Diets are rigid. Each come with a set of rules to follow that include anything from a maximum number of calories per day to what/when to eat. Sure, it provides structure which can be a comfort to some, but life happens sometimes and structure goes by the wayside. For me, this is when the guilt and self-loathing would set in because I had failed my diet.1 The beauty of intuitive eating is that there are no rules. IE is a set of guidelines that allow for the flexibility and practicality around food that is required for the bumps in everyday life.
I am someone who craves structure, so partially giving that up in exchange for being more flexible was hard for me. I like everything just-so, but things don’t always turn out like how I anticipate. After many therapy sessions, I realized that by loosening up on my need for structure, I would be more at ease with the occasional and inevitable surprises that come my way.
Here are a few things I learned that I would like to pass along:
- Eating with a time constraint. If I know that I won’t able to eat for X hours, then eating beforehand, even though I’m not especially hungry, makes perfect sense. There are times when I will eat a bigger breakfast simply because I know I am booked for 5 hours straight and cannot stop a work meeting to eat a snack.2 That’s just me being realistic.
- Brown bagging it. I try to always think about what I feel like eating and what sounds good. In reality, I need to bring my lunch to work and I will have no idea what I’ll feel like eating around noon! I just bring things that I know I typically like. If I’m just dying for something other than what I packed for my lunch, I go buy it if I can. If not, then I know what I’ll likely have for dinner!
- Having food on hand. I ended up buying a mini-fridge for work. Initially, I didn’t want to because I had this irrational notion that I had to eat the food if it was there. After I overcame that, I decided that having food available was good for me. I could eat if I was hungry, but it would be okay for the next day since it was refrigerated. With this setup, I never felt like I might be deprived.
- Eating for fuel (part one). I try to listen to what my body is asking for, but there are times when I am unsure about what I want to eat. When this happens, I just need to be sensible and eat because my body needs fuel. I’ll eat some fruit or a handful of nuts just so I have some food in me rather than because I have hunger for something specific.
- Eating for fuel (part two). There are times when I have to eat something even though my choices are limited. That means sometimes I don’t get to eat what I really really want in that moment. I am performing an act of self-care by fueling my body when it needs it.
- Meal planning is not necessarily a bad thing. I am someone who hates going to the grocery store multiple times a week, so I do plan my meals…with the caveat that I will be flexible3 if I need to be. I will sometimes change up what day I make something or I will just save it for the following week if another meal is calling to me. Meal planning is not rigid for me; it’s practical.
- Every day is different. IE is about flexibility. If I need to eat an extra snack one day, so be it. Some days I am more hungry and some days I am less hungry. I just figure that my body is smart and will ask for what it needs.
Transitioning from the rigidity of dieting to the flexibility of IE was a slow, gradual process for me. IE isn’t about perfection; there aren’t any rules to be broken.4 Of course, I try to eating intuitively as much as I can, but, because I am not bound by food rules, I can be practical and realistic during my day. I can take each day for what it is and go about living my life.
How are you flexible and practical with food? Please share in the comment section below.
1I now realize that the diet failed me!
2The image of shock on my director’s face as I matter-of-factly cut her off mid-sentence in a litigious IEP meeting to tell her that I need to eat a snack makes me laugh!
3I always think of this scene from The Incredibles when I hear the word “flexible”:
4Or the need to deal with the guilt that goes along with breaking those rules.
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience. As a certified intuitive eating counselor, I offer online group support services through Zoom. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go directly to my Online Group Support page for more information.