What does it mean to eat without giving your diet a name? It’s called intuitive eating.
Everyone’s body needs something different. While some thrive on a raw vegan diet and others do well with a macrobiotic skew, your body might be happiest with lots of variety from all of the food groups. Incorporating a wide range of nourishing foods—including gluten, animal proteins and dairy—can be beneficial, and we sat down with Brooke Schantz, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and CEO/founder of Bitchin’ Nutrition, to get the scoop on what has a place in a no restrictions lifestyle.
Below, she shares her tips on how to balance an open-minded foodstyle and how to get the most for your body out of all the options at your fingertips (and fork tips).
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is where you pay attention to your cravings and hunger cues, without following a specific diet or restricting yourself in anyway. This doesn’t mean that you eat unhealthily all of the time, but rather that you are in tune with your body. You don’t need to restrict yourself to practice a healthy lifestyle.
How to start eating intuitively
Opening your mind to the many possibilities of what to put on your plate is a great place to start. A great template for breakfast is one serving of lean protein or dairy, one serving of fruit and one serving of carbohydrate, preferably one that is high in fiber.
Lunch and dinner look similar: Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, one quarter with a lean, high-quality protein and the other quarter with carbohydrates like fruit, starchy or semi-starchy veggies like corn, sweet potatoes or peas, or a whole grain.
If you’re having trouble starting a new healthy eating plan, simply filling half of your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner is a great way to begin. The high concentration of vitamins, minerals and fiber will help keep you feeling full for longer. The more space these take up in your stomach the less likely you will be to overeat.
Who benefits from eating intuitively?
Everyone can benefit from eating intuitively. This lifestyle can be beneficial for a wide range of individuals, from pregnant and postpartum women, to people tackling chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, celiac disease and PCOS. It can also be beneficial for people dealing with food allergies and intolerances.
Following a basic healthy eating template of half a plate of vegetables, one quarter of the plate protein and one quarter of the plate carbohydrates is a sustainable practice and can be tailored to any stage of life.
Is eating intuitively dangerous?
You’re not focusing on cutting a bunch of foods out—instead, you’re focusing on adding in more plant foods. If you’re missing out on anything, it’ll likely be added sugars and processed foods. You’ll start to crave them less and instead find yourself seeking out veggies instead. No danger there!
No one has ever overdosed on eating vegetables. Focusing just on increasing your veggie consumption is simple to do and relatively non-stressful.
Why is eating intuitively beneficial?
Eating without restriction is sustainable. There is no complicated tracking or calorie counting, and the wide range of food options means your meals can be tailored to your preferences. If you’re not bored with what you’re eating—and you actually enjoy it—you’re more likely to stick with it in the long term.
This isn’t a diet; it’s a way of life. And if you practice it daily like brushing your teeth, it will be more likely to stick as a permanent habit.
What are some misconceptions about intuitive eating?
Eating with “no restrictions” shouldn’t be confused with an “eating free-for-all.” The goal is not to overeat, but rather to nourish the body in mindful amounts so that the instances of overdoing are fewer and the overall intake of high-quality, healthy foods is greater. Eating a little of everything means never feeling deprived, which means we need to stress less about food.
Because the nutrition programming we often see on TV or in magazines is focused on weight loss, there’s a mass misconception that in order for a lifestyle to be “good” for you, it should equate to fast, noticeable weight loss. Good things take time, and teaching your body to eat a well-balanced diet can be a process. While results might not be immediate, eating in this inclusive, moderate way can create a lasting framework for success.
When we make excellent choices 80 percent of the time, we’re left with 20 percent of the time to make choices that contribute to our life’s happiness, like that post-work wine or that cheeseburger every once in a while. It’s all about balance and practicing the art of balance for your unique life.