Do you want to try intuitive eating but think you can’t because your fitness and performance goals will suffer? Or that you’ll regress in your ability? You can’t possibly keep up with your level of fitness with a gentle approach, right? I’m here to tell you that you can and you could possibly reach higher levels of fitness and performance with an intuitive approach over a strict one.
Intuitive eating and training is a non-diet, weight neutral approach to health that focuses on improving your relationship with your body, mind, and soul. It works through cultivating body attunement and removing negative obstacles, such an ingrained negative self-talk, diet myths, and food rules. I have seen my own performance on the trail and on the rock improve so much since I started implementing an intuitive approach, as well as my 1:1 clients who are crushing their ultra marathon training and more. So how can this approach help you improve your performance? Let’s dive in a little deeper.
Intuitive eating builds a strong foundation of self-love and belief. Speak to any elite athlete and they’ll tell you that mental fitness is much more important than physical strength. Removing deeply ingrained negative beliefs about yourself and your abilities and building positive self-talk aids in the mental component of performance.
Truly believing that you are capable of whatever you put your mind to and removing even small, fleeting thoughts of self-doubt will allow you to access potential you were blocking from yourself previously.
2. Avoid injury & Go further
Following a training plan, for both diet and exercise, can result in injury. This usually occurs when your meal plan doesn’t provide enough fuel to replenish your body’s stores and rebuild post-training. Additionally, if you’re strictly following a training plan, it’s very likely you’ll push yourself to injury in the name of “will power”.
An intuitive approach will allow you to give your body exactly how much fuel it needs to recover while you are also tuned into your body’s cues. When you truly get to learn your body, you'll know how far you can push it without injury. This allows us to push our bodies to their maximum capacity in a safe fashion.
Which means that when you're pushing your limits to reach your goal, you'll know how much more energy you have left to give. You can train hard with respect to your body and its experience.
Rigid programs that encourage you to never take breaks and push yourself till you pass out result in the guilt and shame cycle that often leads to inconsistency in your health. Have you ever missed a day or two in the middle of a 30 day program? You did everything for two whole weeks but then you got busy. What happens after that? You miss more days. Maybe you stop entirely. You missed a day so just count the whole program as a failure. You ate an extra snack, so might as well just eat everything you’ve been restricting because you failed.
This black and white thinking is actually hurting your health and performance. Allowing room to live gently with yourself and be flexible sets you up for sustainable health. We’re humans. We might need rest days or extra snacks. If you focus on what you can do to feel best today, instead of what you “should” be doing, you’re more likely to be consistent with health-promoting behaviors such as eating veggies or exercising. Your motivation switches from external to internal. You’ll want to do those things because they make you feel great, not because someone is telling you.
4. Fuel optimally
I get asked this question all the time. How can I fuel optimally for insert sport here? As a dietitian with a focus in Sports Nutrition, I can tell you that there is a ton of data about fueling for performance. It’s almost entirely in healthy, white, young males. Though this data can be useful as a guideline, it’s not strictly what is best for your body.
What is best for your friend isn’t going to be what makes you feel and perform best. Also, what worked for you yesterday might not work best for you today. Without doing years of intensive research on your specific response to different fueling techniques for different research, I can’t tell you exactly what you need to eat for “optimal performance.”
However, through an intuitive approach, you can determine this for yourself. You are the expert in your own body. Truly learning your body’s reaction to fueling techniques and your body’s cues allows you to have the knowledge everyday of what will make you feel your best. You're the only person who can truly tell you how to "fuel optimally."
5. Better experience with health and fitness
Food and exercise should be fun! We often get so weighed down with food scales, tracking calories in and out, and gym selfies that we forget why we’re doing it all in the first place. I don’t climb to tell people I climb a certain grade, I climb because I love it. I don’t run to boost my mile time, I run because I love it.
We only get one life and I wouldn’t wait to waste that obsessively tracking every breath. An intuitive approach allows you to reach your goals and leave the shame, guilt, negative self-talk, and time-consuming baggage at the door. There is so much more to life that calories. Exercise is a celebration of what our bodies can do and eating is a fun, joyous experience we get to have everyday.
You don’t need restrictive diets and daily brutal workouts you dread to reach your goals. You don’t need to obsessively step on the scale and compare your body to others to perform at a top level. You don’t need to have an “ideal” runner’s, climber’s, swimmer’s, etc’s body to achieve at your sport. Taking an intuitive approach allows you to improve your performance while improving your relationship with food, your sport, and your body. Let’s live gently with ourselves and free ourselves from the disorder of diet plans.
Are you interested in learning more about intuitive eating? Are you ready to ditch diet culture and start on your intuitive eating journey? Watch my free training video on how to improve your relationship with food and your body now. Get 3 actionable steps you can implement today!