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Intuitive Eating: Getting Back to Normal Human Being Eating
Since the introduction of calorie counting and step tracking apps, many more of us have gotten caught up with food rules, including what to eat and what to avoid. Restrictive dieting can not only lead to a slower metabolism, overeating, bingeing, and food obsession, but can also result in a decreased ability to recognize the body’s internal cues such as hunger, fullness and satisfaction.
Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to eating that can help us get back to recognizing our internal body cues, and ultimately learn how to react positively with food, without stress or guilt.
In this article you can find:
- What is Intuitive Eating?
- The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
- The Benefits of Intuitive Eating
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based framework that was created by two dieticians in 1995, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. However, some of the concepts of Intuitive Eating have been around since at least the early 1970s. The framework integrates intact, emotion, and rational thought to help individuals cultivate attunement to physical sensations that arise from within the body, and ultimately break the cycle of chronic dieting and heal their relationship with food (1).
We were all born intuitive eaters. As toddlers, we would cry to express our hunger to our parents. We would eat and simply stop eating when we were full. As kids, we would balance out our food intake from day to day. Some days we would eat barely anything, other days we would eat the kitchen. We were then taught that vegetables must be eaten first, we could only leave the table when we’ve finished our dinner, and sweets are only given as an award. As the years go on, we are told that some foods are good for us and others are bad, and that we should feel proud for eating salad and guilty for eating pasta.
Avoiding the foods, we love, or not eating to the extent that we feel satisfied, has caused many of us to feel anxious or stressed about eating certain foods. Intuitive Eating aims to stop this. The framework is based around not counting calories or macros, not measuring out portions, or following a meal plan, and not making any food off limits. It’s about getting back to eating how we were made to eat, by focusing on our internal hunger, satiety signals, along with our energy levels, mental clarity, and stress levels, and trusting our body to tell us when, what, and how much to eat.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Reject the Diet Mentality
Throw out any diet books or magazines you have at home and unsubscribe or unfollow to those so-called weight loss experts you see on social media. Essentially, get rid of anything that makes you feel stressed about your body.
Honor Your Hunger
Hunger is not the enemy. It is a normal biological process. If you ignore your hunger cues and don’t consume enough calories, or particular macronutrients (such as carbohydrates), the body can react by heightening cravings and appetite which can increase the chances of overeating/bingeing. It can also further disconnect you from your body, making it harder to eat according to its cues.
Make Peace with Food
This principle revolves around giving yourself unconditional permission to consume all foods. Depriving yourself from certain foods can also build uncontrollable cravings and result in overeating/bingeing. For example, imagine someone who has promised themselves that they will not eat a single cookie until they reach their desired weight, somehow finds their hand in the cookie jar. They’ve just taken their first bite and realized that they’ve broken their pact to themselves. Consciously, they say to themselves, “From tomorrow onwards, I will not do this again”. Subconsciously this translates as, “Better eat every cookie in sight right now”, so they end up eating the whole jar. This can trigger feelings of guilt and start the cycle all over again.
Challenge the Food Police
The Food Police are those thoughts that race around your head, overanalyzing every food choice, declaring you “good” for choosing a salad, and “bad” for choosing pasta. These rules were created by diet culture and cause you to feel guilty. While these thoughts may not go away quickly, it is important to challenge them. Stand up to the food police and order them to evacuate the building!
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
There is a difference between fullness and satisfaction. Fullness refers to the physical sensation of satiety, while satisfaction refers to the mental sensation of satiety. However, the feeling of fullness and satisfaction can be confused when we are not consuming the food our body desires. For example, if someone’s body requires a carbohydrate rich meal, but instead they throw down an omelette, they may be full afterwards, but not satisfied. This person can be left thinking that they are not ‘done’ with eating, thus creating feelings of hunger even though they just ate. This is the body signaling that the nutrients it requires has not been yet replenished.
Feel Your Fullness
Being able to feel how full you actually are may take some time after years of dieting. Stopping the Food Police from not allowing you to eat certain foods, or quantities of foods, will enable you to begin to tune into your satiety signals again. To help you feel your fullness, ensure that you take your time eating and take pauses. Here you can ask yourself how does the food taste to you, and how are your hunger levels. When you observe the signs that you are comfortably full, be grateful for this feeling, and stop eating to avoid feeling uncomfortably full.
Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Physical hunger can also be confused with emotional hunger. Emotional hunger is a feeling of strong emotional need. Sadness, loneliness, and boredom are some of the feelings that can create emotional hunger. However, steps can be taken to identify emotional hunger and control cravings. This includes managing your stress levels through yoga, meditation, or deep breathing, seeking support from friends, family or a professional, or doing something to distract yourself such as going out for a quick walk. Try to also tune in with your body and ask yourself is your hunger physical or emotional. Physical hunger is different to emotional hunger as it builds gradually and has different signals, such as a rumbling stomach, fatigue, or irritability. Physical hunger is also satisfied when you eat any food.
Respect Your Body
Accept your body for how it looks and what you perceive is wrong with it. Appreciate and remind yourself of the parts of your body that you like best. When you are honoring your hunger and fullness signals and moving in ways that feel good, your body will thank you for it!
Exercise - Feel the Difference
Regular exercise will also help you shift your focus from how your body looks, to how your body feels. Regular exercise also helps prevent or manage numerous health concerns such as heart conditions and diseases, enhance mood, boost energy, promote better sleep, increase libido (2), and not to mention can even be very enjoyable when you find an activity you love!
Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
Consume food that honors your health, as well as your taste buds. If you want a slice of apple pie, have a slice of apple pie. If you want a slice of Shepard’s pie, have a slice of Shephard’s pie. We all love different foods, and our body reacts differently to them. Being mindful of how you feel when you eat particular foods is important when becoming more in tune with your body. The food you eat should make you feel good. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect diet. It is what you eat consistently over time that matters. Consistency is key.
Benefits of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating can help us re-learn to recognize physical sensations that arise from within the body to get both our biological and psychological needs met, and eliminate obstacles and disruptors created by the mind in the form of rules, beliefs, and thoughts.
At present, over 100 research studies have demonstrated the benefits of intuitive eating. This includes:
- Higher self-esteem
- Better body image
- More satisfaction with life
- Optimism and well-being
- Proactive coping skills
- Higher HDL cholesterol levels
- Lower Triglyceride levels
- Lower rates of emotional eating
- Lower rates of disordered eating (3).
If you would like to learn more about Intuitive Eating, Evelyn and Elyse’s book, ‘The Intuitive Eating Book’, remains popular to this day. Their website ‘The Original Intuitive Eating Pro. also contains lots of helpful information.
- Definition of Intuitive Eating | Intuitive Eating. (2021). Retrieved 5 April 2021, from https://www.intuitiveeating.org/definition-of-intuitive-eating/
- 7 great reasons why exercise matters. (2021). Retrieved 5 April 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389.
- Studies | Intuitive Eating. (2021). Retrieved 5 April 2021, from https://www.intuitiveeating.org/resources/studies/