How do you choose what to eat with Intuitive Eating?

Deciding what to eat can be really complicated. In fact, there's so much diet "noise" in the world today that having a meal is often fraught with anxiety and confusion. I can remember asking myself several times each day, "What am I supposed to be doing?" There was so much conflicting information, and I desperately wanted to do the "right thing," and I was sure someone had the answer that would solve all my problems.

The main point of Intuitive Eating is to reconnect with your OWN wisdom so you can make decisions about what to eat that are best for you. No one can be the expert of you except you, and no one knows what your body needs except you. Only you know how food makes you feel, how satisfied you are, or what you need at any particular meal. 

How do you reconnect with that innate wisdom when you've spent so many years listening to other people's opinions and internalizing diet rules? It all comes down to how we make decisions.

There are three influences on our ability to make decisions about food: our instincts, our emotions/feelings, and our thoughts/logic.

The instinctual drive is what tells us that we are hungry, and to seek out the most nutritious foods available. This is the part of our brain that makes us seek lots of calories and fat as frequently as possible so we can survive when food is scarce (not a huge problem for most of us these days, fortunately).

The emotions/feelings aspect of our decision making is where we eat things based on how they make us feel or how we feel about them. These feelings are what make us seek chocolate after a particularly rough day, or crave a homemade spaghetti dinner just like mom used to make. This is where food is a comfort, and we eat foods based on our emotional responses to them.

Logic comes into play when we use our knowledge about food and about our bodies to make informed decisions about what to eat. This is the part of the process where we think, "I should probably eat some vegetables since I haven't had any today," or "I know that chocolate cake is going to make me feel really drowsy so I'll only have a small piece."

The great part about having these three complementary processes is that they work together to ensure our happiness, health, and survival. If we only had instincts, there would be no pleasure in food or attention to health. If we only had feelings & emotions, we may not be motivated to eat or give a hoot about nutrition. And if we only had logic, we would surely overthink every decision and end up severely restricting our food or starving to death.

The key is to learn how to use these three influences most effectively. We get into trouble when one of these aspects becomes more powerful than the others. When we eat way too much and feel miserable after a rough day at work, the emotions have taken over. When we get ravenous and eat without thinking or enjoying our food, the instincts are in charge. And of course we are all probably familiar with being paralyzed by thoughts about the right thing to eat or what will fit into whatever diet we're doing.

As with everything in life, balance is the key. It's so helpful to keep these three elements in mind each time you're struggling with food in some way. Ask yourself, "Which of the influences is in charge right now? Am I using all three equally or is one overpowering the others?"

Maintaining balance between your instincts, your emotions, and your thoughts will help you feel confident and peaceful each time you make a choice about what to eat.