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How to Become an Intuitive Eater

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How to Become an Intuitive Eater

As obsessed as we are with food and diets, you’d think we’d be thin and healthy by now. So why are we Americans still universally less-than-fit and soft around the middle?

The fact is, diet tips, rules and tricks won’t work if we’re ignoring the mental and emotional side of eating. Why do we still overeat—or eat the wrong things? Most of the time, when we’re craving cookies, we’re really hungry for love, sex, friendship, peace, a sense of purpose and meaning. And when you’re gripped by that kind of hunger, all the tips and tricks in the world won’t save you.

Next time you’re ready to embark on the next fix-me-fast diet, try something different: instead of focusing on the food, tune in to address the emotions that make you stray. Here’s how to start:

1. Feel your hunger. After a lifetime of denying our hunger, it’s hard to tell when we really need food. But we’re all born with the capability to eat when were hungry and stop when we’re full. As children, we eat in response to our bodies’ hunger signals. As adults, we eat in response to the clock, the latest magazine article, or our uncomfortable feelings.

Get back in touch with your body’s signals by carrying a small notepad and charting your hunger before you eat, rating it on a scale of 1 (starving) to 10 (uncomfortably full). If you do this day after day, feeling your body’s cues will soon come naturally. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you start eating in response to your body—a rumbling in your belly, a slight lessening in your ability to concentrate—instead of your thoughts or emotions.

2. Stop counting. That means calories, fat, carbs, grams, portions—whatever number you use that keeps you out of your body and in your head. When you count, measure, weigh or calculate your food, you’re eating according to your intellect rather than your body’s cues. For a life-long food counter, the prospect of free-for-all noshing can be scary. Start small: eat one meal a day without counting anything. After several days, eat two meals without counting. Continue at your own pace until you’ve stopped counting your food—and start eating in response to your body, not the numbers in your head.

3. Examine your cravings. When you’re feeling the urge to eat, what are you really hungry for? If you’re craving chips, does your jaw want to chew and crunch, to relieve stress and tension? Does the noise the chips make drown out the racket in your head? When you’re aching for ice cream, maybe the soft, creamy texture makes you feel nurtured, or fills up some empty spaces. Once you have a better idea of what you’re really craving, you’re better equipped to make a conscious choice. Maybe you massage your jaw, minimize sources of stress, visit a friend who makes you feel nurtured. Or maybe you have a scoop of ice cream—but you do it as a conscious decision.

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Lisa Turner

Lisa is a chef and nutritionist with more than 30 years of professional experience and formal training in food, nutrition and product development. She’s written five books on food and nutrition and is the creator of The Healthy Gourmet iPhone app, and has been a featured blogger for many national sites, including Huffington Post and Whole Foods Market. Lisa is a faculty instructor at Bauman College of Culinary Arts and also teaches food and nutrition classes and workshops to individuals and corporations. She's a black belt in Ninjutsu, an active volunteer in the Boulder Valley school lunch system, and an avid wild food forager.

143 comments

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8:47AM PDT on Jul 1, 2014

Interesting thoughts, especially the bit about putting everything you eat on a plate, even snacks. It's easy to forget the things you graze on whilst standing in front of an open fridge. (It would probably help if I weren't eating chocolates whilst reading this article.)

1:36AM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

Excelent article!

11:03AM PDT on May 3, 2011

Thank you a lot for this article. I have quite a problem with my eating habits, there's very often stress underneath my hunger and it's very hard to help and overcome it, because I don't know a different way to deal with it. I upsets me.

10:53AM PDT on May 2, 2011

Excellent article and advice. Now, where's my notebook?

10:08PM PDT on May 1, 2011

now that was fabulous info! finally something that "speaks" to me and my fat body, YAY!

also, you did not chop up the article into wee bits and pieces so i could go back and forth and didn't have to spend an hour extracting it from the clutches of my dial up dis-service.

you're the woman!!!

3:18AM PST on Jan 11, 2011

Interresting information,

4:30PM PST on Dec 28, 2010

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. To Anthony P: so when you crave chocolate, you know it's the chocolate you're craving. That's great. Eat it, in small quantities, with great awareness of eating it (which it sounds like you already do...) But for some people, that examination gets really interesting. They crave a cookie, but for them, eating cookies causes emotional distress, physical discomfort, and so forth. So they stop and ask: am I really hungry for a cookie?

Sometimes, even often, the answer is no. And when it is, going underneath the craving can be richly rewarding, in terms of discovering other needs, desires or craving. It's a deep practice, and you have to be up to it, but it's pretty cool when it happens...

3:08PM PST on Dec 28, 2010

I'm going to give this a try, thanks!

3:46PM PDT on Sep 13, 2010

Good advice. People would be surprised, I think, to find out the difference in following some of these simple guidelines can make in their lives.

2:40AM PDT on Sep 13, 2010

You are really nice and that is why you have provided so nice, effective and useful information over here. I will definitely utilize the information that you have shared over here and I am sure that other people will also like to utilize this information as it is so effective.
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