“’Intuitive eating’ is like having sex without a condom and using the ‘pull & pray’ method of birth control.” – My colleague, Bryan Krahn
A couple of the things people say often to me during a conversation when speaking on nutrition are these:
“I eat healthily” and “I eat intuitively.”
This often correlates with the fact that said-person is too lazy to track their food, wondering why they aren’t losing fat, and trying to justify their behavior*.
*Justification of poor habits is a terrible behavioral issue and when you realize that, it opens the door to changing all the things you are doing wrong, and we know no one likes to be wrong.
“I eat healthily” is the worst of the two and here’s why.
Let’s say you are a 250lbs person who eats 10 cheeseburgers daily.
Eating “healthy” may mean cutting back from 10 cheeseburgers to 5 cheeseburgers.
That is a step in the right direction because of the number of calories you stop eating. It’s literally half the calories.
For me, a 170lbs human, if I ate 5 cheeseburgers daily, you can bet I’m putting on fat thus making it unhealthy for me to do.
Another example would be if I drank milk every day. As long as I keep my calories, it’s fine. There are no issues on digestive health and any other “woo” thing people like to claim.
If a person is lactose-intolerant and drinks milk every day, you can bet they’ll get sick.
What’s “healthy” for me is “unhealthy” for someone else.
If your goal is to lose fat, eating “healthy” isn’t restricting whole food groups or cutting out sugar (unless you’re the type to live off candy, then there’s a slight issue). In fact, that’s an unhealthy approach to eating which causes a disordered eating pattern *which can* (not always) result in an eating disorder.
Let’s take my client Kristina.
She was weighing around 190 when we started coaching. She thought she was eating “healthy”. Her family has a genetic issue with high cholesterol; like really high.
In order to eat and be healthier, it wasn’t the food she was eating, it was the quantity of the food.
She eats meat proteins as well as dairy proteins (both of which are NOT the cause of any issues contrary to what mainstream media, social media, and your local trainer tell you). She also eats desserts and snacks as long as they fit within her calories.
Our approach was two-fold: set calories for a deficit, eat enough protein and have the rest coming from carbs (starchy, sugary, & fibrous) and fat.
We also know that strength training is a key component to fat loss (not just weight loss).
Over the course of time, she’s dropped body fat (now weighing in the 150s) and received wonderful health results that beat the odds.
What you may consider “healthy” (ie: cutting sugar, cutting carbs [which includes sugar since sugar is a carb], keeping calories too low) is actually unhealthy and will not only drive you crazy, it’ll make you resentful and upset.
No one should live like that.
Instead, if you want to be healthy, you need to approach your eating and training in a healthy manner.
This means strength training and eating enough protein, carbs, and fat which gives you your total calories intake.
“Intuitive eating” is like shooting a cannon from a canoe in the dark and hoping you hit your target.
No one knows how to eat intuitively.
Scratch that, if you’ve been lean all your life, a huge proponent of it is genetics and the fact that unconsciously, you’re more active.
Considering the majority of the population is overwhelmingly overweight/obese, I can confidently say that a majority of people do not eat intuitively, underestimate their calorie intake and overestimate their activity.
Intuitive means instinctive.
If everyone who said they were instinctive in their eating and were correct, there would be a lot less overweight people.
To be intuitive, you have to already have a concrete knowledge of the following:
- What is a protein source
- What is a carbs source
- What is a fat source
- How much of each do you eat in a day
- When going out and getting dinner, how to save your calories for the day to enjoy that dinner
- How much oil/butter/fat goes into prepping a meal and how can you save it
- Just from eyeballing, how many calories are in your meal
If we’re to be honest, most of you reading this have no idea or a very tiny base knowledge. It’s certainly not enough to “intuitively eat” and lose fat.
If you’ve been tracking for years, and I don’t mean 24/7/365 but more often than not, then you may be able to get away with “intuitive eating”.
For instance, I know that if I am going out to dinner with friends, I track my protein through the day because that’s what matters most (well, secondary to total calories) but I get enough in so when I get to dinner, I have plenty of carbs/fats/total calories left.
There is no “pig out”.
This is just me knowing how to maintain and no overdo it.
Well if you’ve tracked long enough and maintain a weight you love to be at, see yourself creeping up a bit, you then have the skills to track again, get back down, then resume your eating a bit better once you get back to your desired weight.
We all know when we “feel” good.
For me, I need to be in the mid to upper 160s to maintain and be happy with my physique while not dieting or bulking, fitting into my clothes I love to wear, and feeling comfortable.
For you, it may be a different weight or a different health reason.
Either way, it takes time to learn the skill but one that you need to learn to be able to go through everyday life without stressing over food.
Now, do not be discouraged.
I hope this is getting you to think a bit.
I know you want to be healthier, leaner, stronger, not worrying about potential health issues, weigh less, and enjoy outings with loved ones and friends.
I know you want to be happy, confident, and not feeling resentful, frustrated, and angry.
It could very well happen for you even if you’ve thought it can’t.
Remember, there is nothing you can fix in 21 days, no metabolic reboot and nothing you can cut out for a whole 30 days that will make this process easier.
All this is fluff that makes the process that much harder.
Stick to the basics:
- Take inventory of your daily food intake. This is why MyFitnessPal is a great tool.
- Start creating habits such as prepping your protein ahead of time so you have it and ready to go.
- Journal your feelings when you want to sabotage your work. Understand yourself so you can create methods to combat it.
- Strength train and by that, I don’t simply mean classes. Start learning your way around the gym. Use machines. Lift heavier than you normally do (this is relative by the way).
- Understand there are no shortcuts. For every shortcut you look for, the longer and harder you make it for yourself and the more problems that will arise.
- Get a coach. This isn’t meant for you to do by yourself especially if it’s been years of struggles. If you haven’t figured it out by now, you most likely never will.
Remember: “eating healthy” and “intuitively eating” are blanket statements with no meaning and if you have a goal to drop that 10, 20, 30+ pounds, you need to have a direct plan and not a wishy-washy blanket idea.