“Intuitive eating” was a term that was originally coined by Evelyn Tribole, RD based in California, and Elyse Resch, RDN, in the 1990s. Since then they have written many books, participated in research studies, and have most recently created an intuitive eating workbook.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is ultimately a mindset towards food. It is an approach towards food that focuses on fueling the body. This approach can help people heal from the side effects of disordered eating behaviors. An intuitive eater is characterized as someone who chooses which foods to eat without feeling guilty or ashamed. These people honor their body’s hunger cues, respect their body’s fullness, and simply finds joy in fueling their body with the food that it needs. Children are born with the ability to eat intuitively. They recognize when they are full, know exactly what kind of food they want, and are able to notice their body telling them that they are hungry. These intuitions about food seem to disappear over time due to the cultural and societal pressures to override hunger and fullness cues, diet culture, and the overall idolization of food.
Intuitive eating doesn’t involve any calorie counting and there is no food restrictions. However, there are guidelines and principles that make up the overall intuitive eating “mindset.”
Get rid of all the stupid apps and Pinterest pins that promise you that you will lose 20 lbs in two weeks and keep it off. Be pissed off at all of the lies that have told you that you are a failure because you dieted and it didn’t work, or you have just gained all of the weight back. If there is even a glimmer hope in you that a new and better diet might just keep the promises that it makes to you, you will never be free to discover the freedom that intuitive eating can bring.
Biologically your body requires energy, and that energy comes through the food you fuel it with. If you don’t keep your body fueled you can cause an instinctual reaction to over-eat what is in front of you when it is available. The moment your body reaches a point of being overly hungry, all the ability to eat moderately and consciously go out the window. Learn to recognize when your body signals that it needs energy and fuel. Begin building the trust that you had with your body and with food when you were a child.
Stop fighting food it isn’t the enemy. You have permission to eat food. Give it to yourself. If there are those whispers that tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t have a certain kind of food, it triggers the instinctual response of desperately wanting what we can’t have. This can build up to cravings that seem to take complete control of you. This can often lead to a binge eating episode especially in conjunction with overt hunger. If you keep this sort of mindset, and you finally “give-in” to the food you can never have, your self-control will be overwhelmed. Usually, that situation results in overeating and an overwhelming sensation of guilt. This doesn’t need to be the case for you.
These police are often the voices in your head that tell you that you’re “good” for eating so many calories in a day or “bad” because you ate your forbidden food. These thoughts monitor the unreasonable and unrealistic rules that diet culture has created. These thoughts are deep in your mind and have burrowed their way into your subconscious. They yell negative jabs at your failures, hopeless examples of past experiences, and shame-inducing regulations. Tell them off.
Respect your fullness.
Be aware of and listen for the cues that your body will give you when it is no longer hungry. Recognize the signs that your body gives when you’re satisfied. Take some time while you are eating a meal and indulge yourself in the sensation of taste. Enjoy the process of eating, take your time, and while you are enjoying the taste, ask yourself how full you are.
Discover the satisfaction factor.
Eastern cultures promote pleasure as an aspect of healthy living. In our society’s obsessive preoccupation of being thin and fit, we overlook and sacrifice the gift that is in the experience of food. When you are free to eat what you want, in a healthy environment free of shame and guilt, the experience itself can be a huge factor in feeling satisfied and content with food. Experiencing food in this way takes much less food to decide that you are content and satisfied.
Honor your feelings without using food.
You need to find ways to feel your feelings and deal with them without using food. We all experience negative emotions in this life: anxiety, fear, anger, loneliness, and boredom. Each emotion will have its own trigger, and each individual has their own way of comforting each negative feeling. Food can not and will not fix or satisfy these emotions. You may find comfort in the short term and distract yourself from your feelings. But food isn’t the enemy and will not solve the problem. We need to stop using food to avoid painful feelings. Eating emotionally can actually have long-term negative effects because it makes you feel worse in the long run. You’ll have to choose whether you want to deal with the discomfort of the negative emotions or the discomfort of overeating. Only one will actually bring freedom.
Respect your body.
Accept the fact that you have a genetic build up that might just not be able to look super thin and fit- or whatever your ideal body image is. Your body has a natural and comfortable weight that it can easily maintain. It is uncomfortable and takes an unbelievable amount of work to force your body to be smaller than it was created to be. Respect your body. You are so much more than the flesh sack that you live this life in. It’s pretty much impossible to embrace intuitive eating and to reject diet culture if you expect your body to be what it wasn’t created to be in the first place.
Exercise- feel the difference.
Get rid of the crazy exercise plans that have you kickin’ your butt every day, every week. Just get active in fun and exciting ways, and feel the difference that it makes in your body. Shift your mindset to how exercise makes your body feel, and stop looking at exercise as a means of simply burning off calories or as a way to eat more food. If you think about how exercise makes your body feel, instead of how exercise creates the conditions under which you can enjoy food, you might be more excited to get out of bed in the morning. You get to take a walk to feel energized and awake- not to eat breakfast. If your only goal for exercise is to lose weight, you won’t care when the alarm goes off at 5:00 am- nor will you stay motivated if you don’t see the pounds melting off as soon as you would like them to.
Honor your health.
Making food choices that honor your body, taste buds, and health will overall effect how you feel- about your body and about food. You don’t have to eat perfectly “healthy” to be healthy or to have a healthy diet. Consistency is the biggest factor in your diet. It’s the choices that you make consistently over a long period of time. You will not gain or lose weight after one snack, meal, or even a day of eating a certain way. Progress is greater than perfection.
What Intuitive Eating Is NOT
Intuitive eating is NOT a tool for controlling weight. At all.
If your motivation behind intuitive eating is to lose or gain weight- then it isn’t intuitive eating. Eating intuitively is listening to your body and doing what it tells you. You have to that you could gain weight, lose weight, or stay the same. To accept intuitive eating is to relinquish all control of weight is the first step towards defeating the diet mentality that consumes our culture.
Intuitive eating is NOT just eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full.
All 10 principles need to work together to create a healthy and complete mindset for intuitive eating. It takes commitment and it requires a release of control from the individual. It has never been, and will never be, just about food.
Intuitive eating is NOT just eating whatever you want whenever you want it.
An important factor of intuitive eating is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat food without guilt or shame. That does not mean that you eat mindlessly and give in to every whim that presents itself. Eating intuitively requires mindfulness and awareness about what your body wants and needs, when it wants and needs it. We need to remove the fear associated with food. There needs to be an effort to remove food as a tool used to manage emotions. We need to choose to feel “safe” around any and all food because of the deep trust you have in what your body is telling you and your ability to listen.
Intuitive Eating vs. Mindful Eating
Intuitive eating is a mindset and a mentality towards food by applying the 10 Principles all in conjunction with one another. Mindful eating is tangible practices and behaviors around food and meals that can help you listen to your body’s cues- one principle of intuitive eating.
Ways to Practice Mindful Eating
- Sitting down at the table to eat with limited distractions. (No TV or phone)
- Keep conversations about food and bodies positive whether you’re at the table or not.
- Take the time before you eat a meal to appreciate the experience that the food provides. Think about the experience of prepping the meal, the colors, the shapes, and textures. Allow yourself to enjoy the food with all the senses.
- Enjoy and dwell in the flavors of the food while you eat it.
- Schedule breaks in your day for meals and snacks instead of eating mindlessly while driving, studying, or working.
- Take the time to put all of your food on a plate or in a dish. Don’t eat out of a package.
- Remember that food is fuel for your body.
- Don’t stand and eat.
- Drink water before and at every meal.
- Eat slowly, chew thoroughly.
- Rate your hunger before and after a meal or snack.
How to Start Eating Intuitively
Listen to your hunger cues.
So often we eat just because we are supposed to eat. For example, we eat lunch at noon and dinner at 6:00. Instead of just eating at the times where we are “supposed” to eat, ask yourself if you are hungry at the moment and give yourself the freedom to act accordingly. That also goes for if you get hungry before that certain time. If you are hungry before noon, but you wait until noon to eat you could put yourself at risk of overeating. Also, listen to whether your body is full or not. READ THIS. You do not HAVE to finish what is on your plate. If you are full before you finish your food you are free to pack it up for later or throw it away.
Ask yourself what you want to eat.
When your body is hungry, you have unconditional freedom to want whatever your body wants to eat. That means if you want Mac & Cheese, you are free to eat Mac & Cheese. If your body is craving an apple, you are free to eat an apple. If your body is craving a salad, eat a dang salad. But don’t eat the food you want because they are “bad,” or eat foods you don’t want because they are “good.” Ask yourself what your body wants to eat and eat it in moderation.
Notice how your body responds to certain foods.
After a while of actually eating what you want to eat, you will start noticing that your body will respond differently to different foods. If you are never allowed to have Mac & Cheese, but you over-indulge that one time and feel sick, your brain will associate it with the guilt, shame, and uncomfortable fullness. If you are able to eat all foods in moderation, you will be free to notice how your body feels because you aren’t feeling guilty or uncomfortably full instead. Over time, I bet you’ll start craving all kinds of things. Apples, salad, chocolate, chicken, Chick-fil-A… who knows? But when things are no longer “off limits” then those cravings from deprivation won’t take over. Your body will be able to start telling you what food it really wants.
Take the time to eat your food. Schedule breaks to eat.
This kind of goes with mindfully eating. Take the time to eat your food and enjoy it. Give yourself the space to ask yourself what you want to eat, how full you are feeling, and how your body feels after eating certain foods. Schedule times to eat so that you are able to eat mindfully, instead of passively while working or driving to your next task. You need to eat, take the time to do it so you can do it well.
Trust your body. You aren’t everyone else.
Your body is different from mine. That means your body needs something different from mine. If someone isn’t active and loves fish I guarantee that their diet is going to look insanely different from my own. I wake up at 5:00 every morning to work out, and I eat breakfast around 7:30. I usually find myself needing a snack one hour into work, but not hungry when everyone else leaves for a lunch break. That is okay. You aren’t your neighbor, and your body needs something different. Give yourself the freedom to give your body what your body needs regardless of what the people around you do.