, if you’re curious about that, you’re going to be much more successful than if you’re trying to really figure it out and be perfect at it right away. And curiosity also comes in handy when we’re talking about having those times when we really do get out of track or we go on a vacation and we’re just feeling a little bit out of control and out of sorts and out of your routine and all of that. If you can just get curious, “hmm, what went wrong there? Why did I feel the need to binge on that particular food that evening? What went wrong there?” We can get really emotional, we can start to feel really like a failure or just down on our luck or “man, I’m never going to succeed with this” we can take the perspective of getting curious so that we can learn from it and actually use it for our benefit. So, I love what you said about having laughter be part of this and thinking about this as a practice and then I would just add that being curious and kind of taking away some of the emotional side effects that we can sometimes experience with dieting, I think is really helpful with intuitive eating.
Lauren: Mmhmm. Curiosity is a huge thing. I just posted something on my Instagram last night that said “get curious, not judgemental.” We can often approach these things with this judgemental or shame based approach of “oh, I should know what I’m doing by now. I should be doing this and feeling that” about yourselves rather than getting curious. One way I like to do it for myself and with a lot of my clients is journal after these experiences. So if you do find yourself restricting or dieting or bingeing, be able to pull out your journal and work through your thoughts and emotions in that way can be pretty therapeutic - to do a download from your head onto paper and get curious in that way of asking yourself these questions of “what was going on? What was I feeling in that moment? How can I meet that need? Why did I feel the urge to go to food? How can I find a pause to recognize how I’m feeling before automatically turning to the food to binge?”
Paige: Yeah, that’s a great tip. Journaling is a really, really good tool to use for those who are willing to take the time to do that. And I think it also has the benefit of helping you in the moment then also there’s added benefit of being able to have that record to look back, maybe months later you’re struggling and you can remember “wow! This is how I brought myself out of that difficult time. These are the thoughts I was having.” And it can really be a strength - both presently and also in the future.
Lauren: And getting curious not only helps with food and nutrition wise, but also helps with so many other things. I like to take the broader perspective of health that includes nutrition, but can also include movement and sleep and healthy relationships and just managing your stress and finding joy in your life so you can figure out what other hungers you have for life. So, you may feel like it’s just this physical hunger and you can’t figure out why you can’t control around food or why you can’t stop eating, but it could be this craving just to rest and take a break or this craving to find more joy in your life or this craving to move your body in a certain way. So, kind of exploring and getting curious about what your body’s asking for in each moment.
Paige: Beautiful. And do you believe that everybody has this in us and that it’s not something that we have to learn in terms of intuitive eating? It’s not something we necessarily have to learn - it’s something we kind of have to come back to? Would you agree with that?
Lauren: Yeah, I definitely agree. It’s something we can come back and kind of think about our body as our home and that it’s already in us. We just need to connect back to this sense and it does take this kind of relearning process of relearning how to eat and for some people this could take longer than other people. Like some people may have been on diets since they were kids. Their parents may or their family members or friends around them could’ve been on diets as well. So, it could’ve brought it down to the child. It could be a long time before you find this inate sense of intuitive eating, but I do believe it’s in there for everyone.
Paige: Yeah. I love that idea, personally. I think that knowing that this is not just another diet. This is not another set of rules to learn. This is all about coming back to you and your intuition and who you are. I just think that’s such a beautiful idea. And so freeing. To not have to feel like you have to constantly be looking outside of yourself. That really the answers are already there. We just have to discover them and be open to them.
Lauren: And when you’re able to connect to your body with food, a lot of people find this and for me, I did as well - I was able to connect to my body and desires for other things - listening to my intuition or my gut feelings about different jobs or different relationships or how I wanted to live my life and how I wanted to show up for myself.
Paige: Yeah! So true! I think we can often compartmentalize health or wellness and we can say well, nutrition over here and personal development is over here and family life is here. But, you know, what I love about what I do and what you do, what we do, is we’re really helping people connect to life in general. Hopefully, with the people that we work with it’s just helping them to be free and to have space in their life and in their hearts and in their life in general for the things that really matter and nutrition is one of them, but it’s not everything and it shouldn’t be everything.
Lauren: And when you have that balance in the rest of your life and you actually are enjoying your life, you probably want to take care of your body [and it] becomes a lot more easy and it becomes a lot more full of ease and you can find the joy in eating. That it just becomes more natural for you to want to eat nourishing foods and enjoy the food and take care of yourself.
Paige: Definitely. Well, great. Lauren, this has been great! I want to know if the best way to take this is to kind of go through some of the principles one by one and some of them we’ve already talked about in depth, but just to help give people a basic idea of what intuitive eating really is and what the principles are. Would you like to go that direction? Or would you like to take it a different direction?
Lauren: Sure! We can definitely go that direction
Paige: Okay. Well, I’ll just start down the list of the 10 principles of intuitive eating. And then we can have a little conversation about each one. Some might be a little longer than others, but okay! Let’s just start with number 1.
So, number 1 is Rejecting The Dieting Mentality. So, what do you have to say about that, Lauren?
Lauren: I think this one of the most important things. I’ve just recognized that the culture that we live in is more diet focused mindset that we hear about diets, we see advertisements for diets, or Weight Watchers or whatever is, only a daily basis. And starting to realize that we don’t have to lose weight to be healthy. That we don’t have to eat diets. That we have this innate sense of intuitive eaters within ourselves that we just mentioned. And starting to break down what we believe about food, what we believe about our bodies, how we eat and kinda creating a list for ourselves of all these rules or regulations we’ve created for ourselves for how we need to approach food. And starting to experiment with approaching food in a different way.
Paige: That is one I feel passionately about too and I think it’s really true what they say in the book. They say if there’s any lingering hope that the next diet might work, you’re really not going to be able to be successful with intuitive eating because you do tend to [...], you’re just not free when you’re tied down by this dieting mentality. You’re just not free to be open to this idea of intuitive eating. You’re kind of locked down with your thoughts about restriction and with weight loss and with body image and comparing and all of that and it’s just not going to be successful. So that’s really the foundation to being able to discover intuitive eating within you.
Lauren: Yeah, I like the term they use “psuedo dieting.”
Paige: Mmhmm, exactly. Definitely.
Okay, so number 2 is Honor Your Hunger. So, one thing I like to do with people that I work with is really try to define hunger. What does it mean to be hungry? How does it feel? How do you answer those questions, Lauren?
Lauren: So it’s really different for everyone. I like to explore that with different people as well, because some people find that they feel their hunger more in their stomach. They notice their stomach growling or they just feel this empty feeling in their stomach. Some people start to notice the first signs of hunger as their brain is focusing on food or thinking about food or their feeling spacey and are unable to pay attention as much. So, at first a lot of times, it’s defining those more extreme forms of hunger - when you’re stomach is really growling or when we can’t focus or you may feel dizzy or lightheaded. So, that’s kind of the extreme end of hunger and then starting to explore what these more mild or moderate levels of hunger are. Are we just starting to feel a sensation of mild hunger in your stomach or starting to think about food and have you realized that “oh, maybe I should eat in the next hour or so.” And starting to really realize that your hunger is just a sensation and a cue from your body. You don’t have to put a lot of labels or judgement on it. Or view it as a bad thing. It’s just a cue from your body like when you have to go to the bathroom, your body lets you know and you don’t judge that - you just listen and go. You don’t really try to push it off. So same way, with hunger, you can start to honor and listen to those signals as well.
Paige: Definitely. And I would add that in my own experience with hunger, and I know a lot people experience the same thing, if I get past the point of gentle hunger where I should probably do it, but I’m still kind of feeling I should probably eat, but I’m still kind of feeling in control, not feeling too crazy yet, I do get to the point where if I ignore that, if I don’t honor that hunger, I do end up getting to that point of just feeling desperate, where I get so hungry that it just doesn’t really matter what’s someone puts in front of me. I’m going to eat it. And I’m going to eat a lot of it. And it’s going to be harder for me to listen to when I need to stop. So, I think that’s kind of how I define the right level of hunger to me is when you’re hungry, but you’re still kind of feeling in control, being able to choose a good option that you feel good about and then also a reasonable portion size.
Lauren: And then even recognizing in between meals, if you’re starting to notice that you are hungry, ask yourself “am I hungry enough for a meal or hungry enough for a snack?” and starting to explore that for yourself, because sometimes you will feel really hungry and you are eating and it may feel like you’re eating all day and then some days you’re not as hungry and that’s normal too. That your hunger levels may vary day to day.
Paige: Yeah. And being okay with that. Exactly. I love to remind people or to tell them that our bodies really like averages. So, we don’t have to be exactly on the mark with our calorie intake or our vitamin A intake or vitamin C intake every single day. Our bodies are really kind to us and they’re programmed to be able to roll with the punches. Some days there’s excess, some days there’s not quite enough and they do just fine with that. So, just chill out about getting the perfect amount of everything each day.
Lauren: Yeah. And you can’t find perfect levels of hunger either. So it’s going to be experimentation.
Paige: Totally! Totally. And learning what it feels like in your own body, we can give ideas of what it feels like in ours and we can talk that through, but really, it does come down to experimentation and curiosity.
Lauren: I love that saying just because my role is the dietitian that’s using intuitive eating is really to guide my clients to figure out their own bodies. I may know what a nutritionally balanced diet is, but it’s different for everyone. And I’m not in my client’s body - I can’t figure out what hunger or fullness feels like for them. So, it’s giving them to tools so they can explore it on their own.
Paige: Perfect. Love that.
Okay, let’s move on the number 3. The third principle of intuitive eating is Make Peace With Food. I love to just hear how you teach that and what that means to you.
Lauren: So, one of the main things I teach, make peace with food, is what I talked about in my own experience prior, of just giving myself the permission to have some of these foods around. If you do have any rules, whether that’s carbohydrates or sugar or cheese, it’s different for everyone, of starting to give yourself permission to have this and starting to really let yourself sit down and eat it mindfully and enjoy these foods and recognize the fears that do come up when you do have them. Because you may still have these thoughts of why you feel like this food is bad for you. But starting to actually do it and exposing yourself to these foods over time makes it easier and you’ll start to realize “oh, the worst fear I had actually didn’t come true” because we have these anticipations or anxiety before we try these foods of “what could happen if I have these foods? I could gain 5 pounds. I could feel bloated” or whatever it is. But, when you actually go into it and make it more of a pleasurable eating experience, those anticipatory fears really aren’t there. And if you feel bloated with the foods, that’s okay. And that’s normal at times, too. But, just experimenting and exploring, giving yourself permission to include all foods. So, really going back to the principal number 1 of breaking the diet mindset of when you’re noticing yourself having this reaction and telling yourself you can’t have this food, then that could be a good time to let yourself have that food around and exploring these mindsets around food that you are having, just to give yourself permission to have all these foods. So it could be like my experience. There could be a few weeks where you eat a lot of this food and then it comes back more into balance.
Paige: And a lot of people just feel so much peace hearing from a dietitian that you have unconditional permission to eat. There’s power in those words. You do have unconditional permission to eat. Now, if you have a food allergy, maybe not. There’s certain situations where that’s not necessarily the case. But, in general, we need to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat, but we need to also understand portion sizes and we’ll talk about this when we get to the last principle, but there’s balancing all of this with understanding some principles of healthy eating as well.
Lauren: Yeah, and comes down to the intention behind your eating. So, you’re eating could look similar ways compared to before and after you go through intuitive eating. You could probably be eating relatively healthy, whole foods, because that’s the way you’ll feel your body feels good in that sense. It really comes down to the intention behind why you’re eating. You could come from an intention of restricting versus wanting to nourish your body. So, when you’re trying to take care of your body, if it’s a more restrictive sense, it could be “I’m going to restrict sugar because it’s a bad food and I shouldn’t be eating it.” compared to you may naturally be eating less sugar when you’re eating intuitively because you know it makes you feel anxious or you don’t feel as good when you have as much sugar. You still let yourself have these sweets and treats in your diet, but it’s from this intention of more nourishing your body.
Paige: Yeah. That’s a beautiful thought. So number 4 is Challenge The Food Police. And all I would to say to that is that kind of really goes along with number 3 in making peace with food and then also number 1, rejecting the dieting mentality. So, as you’re working through rejecting the dieting mentality, maybe you notice that one of the biggest things you experience is these thoughts in your head that are saying “you’re doing really well. You’re being good today because you’re eating this salad. Or you’re bad because you ate that whatever it may be.” And so, if this is what is standing out to you, that you just have these thoughts that you need to work on, I think that is what challenging the food police really means. And it might be you that’s the food police in your own head. It might be someone in your life who is just constantly nagging you or shaming you about the foods that you are choosing. And, if that’s the case, I just encourage people to have respectful conversations with the people in their life to help them understand how your internalizing that and what that’s doing to you. What else would you add to challenging the food police?
Lauren: So, I would say that a lot of times with this experience of these really strong, harsh food police voices at first in terms of thinking of foods in a good or bad way, or a lot of rules, and then it’s finding that neutral place, that neutral curiosity place, before you find this gentler intuitive eating voice. So it could be kind of thinking about “oh, I’m noticing I’m hungry right now.” And then the more intuitive eater voice could be “oh, I feel hungry. Maybe I should eat.” So finding those neutral voices first and being able to kind of turn down the volume on those harsher food police voices.
Paige: I love that! Thank you for adding that! That was great! Awesome. So, let’s move on to number 5 which is Respect Your Fullness and remember number 2 was honor your hunger. So I think these 2 really go together. What do you want to say about fullness?
Lauren: So fullness is finding that, same with hunger, you can have these more extreme levels of fullness. Like after Thanksgiving , most people feel stuffed and uncomfortable. But, finding that place after a meal where you start to feel mildly full or not necessarily hungry and you’re satisfied and can move on and I know satisfaction is the next intuitive eating principle, but fullness is being able to check in with yourself in the meal. Being mindful and aware as you’re eating. A lot of people tune out when they’re eating, like they’ll watch TV or work through their meals on their computer. And I don’t think you have to have completely mindful meals all the time, but just being mindful to your body as you’re eating so you can start to slow down and recognize when you’re starting to feel no longer hungry or when you’re starting to feel mildly full. I guess finding that point when you’re starting to feel mildly full so you can leave your meal still feeling energized rather than drained and depleted if you’re getting to a super stuffed level of full after every single meal.
Paige: Yeah, definitely. And another thing that I noticed in my own body is when I’m able to honor my hunger, it’s easier to recognize when I’m satisfied or comfortably full. And you know, I grew up in this house of really big eaters. My mom and sisters and I can all put down food. And so, I kinda grew up loving the feeling of full or even almost uncomfortably full. And so I’ve really had to work on this respect your fullness one quite a bit. And what I’ve noticed is as I do honor that fullness and I stop at the point where I’m satisfied, I do end up bumping up a level of fullness if I just wait a few minutes even 20 or so minutes after eating, I recognize that “okay, I stopped when it was almost uncomfortable for me to stop because it’s not natural for me, but as I move on with my evening because it’s usually at dinner, I recognize, oh, I really didn’t need to eat more. I’m feeling just fine now.” So, that’s how it works in my own body - is I really do get that feeling I really like, but it just is a delayed reaction. So I have to recognize that and stop a little bit before I normally would.
Lauren: Yeah, that’s great. And for some people who may have eating disorders that they feel really uncomfortable feeling any sensations of fullness, respecting your fullness could be allowing yourself to feel full and notice that feeling in your body and be okay wiht that.
Paige: Great point. Yeah! Awesome. Thanks for rounding it back out to different perspectives and different experiences. That’s awesome. Okay, so do you want to talk about number 6? You already know what it is.
Lauren: It’s Finding The Satisfaction In Your Food. So with this, I like to find the match between what I’m craving and what I actually eat. Because that’s going to leave me more satisfied. So, if I’m craving a sandwich, but I eat a salad, I may not really feel satisfied. I could feel full from eating the salad, but I won’t necessarily feel satisfied. So feeling that both physical satisfaction in your body but also this mental and emotional satisfaction with food. Of craving this whole eating experience that leaves you feeling satisfied and that you can enjoy your meal. So, it could also be exploring different ways to have this whole complete eating experience, like, putting in music as you cook to create this satisfying environment. To using your nicest plates and starting to get to this point where you not only get satisfied from your meal and the food, but you feel satisfied with the whole eating experience.
Paige: Definitely. And a word about that. It’s very different when you go out to eat with good company to a nice restaurant with good lighting and beautifully plated foods and you know, candlelight and music and the whole environment is appealing and peaceful. It’s very different. You could eat the exact same food but have a different level of satisfaction in that environment versus eating in your car or eating in front of the TV or eating on your desk when you’re at work and just kind of plowing through your meal time without paying attention to enjoying it. And so, for me, part of what’s important about this idea of satisfaction is to recognize first of all that it’s okay to enjoy your food and second of all, that creating a positive eating environment and giving it the time that it deserves actually can help you with your goals. Sometimes you think “well, that’s a waste of time. Why would I put on music? Why would I create this positive environment? That’s just too much effort?” It really can help you tune in and be more an intuitive eater when you really can be in touch with your enjoyment and your satisfaction.
Lauren: That’s some of the best self care methods of actually taking time to cook and eat your meal is such a great form of self care. And sometimes you won’t feel satisfied with your food and that’s okay. You can recognize “oh, how can I feel more satisfied next time?” Or some days you need to get practical and you’re super busy and you need to eat in the car and that’s okay too.
Paige: Right. Right! So that’s an important point to balance all of what we’re saying with life and with schedules and with reality, you know. We’re not always going to be perfect at this and in fact, we never are. It’s a practice like we’ve said many times and it’s also, I think, the most important thing about this idea of intuitive eating or making any kind of change with your eating or your behaviors around food, is not just all of a sudden waking up one day and being perfect at it. It’s picking one or two things that you feel like “yeah, that really resonates with me. I could work on that.” And focusing on that and not even paying attention or worrying about the other things because those will come as you start to get better at each one at a time.
Lauren: Exactly. Yeah
Paige: So number 7 is Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. So, that basically is encouraging us to think about how often are we eating because we’re actually hungry? Or how often are we eating because of a different type of hunger? And you talk about this quite a bit in your eBook Hips, Hunger and the Pursuit of Healing which I will link to on the website if anyone’s interested in checking that out. I think it was really awesome. You have done a really great job. So, what else would you add with that idea “well what are you hungry for?”
Lauren: Well, thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the eBook. So, this is just about exploring your emotional hungers and really finding those methods of self care because you’re never going to feel satisfied if you’re trying to meet this emotional need. And being able to explore different forms of self care for yourself and finding the time for rest or movement or sleep at times or getting out to enjoy some relationships. If you’re eating because you’re lonely. Being aware and recognizing what that emotional need is of why you’re eating.
Paige: Definitely. Yes. Like you said in the beginning, taking a moment to pause and really do a little bit of a self inventory and really just decide what type of hunger you’re feeling. Is it hunger for food? Or is it hunger for some type of other feeling? And occasionally, you’ll still eat even though you’re feeling some other emotion and as long as you recognize that and keep that to a not super often basis, I’d say that that’s normal and part of normal eating. Sometimes, we just say “you know what? I’m sad today. And I’m just going to eat this really delicious comfort food and I’m going to do it mindfully. And that’s okay.” The problem happens when we’re tired, we eat. When we’re lonely, we eat. We’re anxious, we eat. If we’re doing that too often, that’s when it becomes problematic.
Lauren: And that can be really helpful to do these check ins with your emotional state throughout the day. Just so you realize what you’re feeling before you get to the point where you’re trying to use food to meet those emotions. So just doing a check in with how your physical body is feeling and doing a check in with what your emotional needs are each day.
Paige: Yeah. Great point. I love that. Okay, so number 8 is Respect Your Body and you are a pro at this based on the things that I’ve read in your book. So, I’ll let you take it away on that one.
Lauren: So, the metaphor I use with clients all the time is, “if you were a size 7 shoe [foot size], then would you squeeze your foot into a size 5 shoe? If it feels miserable, you can probably squeeze in there, but it would hurt and it wouldn’t be the right size for you.” So same with your body. Each person’s body has this different genetic blueprint and this different weight range that is healthy and normal for it. So, each person is different. So, trying to respect and appreciate your own body’s natural size and shape. And this can be a lot of body image work. So, it can be really helpful to work with a psychotherapist around this if you’re struggling with your body image which usually goes along with your relationship with food. But just appreciating and being grateful for your own body and what it can do and switching the focus from this weight focus idea and into this health focus idea of “how can I take care of my body regardless of what my weight is?”
Paige: I couldn’t say it any better myself. I’m glad I let you take that one away. Awesome. So, number 9 is Exercise And Feel The Difference.
Lauren: So this is one of my favorites ones. A lot of people exercise or go to the gym and they don’t enjoy it or they feel like it is punishment or it hurts or all these things that we kind of have this mindsets around exercise that way. But, exercise and movement naturally feels good to the body when you can find a way of moving that really works for you. So that changed a lot in my life. I used to go to the gym and I liked it, it was okay, but I didn’t really love it. And it wasn’t until I found that I really, really loved yoga, or I really loved hiking that I actually found this actual pure joy in moving my body that I actually craved moving my body in these different ways. It feels good. And I don’t feel any pressure to go lift weights at the gym, for example. So actually feeling the difference physically in your body from moving your body can feel good and finding this new relationship with exercise but also feeling that the mental benefits from exercise - it can have all these benefits on our brain that supports our health in mental and emotional well being as well.
Paige: Yeah, that’s perfect. Again, couldn’t have said it better myself. And then number 10 is where it all really comes together for me. And where I really liked to help people understand that intuitive eating really does take into account nutrition. And “healthy food.” It’s not like we just say “eat whatever you want and however you want and however big of portions you want. Forget all the things you learned about nutrition. It doesn’t matter.” That’s not what intuitive eating is to me. So number 10 is called Honoring Your Health With Gentle Nutrition. And that’s what brings it down to earth for me. So yes, we’re trying to pay attention to these abstract, somewhat difficult emotions and feelings and really doing the work of self care and understanding our emotions and our limitations and honoring our body and working on body image and all of that’s great, but I think at the same time we need to remember that part of intuitive eating is paying attention to the things that we have learned about the fundamentals of nutrition. And I like what you said earlier. You said “it’s all about your intention behind the foods that you’re eating.” If you can get to the point where you’re making choices about what you’re eating because of how it makes you feel rather than out of punishment or self loathing or something like that, I think that’s what this gentle nutrition idea is getting at. But what more would you add to that?
Lauren: I would say that actually finding the enjoyment in this. Of trying different recipes with whole foods or going to the farmers market to find new things to try there or just trying different foods. And creating these enjoyable eating experiences and I think about it as some intentions you could make your food decisions around are nutrition and nourishment but it could also be taste and quality and if you’re making your food decisions around two or three of those, most of the time, you’re doing really well. So, sometimes your food decisions could be purely taste based and some times it could be making good food taste really well. So, instead of eating what most a lot of people consider “diet food”, making these good nutritional foods actually taste good with good recipes.
Paige: Yeah and that’s so important to be able to avoid the dieting mentality is making sure that the foods you are eating are sustainable and realistic and tasty to you. Because if you’re not eating foods that you enjoy, you’re not going to stick with it.
Lauren: Exactly. Yeah. And I think this principle brings it into perspective as well, that nutrition really is important and working with a dietitian to help you figure out what you’re own nutritional needs are, because it could be different based on your own personal health conditions or what stage of life you’re in. Like, if you’re a teenager and still growing or if you’re a woman who’s pregnant or someone who’s older that everyone’s going to have different nutritional needs and you can listen to your body to guide you in some ways around that. But, being able to find the foods or the recipes or the ideas that really work for you. And taking in account your personal food preferences as well.
Paige: Yeah, that’s great. I love that. It’s just so realistic and simple but also profound way of eating and viewing the world and your food and your body and who you are. That’s what I love about intuitive eating - is it really just feels good. It feels like the right thing to do. You’re not punishing yourself. You’re not hating yourself. You’re working on honoring and trusting your own intuition and your own inner self rather than relying on other sources to provide you with black and white lists of things to do and things not to do. That’s why I love it. How would you sum up your reasons of why you love intuitive eating?
Lauren: Really helps me develop this healthy, enjoyable relationships with food. The whole point of it, for me, is to be able to nourish my body so I can go out and live my life. Give me energy to work with clients or go for a hike or hang out with my dog or do other things in my life. Compared to having to obsess about food all the time in my head so I have all this extra mind space and energy to think about other things and to explore other things I love to do with my life.
Paige: Yeah. That’s beautiful. And I think a lot of people can relate to that. Like you said when you ask people “what they really want, what their long term future goals are” most people say “I just want to feel good! I just want to live life and be free of focusing on this and stressing about this and worrying about this everyday.” So, I think that is what you just said is the core of it all. That’s what we’re trying to help people to do - is to just be able to live their life. And part of it is paying attention and using some principles of healthy eating but part of it is also letting go of all those rules and regulations and focusing more on what you really need. That was great.
Lauren: The last thing I was going to say is intuitive eating is your own unique journey, so it may look different from you to me to Paige to everyone else who’s doing it. And just letting and trusting the pace of how it happens for you. Because for some people it’s going to be a faster process than for others, so just kinda trusting where you are in the journey. Letting it unfold as you go along.
Paige: Yeah. That’s a great tip and really important thing to keep in mind. So, Lauren, if anybody is interested in the things that you talked about and want to check out your blog or your coaching services or anything like that, they can find you at LaurenFowler.co. Is that right?
Lauren: Yup! That’s right. And I can give you the link for our integrative therapy center that’s a center for integrative therapy. The website is btcit.com. L-a-u-r-e-n-f-o-w-l-e-r.co and I’ll link to that on the website.
Well, is there anything else you wanted to add? Or have we summed it up well?
Lauren: I think we summed it up pretty well and starting to kind of explore these ideas or pick up the book Intuitive Eating and figure out what you want to do with this and what you want your relationship with food to be. And you can find out more information on my website like it was mentioned.
Paige: Well, thank you Lauren, for your time! It was great to talk more in depth about Intuitive Eating with you.
Lauren: Thanks for having me. I love connecting with other like-minded RDs!
Paige: Well, I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation. If you haven’t already, please go ahead and leave a review on iTunes. Thanks again so much for listening and we’ll see you soon for another episode!