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Close up of hamburger and fries in cardboard takeout box. Text overlay, "Intuitive Eating in Real Life"

Intuitive eating and mindful eating sound great, right? But what if your world doesn’t want to cooperate? Here are some personal examples of what intuitive eating in real life might look like. Hope it’ll help you see how these practices can work for you, even when life seems to conspire against you.

Frazzled & Rushed

Last week, I was looking forward to attending a conference for eating disorders professionals. This year, it was held in my town, which made it all the easier to attend. I blocked off time from work and other activities, and anticipated learning a ton.

And then I received a subpoena to testify in court. Hmmmph!

It was for a mental health assessment I’d written over a year ago, meaning a lot of time to review the case. Double hmmmph!

And although the district attorney assured me she wasn’t asking me to be an expert witness, she then questioned all of my education, credentials, training, and “what do you mean by this specific word you wrote in the report?”

Triple hmmmph!

Did I mention the court date conflicted with one of the eating disorders conference days? I was also scheduled to work at the conference as a volunteer.

In other words, real life intruded on my perfect plans.

So I spent a lot of unanticipated time prepping for court. I made arrangements to miss part of the conference, feeling like I was letting people down. And although I didn’t end up having to testify in court (whew!), I was in a rush, trying to get to the conference for the afternoon sessions. Unfortunately, I knew I would be too late to eat the catered lunch .

So what does someone who teaches and coaches about intuitive eating, mindfulness, anxiety, and self-esteem eat on the run between a stressful court hearing (at which I didn’t end up testifying) and a conference on the other side of town?

A McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich and fries, thank you very much. Eaten in the car, no less.

Here’s the deal about intuitive eating in the real world: There are a lot of things going on at any given moment. And sometimes you have to make eating choices that aren’t totally mindful. That’s okay. You can sneak in mindful awareness even on the busiest day. You don’t always have to eat a whole meal mindfully – you can even practice with just a bite or two here and there.

Thinking about the time constraints, traffic level, and travel route, McDonald’s was my choice for the situation. Going a little bit further for something “healthier” would mean getting caught in a traffic vortex from hell. I realize that it may sound like I’m trying to justify eating at McDonald’s. And actually, I kind of am – not from a nutritional perspective, but because I don’t really like their food. If there’s a choice of fast food drive-thrus, I’m an In-N-Out girl all the way. Except that no matter what time of the day or night you go to In-N-Out, there will always be a tour bus of 200 people getting in line ahead of you.

And did I mention I was in a hurry?

Here are my observations about eating a Filet-O-Fish sandwich and fries in my car.

  1. Be very careful and don’t eat while actually driving. Because – that’s just obvious.
  2. I made a point of eating at least a few bites with no distractions. Yes, in the car – but while parked, radio turned off. Silence in the car felt unusual, but kept me focused on the food.
  3. The meal tasted better than I expected. In part, this was probably because I was super-hungry. But it was also due to turning off the radio. What surprised me is that the meal evoked positive memories from childhood, when everyone else in my family ate cheeseburgers and I insisted on the Filet-O-Fish. Always the fish, never a burger. Grateful for the positive memory, I brought my attention back to the present moment.
  4. Even a few attentive bites of the meal helped me reset my whole nervous system. Tuning out external distractions helped me focus on the meal. Conversely, focusing on the meal helped me tune out internal distractions. Everything else that would’ve been running through my head dissipated. Even though the mealtime was super short, I enjoyed a real break from my own monkey-mind.

And then I hit the road, sharing the Las Vegas freeway with thousands of inbound tourists arriving to enjoy a weekend of adult fun.

Multitasking with Purpose

Here’s another example of intuitive eating in real life: As I am writing this, I’m also enjoying a yogurt smoothie. Yes, I’m writing and drinking a smoothie at the {sort of} same time – I can’t really type and hold the glass simultaneously. So every so often, I stop writing (but of course you can’t know that as you read this) and take a swallow of the smoothie.

Being mindful in that moment means really stopping the writing process and turning my attention to the smoothie. Feeling the icy crystals that melt almost instantly; smelling and tasting the sweetness mixed with tartness; and of course, noticing the little raspberry seeds that will play hide and seek in my mouth for the next few hours.

Usually, I would take a full Smoothie Break. But today, I have an appointment. I really want to get this writing done beforehand. So that’s a compromise, not the end of the world. Since I’ve given up all-or-nothing thinking, not doing a “perfect” meal is not going to make me figure “what the hell” about the rest of my meals today. And even though I’m noticing that I’m starting to feel full, I choose to finish the smoothie to get me through the activities that are on my plate over the next several hours.

Above all else, intuitive eating is flexible, nonjudgmental, and forgiving. It works for you, not the other way around.