If you’re well versed in the health and wellness space, odds are you have heard of intuitive eating. But do you really understand what it means? Or more importantly, do you know how to apply it to your day-to-day? This article will walk you through everything you need to know about intuitive eating.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a framework that is used to approach eating habits and behaviors. Unlike other food fads, it has a completely anti-diet approach and helps to address not just nutrition, but our relationship with food.
So why is this important? Open up any magazine or head over to your favorite pop culture website, and you’ll be met with quick tips and tricks to lose weight and “be healthy,” alongside images of small bodied celebrities and models. We’re living in a society that places such an emphasis on weight and the physical appearance, which in turn drives up the 30 billion dollar diet industry, from Weight Watchers to Whole 30.
But these approaches of restriction and pressure usually don’t lead to results. In fact, chronic dieting has been shown to actually worsen mental health, strain our relationship with food, and even lead to more weight gain down the road. So if we know that dieting is not the answer to our health and wellness goals, then what is?
Enter Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating, coined by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, was developed in 1995. This weight neutral, non-diet approach to food outlines 10 principles that honor and respect both physical and emotional health. In some ways, it is a direct response to diet culture, but more importantly, it brings us back to the wisdom of learning to listen to our body and approach food from a holistic lens.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating:
1. REJECT THE DIET MENTALITY:
The first principles of intuitive eating is to move away from the diet mentality that so many of us have grown up around. We need to rid ourselves of the belief that The Cabbage Soup Diet or those detox pills may be the answer to our food and, as such, our self esteem. Once we let go of our belief that a diet is the answer, we can begin to work on intuitive eating.
2. HONOR YOUR HUNGER
Stop fighting your body. If you body is telling you feels hungry, feed it! No more “first drink water” or “go brush you teeth” to try and silence our body’s messages. Instead, when you feel a grumble coming on, learn to listen and honor it by getting yourself something to eat. This is the first step in regaining trust and safety with ourselves, our body, and our food.
3. MAKE PEACE WITH FOOD
This is a fundamental principle of intuitive eating. Take certain foods off the pedestal; stop restricting; and remove morality from food (i.e. this food is good or bad). When we remove the “forbidden”-ness of foods, it stops making them special, and instead we can find peace with all foods and stop feeling guilt or shame around our food choices
4. CHALLENGE THE FOOD POLICE
Whether it’s a dietitian or a family friend, push back on those that act as a food police. Policing of foods – and of bodies – are engrained in diet culture mentality and they hold no place here.
5. DISCOVER THE SATISFACTION FACTOR
Food is meant to be enjoyed. We get so caught up in the nutrients and the health impacts of food that sometimes we forget that it is also meant to be satisfying and pleasurable. When you eat what you really want and honor your cravings, you will feel more satisfied and be less likely to overdo it later. Never underestimate the power of satisfaction.
6. FEEL YOUR FULLNESS
Similar to listening to our hunger cues, it is also important to listen when our body say’s we have had enough. Look for the messages from your body that tell you that you’re comfortably full. Consider eating slowly and mindfully, pausing between bites to check in with yourself.
7. COPE WITH YOUR EMOTIONS WITH KINDNESS
Many of us turn to food to help soothe certain emotions, but no amount of chocolate will truly ease how you’re feeling. Instead, find other ways to cope with emotions, from journaling and self care to therapy and support from others.
8. RESPECT YOUR BODY
Come to peace where your body, wherever it may be at. Accepting and respecting our bodies are a key part of breaking free from the diet mentality. Embrace all its beauty and focus on how your body feels rather than how it looks.
9. MOVEMENT – FEEL THE DIFFERENCE
Movement is incredible for health. But rather than viewing it as a chore or a punishment, try to engage in activities that make your body (and your mind) feel good. Go dancing, try ice skating, walk around the block, or find an exercise class you love. Make it authentically you.
10. HONOR YOUR HEALTH WITH GENTLE NUTRITION
Many think that intuitive eating means that all nutrition principles go out the window. Quite the opposite. Respecting and listening to your body includes making choices that honor health and help to fuel and nourish you. Recognize that there is no “perfect” diet, but that a collection of choices over time that work towards supporting your health are what matters.
Are There Any Criticisms to Intuitive Eating?
As with anything, it is not perfect. Intuitive eating has been criticized as a privileged approach. In some ways, intuitive eating requires having enough time, money, autonomy over our schedules and agency to fully embrace all 10 principles. For those working night shifts or long hours without job-sanctioned breaks, it can be difficult to “listen to your body” and instead may require meals at odd hours or overriding hunger cues in the moment to avoid crashes later. Similarly, for those that are in a lower socioeconomic bracket there may be less control over food access and availability in a way that prevents embracing the intuitive eating principles.
There is also the criticism that it promotes an acceptance of all foods and enables a diet filled with junk food. However, this fails to take into account principle 10 – the need to practice gentle nutrition. Intuitive eating is not a free for all in the processed food aisle, it simply serves as a way to heal our relationship with food, break away from diet culture, and retrust our bodies.
Finally, intuitive eating does not take into account other cultural food factors, from religious fasting to ethical eating. So while intuitive eating may help benefit the push back against diet culture and food freedom, it is not necessarily an all encompassing approach.
For many, intuitive eating may be a wonderful way to begin regaining trust and respect with the body and restoring relationships with food. However, these relationships require a multifaceted approach, such as support from healthcare professions and loved ones, and varying other factors, such as the role of ethics, sustainability, religion and politics around food choices.
Generally speaking, I’m a fan of this approach, but I recommend moving into it with the understanding that it will take time to feel results and will require support, patience, and reframing along the way.
Written by: Amanda Wahlstedt, RDN