When you Need to Track Something, but you've Given Up Dieting

Even though many of my clients completely understand that dieting doesn’t work, in the beginning of learning about Intuitive Eating, they want to track something. I don’t know if it’s the habit they miss, or the sense of order and control it gave them, but they miss it. Tracking hunger, fullness and satisfaction can satisfy that need to track something while redirecting the practice to tracking what's happening internally when you eat.  A colleague of mine, Ellyn Herb, PhD gave me a great idea. To track three things for a period of time; hunger, fullness and satisfaction of meals rating a 1-5 score for each (I’ll explain in detail later).  By tracking hunger, fullness and satisfaction after meals for a brief period of time, you will gain valuable insights about your eating. Now this doesn’t have to be done at every meal or every day. Just like everything else with Intuitive Eating, you get to decide what works for you. The goal is to learn more about your relationship with your body, food, eating and the thoughts you have about these things.

Lets Get Started

3 of the 10 Intuitive Eating Principles used in This Exercise

Honoring Your Hunger, Respecting Your Body and The Satisfaction Factor are three of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating. To read more about the other 7 principles click on the link.

From the http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/  website:

2. Honor Your Hunger Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

5. Respect Your Fullness Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.

These three principles work together in a synchronistic way to tell us when we are hungry and what to eat with the goal of being satisfied. These are all internal mind and body functions that get lost when we are used to following external rules around food and eating.  When tracking comes to mind it is usually associated with calories, carbs, macros etc... I am in no way shape or form suggesting that you track any of these things. The tracking I’m suggesting is to help you get in touch with these three principles in an experiential way.

How to Track

Tracking Hunger

Tracking hunger starts with a hunger scale. For this I use a 5 point hunger scale.

1.       Not hungry at all

2.       A little bit hungry, and thinking about food. This is a great time to think about               what you want

3.       Feeling like you want to eat something: food thoughts more compelling. Maybe              time to eat

4.       Really hungry and maybe feeling light headed, empty, rumblings in stomach etc…

5.       Ravenous (It is biologically correct to overeat at this juncture and to eat fast)

Tracking Fullness

1.       Empty stomach

2.       What you feel like after a light snack, like a piece of fruit

3.       May feel satisfied in terms of hunger

4.       Comfortably full

5.       Stuffed (The difference between full and stuffed is often a few bites)

(eating between 3 and 4 is when  food tastes most amazing. Our bodies were made to enjoy our food)

Tracking Satisfaction

1.       Not satisfied at all

2.       A tiny bit satisfied

3.       It was OK

4.       That was pretty good

5.       Wow that tasted amazing (You might want to take note of the foods you are discovering to be amazing. They may be very different than what you previously thought.)

Putting it all together

Now that you have the basics in terms of what you’re tracking, there are many ways to put it into practice. You can write it down on a pad of paper, or track it on your phone in Moment diary or other APP. The important thing is to think about whether the food you’re about to eat is really what you want, and if you are hungry for it. We can’t always have exactly what we want when we want it in terms of food and hunger. Life sometimes gets in the way. Say you're giving a presentation from 9-11am and you’re not hungry at 8am when your getting ready, but you know you’ll be ravenous by 10:30am. Your hunger level might only be a 2, but the best course is to eat something that will tide you over until you can have a meal that you really want. It takes practice, intention and attention to figure this all out and it may seem daunting at first when coming off of dieting, but eventually it will feel very natural.

Track your meals, or some of your meals for a week or so and then look for patterns to help you discover how your body and mind work when it comes to food. If you have some old restrictive thoughts about food and when you are supposed to eat, they often become illuminated during this practice. Intuitive Eating is about matching your hunger to what you really want. If you get confused about what you really want, start with the easiest choice: ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ and move to ‘sweet,’ ‘savory’ or ‘salty’ and then to texture, ‘crunchy,’ ‘creamy,’ etc… Another question to ask is, "Am I meal hungry or snack hungry?" You get the idea. After a while this becomes a natural part of life.  

The results might surprise you. You may find that you are waiting too long to eat and then have a lower satisfaction rating, and/or eating to the point of uncomfortably stuffed. Or you may find with low satisfaction ratings, that you’re eating things that you think you should rather than what you really want to eat.

One Caveat

Be aware that when you are used to using external cues, like diets and food rules better known as ‘shoulds’ around food choices and eating that there is a tendency to turn Intuitive Eating into a diet. We call it the “Eat when your hungry, stop when your full diet.” I know that sounds weird because it is the foundation of Intuitive Eating, but only in conjunction with listening to your body for cues and most importantly unconditional permission to eat.

Everyone overeats on occasion, so if you have a rule around stopping when your full, every single time, it can sabotage your efforts and make you think Intuitive Eating isn’t working when you occasionally overeat. Or maybe you’re satisfied with a small portion of a food one day and the next day you eat twice as much. This is normal eating. We get confused thinking that were supposed to eat a certain amount of food every day, but our bodies were designed to eat different amounts based on bodily needs.

If we haven’t been listening to the internal cues, they may have become faint and hard to hear. They become louder and easier to follow the more we practice Intuitive Eating. The key here is flexibility with eating and not judging yourself or feeling guilty about your eating. Being curious about why you may have overeaten, (if it’s a pattern) is a better way to learn and grow than feeling guilty and ashamed. Also, depending on the amount of time you spent dieting and restricting food, it will take time to unlearn some of the things you thought were true, like eating fat, makes you fat (it doesn’t). So be patient, curious and nonjudgmental with yourself during this process. You might want to work with someone trained in Intuitive Eating in the beginning if it feels overwhelming.

Kathleen Bishop, LCSW and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor

Please note that if you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, there is certain criteria that needs to be met before starting Intuitive Eating. Working with a mental health professional is recommended before starting Intuitive Eating.