Updated: Dec 12, 2019
I had a question recently when I sent out a call for podcast questions about how to actually choose what to eat. What a question, right?! It's one I think so many of us have, or have had, especially in the earlier days of moving towards intuitive eating, or later as we start to determine what feels good- how do you decide when to eat food that you just want, and when to eat food that is also going to fuel and nourish you (EITHER are ok, but how do you make that distinction?).
This is exactly the type of practical advice I love giving clients to help them move forward towards food freedom. Food freedom comes when you utilize tools like this, again and again and begin to create a 'brain bank' of positive physical and mental experiences around food so eating becomes natural and food becomes neutral- it's neither good or bad, and you can easily make choices that serve you each and every meal, each and every day, without frustration or complication.
So what I wanted to share with you today are three questions, a simple three-step process to help you answer the question, "What should I eat?!". First, please know this: you're not always going to get it 'right' (and that's ok). Every experience is a learning experience and every time you learn, you move forward towards food freedom. Okay? Ok. Question 1: What am I craving/what do I WANT to eat?
This can be simple- a quick answer that pops up (a sandwich!), or it could require further thought (something with crunch and salty, maybe something soft, too...). Think about adjectives to describe food: crunchy, creamy, soft, hard, crackly, crispy, sweet, sour, salty, spicy, savory, hot, cold, warming, cooling....). This is the first step to determining what will be satisfying: what do you want to eat?!
Question 2: What do I have available? This is the practical side of intuitive eating. It's why flexibility is important in grocery shopping/food prepping, and also where many women get tripped up, thinking intuitive eating stops at "What am I craving?". If I only ever ate what I was craving in the moment, I might be eating cheese, red wine and brownies every day 10am and you guys... I wish I could live like that, but it's not realistic, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't feel very good (though now I kind of want to do an experiment... ha!). Joking aside, the next question is important: What do I have available? Do I have food on hand that fits the desire I identified above? Learning the foods that you most desire/are most satisfying can help you ensure you have a variety of these types of foods on hand to meet your needs. For instance, I really love a good cracker/cheese or hummus for snacking, so these are things I keep on hand-- I also love Perfect Bars when I want something sweet and more substantial. I love veggies, but I don't typically like to snack on them, so I save them for lunches/dinners, and even breakfast (in smoothies). This helps you avoid 'phantom food syndrome', where you eat all of the things in place of the thing you actually wanted but didn't allow yourself to have in the first place (the 'phantom food'). If you don't have exactly what you desired on hand... is there something else that sounds good and satisfying?
Last, but certainly not least....
Question 3: How do I want to feel? This is where the rubber meets the road. All three questions are important but this ties the first two together and connects it with your long-term health and happiness. This is the question that creates balance. If you know what you are craving (either specific, or a decent idea)... and you have that food/meal on hand... how do you want to feel, and does that meet that need?
If the answer is no, ask: What is another choice I can make that will be satisfying AND make me feel good?
An example: If you want something crunchy and sweet, and you're thinking chocolate covered pretzels, but you don't think chocolate covered pretzels will do for lunch... what could you have instead? Perhaps some yogurt with some protein for physical satisfaction and sweet and crunchy granola for that satisfying crunch and sweetness? How would that make you feel? Another question to ask might be, Could I add something to that craving to make me feel good/satisfied? Could you have the chocolate covered pretzels as a side with something else that would make you feel good as more of a meal?
Move through the options on hand and continue to use these three questions to make your decision: What do I want/What do I have/What will make me feel good?
Aligning these three areas is a powerful way to tune into not just what you body wants, but what will allow it to feel it's best, too. And yes- this becomes easier, over time! The more you practice asking these questions, the more they will become second nature, and begin to melt into each other. The question once again becomes, "What do I want to eat?" but all components- want/have/feel-- are there, innately.
And hey- there are STILL times I need to go through all three questions individually and make a decision that way, that's ok! These questions are always available to you.
I hope this was helpful, friends, as you move forward on your journey to finding your beautiful balance.