I hear from a lot of people who want to transition toward intuitive eating, but they are terrified of how much they will eat without diet rules and restrictions dictating which foods they can have, as well as the portion sizes. I thought it would be helpful to address intuitive eating and “portion control”, and how the two can go together in a non-diet way.
portion control vs. eating to fullness?
I don’t love the phrase “portion control”. It has somewhat of a negative connotation to it, don’t you think? Whenever I work with clients and they tell me, “I need to work on portion control”, there is usually a bit of shame associated with it.
What they usually mean deep down is that they need to work on recognizing (and actually honoring) their hunger and fullness cues, as well as respecting their body by eating consistent meals made up of foods that both nourish and satisfy them. Does that sound familiar?
I recently shared a condensed version of the following tips in an Instagram caption, but it seemed to really resonate with people, so I wanted to leave them here for you to refer back to, and expand upon each one a little bit.
what is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to health that involves ditching diets and external factors (such as tracking calories/macros, weight, etc.) to guide your eating choices, and instead relying on your own internal wisdom. The wisdom we were born with!
It’s an evidence-based approach that was created by two Registered Dietitians in 1995 and consists of 10 principles. These are NOT food rules, and they are not necessarily “steps” that have to go in order (although rejecting the diet mentality must come first, and nutrition must come last), but they can help guide you as you learn to apply this way of thinking to your own life.
Leaving diet culture behind and beginning to eat intuitively can be a long journey — and a tough one at that. But if you’re tired of fighting your body, going on and off of every fad diet, and constantly looking to the scale for validation, you may be ready to transition to this way of eating.
To read more about how I got started with intuitive eating and how much it has changed my life for the better, head to this post.
What are the 10 principles of intuitive eating?
The 10 principles of intuitive eating are as follows:
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Respect your fullness
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Honor your feelings without using food
- Respect your body
- Exercise — feel the difference
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition
To learn more about each individual principle, click here.
INTUITIVE EATING AND PORTION CONTROL: MY TIPS
Here are my tips for eating appropriate portion sizes (for YOU) while eating intuitively – without dieting rules, restrictions or judgement.
EAT CONSISTENTLY: DON’T SKIP MEALS
I never realized how “normal” it was for people to skip meals until I became a dietitian and started talking with individuals about their eating patterns.
I get it. Some meals are hard to make happen – IF you don’t plan ahead. Let’s be real; who has time to actually cook breakfast in the morning? Definitely not me, and I don’t even have children yet. (Do fur babies count?) I have learned that if you leave anything to be done in the AM before work, including cooking breakfast and/or packing your lunch, it ain’t gonna happen.
The solution? PLAN. AHEAD. Prep something on the weekend to grab & go for breakfast during the week, whether that is overnight oats and hard boiled eggs, healthy carrot pumpkin muffins, blueberry pecan oatmeal bake, Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts, or even a banana with almond butter! The possibilities are endless, and it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.
Now lunch. I understand that work gets busy and we all have meetings and deadlines to meet. But guess what? Your body and brain need fuel to help you get all of that important work done. Eating at your desk while you work may not be ideal, but it’s reality for a lot of us, and it’s better than completely skipping your mid-day meal.
Make it a priority to get up from your desk and make lunch happen. Block off a 20-30 minute slot on your calendar or set a reminder if that’s what it takes.
You’re much more likely to capitalize on the treats in the break room or mindlessly munch on everything in your pantry when you get home if you haven’t eaten a substantial meal all day while you were at work.
Don’t get me wrong — you are allowed to grab a treat when it sounds good and it’s truly what you want, but doing this every day or multiple times a day may not support your health goals or make you feel as good as eating balanced meals. Which brings me to my next point.
EAT BALANCED, SATISFYING MEALS
Eat satisfying meals that are balanced. What does that mean?
Try to include some fiber-rich carbohydrates (fruits, veggies and/or whole grains), protein and healthy fats. Each food group has unique nutrients to offer, but you’ll also feel more satisfied if you include all of them. Protein & fat especially promote satiety — AKA, keep you feeling full longer, which is usually the goal. Same with high fiber carbohydrates, especially compared to their refined counterparts.
If you’re trying to avoid all carbs or eat super low calorie, chances are you’re not going to feel satisfied, or feel full for very long. Of course, everyone’s needs are different, but this is the case for most people.
In addition, not every meal will be perfectly balanced and that’s okay. Again, this isn’t another food rule, but rather a guide to help you get a variety of nutrients and feel satisfied after meals, rather than hungry immediately after!
severely restricting your intake isn’t the answer
I promise you — it is possible to eat a variety of foods you enjoy. Some may be good for the body, while others are good for the soul (hi, brownies).
It is possible to live your life and not count every single calorie. Severely restricting your intake isn’t the answer. It will just slow your metabolism, and more than anything, make you hangry, and no one wants to be around that person, or BE that person.
If for some reason you just can’t make actual meals happen consistently, keep healthy snacks on deck. This could be mixed nuts, unsweetened dried fruit, Greek yogurt with berries, string cheese, whole grain crackers, hummus & baby carrots, fruit, nut butter — again, the possibilities are endless. Fuel. Your. Body!!!
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO EAT FOODS YOU LOVE
You mean I can have my cake and eat my mac & cheese, too? YUP.
You’re allowed to have foods you love on a regular basis — not just special occasions or weekends. That strategy usually backfires. When you restrict a certain food for a really long time, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll feel out of control the next time you’re around it.
I see this a lot with clients. People “eat clean” Monday through Friday afternoon, but the weekends are a total free-for-all. This massive swing from one extreme to the next isn’t doing anyone any favors.
When you’re not restricting, and you’re eating foods that are actually satisfying to you, you don’t feel the need to “cheat”. You have nothing to cheat on! Only giving yourself 1-2 “cheat meals” a week is a diet rule. If you want to break free from rules and the diet mentality, quit labeling foods as good and bad, or as a cheat. Food is food. No judgement or shame needed.
Will I Only Want Pizza For The Rest Of My Life?
When you first give yourself permission to eat all foods at any time it can feel really scary. You might feel like you’ll only want to eat pizza or cupcakes for the rest of your life, but trust me — you won’t. If at first you binge on these foods, it won’t last forever. That is, if you continue to work hard to make peace with food and your body.
The process of ditching diets and embracing intuitive eating (and body kindness) is a journey and doesn’t happen overnight. Every eating occasion is an opportunity to learn more about your hunger & fullness cues, your likes and dislikes, how certain foods make you feel, etc. Instead of feeling guilty or judging yourself for something you ate, try to sit back, reflect and ask yourself what you’d like to do differently (or the same) next time, and why.
When you have unconditional permission to eat & enjoy all foods at any time, you’re a lot less likely to binge on those items that were once “forbidden” or “off limits”. You may be surprised to find that you’ll get to the point where some days you can easily pass on dessert, or forget about the ice cream in the garage freezer. Your body’s cravings will shift and change — it’s all part of the process.
SLOW DOWN AND TUNE IN WHILE YOU’RE EATING
This is one of the biggest problems today when it comes to the way we eat. There are SO MANY DISTRACTIONS. We live in a busy world. We are constantly rushing from one thing to the next.
Do you ever eat meals (or snacks/treats) while you’re scrolling on your phone, or sending emails, or watching a show on Netflix? I’m going to go ahead and assume everyone is nodding their head. We all do it. That’s just life!
But did you know it’s easy AF to overeat when you’re multi-tasking? All of a sudden all your food is gone and before you know it you have a stomach ache because you’re uncomfortably full.
As previously mentioned, every eating occasion is a learning experience. Especially if you’re working on ditching diet rules, try to be more present while you eat.
Pay attention to how much food it takes to fill you up and what kinds of foods satisfy you. If you’ve been dieting for a long time, you may have a hard time recognizing feelings of hunger and fullness. Be patient, and continue to tune in, and with time and consistently fueling your body, this will come.
How do you feel after you eat? You could even keep a journal if this would help you during the process. Keep in mind that your hunger levels may vary from day to day or week to week — that is okay. Our needs change for a variety of reasons. Don’t panic if you’re much hungrier one day than the previous day.
Again, we are busy people, and you don’t have time to eat every meal leisurely while you take notes on the smells and tastes, etc., etc. While you’re practicing, maybe choose one meal a day to really try to be present and pay attention to what you notice during that one meal. It will get easier to start recognizing and honoring your body’s needs and wants. Patience is key.
GIVE YOURSELF GRACE
Last and definitely not least, give yourself grace.
It’s inevitable that you’ll overeat sometimes, or that you’ll eat foods that make you feel “blah”. Intuitive eating doesn’t mean these things go away and you become a *perfect eater*.
You’re still human. Hopefully, you’ll be able to overeat less often (because no one likes that feeling, and it may not help you reach your health goals), honor your body more, and be able to just move on when you eat less healthy foods, rather than dwelling on it, feeling guilty and restarting the vicious restrict/binge cycle.
Please keep all of these tips in mind throughout the holiday season, but also, all year round. You deserve to eat. Your body needs fuel. Dieting sucks. You were made to do more. You can’t live a full life on an empty stomach!!!
I hope the advice and information provided in this article today will help you in your journey toward intuitive eating, body kindness and ditching diets for good. Please remember that none of this happens overnight. Start implementing a few of these strategies today and in a few months or a year from now, I think you’ll be happy you did!
Please drop any questions or comments below – I’d love to hear from you on this topic!