Intuitive is the ability to know or do something without any direct evidence or reasoning. Call it a “gut feeling”, a “sixth sense”, or instinct. The ability to think intuitively is part of what makes each of us unique.
Just like we all have different body shapes and sizes, we also may have different food preferences and biological hunger cues. This is one of the many reasons there is no “one size fits all” diet or meal plan. Being intuitive in relation to eating means listening to your body’s internal hunger cues and honoring these, regardless of perceived “acceptable” eating times or the last time you ate. It means choosing to eat chocolate over cauliflower, or vice versa, based on what feels and sounds right to you.
But how can you guarantee you won’t just eat chocolate all day, every day? Your body is super intelligent and will start craving foods with nutrients that it needs after you start listening and tuning in to those needs. When trying to lose, maintain, or even gain weight, it is common to choose foods based on those goals, regardless of preference or hunger levels. This may help to accomplish goals short-term, but the body cannot sustain this long-term, as you are essentially going against biology and your own unique needs.
Think of a baby or child. A baby cries for milk when it is hungry and drinks enough to feel full and satisfied. A child will ask for a snack when hungry and when given a choice, will choose watermelon over a cheese-stick based on their innate preference at the time. Babies and children do not feel guilty for being hungry at a certain time, or choosing a specific food over another. Why should you?
Each person has a “biologically appropriate weight” (BAW), and when you are listening to your body and eating in accordance with this, you can achieve this weight. The benefits of achieving your BAW include feeling well mentally and physically as you are fueling your body appropriately for your own specific needs. Some days you may eat more than your nutrition needs, some days you may eat less, but overall this will balance out in order to maintain your BAW.
Benefits of intuitive eating go beyond weight. Several studies have shown an increase in self-esteem, improved body image, and decrease in anxiety and depression, as well as improvements in several common health markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Intuition can also be used with exercise, which is just as important for maintaining or attaining good health. Perhaps you have listened to your body before and skipped a day of exercise when you were feeling too sore or exhausted - this is intuition and exactly what your body needs from you.
Once you learn to be intuitive with your eating and physical activity you can essentially put yourself on “auto-pilot”, without as much as a second thought. Give it a try this week: eat the moment (or as soon after) you start feeling hungry without trying to reason that “it’s too late” or “I just ate an hour ago”; Eat the french toast for breakfast because it sounds good and I guarantee you will be desiring eggs another day to balance out your needs. Learn to trust and honor your body; your body will thank you!
Schaefer JT & Magnuson AB. (2014). A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues. J Acad Nutr Diet; 114: 734-760.
Institute of Medicine (US) Subcommittee on Military Weight Management. Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 3, Factors That Influence Body Weight. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221834/