What is the Practice of Intuitive Eating?

“Intuitive Eating” is simply the innate gift: knowing of what, when and how much to eat for one’s individual nutritional needs. We are all born with this inner knowing. Several nutrition studies have demonstrated that when children are allowed to choose their food, they will choose a “balanced diet”–defined as nutritionally adequate for growth and health–over time, not necessarily in every meal or even in a day, but averaged out over several days to a couple of weeks. Children instinctively self-regulate their food intake (intuitive eating).  Children are adept at this skill when given choice from a variety of foods, access to foods when they first become hungry and allowed to eat to satisfaction with little distraction (TV, other media or playing during meals/snacks).  Children are also good at intuitive eating because they live in the present time; they do not factor in their head what they ate yesterday or what they will eat later; they are only focused on eating when they are hungry, what they want to eat now, and the amount of food to satisfy their hunger for this moment.

Why do some people have difficulty practicing intuitive eating?

Reliance on external information–from others, television/media, books, magazines, etc.– limits our ability to hear the nutritional guidance from within, as children or adults. If there is over-involvement and over-control of children’s eating, this external control diminishes the child’s ability to trust their inner guidance.  Parents who don’t trust their own bodies, find it difficult to trust that their children can instinctively trust theirs.   Many parents believe that children would eat only sweets or “junk” food if given the opportunity.  However, studies have shown that this behavior is a direct result of limiting children’s access to and judging these foods as bad, only to offer them on “special” occasions in limited amounts.  Children get mixed messages and become confused about knowing how to choose foods that feel good, as well as taste good.  Growing up with “Don’t eat that now, it will spoil your appetite”, or “Don’t eat that it is bad for you”, or “If you eat everything on your plate, then you can have the treat”, or “If you finish your chores/do your homework/get an A on your test, then you can have some candy”–all defeat intuitive eating to the degree used.

Intuitive Eating helps people restore their natural ability to choose the “right” foods at the “right” times in the “right” amounts, for them. Unfortunately, most of us did not grow up in an environment that supported intuitive eating beyond infancy, so it is understandable why so many of us have forgotten, and believe in the illusion that our bodies’ signals should be ignored and our eating “controlled”. Many of us have had a long history of dieting and body hatred. Nothing seems to work for very long in changing our eating or attaining the body that we want.  Judging ourselves and relying on outside information to tell us what we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, defeats our intuition to the point that we no longer hear it, and we may find ourselves struggling with more serious eating and weight issues or health problems.

Is intuitive eating more than “eat when you are hungry, and stop when full”?

Yes, if this is the advice being given to help people with their eating and weight issues, it is way too simplistic and does not offer the TRAINING to make this a reality.  What if a person can’t feel their initial hunger or feel their satisfied hunger levels?  This is the case for millions of people suffering from eating disorders or compulsive eating issues.  Ideally, all individuals can learn to restore self-regulation of their eating to attain a balance in their eating patterns and nutrition for their own unique needs.

Most people report great success with intuitive eating and the innovative “Energetics of Eating” approach, and find that they feel free around food, eat what they want without deprivation, eat consciously and “healthfully” by listening to and acting on their body’s needs for certain foods and appropriate amounts, attain and maintain their “natural” weight, and feel vital, finding joy and acceptance in their body. And most of all, people report feeling a sense of peace and renewal–an enormous amount of mental, physical and psychic energy can be freed from food and weight obsession.

How do I learn intuitive eating?

First, you have to slow down, be in present time, and be able to bring your attention and awareness to your body, letting your mind rest and forgetting for the moment about all the knowledge that you may have accumulated about nutrition.  Pay attention and notice when you want to eat: are you feeling sensations in your stomach of hunger, or perhaps it is higher up in the body-the chest (anxiety) or in the mouth (taste and feel of food can be symbolic messages)? To better discern physical hunger, many people find it helpful to use a rating scale of 0-10 (where 0 is empty stomach-no food, intense physical hunger; where 5 is neutral; and where 10 is totally full-couldn’t possibly eat another bite). Below a 5 is physical hunger. Above a 5 is symbolic hunger and represents a level of fullness. Children and other attuned intuitive eaters, tend to eat at a 3 – 4 and stop at 6 – 7. They typically need to eat more frequently, because they eat only the amount that they are hungry for at that moment.

A common trap many unconscious eaters experience, is avoiding eating until their hunger reaches a 2 or below, and then eating to an 8 or above. Starve and stuff. This is not the best way to take care of ourselves or to meet our nutritional needs. When hunger gets too intense, the body regresses to survival. We lose our nutritional intuition because at this point the body is focused on only calories. Noticing the more subtle cues of physical hunger, around 3 – 4, gives us the best opportunity of meeting our nutritional needs. Eating at this time and stopping when just satisfied (6 -7), not overly full, can eliminate overeating. How will I know if I am making the “right” food choices?

Most of us can relate to what it feels like after we eat too much or we eat something that doesn’t sit well with us. How would your food choices be different if you were able to get that sensation before you ate?

The second step involves checking in with your body to guide you to what and how much to eat. After attuning to your hunger level, ask yourself, “If I could have anything at all to eat right now, what would it be?” Simply imagine the food in a certain amount that you want to eat, as if you have already eaten it. How does that food in that amount, FEEL in your body? Just right? Too much? Not enough? The goal is to have the food and amount feel perfect in the body: not too full, but feeling energized and nourished. This technique is called “internal portion control”. By accessing the benefits (or realizing the consequences) of your food choices, you can eliminate overeating by feeling the sensations beforehand. All you have to do is listen and trust the information. There is much more to intuitive eating than eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are satisfied. Intuitive eating requires accessing the body’s wisdom, and to do that well, one has to be able to “be” in the body, not in the head (where “should’s and shouldn’ts live. How does intuitive eating help me when I am not physically hungry, but I want to eat?

Every time you experience symbolic hunger, you have an opportunity to decode your food cravings, find their meaning, and discover what truly nourishes you. If while learning this process, you need to eat even though you are not hungry, following the above techniques will help you to eat less and enjoy it more. In the personal consultations, great insights are usually realized, which inspires a positive attitude toward food cravings as a vehicle for lasting change and begins the process of eliminating disordered eating behaviors. Are their other techniques that I can do to heighten my intuitive abilities?

Present Time Practice is helpful, as you notice where your attention is focused when you become quiet. Intuition only comes through in the present time. Creating health only happens in the present time. And present time practice helps us to move our attention from our head, and into our heart, when intuition comes through, in the body.

Another very simple way to achieve this is to eat with your non-dominant hand. This technique not only mechanically slows you down, it inherently puts you more in touch with your intuition by making more of a “right-brain” connection-the creative, intuitive, feeling, connection to the body. Eating with the non-dominant hand is a way of practicing “mindful eating”, keeping you in present time, more intuitive, and helps you to eat just the right amount of food with reverence, enjoyment and relaxation.

Is there more help to train someone in intuitive eating?

Yes, personal consultation sessions are individualized and include assessment, education, experiential techniques, guided imagery and a myriad of methods to heighten your intuitive abilities designed can dramatically improve not only your eating and body image, but also can be extrapolated into other areas of your life. Learning intuitive eating is a process of self-discovery–your physical hunger and nutritional cravings; the source of your symbolic hunger and cravings and how to nourish those aspects of yourself without using food; trusting and accepting your body for all that it does for you, and putting your focus on who you want to be, what you want to do and what you want to have in your life—this purpose replaces the eating and weight obsession behaviors, allowing you to naturally attain your best health.

What People Are Saying about personal consultations, classes or workshops

This work had lasting effects of helping me to think about and be conscious of my food intake at all times, just as I had hoped. I loved the visualization, eating from the neck down, and the blessing of food. Practicing self (and body) acceptance has changed my life! I would love to have tapes of the sessions! Barbara is a knowledgeable and sincere counselor and presenter. I felt very comfortable in her presence. I am recommending these sessions to many people! —V.B., Sonoma, CA

I feel much growth in the area of a new connection felt between food, body, desires, and feelings. The meditations were great! —T.R., Santa Rosa, CA

I am so much more willing to take better care of myself and have a greater love for myself as a result of this work. Barbara was wonderful. She brought so many new ideas and great guided visualizations. Wonderful experience! –J.W., Penngrove, CA

The guided meditations and the comprehensive notebook of materials were very helpful in creating sustained changes. This class gave me useful practices for mindful practice. Barbara was knowledgeable, she acknowledged all input, and was very encouraging and supportive. Thank you! Thank you! –R.B., Santa Rosa, CA

Barbara was effective, powerful, knowledgeable, inspiring, down to earth, classy and beautiful. What I got the most from this experience was an inner awareness and tools for living and living well! Barbara’s personal story was touching, and her materials were very useful. –T.C., Santa Rosa, CA

This workshop not only had good ideas, they are useful! The visualizations made the concepts personal and involved my own thinking so I could internalize the process. I realized that the answers truly are within. This was one of the best classes I have ever attended (and I have been in lots!) Thank you!” –J.W., Santa Rosa

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