An Intro to Intuitive Eating

What is Intuitive Eating? And why is it a healthy approach to eating?

Intuitive Eating is a process-based approach that ultimately teaches individuals how to have a healthy relationship with food, and teach them how to become the experts of their own bodies, learning to nourish themselves based on their internal cues, rather than diet rules or external cues. Intuitive Eating is based on 10 Principles developed by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA. It is evidence-based, and research has shown that Intuitive Eaters have been shown to have better trust and healthier relationships with their body, decreased blood pressure, decreased risk of disordered eating, lower BMIs (without obsessing over the thin ideal), decreased total and LDL Cholesterol, increased physical activity, improved body image, and so much more.

Think back to when you were an infant or toddler. Did you have diet rules? Did you eat when you were stressed? Toddlers are natural intuitive eaters. They eat when they are hungry, and stop when they are full. As we age and go through life, we become influenced by diet culture, food fears, the thin ideal, etc., causing us to become less in tune with our own bodies. The process of Intuitive eating helps us learn to go back to our natural intuitive eating ways.

So how can you become an Intuitive Eater? Here’s a quick overview of the 10 Principles, and you can explore them on your own or work with a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
    Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies you’ve been told that led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet is possibly lurking around the corner, it will keep you from staying free enough to discover the joy of “intuitive eating”. Research proves that diets do not work – we know this for a fact! Ditch the diet mentality to develop a healthier relationship with food.
  2. Honor Your Hunger
    Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates (avoid skipping meals!). Otherwise, you can trigger a primal overdrive to eat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food. Pay attention to true hunger – stomach feeling empty, maybe some stomach grumbling, less ability to focus at work. This is your body telling you it needs nourishment, so don’t ignore it!
  3. Make Peace with Food
    Call a truce, and stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can not or should not have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, binge eating. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden food, eating is experienced with such intensity, it usually results in overeating and overwhelming guilt. And then, the feeling of needing to restrict yourself or start a new diet. This continual cycle is exhausting, unhealthy, and unbalanced.
  4. Challenge the Food Police
    Scream a loud “no” to thoughts in your head that declare you are “good” for eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments, Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to intuitive eating.
  5. Respect Your Fullness
    Listen to your body for signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you are comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating a meal or a food to ask yourself: “How does the food taste? Am I still enjoying this? What is my current fullness level?”
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
    The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of the goals to healthy living. In our fury to become or stay thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence – the pleasure and satisfaction that is found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive is a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing the experience yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you have had enough.
  7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
    Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food will not fix any of these feelings. It provides comfort for the short term, distracts from the pain, or even numbs you into a food hangover. But food will not solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You will ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.
  8. Respect Your Body
    Accept your genetic blueprint, we are all unique! Just as a person with a shoe size of 8 would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size 6, it is equally as futile ad uncomfortable to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body so that you can feel better about who you are. It is hard to reject the diet mentality if you are overly critical about your body shape. You’re more likely to want to treat your body well, move mindfully, and nourish your body if you truly love it!
  9. Exercise – Feel the Difference
    Forget militant exercise. Just get active, and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than how many calories you are burning. If you focus on how you feel when working out, such as energized, you’re more likely to stay active. Also – find what types of movement bring you joy and make physical activity fun! Do you like to dance? Swim? Bike? Walk?
  10. Honor Your Health
    Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds, while making you feel well. Remember that you do not have to eat a perfect diet to stay healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, meal, or day of eating. It is what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts. Is eating junk food all day every day really going to make you feel good? Probably not. Trust your body that it will ask you for what it needs to feel its best.

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Used with Permission by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA