The Intuitive Eating Post-it Notes are a behavioral tool that 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've 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. I like their 2017 Workbook even bettter than the 2012 3rd edition of the original book that started it all, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. The Workbook is more accessible and more up-to-date with the latest ideas on not eating for weight loss, but eating to fuel one's body well as a method of whole-self care.
To re-learn -- we all ate this way when we were kids -- to listen to your body cues, I have boiled down some of the main points 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 my Post-its 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 the new steps on auto-pilot and, thus, become your new eating habits.
Hunger and Fullness Gas Tank
In order to get in touch with your personal hunger and fullness cues, we are going to liken your body's need for fuel to your car's need for fuel. So we are using this gas tank graphic (to the left, on the top of the Post-it) to describe your stomach's feeling of hunger and fullness. These descriptions are what the numbers could mean when you try to assign a number to the way your stomach feels. These will be personal to everyone.
1. Ravenous - Your gas tank is empty! You need food right now, and 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 some fuel for your body to run.
3. Constant Hunger - Time to eat! This isn't always accompanied by stomach growls. You may notice this feeling when food is starting to look good. I tell people in my workshops, "If you feel like a piece of fish and broccoli look good, you know you are hungry for a meal."
4. First Signs of Hunger - Here your hunger comes and goes.
5. Not Hungry, not full - This is the state of resting when you don't need to be fed between meals and snacks.
6. Eating slowly (during a meal or snack) - While eating, this is the stage where your hunger is initially 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.
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 are 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 people 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 people I have worked with took a week to get a hunger signal reading! 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 will slow down. Being this hungry actually sabotages your eating intentions. When you get to level 1, 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 know to stop eating. Many people 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. People who have dieted forever 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're 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 enjoying it." If the answer is yes, you it would serve you well to have some bread to avoid that feeling.
- Free choice goal #2: Set aside the belief that there are good and bad foods
Judging a food as bad can cause people who are restricting to feel guilty when they eat that food. Feeling guilty around our eating behavior sets off an anxious panic that floods logical decision making. That's why feeling guilty is the first step toward launching straight into a binge.
Without judging food as good or bad, you may wonder how we are supposed to decide what to eat. That may have been how we've decided to eat for years, by avoiding bad food that had too many calories, carbs or too much sugar. With intuitive eating, we're making food choices based on our body's health and functioning as well as pleasure. We choose a food by noticing how our bodies react when eating certain foods:
- Garlic gives me bad breath (or gas, bloating, stomachache, headache)
- Eating salad without protein for lunch leaves me hungry mid-afternoon
- I love Graeter's ice cream; it tastes so creamy and makes me happy
- Eating french fries gives me indigestion
- My current eating habits make me feel tired, I'd like to see if more nutritious food gives me more energy
- Eating salad with chicken and dressing on the side so much at restaurants makes me feel deprived
Doing this analysis gives you all the education you need on food and you to make logical food choices. You know you feel better when you eat certain foods, and you will want to gravitate toward those to feel well. And, you know what gives you pleasure, so you make sure you enjoy those foods.
You will crave food that will physically and emotionally nourish your body, if you are listening.
EAT TREATS: Yup! You heard me right. Make sure you have pleasurable food in your day. What food do you really desire? Knowing your favorites and making sure you have them is the best way to fend off deprivation -- the kryptonite of any mindful eating intentions. When you enjoy your favorite foods, notice when you've had enough. When you aren't deprived of a food you love, you will be able to tell when your taste buds are satiated and you are done. Really.
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.
When you KNOW you are free to have anything you want to eat, your framework changes. What you WANT to eat changes.
NUTRITIONAL GUIDELINES and EATING INTENTIONS: There is so much information on eating today; with new food crazes coming out every month. It's your job to think critically about any advice you are given on food and nutrition to you to make sure it makes sense to you. You can decide that you want to include more vegetables and whole grains in your eating as a matter of striving for a healthy balance of foods and a healthy relationship with food. You do this as a part of whole-self care. How do you know when you have a healthy relationship with food or you are getting obsessed with food? This is what a healthy balance looks like:
- When your food choices do not elicit a sense of moral superiority or inferiority
- When you make no connection between your eating and the essence of who you are an a person
- When eating this way doesn't make you feel like you have control over your life
- When you take a non-anxious approach to receiving food messages and integrating them into your behavior
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 at the plate." Zoning out is a 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? Food and eating 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.
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 the 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.)
- “Could I be finished and walk away satisfied 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 (or more) than they have given you. This question re-trains you to key into your internal satiation cue and not be guided what outside, external factors dictate to you.
Was what I just ate actually what I wanted? What can I learn for next time?
People who binge often don’t learn eating lessons for next time. 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 -- most of the time, they are spiraling off, flooded in a guilty panic. 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 where my stomach felt overfilled and like lead. This time I will avoid that feeling and try to put some of the dough in a dish for enjoying during the baking process rather than picking at the batter mindlessly for a couple hours."
- “When I drink margaritas, I can lose my awareness around eating. I think I ate a whole tray of nacho chips mindlessly when we shared a pitcher of margaritas last night at Las Fuentes. I couldn't eat my dinner I was so full! I was disappointed because I love the shrimp fajitas at that Mexican restaurant. Next time I'll put a handful on a plate for me if we are enjoying a pitcher. That way I can save room for dinner that I really love, rather than taking up stomach space with food I really don't care as much about."
If you learn lessons about how to eat for you, you could hold on to the lesson next time you are in that situation.
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? Test NOT eating the donuts to see if it's just a habit or something that would make you feel deprived?
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.
- 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).
- Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch,Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food, 2017.