Intuitive eating and powerlifting may seem like two concepts that don’t go together.
Intuitive eating is a philosophy that encourages people to make peace with food and their bodies, whereas powerlifting is all about strength and discipline.
But the two actually go hand in hand! In this article, we will discuss how intuitive eating can help you become a successful powerlifter.
We will also explore the principles of intuitive eating and how they can benefit your training.
Let’s get started!
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is not new; it is actually been around for quite some time.
The term was coined in the early 1990s by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who wanted to help people break free from the yo-yo dieting cycle and heal their relationships with food.
Intuitive eating is a science based approach to eating that is based on listening to your body’s hunger cues.
It is about making peace with food and your body and rejecting the diet culture mentality.
It encourages people to eat when they are hungry and to stop when they are full.
It also promotes healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with emotions, such as stress or boredom.
Various segments of the weight-lifting community are already incorporating intuitive eating principles.
For example, some bodybuilders are realizing restricting carbohydrates and then having a carb-heavy day whichcan actually benefit their performance.
However, some of the rationales behind this practice is the collective realization – if you block off access to all unhealthy foods you’ll probably end up eating them anyways!
Indeed, pretty much every health coach, guru, and personal trainer advocates intuitive eating to one degree or another – even if they don’t know it by that name.
People who are constantly on a diet are called “yo-yo dieters.”
They go on a diet, lose weight, and then gain it all back (and often more).
Intuitive Eating can be a great approach to try if dieting hasn’t worked for you in the past as it helps you break the yo-yo dieting cycle and makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
There are ten principles of intuitive eating, which we will discuss in more detail below.
1. Reject the diet mentality. This means giving up on diets and instead focusing on attuning to your body’s hunger cues.
2. Honor your hunger. This means recognizing when you are physically hungry and responding accordingly.
3. Make peace with food. This means accepting that all foods can fit into a healthy diet, and that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” foods.
4. Challenge the food police. This means questioning the diet culture messages that tell you certain foods are off-limits.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor. This means finding pleasure and satisfaction in eating, rather than using food as a tool to control your weight.
6. Feel your fullness. This means honouring your body’s signals of satiety and stopping eating when you are satisfied.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness. This means learning how to deal with your emotions in healthy ways like self-compassion, instead of using food as a coping mechanism.
8. Respect your body. This means accepting and respecting your body, regardless of its size or shape.
9. Movement – feel the difference. This means finding a type of movement that you enjoy and that feels good to your body.
10. Honour your health – gentle nutrition. This means making food choices that are nourishing for your body and satisfying for your taste buds.
Now that we have covered the basics of intuitive eating, let’s gently transition to discuss how it can benefit powerlifters.
But first, let’s talk about why many powerlifters are sceptical about Intuitive Eating at first glance.
Why Powerlifters Are Sceptical About Intuitive Eating
Powerlifters are often sceptical of anything that doesn’t have a clear purpose or goal.
They tend to be very analytical and logical in their approach to training.
To them, Intuitive Eating can seem like a “hippie” philosophy with no real basis in science.
Yet, powerlifters can be more creative in their approach to training and are willing to try new things if they think it will help them reach their goals.
However, even the most open-minded powerlifter can be sceptical of Intuitive Eating because it goes against everything they have been taught about dieting.
The diet industry tells us that we need to restrict calories and eat less food if we want to lose weight.
Intuitive Eating tells us the opposite – that we need to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full.
So how can Intuitive Eating benefit powerlifters?
The simple answer is that Intuitive Eating can help powerlifters reach their goals in a more sustainable way.
Let’s take a closer look at how Intuitive Eating can benefit both strength-focused and aesthetics-focused powerlifters.
Protein and Satisfaction
Every powerlifter needs protein and enough nutrients.
But oftentimes powerlifters fail to get the nutrients their bodies need to grow and maintain muscle mass.
As any serious powerlifter can attest the hardest part is not training and lifting weights, but eating.
In other words, eating food is the most significant struggle holding back many powerlifters from their goals!
A few problems typically arise in regards to eating food in regards to powerlifting:
Eating can become routine, boring, and joyless. Over time, the sheer routine and boredom can prevent people from eating regularly. Dieting and restriction can be overdone, leading to eating disorders and malnutrition.
Notice the trend? Powerlifters tend to undereat because of overly restrictive dieting or boredom with eating.
Plus, weight lifters are especially vulnerable to undereating because of the undue influence of dieting, and simply because they’re burning lots of calories.
Undereating of course can lead to a host of problems including decreased strength, decreased energy levels, and increased risk of injuries.
Quick Summary – The main benefits of Intuitive Eating for powerlifters are nutritional mindsets.
Nutritional Mindset #1 – Satisfaction
The biggest benefit of Intuitive Eating is the satisfaction principle.
This principle encourages powerlifters to eat when they are hungry and to stop when they are full.
This can help avoid overeating or undereating, both of which can lead to problems.
In addition, this principle can help folks learn to listen to their bodies and to trust their hunger cues.
Many powerlifters have a difficult time listening to their bodies and trusting their hunger cues.
This is because they are often told by coaches, trainers, or even themselves that they need to eat more or less than they actually do.
As a result, powerlifters often end up eating too much or too little, both of which can lead to problems.
The satisfaction principle can help them learn to listen to their bodies and trust their hunger cues.
Nutritional Mindset #2 – Gentle Nutrition
In addition to the satisfaction principle, another important principle for powerlifters is Gentle Nutrition.
This principle encourages powerlifters to eat a variety of foods and not restrict any particular food group.
Many tend to undereat because they are restricting certain food groups.
For example, some powerlifters can avoid carbohydrates because they believe they will make them fat.
However, avoiding carbohydrates can actually lead to problems such as decreased energy levels and decreased strength.
Plus, research is very clear – carbohydrates are an important part of weightlifting and stage competition.
The balance principle can help folks learn to eat a variety of foods and not restrict any particular food group.
By following the principles of Intuitive Eating, powerlifters can improve their nutrition, avoid injuries, and improve their body image.
Nutritional Mindset #3 – Challenge the food police
Powerlifters can be susceptible to moral judgments about their food intake. At the very least, a preoccupation or obsession with calories can actually hold back progress!
The Intuitive Eating principle of “challenging the food police” can help to accept food choices without judgment.
Many feel guilty or ashamed after eating certain foods.
For example, someone might feel guilty after eating a donut because they believe it is “unhealthy.”
However, the principle of challenging the food police can help powerlifters learn to accept their food choices without judgment.
This principle encourages followers to eat without too much guilt or shame, even if they aren’t “perfect”.
Rethink Your Relationship To Food
While eating when hungry and stopping when full sounds nice, the reality can often be different.
If your goal is to lose a certain percentage of body weight or hit certain PR’s, then letting go of a food schedule can seem stupid.
If you just eat when hungry, you might not eat enough. Likewise, if you stopped eating when full you might not eat enough.
While you may want to get rid of the inner critic, your inner food police might help you reach your body goals.
It can feel like an untenable situation.
It would be nice to eat intuitively and listen to your body, but if you want to make progress in your sport, it might seem like you have to choose between the two.
Fortunately, it is possible to find a balance between Intuitive Eating and powerlifting.
Intuitive Eating Tips For Powerlifters
Here are some tips that can help powerlifters learn to eat intuitively while still making progress in their sport:
Try the intuitive eating principle that sounds right to you
You might not agree with every principle, however, try to adopt the ones that resonate with you.
You can start with the principle of satisfaction and work your way up from there.
One tangible way to incorporate satisfaction is “test” if your foods keep you satisfied for 3+ hours.
If you get hungry relatively soon after eating, then you are not probably really satisfied after eating.
On the other hand, if you can wait a few hours before getting hungry then you are likely satisfied.
This is a great way to see if you need to incorporate more protein and healthy fats into your diet.
But if you don’t feel comfortable with the “unconditional eating” principle, then don’t do it!
You can still eat more intuitively even if you don’t follow or believe in all the principles!
And Intuitive Eating does not mean eating only whole foods either! You can eat whatever fits you, and I’d encourage you to research the best supplements too and incorporate them as you see fit.
While some people can make a cult out of Intuitive Eating, whether you follow all 10 principles or only embrace a select few parts doesn’t really matter.
Deep down Intuitive Eating is about becoming more in tune with your body, and that’s what’s important.
Find a balance that works for you
There is no “right” way to eat intuitively.
What works for one person might not work for another.
For example, if you are training for a powerlifting meet, then you might need to be more restrictive with your diet leading up to the meet.
However, after the competition is over, you can relax your diet and eat more intuitively.
Remember: Intuitive Eating is flexible! It should work around YOUR life, not the other way around!
Don’t get too caught up in the details
The goal is to become more in touch with your body and learn to trust yourself around food.
Don’t get too caught up in the details.
The point is to learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.
The same principle can apply to weight lifting as well! Don’t get too caught up in the numbers!
Be sure you get into “flow” states and aren’t just counting reps all day long.
If you are too in your head, you won’t enjoy eating or lifting. And without enjoyment, in the long run, you won’t be able to sustain your commitment.
Make time to eat
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can help you learn to listen to your body’s hunger cues.
However, if you are always on the go, it can be difficult to listen to your body’s hunger cues.
Make sure to schedule time for meals and snacks.
This will help ensure that you are able to listen to your body’s hunger cues and eat when you are actually hungry.
Yes, that’s right – schedule in your meals and snacks. This is an Intuitive Eating tip too, not just a key powerlifting technique!
Why? You might not realize you’re hungry until you’re so famished, that you eat whatever is in sight.
If you make time for meals and snacks, you’ll be more likely to eat when you’re actually hungry instead of waiting until you’re starving.
Who knows, maybe one day you’ll drop the food schedule and listen to your body “when” and “how” much to eat.
But, you don’t ever “have to” to do this!
Avoid “all-or-nothing” thinking about food
One common trap that people fall into is “all-or-nothing” thinking about food.
This is when you either label food as “good” or “bad.”
However, this kind of thinking can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
This will help you have a more balanced relationship with food.
Additionally, try not to label yourself as “good” or “bad” based on what you ate.
Remember: no one is perfect! We all make mistakes and that’s okay. Just learn from your mistakes and keep going.
Be patient with yourself
The process of learning to eat intuitively can be challenging and it might take some time to get used to it.
But likewise, so is muscle growth!
Give yourself grace and be patient with yourself as you learn this new way of eating.
And at the end of the day you don’t want to be following a meal plan for the rest of your life, right?
You want to be able to intuitively eat and have a healthy relationship with food.
The same goes for powerlifting. You don’t want to be flexing on stage for the rest of your life, you want to enjoy the process and find a balance that works for you.
Now so far we’ve only talked about food because that’s one of the primary concerns of powerlifters (let’s be honest).
However, Intuitive Eating principles can also help weight lifters with three common struggles, burnout, injury prevention and body image.
Powerlifters are constantly pushing themselves to the limit in their quest for new PRs (personal records).
Eventually, this takes a toll on their bodies and their minds, and they start to burn out.
Intuitive Eating can help reduce burnout by encouraging powerlifters how to enjoy the movement, instead of just using it as a means to an end.
In other words, Intuitive Eating can help powerlifters find enjoyment in the process of lifting weights, rather than just focusing on the results.
This can lead to a more sustainable approach to training and can help powerlifters stay motivated in the long run.
In addition to reducing burnout, Intuitive Eating may also help prevent injuries.
This is because Intuitive Eating encourages followers to listen to their bodies and to respect their limits.
Many injuries occur when people ignore their body’s warning signs and try to push themselves too hard.
Aesthetics-focused powerlifters are often more interested in how they look than how much they can lift.
We all know the problems with body image in today’s society and Intuitive Eating may help improve body image.
This is because Intuitive Eating teaches followers to respect their bodies and to accept them as they are.
Many powerlifters have a negative body image and are constantly trying to change their bodies through dieting and exercise.
Intuitive Eating can help them learn to love and accept their bodies, which can lead to a more positive body image.
Please remember – we’re not asking you to love your body.
If the idea of “respecting your body” seems contrary to your weight lifting goals, that’s ok.
Intuitive Eating is about leaning into uncomfortable ideas, often contrary to mainstream beliefs.
You don’t have to believe in Intuitive Eating 100%. However, it’s always wise to question your beliefs.
Especially because most people do recognize how body image problems are prevalent in the weight lifting community.
Balance Intuition and Logic
I think we can all admit our Western culture promotes an over-dependence on rational thinking.
We’re always planning, organizing, counting, and making to-do lists.
While becoming more intuitive may sound strange or stupid at first, it can actually be very freeing.
It allows you to live more in the present moment and enjoy your life more.
But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon all logic and planning!
You can still use your logical mind, you just might want to give yourself a break from it sometimes.
The goal is to find a balance between intuition and logic – what works best for YOU.
And there you have it!
A few tips on how to balance Intuitive Eating with Powerlifting (or really any fitness pursuit).
The key is to find what works best for YOU and YOUR lifestyle. There is no one “right” way to do things.
So go out there and experiment until you find what works best for you! And have fun with it!
That’s all for now.
Jared Levenson is the coach and writer behind Eating Enlightenment, a 4 year old blog focusing on intuitive eating and nutrition. Jared lived for 13 months in a Zen Buddhist monastery and is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.