Your commitment to fitness takes up a lot of your time. The time that you’ve spent training and preparing for certain events have required you to remain disciplined. You may have even trained multiple times a day to keep up with the demand. It’s no easy feat to continue this trend day in and day out, as friends and family may not understand or even support this dedication.

And worst of all, that’s just the training aspect of it all. What about the role that nutrition plays? If anything, this will eat up (pun actually intended) even more of your time then the training does. I mean, you’re training for 1-3 hours per day, while the rest of your remaining hours are spent on recovery and, well, eating. What you put into your body is very important, and could drastically affect your performance.

However, good thing is that we have total control over what we put into our mouths. And even better, we don’t have to meticulously count every single calorie that goes into our bodies either. There’s something out there that’s much more practical…

Intuitive Eating

What exactly is intuitive eating? Well, it can be generally defined as eating in response to physical hunger signals that your body gives you, as opposed to emotional or other external cues [1].

The great thing about this style of eating is that more and more scientific literature is being released on the topic in regards to its superiority over calorie-counting diets, such as its benefits for psychological as well as physical health benefits [2]. For example, a sample of former female collegiate athletes described their experience with intuitive eating as drastically reducing their anxiety levels about both their food choices, along with their appearance and performance [3].

As for physical benefits, the athletes were “better able to listen to their bodies” and have a better sense of what hunger and satiety (feeling of fullness) actually feels like. In essence, this allowed the athletes to become more in tune with their bodies and provide it the nourishment that it needed to perform, without resorting to any form of disordered eating.

How Do I Start?

Okay, now that you know why you should consider intuitively eating to benefit both your physical and mental health, as well as boost your performance, how do you even know where to start? Well, we’ll want to start out by learning how to assess when we’re truly hungry and satisfied. We can use a simple scale of 1-10 to assess this. There’s no exact scientific literature on this type of a scale, but it can be used as a practical guide to familiarize yourself with this style of eating, as it may be difficult to grasp at first. It would look a little something like this:

1 Extremely Hungry
2 Very Hungry
3 Hungry
4 Slightly Hungry
5 Satisfied, but could still eat more
6 Satisfied
7 Full
8 Too full
9 Extremely Full
10 Nauseous

Although this scale seems quite simplistic, it gets the job done. It’s easy to remember, which makes it much more practical. And practicality is what intuitive eating is all about.

Volume vs. Density

One of the most important aspects of intuitively eating are the two concepts of volume and density. When we’re talking about food, each food has a different volume: density ratio. Now, don’t think of these ratios as numbers, rather, think of them as more of a cost: benefit ratio sort of thing.

Let’s dig a little deeper. So volume is the amount of space the food takes up in your stomach, while density is the actual amount of energy (calories) that you’re obtaining from it. The “density” factor is the only one that influences our weight, not volume. The weight and volume of the physical food itself will not influence your weight whatsoever. Knowing this, for weight loss, we should eat foods that are high in volume and low in density. Ideally, we want to keep this “ratio” in favor of volume over density.

This will help to keep us full and satiated, while also keeping our calories as low as we can (healthfully, of course, we still want to get in enough calories to function and perform well). Low-energy and high-volume foods tend to have higher levels of water, fiber, and protein content. It’s been shown that those who eat a majority of these kinds of foods in their diet resulted in feeling fuller for longer compared to those who ate mostly high-density foods [4].

An Issue That Needs To Be Discussed

One issue that does need to be brought up is about self-control. This is usually only a problem that is witnessed when first starting out. Athletes will begin their weight loss journey, but because they’re eating intuitively, they have no set plan. They kind of just “wing it”, and I REALLY want you to avoid this.

Nothing good has ever come from just “winging it”. Intuitively eating is still a type of eating plan. It still requires discipline and especially the knowledge to know what foods will aid your performance and weight loss efforts the most. However, what you also have to realize is the vast amount of knowledge you will gain from this, including:

  • How certain foods make your body perform
  • Which foods keep you full for longer, while knowing which ones don’t
  • Knowing what truly being hungry and full really feels like

I suggest keeping a food log and jotting down any relevant information that will make your food choices easier. Over time, you’ll come up with a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts and understand what foods work best for you and your body.

Conclusion

Definitely different from meticulous diet tracking, I know. But it can absolutely help you on your weight loss journey. Life is full of events that may throw us off track and alter our schedules and ways of life, and our diets are extremely susceptible to this.

But what I really want you to take away from this is that this is probably one of the most educational diets out there. As cliche as it may sound, knowledge is truly power. Being armed with the knowledge to be able to adapt to various situations; social events, injury, food availability, the list goes on. You’ll be ready for it because utilizing an intuitive eating diet helped you to learn about your mind, body and the food you put into it.

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References

  1. Horwath, C., Hagmann, D., & Hartmann, C. (2019). Intuitive eating and food intake in men and women: Results from the Swiss food panel study. Appetite, 135, 61-71. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.12.036
  2. Mensinger, J. L., Calogero, R. M., Stranges, S., & Tylka, T. L. (2016). A weight-neutral versus weight-loss approach for health promotion in women with high BMI: A randomized-controlled trial. Appetite, 105, 364-374. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.06.006
  3. Plateau, C. R., Petrie, T. A., & Papathomas, A. (2016). Learning to eat again: Intuitive eating practices among retired female collegiate athletes. Eating Disorders, 25(1), 92-98. doi:10.1080/10640266.2016.1219185
  4. Buckland N. J., Stubbs R. J., Finlayson G. (2015). Towards a satiety map of common foods: Associations between perceived satiety value of 100 foods and their objective and subjective attributes. Physiology & Behavior, 152, 340–346.

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About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care, is a USA Cycling Level 1 (expert level) Certified Coach, a level 2 certified Training Peaks coach, a USA Cycling certified power based training coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a licensed physical therapist assistant. He is also the creator of Zwift's "Build Me Up" Flexible Training Plan. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com for any cycling or training related questions.

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