Intuitive eating and structure. Two topics that, in some ways, seem to oppose each other. Intuitive eating is about listening to what your body wants and needs, after all, which doesn’t seem to be structured. For example, some days I get hungry for lunch at 10:00 in the morning. Others, I’m fine until 1:30. Even when I eat the same thing for breakfast. Some nights, I get ravenous before bed. Others, I don’t even think about food. Some mornings, I wake up and all I want to eat is carbs on carbs on carbs. Others, I feel like eating more protein and fat with some carbs.
Probably, you can think of something along these lines that’s all over the place for you. But what can we do about it? We’re busy people, after all. We have work, or classes, or taking care of a family, or all of the above. Is it possible to eat intuitively when our meal times have to be structured, out of necessity? Are intuitive eating and structure mutually exclusive?
I think yes, it is possible, and no, intuitive eating and structure are not mutually exclusive. I also think it’s important to define what intuitive eating is and isn’t. (And here’s a link to the ten intuitive eating principles if you’re not familiar with them.)
Intuitive eating is not what Isabel Foxen Duke calls the “hunger and fullness diet.” It’s not about only eating when you’re hungry and stopping the second you get full. Sometimes, you go out for ice cream because it sounds good and you want to spend time with your friends, not because you’re hungry and only want ice cream to fill that biological need. Of course, when you first get started with intuitive eating, the hunger and fullness scale can be incredibly helpful. But it can also be tricky to figure out where you are on the hunger and fullness scale.
Case in point: the first time I tried to “eat intuitively” (I still didn’t really understand what that meant at all), I sat down to eat breakfast (pretty sure it included this smoothie bowl), ate two bites and thought, “oh no, I don’t feel hungry anymore, I have to stop eating.” But then thought, “um, I’m about to leave for work and know I’m going to be hungry in probably five minutes.” It’s easy to overthink these things. (And here’s a post on not overthinking intuitive eating.)
But at the same time, intuitive eating is about honoring your hunger (principle #2).
So how do you honor your hunger when you’re busy? How do you listen to your body when you also have to listen to your schedule? Here are a few practical tips I’ve found to be helpful.
- Give it some thought. I mean, this seems obvious, but it’s easy to think of intuitive eating as completely free-flow. And if that’s the place you need to be right now, that’s perfectly okay. But if you can’t because of time or money or just because you like a little structure in your day, it’s also perfectly okay to do some planning. Sure, you want to honor your hunger, but if you work or have classes in the morning and can’t eat lunch till late afternoon, it might be a good idea to eat a bigger breakfast than you feel like eating, or to pack a snack. So think about your schedule and maybe come up with some sort of basic strategy.
- From there, try to figure out how much flexibility you have time-wise. Do you have time to eat a snack between classes? Or can you eat during class? Do you have time in the morning to pack lunch for the day, or is that something better prepped Sunday night?
- And then, how much flexibility you have food-wise. Do you have a place to heat up the food you packed? An ice pack and a cooler bag? Do you have a tight food budget? Once you know that (which I’m sure you already do, you don’t need me to tell you this), you can get to the next thing, which is…
- Make a list of things you enjoy eating that energize and satisfy you and that work with your schedule/budget, etc. I love Kylie’s ideas how to grocery shop without a hard and fast plan.
Even with an idea of when you have time to eat, what sorts of food you enjoy that keep you energized and satisfied, and how much wiggle-room you have, it can be hard to feel like you’re listening to your body when you have to eat lunch between 12:00 and 12:30. So I think it’s important to remember (maybe most important) what intuitive eating is and isn’t. It’s okay (and good) to eat lunch then even if you’re not hungry because you know that by the next time you get a chance to eat, you’ll be ravenous, irritable, and unable to concentrate.
And, of course, give yourself grace with this whole intuitive eating and structure thing. It’s a process. And sometimes, circumstances are less than ideal. But listening to your body is definitely possible, even when you have a tight schedule. And it’s definitely worth it in the long haul.
What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to intuitive eating and structure? Right now, mine is probably when to eat lunch on Thursdays. My day is packed from 8:00 until 2:30, when I have a break until 4:00 before I go to work. I can’t eat during lab, and I don’t like to eat during my following class because it’s a small class and I sit at the front of the room. So I’m still figuring out when and what to eat so I don’t go for seven hours without food. And what are your tips for eating intuitively with a busy schedule? I’d love to hear; obviously I still have lots to work on!
Happy Monday, lovelies!