When I’m not in strict contest prep, I like to have the freedom to eat intuitively & not need to live by a set of food scales.
I wanted to share with all of you some established principles of “intuitive eating” & also what “eating intuitively” is to me & the way I go about eating intuitively whilst not undoing all of the hard work I’ve done during months & years of contest prep.
What is “Intuitive Eating”?
The idea behind intuitive eating is making food choices based on the way they feel (“intuition”) without experiencing guilt or punishing themselves emotionally etc for their choices. The idea is that you honor your hunger, eat till you are full and enjoy the pleasure of eating without food & food choices being linked heavily to emotions. I feel like it is becoming less and less common to eat freely from emotional charge in our society, especially in the fitness industry & where body image issues are prevalent all over the world.
Some common princples of intuitive eating & my take on them…
1. Reject the Diet Mentality Ituitive Eating is about longevity, happiness & balance. It’s not about a quick fix weight loss diet & for this reason, it is about rejecting the mentality of always being on a diet. As a competitior who has “dieted” a lot over the years, it is really refreshing to just eat in a way that makes me feel happy, healthy & alive. This is just one reason I enjoy Intuitive Eating when I can.
2. Honor Your Hunger Intuitive eating is about eating when you are hungry & eating the types of foods that your body is craving. By honoring your hunger rather than trying to wait until a certain time to eat your meal (a very “bodybuiler” thing to do) you are less likely to overeat or binge which can happen if you get excessively hungry then have a moment of weakness (we are all human!). Conscious eating when you are hungry is much more likely to be kept in moderation than if you are excessively hungry & have just one moment of weakness.
3. Make Peace with Food Intuitive eating is empowering to me as it has allowed me to make amazing progress in my relationship with food. As someone who suffered an eating disorder for many years, it is empowering to be able to have a positive & “free” relationship with food. I will talk soon about some important “knowledge” factors that guide the way I eat intuitively & allow me to eat intuitively whilst still achieving my goals. The idea of intuitive eating really is about removing the dieters frame of mind that tells you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, which can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings &, often, bingeing when you finally “give-in” to the foods you’re “not allowed”.
4. Respect Your Fullness Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor We often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that you are present in & enjoying, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. For example, taking an evening to go out to eat somewhere nice with your significant other. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.
6. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your challenges and issues without using food. Emotional eating is definitely something I have suffered with in the past & it’s likely a big contributor to me developing an eating disorder in my late teenage years. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, frustration are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger & each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort them short term, distract from the emotions & even the cause of them but it won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.
7. Respect Your Body Accept who you are & stop comparing yourself to others. It is absolutely possible to transform your body through correct nutrition & exercise. There is a time & place for this, particularly as a competitor. As a lifestyle “athlete” or someone who want to look & feel confident, fit & strong, I think it is important to respect your body enough to eat when you are hungry, rest when you are tired & think of the longevity of your lifestyle. For me, when I am not super lean / close to stage condition it can be mentally challenging to adjust, but I know that there is so much benefit in respecting my body, so that I can always feel good about who I am, stage lean or not. It’s hard toreject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body all of the time – I have been there & done that for many years & it really is no way to live life.
8. Exercise–Feel the Difference Get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise or having to do exercise in order to lose weight. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, strong, empowered, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed to hit the gym or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s hard to find that motivating factor the second you wake up.
9. Honor Your Health Make food choices that honor your health (& tastebuds) while making you feel good, inside & out. You don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. This is one of themost important principles to me. It’s not about never eating any processed foods or never eating any sugar, it’s about eating things that make me feel good – mostly, that’s whole real foods, but the odd processed treat isn’t going to ruin everything! You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain excessive weight from one treat, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.
Intuitive Eating for Me…
First things first, before expecting too much of yourself when it comes to eating intuitively whilst still being able to achieve your goals, it’s important to appreciate the fact that
1) I’ve been on “prep” more often than not for the most part of 5 years &
2) I’m qualified in nutrition. This means that I have a lot of knowledge, & also personal experience with foods that work for me, being able to “guesstimate” portion sizes, knowing the macros by heart of foods I commonly eat, & a very ingrained “lifestyle” around eating (& of course, exercise).
I want to summarise the way I eat intuitively & the principles I use to make it easier/more enjoyable to eat with less “stress” around food when I am not on strict contest prep.
Intuitive eating to me, means eating what I want, when I want, but not doing so recklessly or without regard to the goals I’m trying to achieve at that time.
In no particular order of importance, these are the things I personally apply when eating intuitively:
1. EATING CLEAN
I primarily eat clean, whole foods. Eating foods closest to their natural state is obviously beneficial for your health. So too, real foods typically aren’t full of empty calories like processed foods can be. I have knowledge of which whole foods are more calorie dense, so I can be mindful of that when eating those. This allows me to eat nutritious foods whilst not derailingmy goals.
As I mentioned above, I’ve been “dieting” for bikini contests for majority of the last 5 years, so even when eating intuitively/without “restriction” my typical day isn’t totally dissimilar to when I’m on prep. I have common “breakfast” meals I love, like oatmeal with a scoop of my favourite Gaspari Nutrition Protein Powder mixed in. This is something I eat year round & I love it. Intuitive eating to me is often having a lot of the same foods I would eat on prep but more flexibility in adding ingredients for taste & texture etc. For example, having a salad with grilled chicken & fresh greens, but adding in some nuts or fruit, which may not be “allowed” in my diet on strict prep.
3. BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF NUTRITION
It’s very helpful when eating intuitively to have a basic understanding of nutrition — what types of nutrients are different foods made up of (macros) & how they interact in our body/their role in our bodies.
Some points on that: – Some foods are made of predominantly one macro group & others are made of more than one – For example, rice is primarily a carbohydrate, it doesn’t contain significant protein or fats. Compare that to chicpeas which contain carbohydrates but also a reasonable amount of protein. A totally different food group, almond butter, is primarily a source ofdietary fats (& mostly the “good” unsaturated kind) but also contains carbohydrates & protein.
– Some foods are digested more rapidly than others so have a different interaction with our body (& hunger) when we eat them. For example, fruit is primarily carbohydrate (sugars in the form of fructose more specifically), fruit is the type of carb digested quickly (a “fast carb”) which can cause your blood sugar to spike then crash leaving you hungry soon after eating fruit. Sweet potato, on the other hand, is a complex form of carbohydrate that is digested more slowly & is likely to keep you full for longer.
– Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred energy source so the more active you are & the more carbs your body will utilise. Also, if you’re trying to build muscle, this is most effective with adequate carbohydrate intake. When carbs come in they are utilised by your body in the form of glucose. Because they’re readily available for use, what is not used will be stored in different ways (unfortunately one of the ways excess fuel is often stored is as fat).
– Our body can use both protein & fats as a fuel source but it is a less efficient system than use of carbs. The Ketogenic diet shows us how the body can utilise dietary fats as fuel through the process of ketosis. For this to work, virtually zero carbs can be present — this is required to force the body to be fuelled by ketones. Protein can be converted to glucose for use as fuel by a process called gluconeogenesis. It’s taxing on the body to make this conversion & therefore unless you have high performance goals it makes sense (in my opinion) for most “normal” people to use carbohydrates as a preferred fuel source.
– Different macronutrients have a different caloric footprint — carbohydrates & protein sources contain 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate (not the physical weight of the food but the amount of carbohydrate content in that food). Fats on the other hand contain 9 calories per gram of dietary fat. This means that fats have double the calories of carbohydrates & protein — I like to refer to them as a “calorie dense” food which although having many benefits, can make you go overboard on calories quickly if you’re not careful.
– Alcohol is its own macro group containing 7 calories per gram. Alcohol isn’t going to make you gain body fat because it’s “high calorie” — although mixed drinks/cocktails/RTD’s typically have a tonne of sugar (carbs) in them — where alcohol trips people up is the fact that it is essentially a toxin to our body & when consumed, your body practically halts digestion of other macros to process & eliminate the alcohol. So the main problem isn’t the alcohol, but the fact that whatever food you eat when drinking (which commonly isn’t the best food choices), is more likely to be stored rather than utilised.
– With all this in mind, I typically eat a lower fat, moderate protein & moderate carb diet when eating intuitively as well as on “prep” (till much closer to a show). Please keep in mind though that everybody is different & I do recommend working with a nutrition coach to develop an understanding of how to fuel your body to best achieve your goals & to learn what type of diet works best for you.
4. CALORIES IN/OUT
If you have high performance goals it becomes more important WHAT you are eating — I.e. Having adequate carbohydrates to perform in your training/sport. When I am on contest prep I manipulate my macros to achieve a certain goal — like, lowering carbs to “dry out”/“deplete” for example but when I am not working toward a show one of the main principles I apply to eating intuitively is calories in/out. The main thing I’m doing when eating intuitively is being conscious of calories in versus calories out. I am not counting anything strictly or precisely but have the knowledge to know the range I’m eating in. On a day where I need more energy (say, leg day!) I will allow more calories. On a day where I don’t need as much energy (say, rest day!) I will be mindful not to eat am overboard amount of calories.
5. LEARNING YOUR BODY
Over the years of preparation for shows I’ve learnt how my body typically responds to different macronutrients — for example, when trying to lean out, this happens much easier for me when dieting low fat & moderate carbs & protein. As I stated above, when eating intuitively I predominately eat many of the same foods I would eat on prep with adding things to make a meal more fancy/tasty — for example, adding hummus to a salad & not being worried about the extra calories.
Intuitive Eating generally speaking is an approach to eating that is developed & “popularised” to help people heal from the mental, physical & emotional side effects of chronic dieting. People who repeatedly diet often experience a “diet backlash” – increased rigidity regarding good and bad foods, restriction which can lead to a tendency to binge eat, reduced trust on themselves with food. All of these things can lead to very unhealthy relationships with food, & not uncommonly, eating disorders.
As someone with a history of an eating disorder it is a great mental break & also empowering feeling to eat intuitively & be happy doing so. I am going to share in an upcoming YouTube episode, a typical day of intuitive eating for me right now. Keep an eye on my current series ‘The Scenic Route” for a day on my plate & a little more on why I am enjoying eating intuitively.
If you have questions about anything in this article or would like to work with someone to learn more about foods & how they work for you, your body & your goals, please email me & I would love to chat to you or even coach you toward being comfortable to eat more intuitively.
Still got questions? Submit them below (anonomously) and I will try my best to answer them in upcoming content xx
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