Intuitive eating is a process that can help you get out of your head when it comes to food and body image, move away from rigid external rules and eat according to your natural appetite and satisfaction cues.
Created in the mid-1990s by two dietitians – Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch – Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based framework designed to support both physical and emotional health.
Can help improve body satisfaction and decrease body surveillance
Can help increase self-esteem and quality of life
Can help promote positive self-regard and self-care
Decrease disordered eating behaviours like skipping meals, fasting or dieting
Reduces binge-eating disorder, symptoms of bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and orthorexia.
Supports blood glucose control,
Helps prevent and manage diabetes
Lowers ”bad" cholesterol and increases "good" cholesterol
Helps lower blood pressure
Helps people eat a wide variety of foods, which ultimately helps increase vitamins and minerals in the diet
Fundamentally, Intuitive Eating is about unlearning external diets, food rules and habits around food and eating, and re-learning to honour your body’s physical sensations, as well as understanding your emotional cues.
WE WERE ALL BORN INTUITIVE EATERS
Think of babies and toddlers for a second. When they are hungry, they communicate by fussing or rooting, and when they are comfortably full, they turn their head or close their mouth. They just eat according to their natural hunger and fullness cues.
As we grow older and external rules and restrictions are set around food, we lose that body awareness. We learn not to leave the table until we finish everything on our plates, that pudding is a reward that can be taken away if we misbehave, or that three scoops of ice cream are too much.
We learn that certain foods are bad and others are good, causing us to be stuck in our heads, overthinking what foods are the healthiest or beating ourselves up for eating the ''forbidden'' foods, and worrying about how many hours we will have to spend in the gym to "make it up".
This can be very exhausting, can’t it?
HOW TO APPLY INTUITIVE EATING IN EVERYDAY LIFE
First of all, it's important to highlight that Intuitive Eating is not a diet nor an approach to help you intentionally lose weight. You don't need to follow meal plans, measure up portions or count calories. Instead, it is a process that requires time, patience and self-compassion.
Intuitive eating is not the hunger–fullness diet, as it's often misinterpreted. Intuitive eaters allow themselves to eat the foods they enjoy, and rely on their natural appetite and satisfaction cues, along with other non-physical signs, to trust their bodies to tell them what, when and how much to eat.
It can be hard to assimilate this concept at first, as it seems like it's about ''eat whatever you want, whenever you want", and for people who have been dieting for most of their lives, or who have had an Eating Disorder, it can be incredibly overwhelming.
In reality, Intuitive Eating is more than just a way of eating, it's also about self-care and our relationship with food and our bodies. It is based on the foundation of the following ten core principles:
1. Reject the diet mentality.
Diet mentality is the result of having done countless diets, constantly losing weight and putting it back on again, and never accepting your body as it is. Diet mentality keeps you thinking that there will be a new diet that will help you lose weight permanently and that eventually, you will accept your body and be happy.
Let me tell you... It’s not about your lack of willpower or about you being a failure. The problem is the diet culture. Diets and focusing on body size set people up for failure.
The first step in getting rid of the diet mentality is to recognise that diet culture has done more harm than good to both our physical and mental wellbeing. Think about it: what has your goal of losing weight done to your body? What have you had to sacrifice to achieve your goal? Friendships, family memories...? How much money have you spent on weight loss programmes, juices or fat burning creams? How has it made you feel?
Reject the idea that there are any good diets out there, and recognise that diets don’t work long-term.
Get rid of all your diet books and magazines and hide or, even better, bin the bathroom scale! Scroll through your social media platforms and unfollow people who advocate the diet culture or diet mentality, especially those that make you feel bad about yourself.
2. Honour your hunger.
Feeding yourself should, in theory, be pretty simple. You get hungry, you eat something, and you move on. But for people who have been dieting or pseudo-dieting, let's say skipping meals, restricting certain food groups, or fasting, this process might not be so clear-cut.
The problem is that when we try to override our hunger signals and don't eat enough calories, they become atrophied, as our bodies learn we’re not responding to them.
Eating intuitively helps your body know and trust that it will consistently have access to food. The hunger–-fullness scale is a wonderful tool to help you recognise what hunger feels like in your body and get in touch with your hunger and satisfaction cues.
3. Unconditional permission to eat
We are constantly bombarded with diet culture messages about diets, weight, wellness and how we should feed our bodies. Food becomes "good" or "bad" and inevitably, we end up setting food rules.
Have you noticed that the foods you labelled as "bad" are the ones you crave the most? Telling yourself that you can't have, say pizza, will only make you feel deprived and this deprivation will lead to an uncontrollable craving.
Having unconditional permission to eat is about letting go of those food rules and trusting yourself around food. It can be very overwhelming for lots of people but, with the right guidance, you will learn how to approach the foods you restricted, from a sense of curiosity and self-compassion.
At first, you might feel you want to eat crisps or doughnuts every day but the fact that you're not restricting yourself from eating them will decrease your desire.
4. Challenge the food police.
We all know that voice in our heads that keeps telling us "you shouldn't eat that" or "kale is better"; it’s almost automatic. These thoughts are the "food police" and it's essential to raise our awareness so we can challenge them and become an intuitive eater.
These thoughts stem from all the food rules housed in our brains which pop up every time we think about food or engage in eating, to control our decisions and keep us stuck in the diet culture.
This principle is about learning to be more aware of your inner voice while building better self-esteem, and ultimately, recognising that there are no "good" or "bad" foods. Food is just food!
5. Discover your satisfaction factor.
The main purpose of eating is to nourish our bodies and to enjoy the food we eat. After all, eating is a pleasure! But if you eat "low-calorie/sugar-free/low-fat" foods as a means to replace the forbidden foods, you will never feel satisfied and "done". Instead, when you give yourself permission to eat what you really desire, you experience feelings of satisfaction and pleasure that will help you be content and really feel “done”.
This principle also guides you to use mindful eating techniques so you enjoy the pleasure of eating, appreciate every bite, notice the texture of the foods and their flavours.
6. Feel your fullness.
If you've been in the diet mentality for a long time, you likely have one day a week, maybe Saturdays, where you allow yourself to eat the forbidden foods, but because you know it's going to be a long time before you eat them again, you overeat. This is quite common, the diet culture calls it "cheat day".
With Intuitive Eating, there are no restricted foods nor rules about what and when to eat. You will simply begin to stop eating when you're comfortably full because you know you can eat whenever you begin to feel hungry again.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
Something that we learnt to do from infancy is to use food to soothe ourselves. It's totally normal, it can be a helpful coping mechanism or your body's way of letting you know that something is going on for you so you can address it. The problem comes when we demonise emotional eating and we turn it into a stressful or shameful experience.
Anxiety, boredom, sadness... all emotions are valid and each has its own trigger. While in the short term, food may comfort, distract or even numb you, food won't fix any of these feelings. Ultimately, you will have to navigate through these uncomfortable emotions to find the source of the problem.
Intuitive Eating helps you develop coping skills and find different ways to soothe and care for yourself, like meditation, journaling or mindfulness.
8. Respect your body.
We're constantly exposed to thin/ideal body images or messages, either via television, social media or the health industry. The diet culture also feeds us the idea that we can easily change our body if we work hard enough, with discipline and willpower.
This, in turn, motivates you to jump from one diet to another, and to follow extreme exercise regimes to change your body shape. And what is more harmful, this makes you feel inadequate, so that whatever you do, you always feel not good enough.
You can’t just wake up one day and suddenly not be affected by all the diet culture messages but you can stop believing in them. The first step is having a mind shift in how you perceive and treat your body. If you continue to believe your body needs to be ''fixed'', you will most likely get trapped back in the never-ending binge–restrict cycle.
Respecting your body doesn't necessarily mean you need to love your body, it's about recognising your worth and your value, regardless of how your body looks or how you feel about it.
9. Intuitive movement.
Have you ever wondered why we often give up exercising so quickly? It's often because exercise is associated with diet culture. Yes, we all know that exercise is good for our health, but when exercising becomes the means to lose weight or make your waist a few inches smaller, not only will you get hooked back into the diet mentality again, but also exercise becomes something you “have to” or “should” do, instead of something you want to do to feel joy in your life.
Intuitive movement is about finding activities that don't leave you exhausted or drained; instead, it's about finding types of movement that feel good to you and connect you to your body.
10. Honour your health & Gentle nutrition
This principle is about nourishing your body with tasty foods that leave you feeling content and satisfied. It's important to highlight here that being healthy doesn't mean eating ''perfectly'', and that nutrition isn't all or nothing. It's consistency in terms of what you eat over time.
Gentle nutrition is tuning into what you want and need so you choose foods from a place of self-care rather than a place of control and restriction. It's also about being kind, and understanding that “play foods” (also known as junk foods in the diet culture) can nourish your soul too!
If any of these principles resonated with you, I highly recommend you read the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It's a small investment for the benefits you can get from reading it and you too can start healing your relationship with food and your body.
I work with clients via Zoom throughout UK, Spain and South America, helping them develop a healthy relationship with food and ditching diets once and for all. If you feel you need some extra help and support in practising Intuitive Eating, learn more about my online coaching programme here or book a 15 minute discovery session with me.