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Clinical Nutrition Services

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is a mind-body approach to nutritional health. It is a way to increase awareness of when the mind and the body needs to eat and when it is done eating and being able to respond to these needs in an intuitive way.

Research shows that the use of intuitive eating in combination with a knowledge of healthy eating habits has the greatest potential for long-term weight management. Individuals who practice intuitive eating report a greater ability to trust that the body and mind will guide eating. People have also reported when using intuitive eating while selecting healthy foods can improve the ability to sustain energy between meals, increased stamina and increased contentment, thereby improving functionality.

Benefits of Intuitive Eating:

  • Helps establish a mind-body connection to recognize and respond to hunger and satiety or when to stop eating
  • Reduces the likelihood that under-eating and over-eating occurs due to an 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 sated or full
  • Assists with identifying prolonged states of hunger and excessive, perpetual overeating

Implementing intuitive eating starts with identifying early signs of hunger, which may occur 4 to 5 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 early signs of hunger are felt, satiety is more likely to be achieved and recognized during a meal. Satiety may take some time at meals, so it is important to slow down when eating. It may take 20 minutes for the mind to feel better after eating, so chew food thoroughly and drink water during the meal. Satiety can be readily felt when also having a balanced meal, so make sure meals are complete with protein, vegetable, grains or starch, and other nutritious foods. Satiety may be felt as the following:

  • Early signs of hunger are not felt anymore
  • Energy is present and the mind is clear and focused again
  • Feelings of physical nourishment
  • The stomach has stopped rumbling or sensations of emptiness are no longer felt

Many individuals use fullness 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 provides you with the ability to stop thinking about food and move on with your day. In order to leave a meal without overeating or obsessing over the next, meals need to be comprised of foods that will satiate your stomach and your mind. With intuitive eating, leaving meals feeling satiated is the primary goal.

When early signs of hunger are not felt or if felt but not responded to, more advanced signs of hunger will result, increasing the probability of overeating at the next meal. Stress and a busy work schedule can certainly take our attention away from how we feel, including the ability to recognize, feel and respond to our body’s hunger signals. This can lead to overeating at the next meal or snack as cravings for undesirable foods can occur with less of an ability to portion foods. Strive to not allow the body to get too hungry. Late or advanced signs of hunger can include any or all of the following:

  • A notable drop in energy, generalized weakness and/or fatigue
  • Stomach may be growling or feel hollow
  • Lightheadedness with or without a headache
  • Sensory enhancement 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 late hunger is felt, satiety is not felt, and overeating may occur. Remember to slow down when eating to help avoid overeating. Overeating may result in one or both of the following:

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

The goal of intuitive eating is to eat when hungry and to stop eating with feeling satiety. Intuitive eating increases the 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 the inability to feel hunger and satiety. It may also identify when hunger is felt but responding to it is limited or does not occur. Check in with yourself throughout the day especially before and after meals, what is body and mind feeling as it relates to intuitive eating?

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