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Intuitive Eating 101

Intuitive Eating 101

You may have heard of the intuitive eating approach before and thought it was too good to be true, or maybe you were intrigued and wanted to learn more. Intuitive eating is a concept that has been around for a while, although has recently gained popularity and for a good reason. Intuitive eating takes a completely different approach to food and dieting, leaving your food choices up to you and your body rather than prescribing a specific diet to follow. In today’s post, we are going to give you a run-through of what intuitive eating is, the benefits of intuitive eating, our approach to intuitive eating, and the steps you may take to start implementing it!

What is intuitive eating?

The premise behind intuitive eating is that everyone is built with a natural instinct telling them when, what, and how much to eat: however, this natural behavior of eating has been disrupted by diet culture. 

A prime example of this is babies. Babies cry when they are hungry, and stop eating when they are full,  despite the time of day or the presence/ absence of food in front of them. Babies rely on their body’s internal cues to tell them when they are hungry and when they are full; rather than relying on a clock,  portion size, or calories. However, these natural cues slowly diminish as diet culture creeps in trying to tell us what we should look like, how much we should weigh, and what/how much we should eat. 

The goal of intuitive eating is to get back in touch with our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues through a non-judgmental and insightful approach that emphasizes honoring and listening to your body’s needs. 

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

While there are no rules telling you what or what not to eat, there are 10 principles that are designed to guide you into this intuitive eating approach. 

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality – We are raised in a society that associates external looks with self-worth, and as a result, has created a society that pays great attention to their physical appearance and a diet-culture stronger than ever. However, the key to intuitive eating is rejecting the diet mentality. This involves no longer entertaining the idea of dieting to lose weight quickly or feeling like a failure because you could not lose the weight, or maybe you did but then gained it back. 
  1. Honor your hunger – Something that seems so simple, but tricky these days! Honoring your hunger means exactly what it sounds like – listen to your body when it is hungry and do not ignore, challenge, or judge it! This looks like eating when hungry and stopping when full or satisfied (which we get into in the 6th principle). It is important to note that honoring your hunger can be hard – especially when you have ignored your body’s natural hunger cues for so long! For many of us, truly connecting and feeling when your body is hungry takes time. 
  1. Make peace with food – Make peace with food, goes hand in hand with rejecting the diet mentality. Making peace with food means to stop viewing food as the enemy and fearing it. Instead, it is about viewing food as something that is going to nourish and support your body! 
  1. Challenge the food police – Challenging the food police, is about challenging the inner voice in your head (created from diet culture) that is constantly criticizing you every time you think, look, or eat food that does not fit the mold you have created for it. The food police sets you up to have constant guilt and shame around both the food you eat and your body. 
  1. Discover the satisfaction factor – Discover the satisfaction factor, is a fun one! It is about truly enjoying food. Eating is so much more than just consuming food, it is an experience acting as a bridge for new experiences, socialization with family and friends, and more! 
  1. Feel your fullness –  Feeling your fullness, is also a tricky one and goes hand in hand with honoring your hunger. Coming from a mentality of deprivation, many of us equate fullness with a feeling of discomfort from being overly full. This all comes back to being out of touch with our body’s hunger and fullness cues. As it turns out, our body actually gives us signals before we are uncomfortably full, telling us that we have had enough to eat and feel satisfied. 
  1. Cope with your emotions without using food – Cope with your emotions without using food, is a huge one considering we live in a culture that often uses food as a coping mechanism or as a reward. Recognizing when you’re using food as a coping mechanism or a reward, is key especially in the context of overeating. This principle also challenges you to pick up other habits aside from food when you are feeling these emotions, as it recognizes that long-term food will not actually fix any of these feelings/problems. 
  1. Respect your body – Respect your body, is something I cannot emphasize enough. Not only for your relationship with food but your relationship with yourself! Respecting your body is easier said than done and is complex. However, intuitive eating aims to have you accept your body for what it is, rather than trying to mold yourself into someone else’s; and most importantly being grateful for the body you are in and all it can do for you!
  1. Exercise – feel the difference – Exercise-feel the difference, takes a different approach to exercise than what most of us are taught. This principle encourages movement as a catalyst for improving your mood, productivity, or however else it may make you feel; rather than viewing it as a method of burning calories or punishing yourself for your overindulgence. 
  1. Honor your health with gentle nutrition – Honor your health with gentle nutrition, encourages you to nourish your body by making food choices that will fuel your body and make it feel good while still staying in touch with your body’s  current desires. Feeling confused? Essentially it is saying to listen to your body and what it needs in the moment. Maybe one day for lunch it is a sandwich, the next day a big salad full of greens, and maybe the day after that it is a bowl of soup!

Are there benefits of intuitive eating?

There are some major benefits of intuitive eating, so let’s jump into it!

Health benefits of intuitive eating: 

  • A healthier relationship with food
  • Decreased dietary restraint and binge-eating behaviors
  • Decreased depression and anxiety 
  • Increased self-esteem and body image 
  • Possibility of improved health measures (weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, etc)

You may be surprised by a few of these benefits and be thinking about how this approach to food can result in decreased binge-eating and a better relationship with food if it has virtually no rules surrounding food itself. 

We are taught we need rules surrounding food to restrain ourselves. Turns out, when you remove the rules and guilt around food our relationship with food improves and we are far less likely to overeat! Note that overeating is often a result of restriction. 

You may also be thinking that you cannot trust yourself around food without rules and that you will only eat junk food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Turns out, if you allow your body to eat whatever it wants it will actually crave healthy foods because of how nourishing and nutrient-dense it is, and when your body is craving food you may deem as “unhealthy” then that’s ok too (remember, no food guilt here)! 

Our approach to intuitive eating 

As dieticians with a Functional Medicine approach, we believe intuitive eating is something we are ALL capable of! We think it is so important to learn how to tune back into our bodies and reconnect with our hunger and fullness cues. In fact, intuitive eating is something we teach to all of our clients in one way or another.  This approach helps them learn about how their body responds to different foods and nutrients, helping them determine exactly what their body needs! 

You may be thinking that it is our job to give clients a meal plan and tell them exactly what to eat, however, we believe it is our job to help educate our clients on HOW to eat according to their body’s needs (which by the way is constantly evolving). 

Here’s an example: around a women’s cycle, they may start to feel strong cravings for carbohydrates. Diet culture has taught us to ignore these cravings, however, it is actually very normal to be feeling this way as women have different energy and nutrient needs during this time due to fluctuating hormone levels. In this case scenario, we work with clients to teach them about high-quality sources of carbohydrates that they can incorporate as needed to nourish their bodies. 

Another way we support clients in intuitive eating is to give them the tools and science behind why their bodies may be craving certain foods and healthier alternatives to specific foods they may be craving. Notice here that we are not about restriction, and believe in giving your body permission to enjoy the foods that genuinely make you happy, taste delicious, and fulfill the craving.  However, we do believe that there is a balance where many of these foods can be made with higher-quality or allergen-friendly ingredients to further support your body, 

5 tips to begin intuitive eating

We get it, this is a lot to take in and is most likely far different than anything you have been told before! Instead of trying to do everything at once, we suggest challenging yourself to ditch the diet mentality and really start tuning into your body and everything it is feeling! 

Below are a few tips that we feel are helpful when starting the  intuitive eating approach:

  • Eat consistent meals and snacks at around the same time every day to regain hunger cues
  • Make NO  food off-limits (unless you have a food allergy or sensitivity)
  • Challenge yourself to look at food as fuel for your body  (stop calorie counting or logging everything you eat)
  • Find movement that makes you feel good
  • Remove all triggers from your environment (unfollow social media accounts and remove yourself from people who are stuck in a diet-mentality) 

The bottom line

The rise of intuitive eating is a breath of fresh air. We are ALL born as natural intuitive eaters, but with the prevalence of diet-culture, many of us have lost our way. Tuning in, honoring, and respecting your body is key to enjoying all of the freedom intuitive eating brings. 

Want to change your relationship with food, but need some guidance? Click here to work with us!