Eating intuitively sounds like a foreign concept to many. If you’re hungry, you just sit down to eat whatever you want, right? Not really. As simple as that sounds, that’s not always what eating intuitively is, And for many of us that have had severe health issues and body image issues in the past, that hasn’t always been the case.
Up until about five years ago, I wasn’t always the most intuitive eater. I either restricted myself or I’d eat things based on my emotions instead of listening to my body and what it needed. In the past, I’ve eaten to numb and eaten too little calories to restrict, and both are neither helpful or healthy.
This all changed when I actively started listening to what my body was saying and became more involved in the field of nutrition and holistic health. If my body needed more rest, I’d give it more rest, right?
This concept is the same with food, or at least, it should be.
Sadly, however, that’s not always the case.
Many of us ignore what our bodies are trying to tell us through cravings, pain, aches, digestive upsets, skin upsets, mood disorders, and more. And some of us know something is wrong, but we don’t know how to fix it or we ignore it and just keep doing what we always have done because we are afraid of doing something different.
Learning about nutrition the last ten years and studying the works of many of the top nutrition experts out there for a number of years has taught me an abundant amount of information about how complex the human body is. It’s one reason I’m so fascinated with health. But it’s also what saved me from poor health at many times and what I use to help clients with today.
Health is not a black and white issue.
What works for someone else will not work for you, necessarily. It’s why there are so many different views on health and why different diets and what diet is the best are such conflicting issues. Sure, research can guide us in the right direction, but it still can’t tell us what our own bodies can.
Speaking of which, your body might not respond well to the diet you’re bound and determined to eat or that your co-worker or best friend eats. And that’s okay! Do the best you can with the body you have and appreciate it for taking care of you and telling you what it needs.
For instance, my body doesn’t seem to do well with extremes: too little food, a raw food diet, too much animal protein or refined carbs, too much natural sugar, added sugar, extremely high amounts of protein or extremely high amounts of fat, etc. etc. etc.
In other words, it prefers a steady intake of simple, real food with a nice little balance of macronutrients.
Even though I eat a plant-based diet and hardly any processed foods at all, my body still needs a really healthy balance of nutrients from a variety of foods. Otherwise, things get out of hand quickly. This is due to my past with a chronic candida infection I’ve had since birth. Candida thrives in extreme environments and it ends up causing a weakened immune system, inflamed digestive tract, and it can set one up for a host of other issues within the body. I have suffered from this type of infection since I was a child and had severe digestive issues as long as I can remember.
My mid-twenties started the process of healing my gut, and since I have gotten it to a healthier place, I still have to be very careful about what I eat. It’s one reason I’m so in tune with my body and choose to eat as many whole foods, real foods as I can. Too much of anything sets my system off balance, but this has been a blessing in disguise because it’s taught me to be a better listener of my own body’s needs. I now have such a key attunement to what my body is saying that I know almost exactly how to fix it 90% of the time.
It also means I’m not perfect. There are days I crave more vegetables for nourishment, and then there are days I have to be sure that I get my five cups a day, just like everyone else.
And when I listen to my body, I feel absolutely great. But that doesn’t mean that I always feel good or never have bloating or other issues like any other human experiences.
The bottom line is that I learned to eat intuitively by not dismissing my physical symptoms for something else and learning how food affected me on every single level.
Here are some examples:
If I have a low mood, I automatically look at my diet.
Am I eating enough healthy complex carbs such as oats, roasted root veggies, etc. ? Or, am I eating too little healthy fats or healthy sources of protein? All of these are needed for a healthy mood because they can improve serotonin levels in the body, a neurotransmitter that improves brain function and lowers depression.
Then I look at my skin and hair. Is my skin healthy and glowing as usual?
Is my hair strong and shiny or is it weak and brittle? If my skin gets dry and complexion gets drab, I know I need to adjust my intake of healthy omega-3 fats from whole food sources like flax, chia, pumpkin seeds, acai berry purée, and I also love
Is skin healthy and glowing as usual? Is my hair strong and shiny or is it weak and brittle? If my skin gets dry and complexion gets drab, I know I need to adjust my intake of healthy omega-3 fats from whole food sources like flax, chia, pumpkin seeds, hemp, acai berry purée, and I also love natural peanut butter and raw coconut for healthy fats.
If my energy is sagging, I make sure I’m not getting TOO many carbohydrates and too little fat or protein which can cause an imbalance of hormones and a sluggish digestive system.
Too much bread and pasta will obviously cause this issue, but so can too little protein and healthy fats. Give your body some balance: eat your greens, enjoy some root vegetables and oatmeal for healthy complex carbs, and enjoy some healthy fats and protein from plant-based options like raw nuts and seeds. Your energy levels and hormones will thank you!
If my body feels full but not “fed” and my body feels inflamed, I look at my intake of vegetables and greens.
Am I getting at least 5 cups a day (which is the minimum I eat for optimal health)? If not, I up my intake and take extra green superfood powders when necessary. Vegetables nourish the body in a way that others foods don’t and we all know we need them. I also make sure I’m eating plenty of foods rich in chromium such as cocoa, tomatoes, cacao, cinnamon, broccoli, and apples which are all high in the mineral that balances blood sugar levels.
If my body is craving sweets, I may not be getting enough vegetables or enough nutrients from real food.
One of the number one ways I quit binging on sugar 11 years ago was to start eating more vegetables, less crap, and real protein from real food. Remember, your body is smart– if it’s imbalanced it will usually crave sugary foods because your body knows the sugar will give it a quick high. But that’s not the physical nourishment it needs. Eating more real, whole, fresh foods always turns my sugar cravings off. Fruit is also great and NOT the enemy, but don’t neglect your greens and veggies either. Try it and see!
If my body is craving salt, I look at my intake of chloride-rich foods to make sure I’m getting enough natural sodium in my diet.
Celery and tomatoes are my two favorite sources of natural chloride our bodies need for sodium regulation. Kombu, dulse, wakame, and other types of seaweed are also good sources if you like adding these to soups or stews. I don’t add salt to my foods because I feel best without added salt, but if you crave salt, use only a pinch of sea salt after the cooking process and see what happens.
Other things I have found:
If my gut becomes upset and I feel inflamed, I know I may have to cut back a bit on my fiber and fat intake to give my gut a break from digesting so much. Then I increase my intake of high-dose probiotics and extra digestive enzymes to help my body break things down and regain balance. Finally, I use natural herbal supplements for gut health if stress causes my gut to act up, and if things are really bad, I take L-Glutamine daily for gut healing and repair which also helps with blood sugar levels.
If I feel jittery and anxious, I make sure I’m getting enough magnesium, amino acids, omega-3 rich foods, and B vitamins which balance neurotransmitters in the body. I also make sure I’m not getting too much caffeine, although it doesn’t seem to bother me as much as dietary imbalances do. Still, I don’t rely on coffee to get me through the day after I have a couple of cups and I make sure that I get enough water each day. I also love tea to soothe the soul and nourish the mind and body.
If my joints ache and I feel tired, I make sure I get at least 8-9 hours of rest at night to heal and recover. And I will probably not exercise too hard that day and instead, I will go for a light walk and do some mild yoga and stretching. I also increase my intake of anti-inflammatory foods like ginger, turmeric, lemon, and apple cider vinegar which all help with pain and acidity.
Lastly, I have learned to change what I eat each season to eat foods in alignment with nature versus against it.
For instance, I don’t eat many heavily cooked foods during spring and summer. Instead, I gravitate towards lighter fare such as salads, lightly cooked soups, oat porridge, green and superfood smoothies, fruit, raw vegetables, small amounts of healthy fats (peanut butter, olives, coconut, raw almond butter, raw nuts and seeds, etc.), and more raw entrees along with steamed vegetables or the occasional roasted vegetable, legume and grain dish. In fall and winter, I eat heartier foods like stews, wild rice, roasted squash, cooked kale, veggie soup, etc.
The Bottom Line:
I no longer tell my body that I won’t give it what it needs or ignore what it is saying to me. This is one reason I’m always experimenting with various forms of eating when I hear my body’s needs for change. So for me, this what eating intuitively is. It’s not craving fast food and giving in or eating salads all day because you want to lose weight or think you have to. It’s listening to your body and adjusting what you eat to nourish it and help it instead of giving it a quick fix that leaves you feeling worse than before.
Broccoli and kale are healthy foods, but they aren’t the holy grail and there are days you aren’t going to want to eat them. Eat vegetables you like. Don’t overeat on them just because they’re low calorie. Give your body some balance. Listen to it. Nourish it, and tune into your intuition when it comes to eating.
Over time, I promise your body will learn to tell you what it needs and what it doesn’t. This is the number one thing I tell others, above all else. YOUR BODY is unique and it needs what it needs. Listen to it and honor it, please.
Remember that food, nutrients, and self-love are the most powerful weapons that we can ever give to our bodies. When you can start to tune out the noise of doing what society says is normal or just doing what you’ve always known because it’s comfortable, it’s then you can open your eyes up to new possibilities and learn to hear what your body is really saying to you.
With love and blessings,