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Intuitive eating…you’ve probably heard of it, but what is it really? Intuitive eating gets a bad rap in the strength industry simply because most people don’t understand what it is exactly. So, today we are going to break it down for you.

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Mary:

First, we want to talk about intuitive eating. Many of you have heard me talk about using intuitive eating to be a strength athlete and just intuitive eating in general. And we wanted to do this episode because of the feedback we got from our disordered eating podcasts. I had so many women reach out to me and say, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know this was possible. I’m going to give it a shot. How do I do this? What do I do?” 

 

I started giving them advice and tried to help them through what they were going through, and I recognized that I needed to create something for you ladies trying to overcome disordered eating with intuitive eating. 

 

So, we’re going to talk a little bit about the ebook that I’ve written for the Female Strength Academy. It’s a guide basically for intuitive eating for the female strength athlete. It takes you through how to incorporate it into your life, make sure you’re eating enough food, feel it all, and then use it as a strength sport athlete. It’s very encompassing. 

 

Kristin:

We got so much feedback on that disordered eating podcast. Oh my gosh. So thank you. I absolutely love hearing from people and hearing how they’re implementing these things. It was comforting to hear. And so yeah, we got tons of awesome feedback. So, we decided that we should probably give you guys an episode a little more on intuitive eating if you want to learn how to incorporate some of it into your life.

 

Mary:

Yeah, because I think a lot of us hear – and I mentioned this on the disordered eating episode – that intuitive eating gets a bad rap from a lot of big names in the industry, which I think is super unfortunate. If you have something that’s not working for you and find something that is working for you, why would you as a company go bash it?

 

Kristin:

Yeah. I hear a lot of bashing about intuitive eating. And I think that it comes from people who don’t understand what intuitive eating is. They think that people are using intuitive eating as an excuse to just eat whatever they want when really the majority of people that do intuitive eating do it because they’ve tried counting macros. They developed disordered eating habits because of counting macros. And I’ve found that people develop those disordered eating habits a lot of times because they are only ever counting macros when they are in a caloric deficit. 

 

So, maybe they don’t have a coach. They decide to put themselves in a caloric deficit on their own. Usually, they’re trying to lose way too much weight way too quickly. And then, and then the things spiral out of control, they get obsessive about counting their macros. They end up bingeing because that’s their body’s way of regulating the fact that they’re in such a steep caloric deficit. This whole cycle spins out of counting macros for some people. I think a lot of people don’t ever count macros when they’re just trying to increase their performance in the gym. 

 

Mary:

Yeah, they only have the experience of cutting, which is very, if you’ve had a bad cut, it’s a very negative experience. That’s all that I did. That’s the only experience I’d known of macro tracking. So I think in the last six months, I have been able to track macros specifically doing Eat for Strength. And it was so easy. It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. 

 

Kristin:

When you have all the food you can have counting macros, it’s like, “Whoa, seriously? I’m supposed to eat this much food??” It’s kind of eye-opening. And you realize, “Oh, I probably have really been under-eating. No wonder I’ve been bingeing!”

 

Mary: 

Yeah! Which is something that I cover in the book is, you know, once you get in the habit of incorporating intuitive eating into your life, we then walk you through: Okay, now that you’ve done this, let’s figure out if you’re eating enough. 

 

Kristin:

Right. So, I would say from an athletic standpoint, a performance standpoint, if we’re only looking at that, I think counting macros is probably the best option, but it’s not the best option if it leads you into an eating disorder or disordered eating. For some people, their personalities are too obsessive about this stuff. And so it’s not the best option for those people by any means, because then we’re putting their health at risk. And so then why are we doing it? 

 

Mary:

Yeah. So if you’ve heard that intuitive eating is bad, it’s not. It’s not the most ideal, but it’s actually very advantageous if you do intuitive eating right, especially mentally.

 

Kristin:

Right. If you are mindful about it and do all the things you’re going to lay out, it can really be healing and helpful for many athletes.

 

Mary:

It can be really frustrating to see memes on Instagram of people saying, “I’m eating intuitively,” and they’re eating an entire pizza. That’s not eating intuitively. That’s just being an asshole.

 

Kristin:

I do kind of joke about things like, “I don’t do intuitive eating because intuitively I want to eat an entire pizza,” but that’s not really what intuitive eating is. That literally is just eating like an asshole.

 

Mary:

Yeah. And I wouldn’t even say that’s intuitive. That’s just you being like, “I don’t have any limits.”

 

Kristin:

That’s exactly. Yeah. Even without limits. And that’s not what intuitive eating is.

 

Mary:

Intuitive eating has limits, but the limits are set by you. It can be very hard, especially for someone who doesn’t understand their body and doesn’t understand what their body needs. But if you learn about your body and what your body needs, it’s gonna be a real good time. 

 

Kristin:

So tell us what intuitive eating is. 

 

Mary:

Okay. So intuitive eating is basically the simplest form of eating. It’s the form of eating that really every person should be eating, right? You should be listening to your body when it’s hungry, what it wants to eat, feed it, and then stop. That’s intuitive eating – eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.

 

Kristin: 

It sounds so simple. 

 

Mary: 

It’s so simple. And it’s so powerful. 

 

Kristin: 

How did we get so messed up?

 

Mary: 

We get so messed up because intuitive eating doesn’t sell products. Unfortunately. That’s the hard part. You think of keto diets or paleo diets, or even flexible dieting coaches or books or seminars or whatever. All of these really complicated things make a profit.

 

Kristin:

Well, I think that the fitness industry and the diet industry has done a really good job of getting everyone super, super confused. We have to rely on the newest thing that comes out instead of just listening to your body and giving your body what it needs. We don’t know what our body needs anymore. We’re so confused. We’re supposed to eat fat, and we’re not supposed to eat fat. We’re supposed to eat carbs, and not supposed to eat carbs. And we’re supposed to eat all the protein, then we’re not supposed to eat all the protein. We’re supposed to only eat meat and no vegetables, and we’re supposed to be vegan.

 

Mary:

I mean, there’s so many things, right? And it’s so stupid. It’s so confusing. And then you just rely on the Google machine to tell you what you need to do when really, for all of us but specifically those of us who suffered from disordered eating, we have the tools in us. You’ve just ignored them for years. 

 

Yes, you have all the things that you need. We’ve just forgotten how to listen to them. So intuitive eating is no tracking, no counting, no measuring, no weighing, and no restrictions. I think that’s the most important part for people coming out of disordered eating. There is no “you can’t have this.” If you’re doing keto, carbs are off-limits. If you’re doing low-fat, fats are off-limits. There’s none of that. There’s just you listening to your body. 

 

Now, if you’re a strength sport athlete, you do have some guidelines. I wouldn’t even call them restrictions, but guidelines. Like, you need to get your protein in, honest to God. You need to get your protein in. And we need to make sure you’re eating enough fat to keep you hormonally balanced and regulated. We want to keep everything in working order. But other than that, it doesn’t fucking matter. And it drives me nuts.

 

Kristin:

You’re not taking any food groups and saying, “these are off-limits.” You’re not taking any foods themselves and saying these are off-limits, but you’re also not saying I’m going to eat two pies for dinner.

 

Mary:

Well, yeah. I mean, sometimes I do.

 

Kristin: 

You do?! Two whole pies?!

 

Mary: 

Well, there’s an open pie in my fridge at all times because I’m just going through this phase of pie, but I don’t eat the whole pie. I’ll eat a piece because I’m craving it. I eat it and I’m done and it’s over. And my weight stays the same.

 

Kristin:

I think it’s so amazing to hear you say that because I remember the days of the Mary who would eat the whole pie.

 

Mary: 

I couldn’t stop myself. And that’s when I was confused. I was binge eating, obviously, but I also thought that that was my body “intuitively telling me” it wanted to eat the whole pie. But no, I was bingeing because I was missing all kinds of nutrients. 

 

Kristin:

Because you were really restricting.

 

Mary:

I was really restricting. Now I can have half of a pie or I can have 1/16th of a pie. It just depends on the day and what I’m craving or what I want. So intuitive eating, speaking of what you want, is about hunger cues and listening to your hunger cues. People say hunger cues, they throw them out, you know, what is a hunger cue? And it’s really just your body. I mean, it’s just listening to what your body’s telling you, which sounds stupid and hokey pokey, but that’s how we lived for hundreds of thousands of years or however long humans have been around. I am not an evolutionary biologist. I don’t know how long we’ve been here. It’s been a minute. 

 

Kristin:

And you know, you’ve read some really good research on intuitive eating, right?

 

Mary

The little of it that there is has to do with collegiate athletes or people who have had an athletic background overcoming disordered eating. They found that those who used intuitive eating rather than any type of macro tracking had a better outcome in terms of their disordered eating. They were to free themselves from their disordered eating habits, better than those who did macro tracking. Now, this is not to say that macro tracking does not work for people coming out of disordered eating. It does.

 

Kristin:

Right. I had some really disordered eating habits that I resolved by having a coach and tracking macros. For me, that was very helpful because I was able to focus on why I had disordered eating and what was leading me into that. I had a lot of emotional eating issues and just knowing that there was someone else handling the macros for me. So I didn’t have to be like, “I kind of had a heavy squat day, so many eat a hundred extra grams of carbs.” No, it doesn’t work that way. So for me, macro tracking was therapeutic and helpful. But for you, it was…

 

Mary:

It was hellish to know that someone else was in charge of my food. Not that they weren’t capable people. I just felt like I’m so prideful. I felt like I should know. I mean, I knew all the things. Why couldn’t I do it? But like I said, if you’ve overcome disordered eating with macro tracking, I’m not taking anything away from you. I think however you can come out of it is phenomenal.

 

Kristin:

Whatever works for you is what’s best for you.

 

Mary:

Don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re doing is wrong. If it’s working for you, it’s not wrong. Walk away from them. You don’t need that negativity in your life. 

 

Kristin:

Amen, sister.

 

Mary:

And so speaking of that, intuitive eating does not look the same for everyone. My intuitive eating is going to be different from someone else. I’d say yours, but we know what yours is eating two pies a night.

 

Kristin: 

No, you’d be proud of me. I’ve gotten much better with the intuitive eating thing. My weight does go up a little when I do that, you know? 

 

Mary:

That happens, but you get a better feel for that over time. I’m pretty good about keeping my weight almost the exact same and having big fluctuations in calories. I figured out how to keep myself level. 

 

Kristin:

My intuitive eating looks like this: If I’m not strictly tracking macros, I’m like, “Oh, it’s the end of the day. I have 100 grams of carbs left and 20 grams of fat. I’m going to have some almond butter and rice cakes.” And then I don’t weigh and measure it.

 

Mary:

You know, I think that that’s fair. I think a lot of people would benefit from that because that takes away some of the restrictions. I think a lot of people, if they tracked half or three-quarters of the day and they got to the end of the day, and they know enough about food to say, “This is approximately 100 grams of carbs, maybe 30 grams of fat, whatevs,” and let it go. 

 

If they have three quarters the day tracked, they at least know that they’ve gotten an adequate protein amount. And then from there, it’s not a “fuck it” or a binge, for those you intuitive eater haters. I think this is approximately what it is: “I’m going to go with it and forget about it.” I’m proud of you.

 

But for me, I don’t love eating first thing when I wake up. I’ll eat a little bit and then I’ll wait for a long time. I’ll have my pre and post-workout meals and then I like eating late at night. That’s when I get hungry. That’s what my body likes. It is what it is. 

 

And other people might be different. They might find that they wake up in the morning and they’re ready to eat and then at night they just want to snack and that’s fine. You don’t need to eat big dinners. You don’t need to eat every three hours. You need to figure out what works for you.

 

Like we’ve said before, for muscle protein synthesis and to keep your body in a positive state of muscle growth, you do wanna eat every three to four hours. But if you’re just coming out of disordered eating, throw that in the garbage, figure out what’s working for you, and then you can build from there.

 

Kristin:

Right, because if you are eating on a specific schedule that doesn’t correlate with your hunger cues, it’s really difficult to learn those hunger cues. You don’t know the different levels of hungry.

 

Mary:

And you’ll find that once you do this after you’ve had your first meal, you’ll essentially be hungry in three or four hours. That’s just how your body works. But until you learn how to listen to your body, you’re doing yourself a disservice by saying, “I’m going to eat every three hours.” Stop, listen, then move forward. 

 

Kristin:

So what is a hunger cue? 

 

Mary: 

So the hunger cue, great question. A hunger cue is biological. You all know the feeling or sensation of hunger. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a feeling of hunger. And then there’s extreme hunger where your stomach is gurgling, and then there’s like the extreme-extreme, where you’re dizzy, you don’t feel that great, and you’re almost not hungry anymore.

 

Kristin:

Where does hangry fit in there?

 

Mary:

Hangry would be that one. Hangry is like, you’re right before the dizzy stage, and you need to eat. 

 

Kristin:

Or you’re going to kill someone.

 

Mary:

Or you’re going to kill someone. Yeah. We don’t want that as an intuitive eater. You don’t really want to fall into the hangry. You want to try to avoid the hangry and you want to avoid the super full feeling.

 

Kristin:

And I refer to that as “Thanksgiving full.”

 

Mary:

And that’s the thing. When I say “full,” Kristen immediately thought of “Thanksgiving full.” But there’s like two or three steps before that when you should have stopped. Those steps also qualify as “full.” And I think people forget that because we’ve been in this restrictive and then binge culture.

 

Kristin:

If ever you’ve binged, you know that “Thanksgiving full” feeling of, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to explode. I hate myself. Why did I do this to myself?” Yeah. We don’t recommend getting yourself to that point. But everyone, especially if you’ve binged, the idea of being full makes you think of that and it’s scary. But you’re not talking about getting to that level.

 

Mary:

No, no. On the hunger scale, between levels 5-10 where you could classify as starting to be full. Ten is like, you’re sick and you want to throw up. That’s what most people associate with being full – they’re so full or stuffed that they want to puke. But really, you want to be back at a level six where you’re just like, “Oh, okay, I’m good.” And you’re full, you’re satisfied. 

 

But learning how to bridge that gap between a six and a ten is what I’m trying to teach everyone with this freaking book. And it takes practice. You’re going to have days where you’re going to be an eight and you’re gonna be like, “Oh my God, I fucked up.” That’s okay. The next day, just take yourself back and figure out what a difference between eight and a six is.

 

Kristin:

And it’s not fucking up because now, you know that an eight is uncomfortable and I don’t want to be an eight again.

 

Mary: 

The hard part about intuitive eating is knowing that you’re not fucking up. You’re learning what doesn’t work and what you maybe shouldn’t do next time. Don’t let all the haters hate on you. 

 

So then I want to talk about, like I said, if you’ve been on a restrict-binge-repeat train, then you’ve likely ignored these cues for a long time. And we started thinking of being in a state of hunger is good, right? If you’re restricting, you think being hungry is good. That means you’re losing fat, you’re losing weight, and that being full is bad, which is what we just said. With intuitive eating, we want to break that down and say, “No. Being hungry is hungry, being full is full.”

 

Kristin: 

It’s not good or bad. 

 

Mary: 

It’s neither good nor bad. And there are no prizes, as I say in our Eat for Strength course, there are no prizes for being hungry. You get no Gold star if you’re hungry all day, right? You’re just doing yourself a disservice, especially as a strength athlete. 

 

Kristin:

There are also levels of hungry that are okay, that are fine to live in that level of hunger. It’s not like the hangry. It’s more, “I should probably eat in the next hour or so.” 

 

Mary:

Exactly. Yeah. And I break that down in the book. Trying to learn what your hunger cues are is stopping and thinking, “Am I really hungry?” And then waiting 30 minutes and seeing how that level of hunger varies. But not waiting for three hours and then you eat. 30 minutes. 

 

Kristin:

And let’s just talk for a second – a lot of times, people get thirsty confused with hungry. Especially if you’re not used to drinking a lot of water. We think that we’re hungry and really, our mechanisms for thirst are so diminished that they’re often mistaken for hunger.

 

Mary:

Take your body weight in pounds. Divide that by two – that’s the minimum number of ounces you should be taking in each day in water.

 

Kristin:

Right. So pounds divided by two, in ounces. And I like to tell people 75% of their body weight in pounds in ounces of water. This gives them a pretty good place to be.

 

Mary:

So, if you’re not getting at least that, you need to up your water intake and then reassess your hunger. And then the last thing I want to talk about, specifically about intuitive eating, is the difference between a craving and a binge. Because a lot of the time, when we hear cravings, we think crazy, “Oh my God, I have to have it right now. My life is over. If I don’t have it.”

 

Kristin:

Tearing into the whole pie or like a giant bag of chocolate.

 

Mary: 

Yeah. A lot of posts on social media highlight different ways to beat the cravings. So, for example, you’re craving pie and they’re like, “Well, here’s this cheater, low-cal pie.” But that doesn’t give you what you need. Because a craving is your body’s way of telling you it needs something. Whether that’s, you know, you need more sugar or you need more fat. Sometimes I’ll get a craving for something salty, so I’ll eat something savory. Sometimes I’ll get a sweet craving and go get something sweet. That’s just your body’s way of telling you what it needs. And the more we ignore it and try to fight it, the more likely you are to binge on that later, especially if you have a history of it.

 

Kristin:

Right, putting off those cravings can be really bad. I do this with my nutrition clients, my one-on-one clients if they are really craving a pizza. I’m like, if they’re on a cut, okay, let’s manage that. Let’s go a couple of days, and if you’re still craving it, we’re going to find a way to work it in. Because the more you ignore those, the worse it gets and can lead to a massive binge. And especially if we’ve got an athlete, who’s trying to cut weight for a meet, this can be really dangerous territory. So, we have to figure out how can we work this in and manage this craving? Because sometimes they just don’t go away.

 

Mary

Right. Well, intuitive eating. I would even say if you have a craving, try to act on it that day. Cause craving is not so overwhelming that it needs to be like an entire binge. Like I could have a craving for mac & cheese. That means I’m driving home from the gym and I’m thinking, “Man, what sounds good for dinner? Mac & cheese.” Anything else I make that night besides Mac & cheese would not satisfy me, and I would end up making Mac & cheese anyway. 

 

Kristin:

You would eat your regular dinner and then you would go make Mac & cheese after. 

 

Mary: 

Yes. And it took me a while to learn, “Oh, Hey, dumb, dumb. Why don’t you just make mac & cheese and save yourself a full dinners’ calories?” 

 

Kristin:

Eat what you want,

 

Mary

Yeah, eat what you want. And that’s the other part – learning how to act upon your cravings responsibly and then incorporate your hunger cues. I’ve got my mac & cheese and I’m not going to eat the whole box because it’s like a thousand calories. I’m going to take a third of it. That’s a serving. I’ll eat, see how my body does, and then either stop or maybe have a little bit more. 

 

We associate cravings again as this negative thing you need to fight. Still, with intuitive eating, you need to accept the cravings, you need to embrace the cravings, and figure out how to incorporate those cravings – what your body needs – into your daily routine. Whatever it is. 

 

You don’t need to have all these low-cal, low-fat, whatever concoctions are made on the internet for, you know, all these people in a cut when you’re trying to repair your relationship with food. You need to eat what you need to eat and move on.

 

Kristin:

I talk about this in our Eat for Strength Cut course. Just don’t have the fat-free version of the full-fat food that you really want. And don’t have the sugar-free version of the super carby food that you really want. Find a way to work those things in, or just don’t have them on a cut because it’s never going to satisfy you. Sometimes we need to push like the emergency button in a cut and maybe have some of those things, but you save them for that. You don’t eat them regularly. Cause it’s never really satisfying that craving. F a way to work that food in, even on a cut, or just don’t have it. Anyway, this isn’t about a cut, though.

 

Mary: 

So in intuitive eating, as I said, you need to not restrict anything because restriction is going to lead or cause binge eating. Cravings are just a way for your body to tell you what it needs. And if it really needs something, that’s where you’re to experience those intense cravings. That’s when those people who are on a cut and they’re like, “Holy shit. If I don’t get a slice of pie right now…” pie is obviously on my brain. I have cherry in the fridge right now, got raspberry and the freezer good to go! But anyway, there’s a difference. The more you restrict, the more you get those intense cravings, but you’ll find as you do intuitive eating, the more you fuel your body, the more you give it nutritious food, and you feed it and not put it into clerk deficit, the less of these intense cravings that you’re going to get. 

 

But I will say, last night I almost had a binge and it’s cause I’m super stressed about a few things. Not going to get into them right now cause they’re unresolved. When they’re unresolved, I’ll talk about them. But I know that for myself, if it’s some emotional issue I’m having and I feel that I need to binge, I now have the control or recognize I’m eating emotionally and need to stop right now. I could eat this whole pie and nothing’s going to be fixed. So, that’s a huge cue for me. If you find yourself, you know, starting a binge and not really knowing why, think about what your stress levels are. Think about what you could resolve outside of food that could help you fix your food. So, there’s something I need to fix. That’s outside of my food and I will no longer need to binge on pies. Yeah. Yeah.

 

Kristin: 

Again, I talk about this a lot with my 1:1 clients. So, you had a binge – go back, recognize what was going on in that moment. How was I feeling? What did I think that this food was going to solve, and then realizing the food didn’t solve anything. So, next time when you catch that happening, stop and ask yourself those questions: What’s going on? What can I do that will actually help solve the issue instead of making me feel good at this moment and then make me feel bad later? And that’s what enables you to get out of that cycle. I also think just spending time in a caloric balance really helps.

 

Mary: 

Oh my god, YES. 

 

Kristin:

Because you can have some more of those foods. You can kind of better understand what’s happening with your body. And a lot of the time, in the beginning, those binges stem from a steep caloric deficit. So, you can sometimes get yourself out of it by just eating in a caloric balance for a while. And you don’t recommend doing intuitive eating to cut weight, it’s all about being in a caloric balance, right?

 

Mary: 

I would only recommend that if you have a coach who does intuitive eating, who can help guide you through. I cut on intuitive eating, but that’s because I was in such a good space to control myself. And I almost did like the half track/half intuitive eating. So, I would like 75% of my day to make sure I got protein in and then kind of just relax in the last quarter of the day. But no, if you are coming out of any type of disordered eating, do not cut. Stop it. Eat at maintenance or whatever your body tells you that that is. Trust me. You’ll figure it out. Your body will tell you what it needs once you learn how to listen to it. And then, once you get your footing, once you get very comfortable, you can start looking into cutting.

 

However, I still recommend trying to cut with macros. So, just give yourself time. If you haven’t repaired your relationship with food, then there’s no point in cutting, right? No point. 

 

And finally, we want to talk about intuitive eating and being a strength sport athlete. This is just going to be really quick, but it’s totally possible. Like we’ve said, intuitive eating has gotten a lot of hate from people saying that it’s irresponsible, it’s dumb. It’s none of those things. I have put on significant strength. I feel great about my body. My mind is at peace with food and I’m a strength sport athlete. If you’re trying to do something like tracking macros and it never, ever seems to pan out for you, as you can never actually make it work for you without bingeing or having some type of meltdown.

 

Kristin:

Yeah. Or becoming really obsessive.

 

Mary:

Yes, yes. Or do what I would do or where I would hoard all my food to the end of the day.

 

Kristin: 

You’re starving all day. And then you eat all your calories at night.

 

Mary:

Right. It’s so dumb. Then maybe it’s time you try something else for a bit. 

 

Kristin:

Yeah. And literally don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong. 

 

Mary: 

Tell them Mary said, “Shut up!:

 

Kristin:

Well, figure it out for yourself. Maybe it’s not the right thing for you, but the only way to find out is to try it. It’s the same as with our training, right? Like we try different things in training and I’m like, “Well, okay. That training cycle that I thought was going to work out, that didn’t work out so well.” And you try something new.

 

Mary:

Exactly. It’s all trial and error. There’s no failure. There’s just learning what did work and what didn’t. 

 

 

 

 

 

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