Some people meet their goal weight and feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders, but there’s still one thing holding them back from complete freedom: calorie counting. On the outside, the maintainer is just like everyone else, but inside they’re tracking calories, portions, carbs, fat, protein, etc. This can lead to a loss of motivation and the temptation to slack off, which are closely followed by relapse and regain. During these tough periods, calorie counting is the last thing you want to do.
So what’s the alternative? Intuitive Eating. Intuitive eating means you rely on your body to tell you when and how much to eat. Calorie counting is your conscious telling you how to eat, but intuitive eating is your subconscious.
So should you try intuitive eating?
Here is a simple test to determine whether you should stick with calorie counting or try intuitive eating.
1. Do you stop eating when you’re full?
2. Did you binge eat in the past/Binge eat now?
3. Do you eat quickly e.g. ‘vacuum’ your meal instead of chewing and swallowing?
4. Do you mainly consume healthy food and drinks e.g. lots of fruit and vegetables, rarely eat junk, drink lots of water, etc?
5. Have you counted calories and/or watched portion sizes for at least one month?
Try Intuitive Eating for 3 Months
If you answered, “Yes” to questions 1, 4, and 5 then I suggest that you try intuitive eating for a medium to long period of time e.g. 2-3 months. If the scale heads in the wrong direction for AT LEAST 2 months, end the experiment and return to calorie counting ASAP.
Explanation for question 1 – ‘Naturally slim or skinny’ people eat intuitively, and you’ll notice that they stop eating when they’re full. It doesn’t matter if food is left on the plate. They’ll put their fork down and finish the meal later. This ensures they only eat what their body wants and nothing more, except for on rare occasions e.g. birthdays, Christmas, etc.
Explanation for question 4 – Successful intuitive eaters mostly eat healthy food. By aiming for filling foods like vegetables and fruits, they end up eating less than an intuitive eater who’d go for burgers and pizza. A burger won’t fill you like high fibre vegetables, so you’ll eat more burgers. Not only will the healthier options mean fewer calories (there are exceptions…), but also you’ll be full/satisfied for longer, which means you’ll eat less throughout the day.
Explanation for question 5 – Eating intuitively might seem easy, but the food industry can trick you by relying on false assumptions people make e.g. a pizza is high in calories and a salad has few calories. Not necessarily. If you make pizza at home it can be low in calories if you choose healthier toppings and spare higher calorie options like meat and cheese. A Mcdonalds hamburger has 250 calories but a salad could have 1700! Unless you’ve counted calories or portions for a while, you won’t know how much is too much until it’s too late.
Try Intuitive Eating for 1 Month
If you answered, “Yes” to questions 2 and 3 then I suggest that you try intuitive eating for a SHORT period of time e.g. 3-4 weeks. If the scale heads in the wrong direction for AT LEAST 3 weeks or your eating habits lead to discomfort, end the experiment and return to calorie counting ASAP.
Explanation for question 2 – Intuitive eating is the opposite of binge eating. Eating intuitively means you stop eating the moment you feel full, and possibly BEFORE fullness if you feel satisfied by the meal. Binge eating involves going beyond the full feeling, possibly until you feel sick or vomit. Some people just aren’t capable of not binge eating unless they’re accountable to someone or something e.g. logging their meals into a calorie intake tracker. Once they cut the ties, they let loose and eat everything. Overeating leads to relapse followed by regain.
Explanation for question 3 – Eating quickly will make intuitive eating MUCH harder. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to receive the signal that you’re full. If you eat quickly, that signal will arrive too late. You’ll have already eaten too much and possibly gone for seconds or thirds. Either stick with calorie counting so you can eat as fast as you like and not gain, or start practising how to eat slowly.
Intuitive eating for weight maintenance IS possible. Will it work for you? There’s only one way to find out: TRY! Even if you start to regain, you’ll still learn important lessons about your eating habits. Forget about eating ‘perfectly’ – even ‘naturally slim’ people overeat from time to time. Accept that it takes months, even years, to stop subconsciously counting calories and trust your body.
Don’t forget there’s support out there for intuitive eaters (Google ‘intuitive eating’), so you won’t be alone. If intuitive eating doesn’t work then return to calorie counting. No harm done.