Intuitive eating vs tracking | which nutrition advice is right?

On social media, everyone seems to be a nutritionist…. There is a lot of nutrition advice given, for both the better and the worse.

There are plenty of qualified people online giving nutrition advice, which is great… they are sharing their knowledge to help others. And then there are also those who have gotten their nutrition information online from maybe not the most scientific sources. However, this is not what I am going to discuss today…. But there are some red flags to be aware of when getting your nutrition information online from different sources. But that can be for another post.

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Instead, this post is about….. the type and way nutrition information shared. I have noticed that there are two ways of sharing nutrition information and advice – and you can easily tell which category I fall into – and that is, “eat whatever you want when you want it, try to eat intuitively and balanced. Everything in moderation” vs. “Track your calories and macros. Eat according to a schedule and mealplan if possible. Only eat certain foods on certain days, and do a tough workout either before or after your ‘cheatmeal’ to earn it”.

So… which is right? Do you need to track your food and earn your “cheatmeals”, or can you just eat whatever you want when you want?

This may not be the answer you want to hear, but I would say…. It is very individual what works.

For some people, they may struggle with a more restrictive mindset. Feel guilt around food and want to restrict calories or certain foods. Then, giving them the reminder that everything in moderation is healthy (this is of course true for EVERYONE, regardless of weight or goal). Also reminding the person that they should try to listen to their body, follow their hunger and fullness signals and allow themselves to eat…. To overcome the fear and guilt associated with food.

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Whereas for others who may have tendencies towards overeating, binging, extreme emotional eating and may gravitate more towards eating processed and junkfood on the daily. Then giving the advice to follow a mealplan or to track their intake and keep portions and foods in line with their goal.

Just eating whatever and whenever may not be the best advice for some… just like telling others to track their food and calories and that they have to “earn” their food may not be the best advice for others.

It is very individual. And as a nutritionist or dietitian you give different advice to different people, depending on their goal and situation. There are food and nutrition recommendations for the general population, but individual advice may differ for different individuals.

But on social media… what may be individual advice is instead given to a large population. It is aimed at “everyone”, even if the advice may only be healthy and applicable for some groups of people. THIS is something that YOU as a reader should be aware of. Not all nutrition advice is applicable for everyone…. You also have to be aware of, “is this advice and recommendation suitable for me?”

The advice for someone who is recovering from anorexia will vary from someone who has a large overweight and needs to lose weight. But will also vary between those two groups and someone who has a healthy weight and maybe wants to build muscle.

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The thing you will notice online is that the person giving the nutrition advice will most likely adjust their advice given according to their followers… if someone has a lot of followers who struggle with overeating and need to/want to lose weight, they will give different recommendations from someone like me… who knows that I have a lot of followers who struggle with different forms of restrictive eating.

My personal opinion is that…. It is not necessarily wrong to track your food intake or follow a meal plan. For some people, that is what they need to do for a SHORT period of time to readjust to regular portion sizes and try to find balance with food again. However, how precisely you track your food intake is another question…. And that is very individual. Some people can track their calories or macros without it ever getting obsessive, while others easily get consumed and obsessed with numbers if they try to track their food. So my general recommendation is to not focus on calories, but to focus more on healthy foods and eating the right size portions.

My nutrition advice is of course adjusted for the individual when working with individuals, but my overall recommendation for everyone is to try to focus on balanced and intuitive eating. Even if it may be a long process to get to that stage, that should be the ultimate goal. To be able to listen to your body, to not have to overthink food or track every single food you eat.

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When you begin listening to your body and find intuitive eating, you do fall into a routine…. You feel hungry at certain times, you find meals and foods you like which become a regular, but you also aren’t scared to try new foods or meals or eat at different times when the hunger kicks in. That should be the ultimate goal, which is also why I share that message so often.

To summarize this post…

Well, there is a lot of nutrition advice out there and it is not applicable to everyone. You as a reader, do also need to think rationally and ask yourself… is this information relevant and healthy for me? Would it be healthy for me to track my calories or exercise to compensate for food? Would it be healthy for me to just listen to my body? Would it be healthy for me to just eat what my body tells me… ?(For some people at certain stages of their life, this method isn’t the healthiest… it may be the goal but at certain times a mealplan may be necessary to find structure and balance with food again).

Lastly… I also think that the majority of people will follow those online who give the nutrition advice that most suits them. If they are someone who wants to eat more intuitively and balanced, they will most likely follow someone who gives that advice and motivates them to eat that way. Whereas, if someone wants a stricter approach to eating and wants to track their food and be reminded of portion sizes or calorie amounts in food, they will follow people who give that sort of advice.

However on social media… you can’t always control what appears in your feed or recommended pages, so sometimes you get nutrition advice and recommendations which may not be the ones aimed at you or the advice you want to hear or see.  But that’s social media.

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So which is better….. it is individual, one isn’t necessarily better than the other… even if I personally believe that the intuitive eating and balanced approach to eating should be the ultimate goal for everyone. You as an individual also need to ask yourself, which approach to food and eating works best for you?

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