We hear the term intuitive eating LOTS. Maybe you’ve heard the term used by dietitians, or maybe you’ve seen it in the media: #intuitiveeating
The term intuitive eating is thrown around all over social media and oftentimes misused. If you’re interested in learning more from a Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, stay tuned!
We will define what intuitive eating really is and take a deeper dive into the 10 principles of intuitive eating.
Bonus: we will also touch on how intuitive eating benefits your health and how you can get started on your intuitive eating journey.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating, a concept originally created by Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, can be defined in a number of ways.
Essentially, intuitive eating is a non-weight focused, anti-diet, research based, self-care approach to eating.
Though, I like to think of intuitive eating as something you are born with that, as you age and are exposed to the toxicity of diet culture, seems to fade away with time.
Think of it this way, when you are a baby, you cry to let your caregiver know you are hungry. Your caregiver listens to this hunger cue and feeds you. When you feel satisfied and your tummy has filled up, you stop eating.
As a baby you aren’t aware of what foods are “good” and which ones are “bad,” you don’t associate choices around food and eating with guilt and shame, no one tells you when you should or shouldn’t eat and how much you should have.
You aren’t told to eat less because you have too much baby fat and there is no ideal body image that you are trying to achieve. People aren’t fixated on the way you look, but more so on what your body is able to do.
They celebrate your milestones such as crawling and walking, not when your baby fat starts to disappear (well at least I hope not, though you never know, diet culture is pretty f***ed up nowadays).
As you start to age and are exposed to the toxic environment of diet culture, your ability to trust your body seems to fade away, as does your ability to eat intuitively.
This may start in your own home, well-meaning parents telling you that you don’t need seconds at dinner or that you already ate enough today so you don’t need a bedtime snack, regardless of how hungry you may be.
Maybe your friend at school makes a comment about your lunch, saying “how could you eat that? It has so many calories.”
Or, you have started using social media and fitness gurus are posting “what I eat in a day” videos along with a picture of their 6-pack abs, so you start to believe you need to replicate their diet in order to lose weight and achieve that unrealistic body standard.
Diet culture is everywhere, it goes against your innate ability to eat intuitively, and is a downward spiral into poor overall health.
Intuitive Eating, something that we are all naturally born with, now has to be re-learned by the majority of the population, and we have diet culture to thank for that.
The 10 Intuitive Eating Principles
1. Reject the diet mentality
In order to fully embrace intuitive eating, you need to first let go of the diet mentality. Rejecting diet culture can be tough. It’s what we know and it feels safe.
However, despite what you are constantly told, diets DON’T work, and will actually likely lead to the opposite result of what you are trying to achieve (i.e. weight gain).
Think about it, how have diets served you in the past? Did you get the desired outcome? Did you experience weight loss? If so, how long did it last? (likely not long-term). Did you have to try the same diet or a new diet over and over again? Then the diet did not work.
Did the diet make you feel better? Perhaps it did initially. Look at you go! You didn’t eat “junk” all day. But did you feel extra terrible the next time you ate something “unhealthy?”
Did you overeat it? Did the feelings of guilt and shame overwhelm you? How many sacrifices have you made to stick to your diet?
If you take the time to truly assess where diets have gotten you in the past, you will likely start to realize that diets really have not served you.
The fact is, dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain and up to two-thirds of individuals who diet will regain more weight than what they originally lost. This vicious cycle keeps occurring with every new attempt to lose weight.
It is important to note that you are NOT the failure, diet culture has failed you. So enough is enough, you have let diet culture control you for far too long. It’s time to reject diet mentality and start living the fulfilling life you deserve.
If you're struggling to reject the diet mentality I suggest you take some time to read my other blog post on the disadvantages of dieting.
2. Honor your hunger
It’s important to ensure your body is supplied with consistent and adequate amounts of nutrients, otherwise your body’s biological and psychological compensatory mechanisms will kick in, triggering you to overeat.
People tend to blame their overeating on lack of willpower, when in reality the reason for overeating is more often than not due to previous restriction, whether this is a certain food group, single food item, or overall low caloric intake.
There is no good reason to restrict and there is no good reason to skip a meal. The only time your body should be fasting is over night when you are asleep. Undereating will only blunt your metabolism. You need to fuel yourself regularly, so your body can start trusting you again.
3. Make peace with food
Quit demonizing food, it’s just food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat a wide variety of foods, whether they’re nutritious or not. If you continue to try to forbid yourself from eating certain foods, you’re only going to want those foods more.
Research shows that the longer you restrict a food, the higher the reward response is in your brain when you eat that food again. Your pleasure centers actually light up more, which is another reason why you may overeat the food.
So here’s a better idea, quit trying to restrict (both mentally and physically), eat the damn food and move on with your life.
I understand this process is easier said than done and you may experience a lot of food guilt as you work through making peace with food, but trust me, it is possible to overcome.
4. Challenge the food police
It’s funny, I find that oftentimes people think that dietitians are the food police. Whenever they're eating something “unhealthy” they feel the need to justify it to the dietitian in the room.
In reality, it’s quite the opposite. We are not the food police and we really don’t care what you’re eating. Diet culture is the food police, and LOVES to label food as “good” or “bad,” in turn making us feel good or bad depending on what we eat.
So what? You ate a cookie? Does that make you “bad”? Did you break the law? Did you act in immoral or unethical ways? No, you literally just ate a delicious food item.
The food police are everywhere. You may hear their voices in the media, your own head, or other external sources such as friends, family and celebrities. It may be a voice in your head, telling you not to eat after 7PM, or that you better go for an extra long run tomorrow because you ate pizza today.
You may see it in the media “if you want to lose weight eat this instead of that” with a picture of cauliflower crust pizza as opposed to regular crust. It may be an Instagram post of “foods you should never eat if you want abs.”
No wonder people are so afraid of food nowadays. Even if you aren’t on a diet, these voices and thoughts are bound to creep up, so do yourself a favour and start challenging them.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor
If you don’t allow yourself to eat the food you truly desire, you will never feel fully satisfied. Have you ever wanted chocolate for dessert but told yourself it was “bad” so you ate some fruit instead?
Did the craving for chocolate go away after eating that fruit? Or were you still longing for something else (i.e. the chocolate). Chances are you still wanted the chocolate and potentially kept eating a variety of “healthy” sweets before you decided to devour the whole chocolate bar.
Oftentimes you end up eating more than what you would have originally eaten if you would have just allowed yourself to eat the chocolate from the beginning.
So again, just eat the damn food and move on with your life. Food is not just for fueling your body, finding pleasure in food is just as important.
6. Feel your fullness
Eat the types of food you enjoy in amounts that make you feel good. Once you are able to honour your hunger, make peace with food and eat foods that satisfy both your nutrition needs and your taste buds, you likely won’t feel the need to over eat anymore.
Practice mindful eating and pay attention to your fullness level throughout the dining experience. How hungry were you to begin with? Is your stomach filling up? Did you eat too much? Or do you still need more? Is the food still tasting good? Or have you had enough of it? Did you leave room for dessert??
You may be familiar with the feeling of being overly stuffed or ravenously hungry. However, there are many other sensations you can tune into to help determine comfortable fullness and hunger. This is a process, it does not happen overnight.
Overeating, or binge eating, is a common struggle with many of my clients, which is why I created a free guide not only for my clients, but for you too! If you struggle with overeating this guide will be perfect for you!
Click to download your free guide: “4 steps to Overcome Overeating”
7. Cope with your emotions with Kindness
First of all, it’s important to understand that, to some extent, emotional eating is normal and completely healthy.
For example, eating a bowl of chicken noodle soup when you’re sick, or having a piece of cake on your birthday may be considered an emotional eating experience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.
It also needs to be recognized that emotions triggered by food restriction, that lead you to overeat, is NOT emotional eating, it is just a normal response to restriction.That being said, emotional eating can be a real issue for many people.
Food may be your only coping mechanism when it comes to boredom, loneliness, anger, stress or anxiety. While this may help you cope in the moment, it won’t solve any of your issues. It’s a band-aid solution that will likely end up making you feel worse in the long run.
It’s important to get to the root of your problems and find healthy coping mechanisms that work for you other than just food (although it may be okay if food is one of your many coping mechanisms, it’s best if it’s not the only one).
8. Respect your body
We don’t expect all dogs to be the same shape and size, so why should this be any different for humans? The reality is, we all have our own unique genetically predetermined body size.
Trying to fight genetics and change your body to look like the current “ideal” figure, is not plausible. Regardless of the size of your body, it deserves dignity and respect.
How can we start to respect our bodies? Well it’s actually quite simple. Meet it's basic needs.
Food- quit depriving your body of food. You need food to function. Your body deserves to be fueled appropriately regardless of size.
Clothing- Wear clothes that fit and feel comfortable. It can be scary to accept the fact that you have outgrown your clothes. However, if you continue to wear clothing that is tight on your body, you’re going to feel extremely uncomfortable and your body will be the only thing you can think about.
9. Movement-Feel the difference
If you don’t like going to the gym, don’t. It’s that easy. There are many ways to move your body from a place of enjoyment. Quit focusing on how many calories a particular exercise may burn, or working out only with the intent of shrinking your body.
Engage in joyful movement that makes you feel good both physically and mentally. You are a lot more likely to keep up with exercise if you actually enjoy it.
10. Honor your health- Gentle nutrition
Gentle nutrition is about eating from a place of self-care and respect for your body, rather than allowing diet mentality to dictate your food choices. Eating foods that your taste buds enjoy is just as important as eating foods that provide the proper fuel and nutrients to your body.
Once you have figured out how to incorporate all of the principles of Intuitive Eating, you will be able to make appropriate decisions about your food choices.
For example, you may really enjoy brownies. Does that mean you should eat a brownie for breakfast every morning because as an intuitive eater you can eat whatever you want? No, not necessarily.
As an intuitive eater you will be able to determine what your body needs and what is going to feel good to you. Eating a brownie at breakfast may taste good, though chances are you are going to feel pretty hungry soon after and potentially experience a mid-morning crash.
So instead, you may choose to eat eggs and toast at breakfast, another food that you not only enjoy, but will also keep you satisfied and energized until your mid-morning snack or lunch.
There are many other nutrition strategies that can be applied to optimize your health or aid in the control of health conditions. However, these should not be viewed as food rules or restrictions, but rather a way to honor your health.
Remember, nutrition is just a small piece of the large health puzzle so stop hyper-focusing on eating perfectly “healthy” all the time. Live a little, I promise you won't die, however I can almost guarantee you will live a more fulfilling life.
What are the Intuitive Eating Benefits?
I figured you may ask this. Of course there are benefits of intuitive eating! Why else would I be sharing all of this information with you if there wasn’t?!? The list goes on and on, so I will just share a few here. You will have to experience it yourself to figure out the rest ;)
You can also check out the research yourself, there are an endless amount of studies to read!
The benefits of intuitive eating:
Better overall quality of life and life satisfaction
Greater variety of foods/nutrients eaten
More pleasure with eating
Decreased binge eating
Less body dissatisfaction
Lower blood pressure
Less likely to eat emotionally
Fewer disordered eating tendencies (i.e. less likely to develop an eating disorder)
How to Start Intuitive Eating:
Working through the process of intuitive eating has proven to be quite difficult when you have no support or guidance. Therefore, my first recommendation is to get help!
Work with a health professional that specializes in intuitive eating, like myself. You can learn more about me and my virtual nutrition coaching services by clicking the services tab on my website Dietitian Krista. If you’re looking specifically for someone in your area, check out the Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor Directory.
I would also recommend curating your social media feed. Follow some Intuitive Eating Dietitians and other intuitive eating health professionals. You can find me on instagram @dietitian.krista.
Lastly, if you prefer to start your intuitive eating journey on your own I highly recommend checking out my self-paced online course: The Formula for Food Freedom.
Well, there you have it, intuitive eating, a non-weight focused, anti-diet, research based, self-care approach to eating, offers numerous benefits to your health.
It provides a holistic approach to health, focusing on 10 general principles that consider the bigger picture of health, opposed to modern day diets, which typically focus solely on diet and exercise.
It’s completely normal that you may still be questioning whether or not Intuitive Eating is for you. Believe me, I understand how scary it can be to let go of those external food rules that feel so safe to you.
If you have any more questions about intuitive eating please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to help guide you through your unique intuitive eating journey.
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