A Day in the Life of Six Intuitive Eaters
Her: “I have a question.”
Me: “Go for it.”
Her: “What’s a typical day like for an intuitive eater?”
Me: “Hah! As if there is a typical day…"
Her: “I ask because we’re told all the time what a typical day looks like for a dieter. Every women’s magazine tells us what this it-girl is eating, or what that celebrity nutritionist recommends. We never hear or see what a normal eater eats.”
This is an exchange I once had with one of my Feast students.
And she’s right.
How often do we hear that Jane Doe movie star has protein and steam vegetables for dinner or that her personal trainer has her start her day with an egg white omelet? Craving something sweet? She’s allowed one half cup of strawberries. You get the idea. And this is presented as normal!
This is not normal. This is extreme restriction.
Here’s the rub though in answering my student's question: the point of intuitive eating is that it’s flexible, changing, adaptable, and entirely personal. As such, there really is no typical day for me or for others who practice this approach to eating.And yet I wanted to give her an answer so I reached out to a handful of my attuned eater friends and thought I’d share with you how six women might eat on any given day. When I made my request to these contributors I kept it loose and didn't edit their responses so you’ll see a range of formats. Some tracked what they ate over one or two days. Some jotted down their approach to their daily eating habits. I think the mix is perfect and goes to underscore the diversity in eating for those who eschew rules, programs, and diets.
Rachel Cole (Me!), Writer, Teacher, and Life Coach
I typically start my day with either hot cereal (oatmeal, cream of wheat, etc.) with a pat of butter, whole milk, honey or maple syrup, and whatever nuts and fruit I have on hand. I like to feel really satiated as I start my day. If it’s not hot cereal I’ll have leftovers. I love cold spaghetti and other savory foods in the morning. A typical lunch for me might be one or two tamales and some sort of veggies on the side (leftover sautéed greens, cut up bell pepper, etc.). I’ll usually have a piece of fruit here too. Snacks, which I might or might not have before/after lunch might be buttered toast, an apple and peanut butter, a piece of cold pizza, gummy bears, etc. Just depends on what I have and what I’m craving. We cook at home many nights and we might have asian rice bowls (brown rice, omelet, tofu, kim chee, asian roasted vegetables, etc.) or skirt steak with chimichurri sauce and good bread. We have dessert most nights, but not all. We tend to keep cookie dough in the freezer (before having a kid it was homemade, now it’s store bought) and then bake off a few when we have a hankering for something sweet. Most often I'll have mine with a glass of whole milk. This is all what’s most typical but I also go through phases where I’m eating mostly take out and not getting as many vegetables as makes my body happy. It all just depends on what I’m in the mood for, if I’ve been to the grocery store or had time (or the desire) to cook, and what’s in season.
Melissa Toler, Writer, Speaker, and Certified Wellness Coach
I woke up at 7:15 and breakfast around 8:30, which was homemade turkey sausage, black eyed peas, and sautéed kale (I don't eat eggs so this is my version of a warm, filling, tasty breakfast). I also have a big cup of French press coffee w/sugar with it. Sometimes, I'll have a banana afterwards (what I like to call my breakfast dessert), but I ran out that day.
I went to the gym at 11:30, then had a protein shake with spinach blended in after my workout
For lunch I had chicken thighs, green beans, and roasted sweet potatoes
I went to Starbucks to do some work and had a bag of jalapeño corn chips (which were yummy, to my surprise)
After working at Starbucks, I came home around 8:30PM and had ground beef, green beans, and rice.
I went to bed around 11:30
Caroline Dooner, Author of The Fuck it Diet
I'm pretty bad at grocery shopping. I live in a city and go to the deli every day to get kombucha and avocados and Lärabars and ice cream and oranges. These days, I wake up, and I either remember to make myself sourdough toast with butter and/or a banana, or I don't, and I go to the cafe up the street to get a cappuccino - or two- and write for a few hours. By a certain point it's lunch and I realize I should have eaten the toast, because now I'm just running on caffeine and milk. I go home and make whatever lunch is lying around. Leftovers. Pasta. Ground beef. Or avocado toast. Those are the usuals. And sometimes it's cheese and crackers.
I forget about food a lot these days, because I know I'll eat it when I want it and need it, but I do also get hungry often, because I'm alive, and it's almost like an, "OH, how have you not learned by now that I need to eat lots of food?" (This is starkly different from my life before when all I thought about was food and what I was going to eat.) So, for snacks I normally eat more cheese and crackers, or Lärabars, and kombucha. Or more lunch. Or if I'm out, I just get whatever I want. I can't even think of what that is because it's always something different. I went through a long phase where I only wanted brownies. Now I kind of want anything but brownies.
I'm away from my apartment a lot at night, so I eat out. Something different every time. There was a long while when I nearly had a chipotle burrito bowl every day. Barbacoa, White rice, black beans, sour cream, lettuce, salsas. That's still my go-to at Chipotle. Right now I'm in a phase where I order beef tacos from the restaurant down the street a few times a week. The delivery guy knows me now. It's very embarrassing because I bet he thinks I am a taco-eating-hermit. But my biggest guilt about taco delivery is that I am ruining the planet. Plastic.
I went through a phase where I would have chocolate chocolate chip ice cream every night. Now I'm in a phase where I eat oranges and peanut butter chocolate chip Lärabars before bed... sometimes two. Often two. Let's be honest, every day I go to the deli to get my kombucha and I buy two Lärabars, and I almost always eat them both that night. If I forget to eat them, I'm normally still hungry at bedtime, so I eat them in bed while looking at Instagram on my phone.Then I remember I need to change my sheets and vacuum the floor. But I don't do it, basically, ever. That's my "routine", but I often break up my routine and am eating god only knows what, and thank god because I probably need more varied nutrients than my routine offers me.
Anna Guest-Jelley, Founder of Curvy Yoga
Over the years of my intuitive eating journey, I've now built my day around small rituals of food choice -- they offer me a little structure so I'm not reinventing the wheel every moment but also enough freedom to adapt to my changing wants and needs throughout my day and week. At the beginning of the week, I make a grocery list and plan my meals. I enjoy doing this because I get to think about what I want to eat, what meals would be good on nights I'm busier and what sounds good that time of year (hello, all the fruit in the summer!). I make sure to have enough food on hand for changing my mind, though, and have a few quick go-tos that I always enjoy no matter what so that if I look at that night's dinner and decide I'm not into it, I can have something else.
My go-tos are generally comprised of ingredients that don't go bad quickly so that I don't have to get new ones every week and so I don't have to get into a trap of thinking I have to eat something just so it won't go bad. I can't emphasize enough how key having choice is for me: If I have to eat something I don't want, my inner narrative gets very negative very quickly. In my dieting days, I never ate what I wanted or would feel good for my body, so when I do that now, even if not related to a diet at all, all my old tapes and food "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" get triggered, which quickly sends me into a downward spiral. So having at least one other choice for any given snack or meal is the name of the game for me.
In the morning, I'm generally pretty ready to eat within half an hour of getting out of bed. Again, I have several breakfast options always available -- oatmeal, cereal, smoothie and toast (depending on the time of year, that will be toast with butter, peanut butter or avocado). Because these are all made of ingredients I can keep on hand for a while, it's not a problem or more expensive. I eventually eat all of it, but I'm not obligated to just eat one the whole week if I'm not digging that.
As the day progresses, I tend to start getting hungry around 10am. Honestly, I very often ignore that and keep working. When I plan ahead well, though, I bring a snack with me upstairs to my office because I'm more likely to eat it that way than if I have to go downstairs because my mind too often tells me I should just keep working and break for lunch early instead. This is something I'm continuing to work on because I feel better when I have the earlier snack, but it often means I just eat lunch around 11am instead. For lunch I usually go by the plan for the day, but I still have some alternates for when I need them.
One thing I know about myself is that I get hangry around 5pm if I haven't had an afternoon snack, and because I wait to have dinner until my husband gets home because I enjoy sharing a meal with him, I have to have an afternoon snack. That, as opposed to the morning snack, is easier for me because I also know I may get a headache if I don't have that afternoon snack. When and what I eat is totally dependent on the day and what I've done. Some days I go for a swim after lunch, and on those days I almost always want a snack when I get home and then sometimes something else later in the afternoon, too. Other days, I may have something in the middle of the afternoon. As you've probably guessed, I'm all about variety here, so I have several snack options around: dark chocolate, beef jerky, yogurt, chips, almonds or pecans, leftovers from lunch, Lärabar, etc. Some days I have one of those, other days more than one.In the evening, yep -- I generally go by the plan. But sometimes I don't feel like having that, or I got busy and didn't have time to make something so I text my husband to bring home take-out, or I just feel like going out or there's enough leftovers for a third serving but I can't handle it (I'm generally not interested in having something more than twice, so if there's more, I leave those for my husband to bring for lunch).
I never put so many meals on the week's grocery list that I can't just carry the ingredients forward and they'll still be fresh enough to be able to use and not throw out early the next week, so it works for me to do this. At night, I go by what I feel. If I've given myself what I wanted and needed at dinner, I rarely feel the desire to eat again before bed. But sometimes I might have had a very active day, eaten dinner earlier than usual, be going to bed later than usual, or who knows what -- sometimes I'm just hungry. If I am, I make sure to eat something before bed because waking up ravenous does not start me off on a good note for the next day.Really, each day is different, but when I have options on hand, it's so much easier for me to stay with intuitive eating because I can roll with the day as it is and not how I thought it should be five days ago.
Tracy Brown, Nutrition Therapist and Somatic Attuned Eating Coach
I certainly don't have typical days. The only things that are similar are the weekdays bc when I get my kid to and from school, so the meal times are mostly consistent. And I, 95% of the time have some kind of dessert each day. Easy going weekend day:
8am) banana and large muffin with almond butter; decaf coffee with cream and sugar
11am) grilled chicken, strawberries, lentil chips and some fancy cheese you can grill on a grill
3pm ) half a large piece of cake at a birthday party; mostly ate the frosting bc cake part was dry, would have liked to finish but didn't want to be full but not satisfied
530p) pasta with marinara and meatballs, broccoli and cauliflower with olive oil
9:15) strawberry coconut milk ice cream; not hungry per se but wanted a little something and it hit the spot
There are days with more or less fruit or veg or dairy; more fats, etc. The point is that after years of attuned eating the feedback my body consistently gives is that I feel more focused with better energy when I have protein for breakfast, though many days I don't have a preference for it. In those cases like this day, I added a little almond butter because I do like it and it doesn't feel forced or a should. Just a honoring of how I want to feel.
Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD, and Co-Founder of Be Nourished
While there is some consistency and predictability in my eating, the main question I ask myself is “What sounds good?” I have 3-4 rotating breakfasts that I make, depending on what I want and the time I have available. The entries below are for non-work days when I’m often running errands, and eat snacks between breakfast and dinner. Work day lunches are often leftovers (or a Whole Bowl around the corner!). New Seasons grocery store is also right by my office, so I might hop in there for something from the deli. I estimated the times I ate and included them here. Noticing how long the foods at each eating episode last—sometimes called the “meal mix”—can be helpful when planning what to eat. If I’m training all morning, my breakfast is going to be hearty—almost always an egg dish and something with it—beans, bagel, potatoes, fruit. If I’m in the office, I have more breakfast options (yogurt, granola and fruit, toasted waffles with nut butters, smoothies) because I can snack between meetings and clients. In summary, my eating varies in response to where I am, what I’m doing, the food choices I make, and the time I have available.
9 a.m Steel cut oats with toasted coconut, pumpkin seeds, almond milk and brown sugar, and green tea
Noon Part of a caramel walnut roll from the farmer’s market
2 p.m. Part of a toasted bagel with cream cheese, salmon lox. A few pickled green beans on the side. Sparkling water
5:30 p.m Happy Hour at a Mexican Restaurant. Nachos with black beans, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. Small green salad with apples, walnuts, and pepitas, Margaritas
9:30 a.m. Part of a caramel walnut roll from the farmer’s market. Eggs scrambled in butter. Green tea
1 p.m. Toaster waffle (frozen) with almond butter. Iced herbal tea
3:30 p.m. Crackers with gouda. Part of an apple. Sparkling water
5 p.m. A few bites of black rice while cooking
7 p.m. Pasta with nettle-walnut pesto, broccoli and tomatoes. Chicken apple sausage. Wine
8 p.m. Chocolate
It's safe to say that today, months after these lists were shared with me, these women are likely eating something completely different. That's real life. The point is that this is what intuitive eating looks like for a group of privileged women who let their bodies lead (most of the time), don't fret or stress about what they will eat or have eaten, integrate lifestyle, life phase, pleasure, socializing, and gentle nutrition in ways that ultimately feel easy to them.
It's not a science. There is no prescription. Perfection is no where to be found. There's just real life, good food and the choice to trust ourself and our body.