When you’re a busy mom (or just a mom–we’re all busy!) it’s difficult to pay close attention to our body’s needs. But being a more intuitive eater means doing just that! However, intuitive eating is also forgiving and a learning experience, not something to be completely obtained or accomplished. Removing all expectations of perfection is key to intuitive eating as a mom. With intention, you can slowly develop the skills of being an intuitive eater, while caring for your family, too.
4 Tips to Intuitive Eating as a Mom
#1 Expect imperfection. Perfection does not exist in eating, because there is no right or wrong way to eat (contrary to popular belief and many opinionated people).
First, rid of the idea that the meals you serve your family must be perfect and well-loved by all. Not every meal will be home-cooked, colorful, contain a veggie, or have all the food groups. Some meals may be mix-and-match, leftovers, or on-the-go. Instead of beating yourself up over not having perfect family meals every day, embrace the low-maintenance, quick meals! These types of meals can be nutritious, too, and give you the break you need from cooking! And if they aren’t quite as nutrient-filled as you’d prefer, there’s always the next meal. Think big picture. It’s okay to let life happen, embrace the “imperfect” meals, and not stress about it one bit.
Second, understand that intuitive eating isn’t to be perfected either. In fact, one of the best things about intuitive eating is that it is so forgiving! It’s not something to be mastered, and there isn’t such thing as failure. Intuitive eating skills are learned through experience. If you ignored your hunger or fullness–it’s not failure, it’s an experience. Intuitive eating invites curiosity, not judgement. Knowing that you cannot fail is important to understand as a mom beginning her intuitive eating journey. There will be interruptions, there will be times when kids interrupt your ability to give your attention to hunger and fullness. Intuitive eating invites you to do what you can and move on from times when you couldn’t. It invites imperfection!
#2 Utilize the Division of Responsibility. Lessening your own mental load and responsibility will allow for more time and energy to be spent developing your relationship with food and deepening your intuitive eating skills. One way to do this is dividing responsibility between you and your child. It is your responsibility to decide when a meal will be served, where it will be eaten, and what food will be served. It is your child’s responsibility to decide what and how much to eat from what it served.
Scenario 1: Karen serves a meal with meat, carrots, and bread. Her toddler refuses the veggies. Karen becomes frustrated and asks her toddler repeatedly to eat her carrots. A tantrum breaks out. Both mom and toddler are upset. Toddler continues to hate carrots.
Scenario 2: Karen serves a meal with meat, carrots, and bread. Her toddler refused the carrots. Karen doesn’t say a word and lets her toddler leave them on the plate. Dinner is relaxed. Karen gets to listen to her internal cues for hunger and fullness, and the meal experience is enjoyable. Toddler learns to like carrots after a few times of serving, and now eats them happily.
Which scenario sounds more enjoyable to you? Which sounds more conducive to being able to have a meal experience and give attention to internal cues?
#3 Simplify Mealtime. There’s a time and a place for well-planned, elaborate meals made with lots of love (and time). Those are my favorite meals to make! But I’m a busy mom, like you, and I don’t get to make those meals every night. There’s not much time between arriving home and going to bed. Simplifying mealtime is one way to help you stress less, and save you energy to (again) develop your intuitive eating skills. I recommend, first, to only make one meal for the whole family. You are NOT a short order cook, and you do not have to make separate meals for everyone based on preferences.
Instead, try to serve at least one food each person likes, including you. Your preferences and satisfaction matter, too! For example, you are planning to make hamburger with veggies. If your toddler doesn’t yet enjoy hamburger or veggies, serve both in a small amount along with a side they do enjoy, such as fruit. Small modifications or additions, instead of completely different meals, provides them with an exposure and chance to learn to like different foods, and still have something you know they will eat.
Another way to simplify meals throughout the week is to plan them! Choose a couple breakfast and lunch options, and a few dinner options with foods from 3-5 food groups, if that is helpful to you. Be flexible, and utilize leftovers, mix-and-match meals, snack dinners, and takeout some nights. No-cook nights can be just as nutritious and reduce your workload and stress around mealtimes.
#4 Allow Yourself to Experience Mealtime. In order to begin practicing intuitive eating, you have to give yourself permission to experience mealtime. Giving yourself permission to experience a meal provides you with an opportunity to be in-tune with your body, understand it wants and needs, and discover what foods feel good to you. As I said earlier, with frequent interruptions at mealtime it’s likely that this can be difficult at first when you are beginning this journey. Dinner time doesn’t have to be the time in which you practice this. If you are alone at a meal, such as breakfast or lunch, or are able to have a meal without distractions, these are good times to begin practicing your intuitive eating skills. Take these times to get curious. Ask yourself what foods tastes good, what foods feel good, what foods make you feel energized, and what foods satisfy you.
Be patient with yourself, as this process may be slow, and undistracted meals may be infrequent. Also remember that it takes time to relearn how to experience a meal in this way, especially when you’re a mom. But never feel guilty over taking time for yourself to learn about your body. These skills are something you can teach your kids, too, and all of you will be better for it!
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