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How to Practice Intuitive Eating
Author/Service Provider:Sarah Rigg

Many health and fitness magazines and websites will tell you exactly what you should eat. Intuitive eating is just the opposite of that diet approach; it's about trusting your body to tell you what you need and what will make you feel good. It's also about listening to your body when it tells you that something that taste good just doesn't make you feel good in the long run. Here are some tips for how to listen to your body's specific needs and eat according to your intuition.

Have a talk with your doctor first. Some medical conditions that might call for modifications to an intuitive eating plan include, but aren't limited to, diabetes, hypoglycemia or celiac disease. Usually, with a few modifications, intuitive eating can work well for anyone, though.

Stop using any diet or meal plan devised by others, even the "experts" or your dietitian. Intuitive eating is about listening to your own body and doing your own thinking, rather than blindly following a plan made by someone else.

Let go of the idea of losing or gaining weight as an indicator of success. If you're looking for a plan to help you lose weight, you will not necessarily be happy with the results of intuitive eating. It may help you lose weight, or you may gain a couple pounds or stay the same. Intuitive eating is not a weight-loss plan but rather a method for getting in touch with your body's particular needs.

Let go of the concept of "meal time." Instead, learn to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. Sticking to a regular "meal time" feels easiest for many people. However, it can also mean not eating when you're really hungry because it's "not lunch time yet" or eating when you're not really hungry because everyone else is having dinner at 6 p.m.

If you feel very out of touch with your hungry and full signals, close your eyes and try to assess your hunger on a scale of one to five. One is "ravenously hungry--I must eat now"; five is "I'm stuffed full and can't eat another bite"; and three means, "I could go either way--eat or not eat." When you're thinking about eating, assess your hunger on this scale. Try not to let yourself get to a level one too often, as this can lead to over-stuffing yourself when you do get a chance to eat. On the other hand, if you're at level three and you are craving something to eat, you may just be bored. Ask yourself if you really need to eat or if you just need to get up and take a walk or do something more interesting for a few minutes.

When you've determined that you're really hungry, and not just bored, ask yourself what your body is craving. Do you want something cool and creamy? Hot and filling? Crispy and crunchy? Try to let your intuition lead you to just the kind of food your body wants. Don't force yourself to eat only a salad when you really want a hamburger or something more filling. On the flip side, don't feel pressured to eat a heavy meal just because everyone else is having one if you truly just want a light snack.

As you're eating, again assess your fullness level. Most people feel uncomfortable stopping at level two or going all the way to level five. However, there's a lot of wiggle room between those two numbers. Are you satisfied with being three or three-and-a-half full, or do you feel more peaceful and calm when you've eating to a level four or four-and-a-half?

Assess how the meal makes you feel afterward, from a few hours to perhaps a full day out from any given meal. You can track your meals, moods and energy levels in a notebook for a few weeks to see patterns. Perhaps your head craves a lot of carbohydrates for lunch, but you find through journal keeping that you get sleepy when you have a lot of carbs and little protein for lunch. Or perhaps you'll find that if you eat something fatty close to bedtime, you get acid reflux. Journal keeping of this kind can help you hone your intuition about what foods will really make you feel good in the long run, instead of just what foods will satisfy a momentary urge.

If you make a food choice that seems good at the time but makes you feel sick later, don't beat yourself up about it. Instead, make a mental note of it for next time. If you know that a certain food tastes good but makes your stomach upset, for instance, see if you can find a reasonable substitution that fulfills the same craving (something crunchy, something sweet, something filling, etc.) but which doesn't have the same bad after-effects.