Ok so hear me out on this one.
If you are new to the concept of Intuitive Eating, and haven’t read the actual book but just been picking up bite size pieces from Social Media, your idea of intuitive eating might be something like “Eat all you want, whenever you want”. Or “Eat only when hungry and stop when you are satisfied / comfortably full.”
There are truths to these ideas but it isn’t the whole truth and there are much more nuance to this way of coming back to attunment with our bodies when it comes to food and eating.
Yes we want to get to a place where we can honour our physical hunger, instead of denying it. And it is lovely to be able to stop eating when you feel comfortably full and deliciously satisfied. But in order to get there, you most likely need to do a few things first.
There are also times when waiting to eat until you are physically hungry is impractical and for some people the hunger cues are less accessible than for others. However this doesn’t mean that your body doesn’t need food. It means that you need some reliable structure to make sure that you feed yourself despite the absence of cues and signals.
Often when trying to recover from an eating disorder eating tends to be either chaotic or restrictive (and often both!) and in order to get to a place of “intuitive eating”, where we are attuned to our bodies’ signals of hunger and fullness we tend to need some structure so that we can make sure that the needs of eating regularly and eating adequately are met.
What does structured eating look like?
Having some structure to your eating includes planning and shopping for food. Because it so much easier to honour our hunger when we have food available and can make an easy meal or snack.
Planning can include making a weekly menu and buying the ingredients required for those meals.
It can also include batch cooking and having easy accessible freezer meals, frozen vegetables and pantry staples at your disposal so that it is easy to make food that are filling and satisfying even when time and energy is scarce.
Don’t forget how convenient leftovers can be for this also. Make some extra when you are cooking an prepping anyway so that you have food for next day lunch boxes or a meal that just requires reheating!
Structured eating can also include reminders which helps us make sure that our bodies get fed in a timely manner. This is particularly useful if your hunger cues are faint, somewhat unreliable or if you simply struggle to forget how to eat when engrossed in something really interesting, and your attention is elsewhere.
Of course, having food to hand and easy accessible snacks will help when your alarm goes off to tell you that it is time to eat.
Structured eating can help you build body trust and help foster intuitive eating by ensuring regularity and adequacy with food.
What makes structured eating different from following a diet plan?
Well for starters: The fact that YOU decided on the structure and the type of foods that is included.
When you are doing your planning and shopping you chose foods that you like, can prepare and are within your budget.
Instead of following a plan with foods, that you might not even like or don’t have a clue how to cook and prepare.
Sometimes, I help my clients with this in session, where we brainstorm together what the weekly menu plan can look like. This is a collaborative effort. Not me making a plan telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat but instead together figuring out what it is you like eating what is satisfying, within the context of your daily life.
Years of dieting can make this challenging so sometimes having someone else to explore with can help.
With structured eating the difference is that the structure is there to be supportive and flexible. Not rigid like a diet plan. You can’t fail with your own menu plan. If you decide in the moment to go with something different to what you had planned, that is fine. Attuned eating and intuitive eating are all about flexibility.
The final thing that I also want to mention is that part of a more structured eating, which promotes flexibility is that there are times when you need to eat in preparation. Before you are really hungry. What I am talking about here is when you might be leaving the house and know that are most likely to be hungry later but at time when eating or access to food might be inconvenient or not possible.
So you choose to eat earlier because otherwise the risk of becoming hangry is impending.
How do you feel about structured eating?
Is planning ahead, shopping and prepping meals something that you find helpful when it comes to feeing yourself?
Are there barriers to creating some useful structures for eating regularly, for you?
What are the benefits, if any, that you have noticed?
And if you are looking for some 1:1 Support to navigate your relationship with food, eating and your body check out my services here.