Figuring out what to eat can sometimes be a challenge. We stare at the contents of our open refrigerator, knowing we are hungry but unsure of what to choose, before we close the door only to immediately open it again and resume the search. We ask the waiter to come back in a few minutes and then return our attention to the menu. Our uncertainty can lead to frustration, confusion, and wasted time, but we have a remedy: matching.
Matching is an intuitive eating tool that can help us to make food selection decisions based upon our body’s internal cues. Diet culture tells us not to listen to our bodies, that its cues are untrustworthy and therefore to be ignored in favor of external systems, such as points systems or lists of foods to eat and those to avoid, in order to make choices.
However, our bodies are actually quite good at letting us know which food is going to hit the spot at any given time. As examples, consider how much better water tastes when we are thirsty compared to when we are already well hydrated, or how some people with anemia feel naturally attracted to high-iron foods. The latter might not know that beef has a high concentration of heme iron, but they do know that right about now, they could really go for a burger. Our bodies give us signals; we just have to be tuned in enough to notice what they are saying and trust them.
Following is an outline for how to put the matching process into practice.
- Before opening the refrigerator, pantry, or restaurant menu, ask yourself these questions to help guide your decision based upon your body’s intuitive eating cues.
- “What temperature food do I feel like having?” Example answers include hot, lukewarm, room temperature, cool, or frozen.
- “What texture food do I feel like having?” Example answers include crunchy, smooth, liquid, or a combination.
- “What color food do I feel like having?” Example answers include multicolored or monotone in a specific color.
- “What flavor food do I feel like having?” Example answers include sweet, salty, spicy, or bitter.
- With your answers in mind, survey your available food options to see which ones match – hence the term “matching” – your criteria.
- Imagine yourself eating each of the options you identified and choose the one you feel is most likely to hit the spot.
- Eat the food you selected, then ask yourself how the eating experience compared to your expectations. If your choice hit the spot as you anticipated, great! If not, no worries, just consider it data for the future.
You probably will not be able to answer all of the questions regarding temperature, color, texture, and flavor, but being able to answer even one can be enough to point you in a direction. Also, these are not leading questions, and you are not trying to talk yourself into wanting – or not wanting – a particular food.
Lastly, keep in mind that the matching process is a tool, not a rule that can be violated. For example, if you go through the process and determine that you want crackers and cheese, but then you remember that you have yogurt that is about to expire and you opt to use it up instead, you are not doing anything wrong, nor are you bad at intuitive eating. We all live in the real world where a multitude of factors influence our eating, and it would be unrealistic to expect someone to always base their eating decisions solely on matching. Use this tool to the extent that you want to and find it helpful.