If you’re sick of the fear and shame around food and the feeling of failure of not being able to sustain weight loss, you are absolutely not alone. There is a way to overcome this. It’s called “intuitive eating.”
Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach where you truly listen to what your body wants and needs. It refocuses your attention on what your body is telling you, rather than food “rules” that are imposed on us from diet culture and other external forces. It goes hand-in-hand with Health at Every SizeⓇ where the focus is on healthy and sustainable behaviors, rather than defining health by what’s in the mirror and on the scale.
This post is about intuitive eating. It dives into the principles—and science—behind these ideas. Plus, I give you my best tips on how to implement this approach to food into your life for improved physical and mental health.
There’s a way to ditch the diet culture, make peace with food, and prioritize your physical and mental wellbeing. It’s called “intuitive eating” and it’s not a weight loss program. Instead, it’s a way to get back in tune with your body and refocus your mind away from “food rules.”
Intuitive eating deprioritizes weight as a primary measure of health, while inviting you to eat the foods you want when you’re hungry—and stop eating when you feel full. This isn’t a “free for all” to give up and eat how much you want of whatever you want whenever you want it, either. It’s about getting back in tune with your body and showing it the respect it deserves.
Eating intuitively means being curious about what and why you want to eat something, and then enjoying it without judgment. It’s about trusting your body’s wisdom without influence from outside of yourself. It’s about removing the labels of “good” or “bad” food and ditching the guilt or pride about eating a certain way. It’s about accepting food—and our bodies—as the amazing wonder that they really are and a belief that there truly is no “right” or “wrong” way to eat.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
The two dietitians who popularized intuitive eating in 1995, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, have outlined 10 principles.
1 - Reject the diet mentality
Ditch diets that give the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. You are not a failure for every time a diet stopped working and you gained the weight back. Until you break free from the hope that there’s a new diet around the corner, you cannot fully embrace intuitive eating.
2 - Honor your hunger
Your body needs adequate energy and nutrition. Keep yourself fed to prevent excessive hunger. By honoring the first signal of hunger you can start rebuilding trust in yourself and food.
3 - Make peace with food
Stop fighting with food and give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Stop fostering intense feelings of deprivation by denying yourself a particular food, as these can lead to cravings and bingeing. You don’t want your “giving in” to lead to overwhelming guilt.
4 - Challenge the food police
Confront the thoughts that you as a person are “good” or “bad” based on what and how much you eat. Diet culture has created unreasonable rules. The food police are the negative, hopeless, or guilty thoughts that you can chase away.
5 - Discover the satisfaction factor
Pleasure and satisfaction are some of the basic gifts of existence. By allowing yourself to feel these when you eat, you can enjoy feeling content and fulfilled. When you do this, you will be able to identify the feeling of “enoughness.”
6 - Feel your fullness
Trust that you will give yourself the foods you desire. Pause in the middle of eating and ask how the food tastes. Listen for the signals that you’re not hungry anymore. Respect when you become comfortably full.
7 - Cope with your emotions with kindness
Restricting food can trigger a loss of control and feel like emotional eating. Be kind to yourself. Comfort and nurture yourself. Everyone feels anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger. Food won’t fix these feelings—it’s just a short-term distraction. Ultimately, you have to deal with the uncomfortable emotions.
8 - Respect your body
Everyone is genetically unique, whether it’s shoe size or body size. Respecting your body will help you feel better about who you are. Being unrealistic or overly critical of your shape or size makes it hard to reject the diet mentality.
9 - Movement—feel the difference
Feel the difference activity makes. Not militant or calorie-burning exercise, but simply moving your body. Focus on how energized it makes you feel.
10 - Honor your health—gentle nutrition
Choose foods that honor your tastebuds and health. Don’t focus on eating perfectly. One snack, meal, or day of eating won’t suddenly make you unhealthy or deficient in nutrients. Look at how you eat over time. Choose progress, not perfection.
The Science Behind Intuitive Eating
Studies show that people who eat intuitively tend to also have lower body-mass indices (BMIs) and higher levels of body appreciation and mental health. They are also associated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and inflammation.
A review of eight studies compared “health, not weight loss” eating styles with conventional weight-loss diets. While they found no significant differences in heart disease risk factors between the two types of diets, they did find that body satisfaction and eating behavior improved more for people in the “health, not weight loss” groups.
Another review of 24 studies of female college students showed that those who eat intuitively experience less disordered eating, have a more positive body image, and greater emotional functioning.
Overall, there is a growing amount of research that shows the benefits of intuitive eating on both physical and mental health.
Tips to Eat More Intuitively
There are many things you can do to start eating more intuitively and ditch diet culture and “food rules.”
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