Intuitive Eating: How Do I Know What My Body Wants To Eat?

Intuitive Eating.

What is it?

First of all it is a BOOK that was written by nutritionists. And it teaches this magical little concept… where the body knows exactly what it wants to eat. And the idea for us, is to redevelop that skill to tap into what the body wants to eat.

Tapping in will allow us to eat exactly what will nourish us in that exact moment. Our minds can’t always know the nutrients and macronutrients our body needs. Luckily, our bodies do. And they are right here… to tell us. If we listen. How lovely.

So how do we listen?

The thing is…. its not concrete. Its a feeling thing. It is not A Science as much as it is An Art. And closer to a spiritual practice than a math skill.

The surest way to eat the right thing, is to Trust What You Desire.

Seriously. It is this simple. What do you want to eat?

If you have been denying yourself for a long time, you will maybe desire higher calorie, and previously forbidden foods first for a while. But if you allow them, and trust yourself, those cravings will continue to morph, as what you need morphs and changes.

If you are stumped– Get Quiet and Ask- If you know you are hungry but are unsure of what to eat, ask, “What do I want to eat?”. It works. Ask what will nourish you and satisfy you.

The answer might pop into your head, or become a general craving, or the food might appear right in front of you in thin air as if by magic. The third one has never happened to me, but one can wish.

What If You Don’t Trust Your Cravings Yet?

Do This Exercise: 

Make 3 columns

  • In the first write a list of all the Foods from the past and present you have felt are “Bad”* or “fattening” or “unhealthy” that you stay away from. And circle all the foods that you would eat right now if there were no “consequences”
  • In the 2nd column, write a list of all the food from the past and present that are decadent but “acceptable” and that you enjoy eating. Circle the ones that you wish you could eat more of without “consequences”.
  • Write a list of all the Foods from the past and present that are “virtuous” and “healthy”. And cross the ones out that you hate eating

Look at your lists and read them over. Pay special attention to the circled items. It may just be the denial talking, and maybe when you start to eat them more they will lose their pull over you, but your body craves what it needs. Sometimes what it needs is salt, sometimes what it needs is dense calories (if it feels it is starving and wants nourishment), and sometimes what it needs is ______ and _______ that is found in the perfect combination in the food you are craving.

Look at all the foods in your “bad” column. Find one separate reason that each of the foods you are afraid of might have a beneficial side. On my list I have bagels and cake circled in the “bad” column. So the benefits of cake might be: Concentrated carbs for metabolism, or butter- a healthy saturated fat. Or for bagels: concentrated carbs. No food is “worthless”. I would only argue that the fakest of the fake ingredients are bad, and even then I am sure you could come up with a reason it is ok. And, though I tend to avoid fake foods. Never fear them. The body can handle anything.

Use these foods as a good place to start. Allow yourself these foods. But what the hell do I know.

Also, look at your “virtuous” column. And stop stocking the foods you crossed out. If you ever want, need or crave them in the future, you will find a way to eat them. If they don’t taste good to you, you don’t need them now.

(*I don’t believe any food is bad, but this exercise was for the purpose of finding the food you subconsciously feel is bad. After years of hearing guru’s dogmatic fear-mongering, I am sure there are some food phobias that need to be BUSTED!)

17 comments

  1. dannianne says:

    Your site is incredibly awesome, in the bossest of boss ways. It is no coincidence that I found it since I am getting off of a 20 year food/eatingdisorder/mindfuck roller coaster. I have been “sober” for almost a year, and by sober I mean free of shackles that I had put on myself in the forms of b&p and all sorts of ridiculously insane food rules. I made the craziest food/body prison for myself for so long,and for what??? Exactly, I don’t know. I’m no model and nobody pays me for my looks, there was and never will be a reason for me or anyone to abuse myself to look a certain way. This goes for anyone. Okay, I’m off subject already, dang it.
    My point was just to say THANK YOU for existing and having the female balls to create this site, and I totally agree with what you’re saying. I am a believer of Intuitive Eating after trying every other diet/health thing out there after I stopped my ED, in fear that my body just wouldn’t know what the fuck to do. Well, my body is a lot smart and stronger than I gave it credit for. I can actually eat a bowl of cereal and not implode, explode, or combust; it’s ok! I’m working on trying to figure out what I actually like instead of what I kept tellign myself I should eat… that’s the hard part. Goling to a restaurant and trying to order what I intuitively want is a lot harder than it sounded, I guess after 20 years of restricting myself my senses are a little fuzzy. I keep going for stuff like bowls of pickles because I think they are ok, but then am totally grossed out after a few bites and then my “real” senses go, “no, you meant a sandwich, not pickles!” so it’s a bit of trial and error. I’m learning every step and thankfull have no urge to purge. The healing has begun but I realize it’s a long road ahead.
    I love your suggestion on how to figure out what you really want, I’m going to try that out. The idea made me realize how I have been recently force feeding myself crap that I think is good for me but that I dont’ really want, with some good stuff that I do want thrown in, but still. For instance, last night I just wanted a yam with a ton of butter. For some crazy reason I ignored it until I had eaten 2lbs of veggies and quinoa and a bowl saukraut and then finally went, no! I want a damn yam! So I made one, ate it, and all was well.. but what a waste of food I went through just to get to that damn yam. I frustrate myself but at least I’m getting there. Slowly.
    The day I recently let myself have the burger I was craving for literally 2 years was a good, and two burgers later (in different meals) my burger craving is gone. I’m really happy about it because after all the months and years of vegan/paleo/grainfree/carbfree crap I just ate the burger and it was good, and it hit the spot. Bun and all.
    Thanks again, seriously you ROCK!

    • Love this comment! Hopefully one day I’ll be able to say this. I’ve only just begun my journey to recovery and even then, I occasionally find myself relapsing completely. I love the bit about not being paid for your looks. 🙂

      • Jay Bazuzi says:

        Just remember not to let it become one more thing that required hard work. Don’t criticize yourself for failing to take full pleasure in what you eat, nor praise yourself for succeeding. Also, don’t judge yourself for failing or succeeding to not judge yourself!

  2. Hell Yeah.

    Intuitive eating can do so much for you. It’s been one of the best things to help my migraines (the migraine causes my brain to dump serotonin, and the body uses carbs to make more, and I seriously crave toasted white bread right before and during a migraine. If I can get some simple carbs, I have a chance of staving off the worst).

    Plus, I trust my body to tell me what it needs to work (which is very important when digging holes and hiking miles in severe heat!).

    If I crave it, and have access to it, I totally go for it (I’ll note, for the record, I had a number of food insecure episodes in my youth, and part of my “fuck you diet culture” attitude stems from that- why deny yourself nutrition when you have it?!?).

  3. Amanda says:

    Great post. I like the 3 columns idea a lot. Sometimes I open the fridge and look inside and everything seems like a bother to fix and eat (even fruit, needs to be washed!!). And then something like crackers or a scone left out on the counter is easy and i might have a few bites. And I think I judge myself for that. It’s also not necessarily what I want, it’s just what is easy. What do you think about that?

    • Caroline says:

      You know, I do that too, especially when it is late and I am definitely hungry but do not feel like cooking what I might be craving. However, I find that having quick nutritious things on hand is good just as an option. Like, cheese and crackers are nourishing to me, have that salt, protein, fat, carb fix I often crave and are super quick! And frozen fruit ! No washing there 🙂

    • Jay Bazuzi says:

      Sometimes easy is exactly what I want! Trusting your desire includes trusting your need for easy.

      I never wash produce.

      I went to Costco and bought every easy food that I felt drawn to, even though I am aware of many horrible things you could say about that food.

      • Caroline says:

        Very nice! Preparation IS a part of the eating process. So thinking about it in those terms allows for even more liberation. I also never wash fruit…. unless it looks particularly schnasty.

  4. Glenis says:

    I love your way of putting intuitive eating. I’ve also been on the roller coaster of diets, a couple of years now since I first heard about intuitive eating, all the while knowing I should eat intuitively but never trusting myself fully. After yet another failed diet, I think I might as well say, fuck it, and do my best to tune in and eat intuitively. I have a few questions though!

    How do you do your shopping in advance? This actually drives me nuts, I go shopping on shopping day, how the hell am I supposed to know what I will want to eat in three, five or even one day in advance? I’m on a budget so I can’t pre-guess every single desire my body might need in the next week.

    Also what if you’re finally actually hungry, and you actually know what you want to eat – but can’t get it???? For all sorts of reasons, access, money, time of day/night. And you try and substitute but that doesn’t cut it or you haven’t got anything close to what might substitute it.

    Also what if your body is screaming for carbs and sugar and you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it will make your body feel like crap! Mind fog, heaviness etc etc. I feel better with meat and veges but if I ask my body what it wants, many, many times it will say carbs and sugar. At least, I think thats what its saying, lol.

    I have tried intuitive eating before, but I already know my main problems are not paying attention to my body cues so I often wait till I’m starving and then eat too much. Also I find it real hard to eat mindfully (its painfully slow!) and to stop when I am full! Anyway, if you could help me with your take on my questions, that would help heaps cause I’ve searched and I can’t find the answers anywhere!! This site is great to help me remember that I must start working on all of this again. Thanks!

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Glenis, When I go shopping, I buy things I HAVE been craving. And things I am drawn to. There are absolutely times that I crave something I do not have and am not able to get it. But I eat the next best thing, and make sure to find a way to get what I craved next time I can if I am still craving it. As for craving the “wrong” things, I have helped myself a lot by eating freely those “wrong things” and either: finding my body wants it less and less in time, or finding I don’t like it as much as I thought, or finally, finding it doesn’t affect me as horribly as I thought. I truly believe that the only way to true intuitive eating is letting it ALL go. It takes time though. It is a commitment! As for eating mindfully, why don’t you let yourself off the hook for a little while and eat as fast as you want and stop when you are full (don’t worry about a perfect stopping point)? Then food starts to lose it’s power. It has worked for me! Anyway, Thanks for your comment!

  5. Rayca says:

    Well, intuitive–eating what your body wants sounds great. Unfortunately I don’t make the kind of salary that would allow me to never stock my refrigerator or cupboards, never cook for myself, buy food spontaneously according to my cravings, run out to the nearest store or restaurant to satisfy what my hunger desires, not to mention leftovers. I guess those should be tossed out? Because I might not crave that again for a long time? I can assure you that what I will probably want to eat is what I have stocked up on, good badass or indifferent. I don’t mean to be so flippant but honestly, you’re not giving any ideas or suggestions here, just “eat what you want at that time,” followed by exercises that don’t seem to fit in any of my kitchen drawers.

    • C says:

      I think you have misunderstood what I mean!

      Why don’t you start buying food you really like to eat, and that is what you cook for yourself? (And then eat for leftovers.) And every time you have the option to buy/cook/eat something, you buy what you like: what looks appealing to you- and the things you may have previously not allowed yourself to buy/cook/eat. It is that simple. You don’t have to toss out your leftovers! Did I say you to do that? Save them for a few days and eat them when you want, or freeze them and reheat them another time.

      My suggestion to really follow your cravings (in a way that you took to mean being completely frivolous with your money…) is an exercise to help people get in tune.

      I am not personally sitting in a mansion with errand boys to run out and get me whatever brand of Justin’s Organic snickers bar I desire at any given moment. I make very little and sacrifice buying pretty new clothes to eat a lot of ice cream and kombucha 😉

      Maybe you were taking me too literally when I said “exact moment”. I mean: if your body needs something, it will let you know. If you don’t eat it, or have the means to eat it RIGHT AWAY that is 100% ok and normal… but over the next few days, it would be in your best interest to eat it. It isn’t really a radical concept. “I have been craving red meat” or “I really craved fruit last night, I still do so I am going to eat some this afternoon for my snack”. I am just talking about listening, and trusting.

      I also am trying to get through to people who don’t trust what their body is asking for AT ALL. Actually, the idea of being ALLOWED to indulge cravings every time, can be a radical concept for some, and it is different from me suggesting you spend all your money on anything and everything that ever appealed to you in the moment.

      Hope that clears things up!

  6. EC says:

    Great post and suggestions! It’s interesting, but I just realized that I don’t have any cravings. Nothing looks/feels appealing to me – I just have a ‘blah-ness’ towards food. I eat whatever is available and then deal with the consequences of eating food that my body doesn’t want.

    So my question is….if I don’t have any cravings and am not excited about eating (but I’m hungry) how do I ‘know’ what my body wants to eat, what will be nourishing and satisfying and yummy (nothing tastes yummy to me)?

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