How To To Start Intuitive Eating For Beginners

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Do you feel that Intuitive Eating lacks the structure of a traditional diet plan?

Are you wondering how to start eating intuitively?

Well … keep reading … because today we are talking about the basic two step “diet” plan to start intuitive eating.

And there’s a reason I am putting “diet” in quotes…


This intuitive eating diet plan does NOT:

  • focus on weight loss
  • tell you precisely what to eat
  • place limits on certain foods
  • tell you when to eat
  • count calories or points

Here’s what this two step diet plan to start intuitive eating gives you:

  • a basic sense of structure
  • a basic idea of what to eat
  • a framework for you to start attuning to your body

Here is the basic two step “diet” plan to start intuitive eating. I will go farther in-depth and provide examples in the rest of the article.

  1. Timing: Every 3-5 hours have something to eat
  2. Food: Eat a complex carbohydrate and protein every meal and snack

That’s it!

To help clarify these points and any confusion, the rest of this article will explore:

  • How Diet Plans And Intuitive Eating Can Go Together
  • How The 2 step Intuitive Eating “Diet Plan” Is Not Like Your Typical Diet
  • The Dangers Of Beginning Intuitive Eating Without Structure
  • Why there are no limits or bad foods in this Intuitive Eating “diet”

How A Diet Plan And Intuitive Eating Can Go Together

The first principle of Intuitive Eating is “Reject The Diet Mentality

But how can you have an intuitive eating diet plan when you are supposed to reject diets? Isn’t there some contradiction going on here?

My answer? It depends how you define the word ‘diet’. I know. I’m getting technical here, playing around with words, but I wouldn’t be spending hours writing this post if I didn’t think it was important.

The word ‘diet‘ most frequently is synonymous with weight loss. People think diet and they think:

  • fast weight loss
  • how to lose weight fast
  • weight management
  • diet plans like keto, weight watchers, etc

However, did you know there is a second definition to the word diet?

diet definition from google which second definition says that diets are a special course of food to which one restricts oneself to lose weight

As you can see, when you Google the definition of diet, the first response you read is:

Diet = the kinds of foods that a person, animal or community habitually eats.

Now notice again in the two-step basic intuitive eating diet plan …

  1. Timing: Every 3-5 hours have something to eat
  2. Food: Eat a complex carbohydrate and protein every meal and snack,  before you eat anything else.

In this ‘diet pan’, all we are talking about is foods that you regularly eat. We are talking about the ‘other’ or “first” definition of ‘diet’.

In fact years ago, the word diet was a beautiful word. It was life. The ancient Greeks talked about diets and how a healthy diet would maintain vitality, energy, and give you long-lasting life. Unfortunately, this focus has been lost. 

Instead, we now have a big Weight Loss Industry. Think Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Atkins. These are billion dollar companies. To make a profit, these companies find appealing words to market to you.

Back in the 1950’s and 1960 the weight loss industry realized that the word ‘diet’ sounded very appealing to customers. So they started using the word ‘diet’ to promote their weight loss products.

Nowadays we totally associate the word diet with weight loss. This makes me sad, honestly.

And this approach has become pervasive. When I was working as a personal trainer at a corporate gym, I was taught the mathematical equation:

Calorie In = Calorie Out

This equation means that if you measure your calories, you can track your calories. Along with information about your body mass index, and how many calories you ‘burn’ each day, personal trainers help you calculate how many calories you need per day.

Then they assign a ‘diet’ where you basically eat a ton of whole grains, chicken, eggs and olive oil but end up eating less calories than you burn – so you lose weight to reach your goal weight. It sounds great on paper … but much research shows that this approach totally doesn’t work when you get into the nitty gritty, real life scenarios.

Deep down in my gut, I knew this was wrong. I could tell from people’s faces that they had tried ‘dieting’ before and had heard the same spiel again and again. They knew that tracking calories didn’t work. They knew that a logical, rational approach to weight loss would simply not work in the long-run.

So relax … the 2 step intuitive eating diet plan is nothing like those old diets based on rational math equations that don’t help you in real life.

How The 2 Step Intuitive Eating Diet Plan Is Not Like Your Typical Diet

I feel it’s important to use the words ‘Diet Plan’ and ‘Intuitive Eating‘ in the same sentence.

Why? Because I am getting so many people writing to me expressing their discomfort with the ‘lack of structure‘ in Intuitive Eating.

There is a palpable fear that intuitive eating means you give up all rules. When you are coming from a lifetime of dieting and rules, giving up all the rules can seem too scary.

But as you can tell, you don’t have to give up all the rules! There is structure, especially when you are in the beginning stages of intuitive eating. These 2 rules – which we will explore further down below in a practical way – provide a bit of framework that you can use to begin eating intuitively.

But first please also note that this intuitive eating diet plan does NOT include these 3 points:

  1. restrict foods
  2. measure out foods, like calorie counting
  3. judge success based on weight loss

Let’s cover these 3 points one by one:

Do not restrict foods – all this ‘intuitive eating diet plan‘ asks is that you try to eat a complex carbohydrate and a protein first, before anything else. This diet plan does NOT say ‘don’t eat this or that ‘. We just say ‘try to eat this good stuff first‘ and then see what you are in the mood for.

This also means that if you do eat sugary foods or other foods that raise your blood sugar, there’s no reason to be ashamed. After all, you aren’t breaking any rules, right? This isn’t a diet plan based on restriction.

All this 2 step intuitive eating diet plan is, is a simple suggestion that you try to eat some foods that will fill you up and keep you full, and that you eat these foods regularly throughout the day. That’s it.

Do not measure out foods, like calorie counting – No calorie counting. No measurement. I know, most diet plans have you count meticulously.

But the guideline here is that you experiment by using your eyes or your hands to figure out the right amount. What’s the right amount? The right amount of food will make you comfortably full and satisfied. This is both a mental and physical process.

If you are a gigantic foot ball player, the right amount of food for his meal plan will obviously be vastly different than if you were a average sized computer technician.

More importantly, even two different but same sized people who weigh the same will eat differing foods and have different calorie levels depending on their activity, metabolism, and genes.

How do you figure out the right amount of food? Trial, and learning.

(I don’t like the phrase “trial and error” because it suggests you made a mistake).

First – start off with 1 handful of complex carbohydrate and 1 handful of protein. For example:

  • One handful of brown rice and one handful of chicken. Have that for lunch.
  • For breakfast, 1 slice of whole wheat toast and one egg.
  • Dinner, some other whole grains like a sweet potato and nuts. Olive oil is another great option. Just keep it simple.

But have 1 handful of complex carbohydrate and 1 handful of protein 3x a day. Snacks are optional but most likely you’ll need 1-2 snacks.

Then learn.

  • How did your food choices feel?
  • Did you binge afterwards?
  • Did your food choices satisfy you?
  • What could you do differently to become satisfied and comfortably full? More food or less food?
  • Try again the next day.

The last point is NOT judging success based on weight loss

The point is NOT to lose weight. Don’t get me wrong though. You probably will lose weight. If you are overweight and binge eating, you’ll probably lose weight when you consistently eat intuitively.  But losing weight won’t be your focus or your goal..

So if it’s not your focus, how will you lose weight? Well, by eating intuitively, you ultimately will stop binge eating. That’s how we measure success here – ending binge eating. If you stop binge eating, you’ll lose weight. So don’t focus on weight loss or concern yourself about the next restrictive diet. Focus on stopping binge eating.

Drop the whole weight-loss pre-occupation.

I know our health care system, including doctors and scientists, they have all emphasized weight loss and BMI as measurements of health.

But diet research conducted in the past 20-30 years is finally becoming more mainstream. And this diet science is very clear:

  • diets don’t work and they instead cause rebound eating and weight gain
  • restrictive dieting causes weight gain (insert binge blog)
  • weight loss attempts make you miserable and make you blame yourself when your body goes into survival mode and overeats
  • diets don’t work for 95% of people
  • just because you are heavier weight doesn’t mean you are unhealthy (this is the premise behind the health at every size movement – insert link)

Do you see the trend here? If you are focusing on fast weight loss, this means you aren’t focusing on the two step intuitive eating diet plan every day. You will skip meals or you won’t eat enough.

I see this problem all the time at the eating disorder center where I work part time. You won’t pay attention to how full you are, how hungry you are, or how satisfied you are because you’re worried about weight-loss!

Your focus on reaching a goal weight will prevent you from following this simple, flexible meal plan.

The Dangers Of Beginning Intuitive Eating Without A Simple Diet Plan Structure

Intuitive Eating can actually be dangerous if you don’t have any structure in the beginning.

Oftentimes people think that intuitive eating means you are in some sort of strange freedom. They think you have:

  • total freedom to eat unhealthy
  • freedom to never stop eating
  • freedom to get fat

And of course people don’t want to get fat because there is incredible discrimination against bigger people!

So they hear about intuitive eating and how it is against diets, and then they falsely think that intuitive eating means there are no rules and that you only have to listen to your intuition!

As people imagine only listening to their ‘intuition’ on what to eat, people freak out! They imagine:

  • eating endless boxes of donuts
  • driving through the fast food lane because they had an ‘intuition’
  • gorging at their friends birthday because it was a special occasion

But in reality … beginning intuitive eating without structure is dangerous.

I encourage you to read this conversation I had with two intuitive eating dietitians. Our conversation centers around how beginners to eating intuitively can really benefit from a sense of structure and meal predictability.

These two Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors and Registered Dietitians talk about how when you begin intuitive eating without a sense of structure, then you:

  1. You miss your hunger cues and binge eat
  2. Overeat because you didn’t eat anything earlier that day
  3. You never gain Intuitive Eating skills because your body hormones from binge eating are thrown out of whack
  4. Never develop a deeper connection to your body because your eating is unstructured and you are constantly alternating between eating and not eating.
Hunger intuitive eating diagram showing a range of red hungers where you are starving or bloated and green hungers where you are mildly hungry or full

Lack of hunger awareness is why is beginning intuitive eating without a flexible meal plan dangerous

When you begin intuitive eating oftentimes you have not developed a strongly connected awareness to your gut.

You don’t know when exactly you are hungry. You know when you are starving … but by then it’s too late.

There are degrees of hunger and fullness that you can come to know in great detail and subtly. But if you are just beginning intuitive eating you risk the danger of relying on your undeveloped hunger skills.

When someone relies on their undeveloped hunger skills, they don’t eat frequently enough.

One woman I used to work with began her intuitive eating journey with very little awareness of her hunger. She could only tell if she was hungry if she was absolutely starving. She wasn’t aware of earlier signs that she was starting to feel hungry. 

I remember one time I asked her when the last time she ate was and she replied that she last ate around 4 hours ago.

4 hours is a decent amount of time. A person who has a strong connection to their belly will notice hunger cues after 4 hours. But this woman could barely feel her hunger. I asked her to notice what was going on in her belly, and she just didn’t know.

If this woman just listened to her gut instinct and her ‘intuition’ she would not be eating frequently enough! She would go 6 hours or 8 hours … and then notice she was hungry! But because she had a weak connection to her stomach, she would notice her hunger fat too late and only when she was SUPER HUNGRY.

What’s the problem with getting super hungry?

When you get super hungry, your body enters a state called ‘survival’.

Your brain knows that there is food coming, that you can get food at the supermarket. But your brain and your stomach are too different things. Your stomach doesn’t know that food is coming. Your stomach thinks you are starving to death.

In an attempt to save your life, your stomach will make you binge eat.

And when you binge eat … you end up consuming WAY more calories than normal, crazy amounts of calories because your body is trying to keep you alive. During this time your stomach will take control over your brain and shut your brain down. That’s why all your healthy thoughts of eating chicken, olive oil, and vegetables get forgotten as you get blinded by a craving attack.

That’s why when you diet and try to lose weight in a restrictive manner, you end up eating WAY more! For more information, I talk more about this phenomenon of restriction and binge eating in my binge eating overview article.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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