For the majority of my life I ate because somebody else told me to. As a child, it was my parents, particularly – my grandma, in whose eyes I, for some reason, was constantly starving. To be fair, she still thinks I’m constantly starving, now I just deal with it much more effectively. Leaving the house without eating a full breakfast was out of question and no excuses were ever deemed worthy of listening to. And, while I am somewhat of an early bird, my body usually takes its sweet time to wake up and function properly.
This is especially true of my stomach – all it needs in the morning is a tall glass of cold water. Even coffee is ‘frowned upon’ – I never drink coffee because I need it. I drink it mostly for the ritual and because it just fits well into my morning routine. But, if we’re being completely honest, my body just doesn’t want to deal with anything before 11 am… and it was the same way during childhood. Unfortunately, choosing when to eat was just never really up to me back then. Which is why I was so happy to finally start the ‘young adult’ arc of my life and eat whatever and whenever I wanted… But that didn’t go so well.
During my last two years of college, after several encounters with a delight that was gastritis, I decided to embrace the concept of ‘healthy eating’. This meant focusing on whole grains, lean meats and plenty of fruit and veggies, while excluding processed and packaged products. All of this was okay and fine, but… Of course there was a ‘but’.
Again, breakfast was a must. And, as if this wasn’t enough, you know what else was a must? Eating every 2-3 hours. The routine was as follows: wake up, have breakfast, wait for a couple of hours, then have a snack. In another couple of hours – lunch, and guess what? Another snack… followed by dinner in a couple of hours! And then no eating 3 hours before bed. This claimed to keep the body working and help sustain a high metabolism. The main message was loud and clear: never walk around hungry. And, so, I obliged.
Was I happy? No, not at all. In fact it was really stressful: on one hand I was focusing on eating healthy and mostly home-cooked meals. On the other – it just didn’t work well with my lifestyle. I leave the house in the morning and I’m out for most of the day, running all over the place. Eating every 2-3 hours meant that I had to pretty much carry my entire daily ration with me… And, while I may not be a die-hard fashionista, bringing a suitcase full of food everywhere I go just didn’t seem practical.
Did it give me any results? Well, obviously, there were some, but not impressive enough to be worth all the hoopla. And so, my search continued…
…Until I’ve discovered Keto and, subsequently, intermittent fasting.
Both were very popular and I saw a lot of people doing them simultaneously. This made sense, seeing as Keto was geared more towards eating or not eating specific foods, while intermittent fasting was all about eating during certain periods of time. Best part about this whole thing? No set amount of meals and no ‘you will die if you don’t have breakfast’ kind of agenda. I decided to give it a try.
Now I can confidently say that my relationship with food has become much healthier. Yes, healthier than what it was on the so-called ‘healthy diet’. Intermittent fasting and Keto gave me something no other diet could: the freedom and comfort of making my own choices. The craziest part about this whole thing is that both these diets have a reputation of being restrictive, especially Keto. The paradox is that what started as counting carbs and hours between feeding windows, gradually became something I like to call…
At the beginning, counting and tracking carbs was crucial – it’s impossible to ‘wing it’ when you’re just starting this lifestyle. You do have to count macros and make sure you stay in ketosis. But you quickly get the hang of things and can approximate which foods will ‘cost’ what in terms of carbs and protein. You get used to portion sizes and it eventually becomes really easy to stay within your limits. Especially when you take into consideration that the Ketogenic diet in its essence mostly revolves around eating home-cooked meals.
But the biggest benefit you can gain from this is getting to know your body and understanding its needs. And by needs I mean actual nutritional needs, instead of preconceived notions which were put inside your head by someone else. We are led to believe that we need sugar, soda and whatnot, when, in reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth. No one needs a burger or an ice cream to be happy – we were just carefully programmed to think we do.
I’m a firm believer that your life – at least the nutritional aspect of it – shouldn’t be designed by anyone but yourself. No one can know what you want and need better than you do. But it takes time and patience to learn all this. This is why, when people ask me if Keto or intermittent fasting is a good idea for them, my answer is always the same: I don’t know.
And neither will you… until you actually try it and see how you respond. We need to learn to understand the signals our bodies send us – whether it’s hunger or satiety. It’s important to recognize eating patterns and the reasons behind your nutritional choices. Do you really need 5 meals per day or are you just stuffing yourself because someone else told you to? Can you really not live without fast food or do you feel that way because of the commercials that you keep seeing everywhere?
But how does it work exactly?
To give you an idea of what intuitive eating means for me specifically: I don’t eat when I don’t want to. I also don’t eat things that I don’t like or don’t want – Keto or not. I eat my first meal at noon and my last one at 8, because it fits my schedule. However, if it just so happened that I’m not hungry at 12… I won’t eat until I get hungry, and when I do, I’ll go for whatever I actually want at that moment. If I feel like eating a full breakfast, then I will eat a full breakfast. If I only feel like having a handful of berries, then that’s all I’ll have.
I also don’t allow portion sizes at restaurants to control the amount of food I consume – I stop eating when I’m full, not when there’s nothing left on my plate. And let’s be honest for a moment: portion sizes at most restaurants nowadays are completely unrealistic – I definitely don’t need that much food.
Still, who would I recommend intuitive eating to?
Based on everything I said above, it’s probably safe to say that intuitive eating on Keto is not for those who’re just starting out. But if you’re fat-adapted and can approximate portion sizes, while staying mindful of carb and calorie count – I really don’t see why this couldn’t be a valid option for you.
Intuitive eating also works great when you’re in the maintenance stage of your weight-loss journey. It takes off the pressure of having to constantly calculate everything to a T, while still keeping you on track and making sure you’re not hindering your progress. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calculating. However, the knowledge I have of myself and general human nature makes me question the sustainability of this method over time.
So, if you’ve been on Keto for a while but are getting tired of counting every calorie, maybe give intuitive eating a try. However, please understand that this requires a certain level of discipline and mindfulness. There’s no magic here: you have to remain within your net carb limit to stay in ketosis.
Bottom line: just like Keto, the concept of intuitive eating may not be for everyone. However, there’s a certain freedom in not needing external factors to dictate what your body needs and when. Most of the time it will tell you itself – all you have to do is listen. Of course it may not be that simple at the beginning and I won’t lie and say there was no adjustment period. If you’re just starting this journey, you’re in for a fun ride. But at the end of the day, is it all worth it? Abso-Keto-lutely.