How to Eat Intuitively at Work

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This article was written by Dietitian Kirsten Maier. Kirsten is an Australian-trained HAES-aligned dietitian, certified Intuitive Eating counsellor and founder of Kindful Nutrition. She helps folks with food and eating concerns heal their relationship with food, mind and body. 


Summer’s over and finally busy households can get back to routines, including work deadlines. 

Some folk may thrive at this time of year with the return of regular grocery shopping, weekly meal planning and scheduled eating times at work, school and home.

But for others’, the idea of pre-planned meals and rigid eating times can actually leave them feeling rather anxious – especially anyone who is living with disordered eating or a difficult relationship with food. 

Disordered eating includes many of the symptoms of eating disorders such as dieting, intentionally restricting food, skipping meals and compulsive eating (1), usually for the purposes of controlling weight and body shape.

Scarily, statistics show that 35% of people who diet will go on to experience disordered eating patterns, with 30-45% of those people developing a full eating disorder (2).

This is despite research showing that dieting can actually lead to increased weight gain and is also associated with poor mental health (3, 4).

At Dietetically Speaking, we have spoken before about Intuitive Eating. We often use this approach in the clinic with folks who are living with disordered eating and eating disorders. 

We do so because there are over 175 studies showing that Intuitive Eating has been associated with decreased disordered eating, higher levels of self esteem and positive body image (5). 

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based framework developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, that is deeply rooted in body respect and body trust. There are 10 Intuitive Eating principles which all work together and there is a body of research supporting its use in the treatment of disordered eating and eating disorders (6).

To eat intuitively means being able to listen to body cues such as hunger and satiety, and respond to those cues in a timely manner, while giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods. 

This kind of food freedom can be difficult if there are external factors that limit a person’s ability to respond to hunger cues when they arise. This is one of the biggest concerns that I hear from those who work in environments where they are bound by rigid schedules, such as teachers and nurses, where eating times are pre-planned. 

If you have this concern also, let’s explore how you can continue your intuitive eating journey while in the workplace. 

Four ways to eat intuitively in the workplace:

1. Eat Breakfast

Upon waking, have a substantial meal before starting your busy day to literally break the fast. This goes for people who work during the day or the night. After you have had your longest stretch of sleep, it is important to replenish energy stores so that you have some pep in your step before starting work next. 

What does “substantial” look like?  Some ideas:

  • Porridge made on milk with berries/banana/nuts
  • Cereal and milk or yoghurt
  • Toast with avocado and eggs
  • Baked beans on toast
  • Bagel with any topping you like

2. Feed Your Body Throughout Your Work Shift 

A basic rule of thumb is to feed the body every 2-4  hours to maintain energy levels and reduce intense hunger pangs. It can be helpful to have snacks prepared for your working day so that you can easily eat something if you find that you have gone too long in between eating. 

Here are some snack ideas:

  • A pot of yoghurt with fruit, nuts or a crumbled biscuit
  • A cereal or muesli bar
  • Toast with cream cheese
  • Tuna with rice/quinoa
  • Crackers and cheese
  • Nuts and fruit or dried fruit

This may not be easy to achieve, particularly for people who don’t typically snack. If this is you, perhaps start with identifying one snack item that you would be comfortable introducing into your day and start to notice the difference in how you feel afterwards. Some people feel noticeably more energised by simply including an additional snack in between meals!   

3. Eat at the Scheduled Mealtime, Even if You’re Not Hungry

I know this sounds a little counterintuitive to Intuitive Eating, but when you do not have the flexibility to respond to hunger cues during the work shift, it can be helpful to eat even when hunger cues aren’t there. Even if it is something “easy” such as toast with a protein topping such as peanut butter, tuna, eggs, cheese.

In fact eating in order to avoid becoming overly hungry is discussed as a helpful strategy as part of the intuitive eating process – this is often called ‘practical hunger’ or ‘practical eating’.

4. Advocate for Your Needs

If you are finding strict eating schedules at your work are making it difficult in your recovery from disordered eating or an eating disorder, it’s important that you advocate for your needs.

It might be helpful to speak with your supervisor about what support you need at work to aid in your recovery and seek support from your medical treatment team. 

Intuitive eating is a process. It is not something that will happen overnight and there will often be times when it seems impossible, such as in a work environment where you cannot identify or be able to respond to hunger cues in a timely manner.

Take Home Message

The four tips discussed in this article are pieces of intuitive eating that you can control and hopefully assist in your intuitive eating journey.

Of course this is always very individual and if you are experiencing eating difficulties in your workplace, it might be helpful to discuss a plan for workplace support with your GP, therapist and/or dietitian. Please reach out to one of our dietitians at the Dietetically Speaking Clinic for any additional support you may need.

References

  1. National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC). (2021). Disordered Eating and Dieting. Retrieved from https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/disordered-eating-and-dieting/
  1. Shisslak, C., Crago, M., & Estes, L. (1995). The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal Of Eating Disorders18(3), 209-219. https://doi.org/10.1002/1098-108x(199511)18:3<209::aid-eat2260180303>3.0.co;2-e. [accessed July 2022. Via https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8556017/]
  1. Solmi, F., Sharpe, PhD, H., Gage, S., Maddock, J., Lewis, G., & Patalay, P. (2021). Changes in the Prevalence and Correlates of Weight-Control Behaviors and Weight Perception in Adolescents in the UK, 1986-2015. JAMA Pediatrics175(3), 267. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.4746. [accessed July 2022 via https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33196811/]
  1. Tylka, T., Calogero, R., & Daníelsdóttir, S. (2015). Is intuitive eating the same as flexible dietary control? Their links to each other and well-being could provide an answer. Appetite, 95, 166-175. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2015.07.004. [accessed August 2022 via https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26162949/]
  1. Linardon, J., Tylka, T., & Fuller‐Tyszkiewicz, M. (2021). Intuitive eating and its psychological correlates: A meta‐analysis. International Journal Of Eating Disorders54(7), 1073-1098. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23509. [Accessed August 2022 via https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/eat.23509]
  1. Tribole, E., & Resch, E.  (2020). Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition : A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. St. Martin’s Press.

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