The Intuitive Eating Post-it Notes are a behavioral tool I created to teach you how to eat intuitively. People ate intuitively forever before our crazy diet culture. But in the last 50 years we have been given so much changing information on what to eat and how to eat, that we have become out of touch with our body signals. Today, Intuitive Eating is taught from a method by Eveyln Tribole and Elyse Resch.
To re-learn (we all ate this way when we were kids) to listen to your body cues, I have boiled down the essence of Intuitive Eating into 5 questions that you can ask yourself each time you eat. These questions help you re-wire your brain to eat what you want, when you want, by listening to your body signals, not by focusing on someone else's idea of what you should eat. By using the Post-its Notes you are re-training your brain by thinking while doing.
The Intuitive Eating Post-its Notes are designed to use one note for each meal or snack for about 30-60 days (This is how long it can take for a new habit to start running on auto-pilot. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habits, 2012). This is a relatively small investment of re-wiring time, given how long it took you to cultivate your current eating habits! We are training to have these new steps on auto-pilot and, thus, become your new eating habits.
Gas Tank Graphic
1. Ravenous - you need food now, you'll eat anything! Here is where you might be getting a headache or tired from lack of fuel.
2. Hangry - more than hungry, you are irritable, and are losing touch with what your body wants to eat because you just need something.
3. Constant Hunger - Time to eat! This isn't always accompanied by stomach growls. You could be wanting food because food is starting to look good. I like to say, "If you feel like a piece of fish and broccoli looks good, you know you are hungry." Cookies always look good, but when you are ready for a meal, then a meal looks good. You are able to be in touch with what your body want and needs.
4. First Signs of Hunger - Here your hunger comes and goes. It is fine to eat here, but if you wait till you are sure, you will know what you want more easily.
5. Not Hungry, not full - This is the state of resting you live at when you don't need to be fed. It is also a transitional state while you are eating before you get to full.
6. During a meal: eating slowly - While eating, this is the stage where your hunger is intially satiated and you start slowing down. You are not ready to put down that fork.
7. Well being: during a meal - You feel relaxed and satiated. You could put down the fork right now. Sometimes you get this feeling and you notice that you were hungry again in a couple hours. Here is where you might decide to wait till the next level to throw in the towel.
8. Comfortably full - You are at 2/3 or 3/4 full, like a gas tank. You have come to learn that this amount of food will keep me satiated until the next meal.
9. Eaten too much food - You may not have been paying attention to your body, and might have overfilled. You might notice this when you stand up.
10. Binge or Thanksgiving dinner - You've eaten till past full and are uncomfortable.
1. Am I Hungry?
The main goal of Intuitive Eating is to become aware of your body’s cues. You'll want to eat when you're hungry.
Physical hunger is your cue that your body has used up energy from the last time you ate and has moved on to getting energy from sugar in your blood. Many women who have spent years on diets can't feel their hunger signals accurately; these signals have been ignored when restricting food. By focusing on them, you can become familiar with the nuances of your hunger cues again.
To get in touch with your hunger, you'll want to rank the hunger you are feeling. Your task is to notice your physical hunger and assign it a number. Your aim is to eat at hunger levels 3-4 on the gas tank graphic on the post-it. You'll become better at reading your body’s signals the more you do this, and these numbers will take on personal meaning to you. Some women I have worked with took on average a week to get a hunger signal reading. It took three weeks for one woman in my workshop. (It may depend on how long and to what extent these signals have been ignored.) Sometimes hungry feels like a stomach growl, but other times it can be experienced as a headache, irritability or fatigue.
IMPORTANT TIP: You don't want to get to hunger level 1-2. Number 1 is a place called primal hunger, where your body thinks it may be experiencing a famine. Your metabolism can slow down. Being this hungry actually sabotages your eating intentions. When you get this hungry, you won’t be able to tell what you want to eat because everything looks so good. It is also difficult to sense fullness and satiation once you get to that level of distress. You need to be able to sense satiation to stop eating. Many women with eating disorders live in a state of primal hunger.
2. What do I want to eat?
As adults we make 200 food choices a day.” We want to choose foods that make our bodies feel physically well as part of caring for ourselves. There are nutritious foods that fuel our body well and allow us to have the energy to work our muscles and our brains. And there are play foods, that are fun and give us pleasure, but don’t necessarily help our bodies run.
- Free choice goal #1: There are no forbidden foods. It is very important that you know you are free to eat anything.
You must feel free to eat anything you want to avoid feeling deprivation. Women who have dieted for years have spent years believing they cannot eat certain foods. Often these foods are especially appealing like bread or dessert. Feelings of deprivation are behind all diet failure and all binging behavior. If you have lived in 'food prison' due to years of restricting food, it may be difficult to know when you are feeling deprived. You may have simply become used to a constant feeling of deprivation. Because these feelings often happen under the surface, you’ll need to ask yourself directly, "Will I feel deprived by forgoing bread, watching everyone else in the family enjoy it." If the answer is yes, you it would serve you well to have some bread and avoid deprivation.
- Free choice goal #2: Set aside the belief that there are good and bad foods
Judging a food as 'bad' can cause a woman who is restricting to feel guilty when she eats that food. We do not want to feel guilt around our eating behavior. It can set off panic which initiates that ugly twist in behavior -- the emotional tsunami -- that floods logical decision making. Feeling guilty is the first step toward throwing your eating intentions out the window or launching straight into a binge. We are trying to balance your emotional side -- what you desire to eat -- with your logical side -- the way you WANT to eat.
Without judging food as good or bad, you may wonder how to figure out what to eat! That may have been how you decided to eat for years, by avoiding bad food that had too many calories, carbs or too much sugar. With intuitive eating, we figure out how to eat by noticing how your body and mind react when eating certain foods:
- Garlic may give you bad breath
- Eating salmon and rice for dinner may make you feel nicely satiated
- Eating french fries might give you indigestion
- Eating 3 cookies a day might make it harder to fit into your pants
- Eating salad with chicken and dressing on the side’ every day may make you feel deprived
Doing this analysis gives you all the education you need on food and you to make logical food choices going forward. You know you feel better when you eat certain foods, and you will want to gravitate toward those to feel well.
EAT TREATS: Yup! You heard me right. Make sure you have pleasurable food in your day. It is great to consult with your emotional side to see what food you really desire. I recommend making sure you actually eat the foods you love. Knowing your favorites and making sure you have them in moderation is the best way to fend off deprivation -- the kryptonite of any mindful eating intentions.
FEAR OF FOOD: You might be afraid to be free with food because you are afraid you will gain weight. Many dieters believe if they are able to eat what they want, they will eat cookies for all meals and snacks forever. But, you won’t actually want cookies all day if they are not forbidden. There is no need to eat mass quantities when you can always have them later. If you still think you would eat mass quantities of cookies all day, actually visualize how you would feel after three meals of cookies all day. You would probably feel sick to your stomach.
You will crave food that will nourish your body, if you are listening.
When you KNOW you are free to have anything you want to eat, your framework changes. What you WANT to eat changes.
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR EATING: All choices in life have consequences, including food choices. The work of changing your eating habits requires taking responsibility for balancing your choices. When you go to see a dietitian or nutritionist, they take responsibility for your food choices and will give you a balance of foods that makes sense to their way of thinking (such as low calorie, low carb, no gluten). These well-intentioned helpers assume a logical thinking and logical food choice on your part in their advice to you. But, they often don't take your emotions involved in food restricting and your emotional eating into account to the extent it is happening in your life. I believe this is a large part of the reason that they have the same 5% success rate for losing weight and keeping it off as the whole diet industry.
Dietitians and nutritionists also may have their own obsessive beliefs around food:
. . . large numbers of people who make it their professional business to counsel Americans about weight and health remain either actively eating disordered, or prone to the same patterns of thinking that fuel such behaviors. In short, much of the advice Americans get about weight can be compared to getting advice about drinking from people who are alcoholics and don't know it. (Paul Campos, The Diet Myth, 2005, pg xxii).
GENERAL EATING: It's your job to think critically about any advice you are given to you to make sure it makes sense to YOU. This gives you the opportunity to decide what YOU WANT to eat at that moment, and with thought to how YOU WANT to eat in general. For example, you may decide that you want to include more vegetables and whole grains in your eating as a matter of better eating for self-care. So, those are general ideas that you apply to your choices. There's no guilt or obsession if this doesn't happen, but a sense of how you would like to have your eating habits be.
3. Am I enjoying, savoring, and tasting my food?
Eating mindfully is staying present in the moment you eat. We need to hold onto awareness while we are actually eating. The opposite of mindful eating is mindless eating or 'zoning out.' Zoning out is the hallmark of emotional eating. If you don’t know whether or not you eat emotionally, zoning out is your first clue –- are you in some kind of daze and not really registering that you’ve eaten and not really tasting your food?
Notice what you taste in the food. Is that cinnamon? How creamy is that frosting. Eating is designed to ensure the survival of the species by being a pleasurable experience:
. . . perhaps the greatest damage done by (diet culture) is how it poisons much of the joy that countless people would otherwise get from what may be our richest and most democratic sensual experience: the daily act of feeling ourselves and those we love. (Paul Campos, The Diet Myth, 2005, pg 251).
Are you on the computer or watching TV while you are eating? Turn off the electronics and enjoy your meal. Mealtime is the ideal time for social connection in your day. So enjoy every bite and focus on the whole experience of connecting with people and nourishing your body.
4. Am I satisfied?
If your stomach were a gas tank, how full should it be to signal you to put down the fork? You don’t want to be too full. But, you don’t want to be hungry again in an hour. Notice when you are at a 7 or 8 on that gas tank graphic. This may be the hardest part of the fundamentals if you have stopped listening to your body cues for many years. When we diet or restrict, we learn to eat based on external factors: half of the salad, 3/4 of the plate of food, when the food is gone, when I need to pick up my kids etc. You could have been ignoring your internal, full signals for the last 40 years!
Ask yourself, “Am I satisfied now?” Maybe get up from the table mid-meal. That helps me feel my body/stomach. Ask yourself, “Could I be finished and walk away happy at this point?”
Often diets have you focus on 'how much you get' of a certain food. On Weight Watchers, they might give you a cup or berries a half cup of rice for their point system. But, if you spent your mealtime noticing how your stomach feels rather than weighing the food or measuring the serving, you might actually realize you want less than they have given you. This question re-trains you to key into your internal satiation cue and not be guided by external ones.
Was what I just ate actually what I wanted? What can I learn for next time?
This is your learning tool for next time. Emotional eaters don’t learn lessons about eating to use for next time because when they have an eating lesson in front of them from an eating experience that didn’t go how they would have liked – like a cookie dough bonanza -- often they are spiraling off, flooded in a panic from an emotional storm, tornado or tsunami. In theory, if you detach from your guilt about what you ate and view a cookie bonanza as an opportunity to learn, what could you learn if you were not spending that time beating yourself up?
- “Next time when making cookie dough sounds like a good idea, I will keep in mind how regretful I felt after the last bonanza, and try to put some of the dough in a dish for enjoying during the baking process”
- “When I drink too much wine, I lose my awareness around eating. Next time I will not sit next to the nachos after 2 glasses of wine.”
- “When I go to Joy Yee’s I will put the food on my plate rather than eating off the shared serving plate.”
If you learn lessons about how to eat for you, you could hold on to the lesson next time you are in that situation. We are cultivating personal emotional eating intelligence which is understanding how your emotional life affects your eating behavior.
5. Not hungry? What's up?
The Post-its flag emotional eating by asking you to notice if you are not hungry and are reaching for food. This asks you to pause and figure out "what is going on?" Could you be using food for missing pleasure in your day? Could you be feeling "stressed, angry, lonely, bored, sad, tired or let down?" These are the big 7 emotions that send people to the fridge for comfort. Once you notice this going on, you can figure out what is happening inside you and process the emotions that were sending you distress signals. Could this just be a bad habit that you just do at that time of day because they bring donuts to your office everyday at 10am? Try NOT eating it to see if it's a problem, and if you can give it up it was just a matter of being mindful, and it wasn't tied to your emotions. If you are having trouble, go back and check the emotional checklist.
I hope these intuitive eating lessons will have you view yourself compassionately, as someone who never learned how to eat this way because you were never taught. People ate this way forever before our time. Unfortunately for our generation, at the time we were trying to learn how to eat to manage our bodies responsibly, this crazy culture exploded with a plethora of available food, a mentally unhealthy dieting culture, and a hyper-focus on women being thin. I think most women in our society have suffered with eating to some extent in today’s world. I think most women would benefit by getting intuitive eating on auto-pilot, so we can get on with living, doing the things that really matter in our lives.
- Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Body Respect, 2014.
- Paul Campos, The Diet Myth, 2005.
- Carolyn Costin, Your Dieting Daughter, 2013 (2nd edition).
- Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb, 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder Workbook, 2017.
- Renee Engeln, Beauty Sick, 2017.
- Leah Kelm,"They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment," The Nutrition Journal, 2005.).
- Traci Mann, Secrets from the Eating Lab, 2015.
- Traci Mann, "Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer," American Psychologist, 2008.
- Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, Beyond a Shadow of a Diet, 2014 (2nd edition).
- Susie Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue, 2006 (2nd edition).
- Rachel Simmons, Enough As She Is, 2018.
- Julia V. Taylor, The Body Image Workbook for Teens, 2014.
- Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, 2012 (3rd edition). I boil down some of the essence of this book to 8 steps in My Body, Myself Post-its.
- Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch,Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food, 2017.
Favorite Podcast: Cristy Harrison's FoodPscyhe.
Favorite Blogger: Isabel Foxen Duke, Stop Fighting Food. If you are interested, google Isabel on YouTube; she does lots of interviews with host of different podcasts.