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What Is Intuitive Eating and How It Can Help You Eat Right

young man with beard spreading guacamole on bread seated in kitchen

Have you heard of intuitive eating or are curious to try it? Intuitive eating is a mind-body approach to nutritional health. It is a way to increase awareness of when the mind and the body need to eat and when the mind and body are done eating. Intuitive eating enables you to respond to these needs in an instinctive, innate way.

The goal of intuitive eating is to eat when you feel hungry and to stop eating with when you feel satiety – the absence of hunger.

Research shows that intuitive eating, combined with a knowledge of healthy eating habits, has the greatest potential for long-term weight management. Those who practice intuitive eating report a greater ability to trust that their body and mind will guide eating.

People have also reported that intuitive eating, when combined with selecting healthy foods, can improve their ability to sustain energy between meals, increase their stamina and contentment and improve their ability to function as they move through their day.

Intuitive eating increases awareness of what the body and mind may be saying in terms of hunger, satiety, undereating and overeating. It is a process to identify what situations – or even eating patterns – that may result in inability to feel hunger and satiety.

It also may identify situations when you feel hunger, but you cannot respond to it or only respond in a limited way.

Interested? Here is more on intuitive eating from University Hospitals Clinical Nutrition Services.

Benefits of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating helps establish a mind-body connection to recognize and respond to hunger and to know when to stop eating.

It also reduces the likelihood that under-eating and over-eating occur due to increased awareness of physical and mental signs and symptoms.

  • Creates self-awareness of when and how stress can reduce the body’s ability to feel hunger and/or when and how stress can reduce the body’s ability to feel full.
  • Assists with identifying prolonged states of hunger and excessive, perpetual overeating.

How To Get Started With Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating starts with identifying early signs of hunger, which may occur four to five hours after eating a balanced meal. Early signs of hunger may include:

  • A drop in energy or the mind is not clear or is unfocused
  • Stomach may rumble or have sensations of emptiness

When you feel early signs of hunger, you are more likely to achieve satiety when you eat a meal.

Satiety may take some time at meals, so it is important to eat slowly and enjoy your food. It may take 20 minutes for your mind to feel better after you start to eat, so chew your food thoroughly and drink water during the meal.

You also can feel satiety more readily felt when you eat a balanced meal, so make sure meals are complete with protein, vegetable, grains or starch, and other nutritious foods. Here are the signs of satiety:

  • Early signs of hunger go away
  • Energy returns and the mind is clear and focused again
  • You feel physically nourished
  • Your stomach has stopped rumbling or you no longer feel sensations of emptiness

The Difference Between Feeling Full and Satiety

With intuitive eating, it’s important to know the difference between feeling full and satiety. Many people think of feeling full to describe the end of the meal, but this is different than satiety.

The primary differences between fullness and satiety are the physical and mental components of each.

Fullness is the physical signal your body sends when your stomach is physically full of food and reaching capacity.

Satiety is a feeling of contentment and overall nourishment that creates a sense of relief and gives you the ability to stop thinking about food and move on with your day.

To leave a meal without overeating or obsessing over the next, meals need to made up of foods that will satiate your stomach and your mind. With intuitive eating, leaving meals feeling satiated is the primary goal.

Why It’s Important To Respond To Early Hunger Signals

When you don’t feel early signs of hunger or feel them and ignore them, the result is more advanced signs of hunger, which increases the probability of overeating or eating undesirable foods at the next meal.

Stress and a busy work schedule can take our attention away from how we feel, including the ability to recognize, feel and respond to our body’s hunger signals.

Strive to not allow yourself to get too hungry. Late or advanced signs of hunger can include any or all of these:

  • A notable drop in energy, generalized weakness and/or fatigue
  • A growling or hollow-feeling stomach
  • Lightheadedness with or without a headache
  • Heightened senses such as an increased sense of smell and/or increased saliva
  • An intense feeling or drive to eat or sometimes intentional food avoidance as a means to feel better

When you feel late hunger, you cannot feel satiety and you may overeat. Remember to slow down when eating to help avoid overeating.

When you overeat, you feel:

  • Uncomfortably full, stuffed and/or sluggish
  • Fatigue or sleepiness and the need to take a nap

Check in with yourself throughout the day especially before and after meals. What is your body and mind feeling as it relates to intuitive eating?

Related Links

The registered dietitians at University Hospitals Clinical Nutrition Services can recommend specialized diet plans for patients with chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or diabetes, or for those who have other specific nutrition goals. Learn more about UH Clinical Nutrition Services.