What is Intuitive Eating
“If I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want, I’ll never stop eating!”
This is the response I usually get when I mention Intuitive Eating to anyone who is a chronic dieter or has disordered eating behaviours.
The belief behind those words is “if I stop dieting, which is the only way I can lose weight (albeit for limited periods), I’m just going to carry on getting bigger and bigger”.
If you are having similar thoughts, I would invite you to ask yourself the following question:
“Is my body bigger or smaller now than it was the first time I went on a diet?”
I can make a guess at the answer, based on the fact that you are reading this blog.
If dieting is getting you the results you really want, what has driven you to seek answers elsewhere?
Dieting is keeping you trapped on a never-ending rollercoaster of restricting, overeating and weight cycling. It is the reason you are always thinking about food.
Intuitive eating will give you the freedom to choose what to eat and when.
Intuitive eating puts you back in control.
Your body knows what foods you need and how often you need to eat.
As babies, we cry when we need something because when our needs are not met we are uncomfortable – physically and emotionally. We don’t understand what the discomfort means, but we do know that we want it to stop. We may be tired, or hungry or thirsty, too hot or too cold, or we may have soiled our nappy and need it changing. We may just need to feel the comfort of caring arms holding us. We know, instinctively, that we need an adult to help us, so we cry to make ourselves heard and ensure that our needs are met.
When we start growing and become more independent, we begin to understand our different needs and how to meet them for ourselves. When we’re cold we put on extra clothing, when we’re tired we go to sleep, when we need the toilet we go to the bathroom, when we’re thirsty we drink and when we’re hungry we eat. We may still need help to achieve our objective, but we know exactly what to ask for and when.
Our bodies are sophisticated biological organisms. Our brains are constantly working to ensure that we take whatever steps are necessary to keep us alive – and as comfortable as possible.
As babies and very young children, we all practice intuitive eating. We eat when we are hungry, and we stop eating when we are full. We don’t worry about the size of our body (although others may worry for us) and we’re not concerned about calories or how much fat or sugar we’re consuming.
Unfortunately, our natural hunger and fullness signals can be disrupted or “switched off” as we transition into adulthood. There are several reasons why this might happen:
1. Diet culture: As people grow up, they are exposed to diet culture which, as we know, promotes restrictive eating, rigid food rules, and the pursuit of thinness as an ideal. Diet culture can lead us to ignore our body’s natural hunger and fullness signals in favour of external rules and it’s almost inevitable that we eventually lose touch with our innate intuition around eating.
2. Emotional and psychological factors: Stress, emotional eating, and mental health issues can also contribute to the disruption of intuitive eating. As adults, we face various life stressors, and may turn to food for comfort or use it to cope with difficult emotions.
3. Busy lifestyles: The demands of adult life, including work, family, and social obligations, can make it challenging to listen to our body’s cues for hunger and fullness. We may have to eat on a schedule, find ourselves skipping meals when we’re rushing, or consume food too quickly, without stopping to consider what our body is telling us it needs.
4. External food influences: We’re often exposed to various external food influences, such as advertising, social gatherings like parties and weddings, and snacks in the workplace. It can be difficult to stay tuned to our body’s needs when we’re encouraged to eat for reasons other than physical hunger.
5. Weight and body image concerns: Preoccupation, or even obsession, with weight and body image will lead to body dissatisfaction and weight loss attempts (dieting!), which destroy intuitive eating.
The good news is that we can learn how to reconnect with our bodies and start paying attention to our internal cues around hunger and fullness.
Intuitive eating is not a diet and there are no rules.
The Guiding Principles Of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating consists of ten guiding core principles to help you reconnect with your body’s needs.
1. Reject the Diet Mentality: Intuitive eating begins with letting go of the dieting mindset which, as we know, often leads to disordered eating patterns and an unhealthy obsession with food and body image.
2. Honour Your Hunger: Recognize and respect your body’s natural hunger cues. It’s important to eat when you’re hungry rather than depriving yourself. Whatever your size, if you are hungry you deserve to eat.
3. Make Peace with Food: Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods – yes, ALL foods. This will help you to break the cycle of restricting and overeating because you’re much less likely to crave foods if you know you can eat them whenever you want to.
4. Challenge the Food Police: Silence the critical inner voices that judge your food choices. These come from our fatphobic society and the rules of diet culture. Food is not a moral issue, and there is no reason to feel guilty about what you eat.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Learn to truly savour and enjoy your food. This helps prevent overeating as you’ll be more satisfied with each meal.
6. Feel Your Fullness: Pay attention to your body’s signals that tell you when you’ve had enough to eat. You may currently believe you don’t have any signals or that your signals are broken. That’s ok, because you can learn to reconnect with your body and start to trust it again.
7. Cope with Your Emotions With Kindness: If you regularly use food to help you deal with your emotions, think of your behaviour as a self-care strategy that you have developed to get you through tough times. Being kind to yourself means learning alternative ways to deal with stress, sadness, or other emotions. You want a strategy that makes you feel better, not worse.
8. Respect Your Body: Accept and appreciate your body for what it is at this moment. Your size does not define your worth or value as a person. This is challenging when our society tells us otherwise but with the right help you will get there.
9. Exercise – Feel the Difference: Find joy in movement. Engage in physical activity that makes you feel good, rather than as a means of burning calories or losing weight.
10. Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition: Choose nourishing foods you enjoy, which make you feel good physically and emotionally.
The Benefits of Intuitive Eating
Embracing intuitive eating can have a profound impact on your physical and mental well-being. Studies around the world have shown the following numerous benefits:
- Improved relationship with food
- Enhanced emotional wellbeing
- More stable body weight
- Increased energy
- Improved body image
- More pleasure from eating
- Higher levels of emotional resilience
- Improved coping strategies
- Increased positive self-regard (self-esteem, body-esteem and confidence)
- High levels of body acceptance
- Greater self-compassion
- Improved nutrition through eating a more varied diet
- Increased motivation to move
- Higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol)
- Lower BMI
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower levels of depression and anxiety
- Less disordered eating
- Less binge eating
- Less emotional eating
- Less preoccupation with food
- Less body dissatisfaction
Intuitive eating is a holistic and compassionate approach to nourishing yourself with food that you enjoy. It encourages you to trust your body’s cues and develop a healthier relationship with food. By following its principles, you can free yourself from the constraints of dieting and discover a more balanced, fulfilling, and joyful way of eating and living.
Take care and be kind to yourself.