You may have heard the phrase “intuitive eating” thrown around in the health and fitness realm as it’s gaining attention and a bit of popularity. As a non-diet dietitian, I couldn’t be happier that it is becoming more well-known and mainstream… but as with everything, there are some myths floating around that need to be dispelled.
Before we dive into what intuitive eating is, lets first touch on what it isn’t:
- Intuitive eating is not a fad diet (or any kind of diet)
- Intuitive eating is not a means to weight loss or weight management. It’s not about weight at all.
- Intuitive eating is not anti-health, anti-nutrition, anti-exercise, etc.
- Intuitive eating, while encompassing parts of mindful eating, is not just mindful eating.
- Intuitive eating is not for everyone all of the time. In fact, if you have an eating disorder, disordered eating, or a long history of dieting, it’s easy to take intuitive eating and manipulate it into something it’s not.*
Diets just do not work. Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch realization of just that inspired them to research what did and write the book Intuitive Eating, with the first edition published in 1995. Since then they have released two newer editions and a workbook under the same name.
Intuitive eating is more than just a way of eating, but also about our relationship with food and our bodies. It is based on the foundation of the following 10 principles:
- Reject the diet mentality
All of the diet hoopla, the food rules, the musts, and the restrictions must be let go of first. If any of the diet mentality lingers it skews your ability to eat according to intuition. You cannot listen to your body if you are following a diet.
- Honor your hunger
Listening to your body is key. All of us are born intuitive eaters, but given time, we are often taught not to trust our own bodies. Sometimes, we must reset and relearn our hunger cues through practice.
- Make peace with food
This is where you give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods. Any time we put a restriction on something, we feel deprived, setting ourselves up to crave the “off-limits” food. Then, given a chance to eat it, we frequently overindulge and are left feeling guilty, typically encouraging us to restrict further. Making peace with food takes away the need to restrict or the feeling of guilt associated with food
- Challenge the food police
In our society we often moralize food: Good/Bad, Healthy/Unhealthy, Clean/Junk, Whole/Empty. We have to be able to let that go and let food just be food, knowing that all food has something to offer our body whether that’s in nutrients or experience. With both the internal and external food police, we must put a stop to the unnecessary judgements and shaming about what we and others choose to eat.
- Feel your fullness
On the other side of hunger is fullness. Giving ourselves permission to feel this is so important and is part of listening to your body’s needs. Just like hunger, sometimes we have suppressed this feeling whether we don’t allow ourselves to get anywhere near it or have ignored it and end up feeling stuffed. Luckily, you can practice this to re-tune to what your body is saying to you.
- Discover the satisfaction factor
Food is so much more than just fuel. Discovering satisfaction takes just this into account. It’s where we allow ourselves to consider what food sounds good, tastes good, and feels good to each person. It allows food to be fun and pleasurable, as well as a way to nourish our bodies.
- Cope with your emotions without using food
Food can be incredibly comforting and, at times, the coping mechanism we need. However, we should all have multiple coping mechanisms and know how they make us feel in the moment and after, while acknowledging that they are often just short-term distractions from our emotions and feelings.
- Respect your body
We live in a society that encourages us to wage war on our bodies. Intuitive eating encourages a Health at Every Size® approach – which says that no matter the size or shape our body is we can pursue health where we are at. Research has shown time and time again that this method results in improvements in health without focusing on weight change (Bacon and Aphramor, 2011). This principle is a lot about primary self-care including: nourish your body, treat it with dignity and expect others to as well, and move in a way that feels good to you.
- Exercise – feel the difference
When we are young, exercise is often considered play. For many, it turns into a form of torture. Instead of dreading exercise, we should encourage and embrace joyful movement. Take into consideration physical activity recommendations such as routine strength training, stretching and rest, but prioritize what is fun, as well as what feels good for the body and mind.
- Honor your health – gentle nutrition
Nutrition does matter, but it is only one component to our overall health. The most important aspect when choosing foods is does it taste good to you? After that factor, we should make sure ourselves and our clients are eating enough food. Then, we can begin to take into consideration the quality of our foods, including getting in those fruits and veggies that are associated with lowering the risk of many chronic diseases, drinking fluids-mostly water, and remembering that no food is off limit.**
You may be asking, what can you do if you or your clients want to learn more about intuitive eating? The best thing you can start with is discouraging diet talk and body shaming to initiate that first step of rejecting the diet mentality. From there, I recommend seeking the help of a dietitian or therapist who works with intuitive eating to help guide them in their journey, such as myself or one of my many wonderful colleagues.
For more information, I encourage you to check out the book and/or workbook, explore their website, follow or talk with Health at Every Size ® and Intuitive Eating informed or certified professionals, or if interested in pursuing it further yourself check out the qualifications and requirements for certification to become an Intuitive Eating Counselor!
*It’s possible to work through these things towards intuitive eating, but highly recommended to do so with caution and the guidance of trained professionals such as a therapist, dietitian and/or doctor on your team who is knowledgeable of your condition and Intuitive Eating informed.
**There are medical conditions and allergies that may require more consideration of the food you put in your body. Diets in the form of Medical Nutrition Therapy can be helpful in these situations with the guidance of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Intuitive Eating is about caring for yourself and if there is a medically necessary reason to restrict certain foods these should be taken into consideration, and while it takes even more work, can be part of this process