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Is Intuitive Eating Right for You?

By Fitoru | 02 April 2020
Girl holding a bowl of healthy salad

It’s high time we talked about an eating philosophy that can support your health and fitness goals no matter what type of food you eat or how many diets you’ve tried. Intuitive eating rejects the diet culture that has us restricting our food choices and losing weight only to gain it, and then some, back. It’s a lifestyle that promotes a healthy relationship to food and your body by strengthening mind-body awareness. Flex your intuition muscles and see if intuitive eating might be just what you need to get off the diet train and onto a sustainable path to nutrition.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating puts the focus on your internal cues. When you start to pay attention to how you feel and to how food makes you feel…the foods you crave, when you’re hungry, and when you’re full…your relationship to both food and your body tends to shift toward positive, and it gives a boost to your overall mental well-being.

Although it sounds a lot like mindful eating, practitioners insist that intuitive eating is less practice and more state-of-mind, although the idea of listening to your internal cues has been around for millenia. So who’s responsible for taking this age-old concept and turning it into a wellness trend?

In 1995, nutrition experts and dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch took on the diet industry and wrote the best-seller Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works to help readers build a healthier body image and restore their relationship to food. Since then, over a 100 studies have attested to the positive benefits of this style of eating, which can be summed up according to 10 principles.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

The beauty of intuitive eating is that you can apply these 10 principles to any type of nutrition plan you are following. They get at the heart of your relationship to food and to your body, and help you regulate your emotions and transform any limiting beliefs or negative thoughts into acceptance and appreciation. Far more focused on self-care, intuitive eating is often referred to as the anti-diet.

The 10 principles of intuitive eating

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

How many times have you been let down by a new diet? Either the rules were too restrictive to maintain over the long term and you gained the weight back, or the “miracle pill” you took didn’t help you lose as many pounds as promised. The yo-yo dieting cycle can be exhausting and leave you feeling utterly depressed and hopeless…like a failure.

Intuitive eating is the breath of fresh air you need to let go of all that nonsense. 

Weight loss isn’t easy. It’s not going to happen fast (and when it does, it’s water weight). 

But that’s okay. When you adopt intuitive eating your body will naturally find it’s ideal weight over time. So let all those disappointments and expectations go and reframe your concept of “diet” into a sustainable way of eating.

2. Honor Your Hunger

How many times have you been lured by the promise of a product to stop your hunger so you can cut calories? Reducing uncontrollable cravings for sugars and carbs is a definite plus, but curbing hunger itself is unnecessary.

Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that it needs fuel to keep going—to give you the energy you need to get through the day, and to keep your organs and bodily functions running smoothly. Ignoring or trying to subdue that signal doesn’t bode well for health or a long-term eating plan. 

And you’re probably familiar with the effects. Ignore your hunger and drastically reduce your food intake, and cravings for not-so-nutritious fare follow, causing you to overeat once you give in.

3. Make Peace with Food

What if we told you there was no food you couldn’t have. Truly.

Isn’t that a relief? By giving yourself permission to eat what you want, you remove the temptation that deprivation brings. 

You have more freedom to intuitively manage how food makes you feel and what foods you’d like to eat at any given meal. And you don’t have to feel guilty about it.

4. Challenge the Food Police

Your relationship to food has been shaped by food stigmas put in place since early childhood. You learned from your parents, and food came with directives such as “eat everything on your plate” or “finish your veggies first.” 

As you grew older and became more conscious of your body the diet culture took hold.

Intuitive eating urges you to let go of all that. To let go of the judgments you have around food. 

I shouldn’t eat that.

I ate too many calories today.

I ate a minimal amount of calories today. Yay!

No yay. 

Don’t judge how much you eat or what you eat. Just zero in on how the food makes you feel.

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Ditch the struggle and sacrifice of dieting for the pleasure and satisfaction of intuitive eating. Eat tasty, nutritious foods that tantalize your taste buds. When you get back to the basics of pleasure, it becomes much easier to start listening to your body and to stop eating when you’ve had enough.

6. Feel Your Fullness

There is a Japanese Confucian teaching called hara hachi bu that teaches us to stop eating when we are 80% full. 

Rather than overeating to the point where you need to unbutton your jeans, stop eating when you are no longer hungry. Wrap up those goodies and eat them for leftovers the next day! 

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Food is a go-to comfort in times when emotions are heightened, such as stress, anxiety, loneliness, or anger. But emotional eating doesn’t address the root issue and will only lead to episodes of binging and potentially exacerbate feelings of grief and guilt.

And guess what can make emotional eating worse?

Food restriction! Remember: eating what you want is the foundation of intuitive eating.

8. Respect Your Body

You may be wondering, if I can eat anything I want, then what’s to stop me from eating ice cream and chocolate cake all day?

Respect for your body will. 

If you treat your body like your best friend and you focus on how food makes you feel, you won’t want to feed it sugar-laden treats. You’ll want to keep it energized with healthy fats and protein. You’ll want to make sure you eat enough fiber for easy digestion. You’ll want to make sure you feed it essential nutrients for healthy skin and hair.

Go easy on your body. We all have different body types. Have realistic weight goals, and don’t be so critical. Your body is working so hard for you every single day!

9. Movement—Feel the Difference

You know what becomes so much easier when you trade in criticism for body appreciation?

Exercise!

Don’t worry about how many calories you’re burning. Be active doing something you love. Feel how your body loves and craves movement!

10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition

When you intuitively connect to the impact your food choices have on your body it becomes easier to make good ones. And we can apply the 80% rule here too.

Occasionally, we might eat beyond the point of full or indulge a little too much in cheesecake. One little slip won’t hurt your health goals all that drastically. It’s all about developing balanced eating habits that you can adhere to over the long haul.

What About Weight Loss?

If intuitive eating becomes a habitual practice, you’re likely to reach a healthy, steady weight. In fact, studies have linked intuitive eating to a lower body mass index (BMI). However, intuitive eating is not a weight-loss plan. 

Intuitive eating is designed to help you do away with the dieting paradigm and adopt a sustainable and healthier outlook on food and your body. If there is a particular nutrition plan you’d like to try, such as the keto diet, then it’s easy to fit intuitive eating into those meal plans.

The Benefits of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating has been shown to help:

  • Lower instances of emotional and disordered eating
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Bolster body image
  • Raise metabolism
  • Lessen anxiety and depression

A review of 24 studies confirmed that intuitive eating leads to less disordered eating, boosts body image, and supports emotional regulation (1). And a study published in the Journal of Eating Behavior showed that, unlike restrictive diets, intuitive eating leads to greater body appreciation and reduces the likelihood of disordered eating.

Flex Your Intuition

No matter what diet you’re on it’s always a good day to become an intuitive eater. To love your body, love the food you put in it, and reject the diet mentality that can keep you locked in a cycle of expectation and disappointment following food rules that call for too much sacrifice. Listen to the cues your body gives you today. It will tell you everything you need to know.

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