Intuitive eating is a lifestyle philosophy that focuses on a way of eating to help people establish a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Much of what we know about intuitive eating comes from the book on Intuitive Eating written by Evylyn Tribole and Elise Resch, two Registered Dietitians. I HIGHLY recommend their book as it goes into far more detail about the practicalities of intuitive eating than I will in this post.
Intuitive eating can defined by and broken down into 10 distinct principles. Let’s briefly discuss each of those principles.
- Reject the Diet Mentality Disregard anything that promises you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Dismiss the notion that if you just had more will-power, if you could just stick to a diet for long enough you will reach your goal. Get angry at those feelings of failure you experience every time you gained back weight you had previously lost. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating. Intuitive eating eliminates any concept of short term changes and looks as the rest of your life.
- Honor Your Hunger In other words…don’t starve yourself! Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy (cough and carbohydrates). Otherwise you will get so hungry that all good intentions of moderation and conscious eating fly out the window. Learning to identify and then honor the biological signal of hunger sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.
- Make Peace with Food And give yourself permission to eat! Putting foods into categories as good or bad creates feelings of deprivation that tend to lead to overeating and then…subsequent guilt. Don’t give food the power to make you feel guilty. Food is good and it is not an enemy.
- Challenge the Food Police What the women who wrote the book on intuitive eating mean by this is stand up to that voice in your head that wants to condemn or congratulate you based on what you had to eat on any given day. You are not ‘good’ because you were calorie restricted and you are not ‘bad’ because you indulged in a chocolate chip cookie. The Food Police are the hall monitors looking to hold you accountable to the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created. A certain food should never have a moral value. Shutting down the Food Police is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
- Respect Your Fullness Our bodies are surprisingly effective in letting us know when we are full or satisfied, however, over time we’ve been trained to silence these signals for the sake of appetite or craving. We grew up being told to clean our plates. We learn that dessert has to be earned, or can be taken away if we misbehave. We learn that we have to eat our vegetables before eating cookies. All of these things have limited our ability to hear our own bodies. Listen for the physiological signals that tell us we are no longer hungry. Learn to identify the signs of being comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal and take time to lean in to the experience of eating. How does the food taste? What is your current level of fullness? Are you satisfied?
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor One of the most revelatory things I remember reading in the book on Intuitive Eating was that in Japan, pleasure is actually promoted as one of the goals of healthy living. What? You mean I can eat pleasurably as a part of eating healthily? We have become so obsessed with the WHAT of what we are eating that we’ve lost sight of the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, allowing yourself to feel the pleasure of that moment is crucial in helping you feel satisfied and content. Those feelings then prevent you from seeking that feeling of satisfaction in another serving.
- Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food This one is key! This principle focuses on finding ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions that can tempt us to turn to food for appeasement. While food may comfort for the short term, it won’t solve the problem and may even leave you feeling worse. Ultimately we all have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the temptation to overeat. Sometime this looks like recognizing patterns of behavior that accompany certain emotions, other times this looks like seeking the services of a counselor or therapist to help you develop a healthier response to those trigger emotions.
- Respect Your Body This one is so much easier said than done and is a struggle for many people. Creating peace with and accepting our genetic blueprint is a key to health. We are all made differently, beautifully, and it is important we practice the art of loving our bodies. Notice I didn’t say it’s important we love ourselves. Because well, that is really hard. But if we practice what it means to accept the way we were made (the good and the bad), it is amazing what that mentality can do for us moving forward. Put simply, it is hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
- Exercise–Feel the Difference I was so glad to see exercise as one of the principles of intuitive eating. What I love about the way intuitive eating defines exercise is that it focuses on picking activities that make you feel alive, inspired, invigorated. That often means shifting your focus to how your body feels as you move it, rather than how many calories you are burning. If you focus on how you feel from working out (such as energized or strong) it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze button. If weight loss is your only goal, it is often not enough of a motivating factor.
- Honor Your Health This is a final and most important principle of intuitive eating. All this means is try to make food choices that impress your taste buds while also making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.
-Maggie McDaris, RD, LDN