Intuitive Eating Tips For Those Starting Out

Intuitive Eating Tips For Those Starting Out

Switching dieting, food restriction, or control for Intuitive Eating (IE) may sound a little scary, but today I am offering some tips for those just starting out.

First of all, some of you may be wondering, “What is this Intuitive Eating thing anyways?”

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based framework, created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s designed to help people break free from feeling trapped by food, and to help them find a more natural, and normal way of eating. It has over 100 published studies to support its use and is used by many Registered Dietitians who specialise in non-diet approaches. If you’ve hit dieting rock bottom, this might be for you!

Let’s take a look at an example… 

Intuitive eating is most easily thought of in the context of toddlers. Toddlers tend to eat when they are hungry, stop when they are full, and naturally seek out a wide variety of different foods. They may even leave half a biscuit or chocolate buttons on their plate… when was the last time you did this?

We are born with an innate ability to understand and regulate our own hunger. As we grow older, we can lose this ability. Being told to finish everything on our plate can teach us to unlearn how to listen to our natural cues. We then add in years of dieting, food judgement, ignoring our hunger and fullness cues and we can lose trust in our own bodies.

Intuitive Eating has been developed to help people build that trust up again in their own bodies to tell them what to eat when to eat and how much to eat. To heal people from food issues like binge eating, secret eating, food obsession, food guilt and much more.

It can help remove those judgmental voices that may sit on your shoulders telling you that you’re “good for eating a salad”, and “bad for eating a cake”. It can help you discover what foods you actually enjoy and what foods make you feel good, versus what you think you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be eating. Ultimately, it can help you to find a more sustainable and healthy approach to nutrition and health too! Because food isn’t just about eating. Food and eating can affect our social life, our relationships, our self-esteem, and our day to day life in many ways. 

One of the creators, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, describes intuitive eating as, “a personal process of honouring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs” (Evelyn Tribole). Basically, this is an approach where you learn to honour hunger and fullness while also respecting your body and your needs.

Intuitive Eating is composed of 10 key principles:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honour Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect Your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise—Feel the Difference
  10. Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

This may all sound like a lot, after all, leaving dieting behind is no easy task. But no fear, we are here to help! Here are some tips to help you get started on your intuitive eating journey.

Firstly, Take the Quiz To Find Out if You’re Ready

Check out the link here:  How Do You Know if You’re Ready to Stop Dieting?

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

In the spirit of Marie Kondo, say goodbye to dieting, it does not spark joy! The very first principle of Intuitive Eating is to “Reject the Diet Mentality.” Intuitive eating is not another fad or 21st-century “wellness diet” or food plan. It’s also not a weight-loss focused approach. So can you throw away the scales, drop the diet tools and learn how dieting doesn’t work, and reflect on how dieting has not served you. Take some time to journal or reflect upon what you’ve tried so far, the ways it has interfered with your life and whether it’s resulted in the long term desired outcome. It is okay to miss dieting, or even mourn it for a little, whatever you have to do to respectfully say goodbye, thank it for whatever role it served, and move on. The pursuit of weight loss or weight control actually causes more harm than good for the majority! 

 2. Honour Your Hunger 

One of the second most important steps of IE is to learn to honour your hunger. How can you possibly eat consciously and moderately when you approach food in a state of desperate hunger? Of course, you’re likely to grab anything in front of you, shovel it down with a load of air, feel overly stuffed and then potentially guilty about ‘overeating’. If you can stop yourself from getting to this point of desperate hunger, you’re more likely going to be able to implement some of the other principles. See this as the first layer of the process. So try rating your hunger on a scale of 0-10 before you eat something. Are you tuning into your hunger cues? Here’s a scale to get an idea of how. If you’re really stuck, a good cadence that works for many is eating something every 3 hours and not leaving more than 5hours between eating. This might look like breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 2 to 3 snacks throughout the day. Eating enough, and regularly, is crucial to feeling more in control around food.Hunger Fullness Scale

3. Make Peace With Food 

When we label foods with words like “good/bad” “healthy/unhealthy”, and “clean/dirty”, it puts food on a moral hierarchy. Of course, different foods have different nutrients in them, but eating a cookie doesn’t suddenly make you “unhealthy” and eating a salad doesn’t make you “healthy”. Plus, when something is “off-limits” we actually want it more. 

Think about this. If you tell a kid not to eat something, what do they want to do? They want to eat it! The same happens with us adults. So if you place certain foods up on a pedestal (bread, cheese, chocolate, crisps are usual suspects) then of course the desire to eat them will be stronger.

So this step is about giving yourself permission to eat ALL foods! Yes, I know that sounds super scary. But the reality is, that restriction hasn’t worked either. Restriction in fact fuels the binge restriction cycle. 

Restrict > Feel Obsessed > Binge > Feel Bad > Restrict again 

One way to start making peace with food is to write a list of all the foods that you consider off-limits, or feel guilty about. Systematically, start introducing one at a time with your meals – at a time when you’re not too hungry, tired, stressed or generally in a vulnerable place. You might want to start with something on the list that feels the least problematic, and work your way up as and when you feel comfortable. 

4. Challenge The Food Police

The food police are the thoughts, beliefs and the negative voices in your head, trying to tell you what to eat when to eat, and how much to eat. It judges everything you put into your mouth. The food police typically stem from diet culture. 

From things diets have told you, to things people have told you, things magazines have told you, etc. It can be hard to know which food facts are true and which ones have come from diet culture.

Examples include:

  • “Don’t eat bread more than once a day” 
  • “You should never eat processed/meal deals foods”
  • “Don’t drink your calories”
  • “Carbs are bad, try to limit these”
  • “Sweet foods are a treat and should only be eaten every so often”
  • “Whole unprocessed foods are best”
  • “Don’t eat lunch before 12pm”
  • “Eating less than XXXX calories/day is okay”

The problem with these? They teach you to go to your head for the answers on what you “should” be eating. And your body might be asking for something different. This can contribute to guilt, food obsession, or control eating, and keep you feeling stuck! 

“But what about health?” you might be asking? There is a difference between following a rule that’s rooted in the diet mentality and not serving you, versus a rule that’s in your interest of self-care. As you move through this process, you will be able to feel more neutral about food, and therefore, make choices more on what feels good for you and your body. But this takes time, so it’s important to be kind to yourself along the way. 

Examples of a kinder approach to food, eating and your body:

  • “I am lactose intolerant, so cows’ milk tends not to work well for me. I try to limit this in my diet as it gives me an upset stomach”.
  • “I am quite sensitive to caffeine, so for the most part, I try to avoid drinking caffeinated food or drinks in the afternoon as it disrupts my sleep and makes me feel anxious”. 
  • “My cholesterol is high, so I try to add more olive oil, nuts and fibre into my diet to help support my cholesterol levels where I can. 
  • “I am conscious of my dental health, so I try and drink sugar-free fruit squash or alternatives where I can. If I fancy a sugary drink or feel I need the energy, I will have one”

How to start challenging the food police? As you go throughout your week, and you make food choices, write out what the judgemental voices in your head say about that choice. Keep adding to this list (which are essentially your food rules). Begin to start to challenge these rules. E.g. where did I hear this? Is this really true? Would I say this out loud or inflict this on a friend? If the answer is no, it’s likely a diet rule that needs to be challenged. So challenge it. Work through this one by one, and do the opposite. For example, if your rule is “no lunch before 12pm”, and you feel hungry at 11:30 am, eat your lunch! Reflect on what happened. How was this? Can you offer a more balanced view of this food or rule?

5. Respect Your Fullness 

When was the last time you stopped eating when you were comfortably full? Feeling BETTER for eating? When stuck in the diet mentality, we can often swing from being overly hungry (through restriction) all the way to being stuffed. With intuitive eating, no foods are off-limits and there are no rules. You can, therefore, feel safe in the knowledge that you can eat as much as you need to feel comfortable right now, and eat again when your body is ready for it.

How to start respecting your fullness? First of all, work on hunger and making peace with food. If you’re approaching any food when ravenous, or, if your brain isn’t convinced 1) you should be eating it, or b) you can only have this food once a week, of course, it’s going to be difficult to stop when you’re full. So start there. 

If you’re confident in those parts, mindful eating, slowing down, and paying attention can help you to connect with what fullness feels like in your body. If you’re part of the “clean plate club” (aka can’t leave any food on your plate), practice leaving a forkful of something that doesn’t feel wasteful like bread, lettuce, or rice can be helpful to get your brain used to know it’s okay to leave food.

6. Discover Food Satisfaction

Wellness culture or “diet culture” is the culture that steals the joy from food, telling us what we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, rather than tuning in to what we actually enjoy or find pleasure in. We can end up in this battle of not knowing what to eat. So how do you decide what to eat when you’re feeling hungry?

  • Do you just go with the first thing that comes to mind? 
  • Do you eat whatever is around? 
  • Do you choose foods based on what you think you should be eating? 
  • Or do you choose what sounds good?

Rice cakes, kale crisps, and low-calorie cereal bars may not be leaving you feeling too satisfied. When we make choices based on what we think we “should” be eating, quite often we find ourselves at some point in the day or week, uncontrollably diving into the foods we are trying to avoid (cheese, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, etc.) Through mindful eating exercises, and really tuning into your taste buds, you will learn to discover what foods you actually enjoy, and what foods aren’t serving you too well.

So take some time, if possible, to eat without distractions. You could pick just one meal or snack to do this with. Sit down alone at a table, with your phone tucked away and the TV turned off. How does the food taste, smell, and look? Do you like the colour, flavours, and textures? Is this feeling enjoyable? This will help you learn what is actually satisfying to you. *Spoiler* if you misgauge your hunger and serve yourself more than you actually want, you can save it for another time!

7. Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food 

Emotional eating is perfectly natural and is usually an act of self-care. If you’re emotional eating, your body is just trying to say “hey, something is up”. And sometimes, the only tool you might have in your emotional coping toolbox is food! So taking that away completely, might feel really scary.

Emotional eating should not fill you with guilt. It’s part of being a human. However, if food becomes your only coping tool, it might not feel great. As you move through the intuitive eating journey, honour your hunger and remove the forbidden factor from foods, emotional eating can actually dissipate. However, if food is still your only or main coping mechanism that’s okay! It’s possible to identify other areas of your life that may be impacting your ability to tune into your body’s natural signals (e.g. lack of sleep, stress, boundaries). 

I have designed this flow chart to help. If you feel you need more help with this area, check out my article on “how to navigate emotional eating” here

Emotional Eating Flow Diagram 

8. Respect Your Body

Our bodies are pretty freaking cool. They are so many systems in place that allow us to survive. It’s time to accept that your body shape and size are special and unique to you and to not base your value or worth on a number. Your genes are set in stone, so being critical about something that you can’t change is not a helpful exercise.

Having a better body image isn’t something that happens overnight. But how about you set a goal to be more generous to yourself more days than not? Or, identify one thing a day you can do that shows yourself care and compassion. This can look like a good bedtime, decluttering toxic social media from your feed, or spending a day break from work. You are worthy of self-compassion and care. You owe it to yourself to invest in yourself. If you need some more body positive accounts to follow, you can find some ideas here.

9. Exercise to Feel The Difference

When exercise is tied up in burning off food or earning food, it’s usually not enjoyable, and not something that is sustained. Intuitive exercise can help you to identify ways to bring more joyful movement into your life for fun, fitness and with friends, rather than to punish your body. It’s time to ditch rigid exercise plans if they aren’t serving you, and certainly, remove pursuit of activities that you don’t enjoy. If you find movement that makes you feel good, you’ll automatically want to do it more often without even realising!

Where to begin? When you next have a desire to exercise, ask yourself “would I do this if this didn’t change my body or burn calories in any way?”. If the answer is no, don’t do it. If the answer is yes, then ask yourself “would I do this any differently”. For example, you might want to move, but instead of a run alone, you want to walk with a friend or loved one? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

10. Honour Your Body With Gentle Nutrition

This is all about nourishing your body with foods that satisfy you and make you feel good. There is no such thing as eating perfectly. This principle comes last because adding more information about nutrition in the earlier stages can just add more rules! It turns out that most people find eating a nutritious balanced diet feels good! No foods are off-limits and we can identify how ALL foods have an important purpose to serve. And it is about doing this consistently over time.

Where to begin? Take a look at my favourite diagram from The Rooted Project. Do you feel you have the balance? Which of these areas of a balanced approach to nutrition feels out of balance for you? After all, nutrition isn’t all about just the nutrients in the food. It’s about eating a variety of foods over time, in and amongst all of the other sections on the diagram. 

The Rooted Project, Balanced Eating Diagram 

And Last But Not Least…  Be forgiving to yourself

The beauty of intuitive eating is that it leaves room for our imperfections. How many years have you been trying to shrink your body, and follow food rules and diet plans? I imagine a little while. So you can’t expect to undo this work overnight and that’s okay! Sometimes you will eat and feel overly full and sometimes you may still feel hungry. All of this is part of normal eating. Like most things in life, intuitive eating isn’t linear and ups and downs are to be expected. One thing I would encourage is to practice talking to yourself like you would your best friend.

In Summary

Intuitive eating is complex and it’s a personal journey of building up your own toolkit of life skills. This way, you can be the boss! Not the meal plan/points system/or calorie counting app! Many people think that when they give themselves permission to eat and stop following the rules, they have ticked off this intuitive eating thing. It’s a lot more complex than that and there are many levels to unravel. If you would like to learn some more ways that you can get started on this journey, check out my free audio guide and workbook, providing you with 7-steps to find food peace and food freedom.

How to know if weighing yourself is doing more harm than good

How to know if weighing yourself is doing more harm than good

Do you ever dread weighing yourself?

Do you ever lay awake in the morning worrying about what that number will be?

Maybe you try to remember all the things you ate yesterday, wondering whether they were the right choices.

Will today be a good day? Or will it be a bad day?

When you step on those scales I’m guessing one of three things happens.

1. The number goes up

Your heart sinks. Feelings of shame and disappointment take over your body. Your biggest fear came true… you gained weight. Logically you know it is impossible to gain 2 pounds of fat overnight, but you have no time for logic. Your brain is too busy with negative thoughts about yourself or scrambling to figure out how to ‘fix’ it. You either plan to restrict what you eat for the next few days, or you let the negative thoughts swallow you whole. ‘Why did you eat that extra slice of bread!!’ you think. Inevitably, both of these thought processes end in you overeating at some point. You wish you hadn’t weighed yourself at all.

2. The number stays the same

Phew, it didn’t change!  After a moment of relief to see it hadn’t gone up, you get a pang of disappointment. It still wasn’t the number you wanted to see. You would think about all of the things that you ‘shouldn’t have’ eaten and would promise yourself to eat ‘better’ today. Either that or you feel angry and frustrated your efforts aren’t giving you the results that you wanted. ‘Stuff it’ you think. “Why do I bother eating healthy and exercising if it clearly isn’t working?” You decide to get fast food for lunch today, because what’s the point of even trying. Later that night, you worry about what the scales will tell you tomorrow.

3. The number goes down

Yes, excitement! You check and triple check the scales just in case you somehow stepped on the scales wrong. For a short while, you feel great! But then you feel nervous. What if it was just water weight and it all comes back tomorrow? Maybe you’re tempted to eat even less today so you lose even MORE weight tomorrow? Or maybe you are tempted to ‘reward’ yourself for your efforts. ‘I deserve this ice-cream’ you think… until later that night, you begin to regret it. Maybe that was a bad idea.  You dread stepping on that scale tomorrow, what if I gained it back?

If any of these three resonated with you, then weighing yourself may be causing you more harm than good.

Many people battle with their scales every day.


I know I did.


I know most of my clients did too.


self-weighing is related to increased concerns about weight, increased depression, decreased body satisfaction and poorer self-esteem in people who are sensitive about their body image. This is especially true for women and teenagers, who are more likely to experience negative emotions from weighing themselves.

If this sounds like you, it’s important to know that you are not alone. One in five people in the UK report feeling shame about their body, and according to a 2016 study, it was estimated that 57% of women had tried to lose weight in the last year alone. It is clear that this a common struggle.

So if self-weighing is making people feel so bad about themselves, why are they still doing it?

Why do people weigh themselves?

It can be hard not to worry about the number on the scale when we live in a society that values thinness. Some people believe that they will be happier or more confident if they are thinner. Others weigh themselves because of concerns regarding their health.

However, not only are the scales not very accurate, but they also tell you nothing about your worth, or your health (see my last article on having Health at Every Size).

Whilst stepping on the scales can be useful for some people and for some medical needs, for others it can cause more harm than good. Being unhappy with the number on the scales can encourage restrictive dieting which, for most, results in rebound weight gain, disordered eating, psychological distress, slowed metabolism, reduced self-esteem, weight cycling (see my previous article on Why Diets Don’t Work). 


If not weighing yourself, then what?

You may be wondering how you are supposed to manage your weight without knowing what it is. But what if I told you that focusing on weight is actually distracting you from your bodies natural weight management system?

Whilst it is possible to lose weight in the short term, the body has powerful physiological mechanisms to bring your weight back to where it wants to be. In short, when you lose weight your body responds by slowing down your metabolism, making you hungrier, and think about food more often to bring your weight back to its happy and healthy place – its set point. 

These powerful physiological mechanisms are so strong that they can actually cause our body to ‘overshoot’ its needs. This is why most dieters regain all the weight they lost, and sometimes even more.


So what can you do instead?

Intuitive eating uses mindfulness to teach you how to get back in touch with your bodies internal hunger and fullness cues, to work WITH your bodies natural weight management mechanism rather than against it. This is known as the non-diet approach. Evidence shows that this approach can improve lifestyle and eating habits, self-esteem, body image, and mental health.


Tips to ditch the scales

If you have made the brave decision to ditch the scales, well done! You’ve made your first step to improving your mental and physical health.

Breaking a habit can be hard, but I have written some tips to help you ditch the scales.

If you would like to begin your journey to making peace with food and your body, you can get started today with my FREE audio guide and actionable workbook (below).

Remember: You are more than just a number on the scale.

How do you know if you are ready to stop dieting?

How do you know if you are ready to stop dieting?

Firstly, let’s just clarify what I mean by ‘dieting’. Dieting is anything that you do in order to try and shrink your body. Whether it’s a juice cleanse or a ‘lifestyle’ change jazzed up as some kind of wellness thing.

You can have health and wellness without the never ending battle of trying to shrink your body. I have written about ‘why diets don’t work‘ and how you can have ‘health at every size‘ so I won’t go on.

So do you want to know if you’re ready to stop dieting? 

This questionnaire has been written to help you identify the ways in which dieting may have interfered with your life. To help you identify where you are currently at, and where work may be needed with your relationship with food.

This may help you identify whether you’re ready to stop dieting, so that you can save money and create more brain space to be the best version of you!

If you would like to talk through your challenges with me, you can schedule a FREE 20-minute no obligation call.

Alternatively, you can get started on changing your relationship with food TODAY, by listening to my FREE audio guide on 7-steps to find food peace and food freedom.

Sign up below! 

Can You Really Have Health at Every Size?

Can You Really Have Health at Every Size?

One question that frequently echoes around the place of work, social media, and social circles, of many Health at Every Size (HAES®) practitioners is, “But, come on, can you really have health at any size?”.

This question usually comes after an individual first hears about the social justice movement HAES®. They are immediately confronted with a lot of confusion. We are told from a young age by doctors, other respected professionals, friends and family that our weight is a major (if not sole) determiner of our health and morality. It is no wonder that the messages surrounding HAES® come with some confusion.

Understanding weight science is one of the first steps to heal your relationship with food. Hopefully this article can help alleviate some misperceptions as well as shed some light on the principles of HAES®.

What is Health at Every Size ( HAES®)?

Health at Every Size® is a set of principles to help us advance social justice and create an inclusive and respectful community. It’s been developed to support people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves. The phrase, “Can you really have health at every size?” comes from a general misunderstanding of what HAES® is.

HAES®  is kind of like you, living your best life, where body size isn’t situated as the star of the show. You and all the things that you cumulatively value, are the star. This is because the phrase, “health at every size” is different from the phrase “healthy at every size.” HAES® takes the approach of examining the whole person and not an isolated characteristic of the person (aka weight).

HAES®  is kind of like you, living your best life, where body size isn’t situated as the star of the show.

Image by Moose Kleenex

But doesn’t being high weight increase your health risks?

It turns out, despite decades of being told body size equates to health, new information indicates otherwise. Fat-phobia, or the fear of fatness, is rooted in many elements of our culture. Scientific researchers were and are, not exempt from that particular fear. Flawed research methods and a gross overgeneralisation of research results has added fuel to the fear of fatness.

Let’s look at some of the data…

The chart below is taken from a large study of 12,000 adults followed over 14 years below. It demonstrates that as a person partakes in more and more healthy habits (regardless of size), the risk of death reduces.

If you look at the group with a higher weight (BMI over 30kg/m2) the risk of death is the highest when no positive habits are followed (on the left). However, when this group partakes in a few positive health behaviours the risk of death is no greater than that of a thin person partaking in the same activities. I repeat – the risk of death is no greater than that of a thin person partaking in the same activities regardless of their weight.

These activities includes; physical activity, not smoking, reducing alcohol intake and increasing fruit and vegetable intake.

Why you may not be receiving the healthcare you deserve…

HAES® allows healthcare practitioners to provide equitable care to all patients regardless of their size. Have you ever been to the doctor for something really irrelevant to your weight like an eye infection, and left with a pamphlet on weight loss? Or maybe the healthcare provider didn’t give you the time of day? Maybe they didn’t believe you when you said that you eat your vegetables, don’t smoke, don’t drink and exercise? These are examples of weight stigma and these instances likely lead to avoidance of going back to your healthcare provider and ultimately worsened physical and mental health.

By taking a weight inclusive approach through HAES®, practitioners are acknowledging that assuming someone is healthy or unhealthy based on their size, is an unhelpful way to approach health care. Weight inclusivity acknowledges that an individual’s moral value and body size are not related to one another. One’s health is just that—their own health. Health can mean a lot of things to different people and we must all respect others in the ways they do, or do not, choose to pursue health.

The next time you visit the Doctor, and are told you need to lose weight for the 1274848728762784 time, perhaps you could use some of these phrases instead;

Taken and adapted from “Dances with Fat

Asking, “Can you actually have health at every size?” shoots us all a little off the mark of what is really going on.

This question distracts us from the real injustice: People of all body sizes are not getting appropriate medical care or respectful treatment due to weight bias. To make matters worse, experiencing weight discrimination deters the individual from participating in potentially beneficial health behaviours. Because diet culture places an emphasis on weight, overall health is sacrificed.

Maybe you’ve experienced this during a time when you felt light headed and fatigued, but still didn’t eat, for the sake of a weight-related goal. Or maybe you’ve sacrificed a personal relationship for the sake of maintaining a diet. Whatever it may be, chasing a body size distracts us from other important aspects of our lives and health.

Rather than asking, “Can you actually be healthy at every size” we should all be asking, “Regardless of body size, in what ways, can we support health and well-being?”. The latter question acknowledges that all bodies are worthy of respect and compassion and that there are many ways in which we can support our health that have nothing to do with the size of our bodies.

Rather than asking, “Can you actually be healthy at every size” we should all be asking, “Regardless of body size, in what ways, can we support health and well-being?”.

Final Thoughts

Well, I warned everyone that this question wasn’t going to have a straightforward answer, but here we are. “Can you really have health at every size?” is a question that misses the mark. It fails to acknowledge that Health at Every Size® does not equate itself to the phrase Healthy at Every Size. Even so, as we examine new research, scientists are beginning to piece together that our health behaviours may play a more crucial role in our health than body size alone.

Finally, the question itself, is a distraction from the real injustices occurring in our society. In order to correct the damages that weight discrimination has done, we must confront our own internal biases and work towards a better world. With that, I leave the readers of this article with a question. The next time you hear, “Can you really be healthy at every size?”, how will you respond?

5 steps to having better body image

5 steps to having better body image

“I don’t like the way I look”

“I wish I looked more like X”

“Once I’ve lost weight I will feel more XXX”

“Once I’ve lost this weight I will be able to XXX”

“There’s something wrong with me”

Are these things you hear yourself saying? I can certainly put my hands up to saying some of these things to myself previously.

Nowadays, we live in a society that is more and more obsessed with appearance. Both teenagers and adults are flooded with images of society’s idea of “perfect” bodies. We see adverts of diets co-opted as “lifestyles” designed to “transform and sculpt”, compounding the message that we are not good enough as we are. That we need to shrink or change our bodies to feel more worthy, accepted, happy and to have better health.

As a Registered non-diet Dietitian, specialising in Intuitive Eating, I work with clients to help them heal their relationship with food. Body image work comes into this frequently. This is because many of the food issues my clients experience, are underpinned by them trying to shrink or change their body.

Image by Moose Kleenex

What is body image and why does this matter?

The Mental Health Foundation describe body image as “a term used to describe how we think and feel about our bodies”. As a society, we are becoming more aware of the impact of how we think and feel about our bodies on our health and wellbeing. In fact, just recently the Mental Health Foundation conducted an online survey of 4500 UK adults over the age of 18, and 1100 teenagers (aged 13-19). They found:

  • 1 in 5 adults (20%) felt shame about their bodies.
  • 34% of adults felt low or down and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image.
  • 13% (1 in 8) even experienced suicidal thoughts in relation to body image.
  • Just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image.

So what is positive body image?

Positive body image doesn’t have to mean floundering around half naked shouting to the world that you love your body (although that’s also totally okay). For most of my clients, it’s about getting them to a place where they are not actually thinking too much about their body image. Where they can be at weddings, parties, events and get involved in other activities without body image holding them back from being present and participating. As a Registered non-diet Dietitian, specialising in Intuitive Eating, I work with clients to help them heal their relationship with food. Body image work comes into this frequently. This is because many of the food issues my clients experience, are underpinned by them trying to shrink or change their body.

Below I have outlined 5 steps you could take today, that may help improve your body image.

5 steps to having better body image

1) Adopt some self compassion

We often find it easy to direct compassion towards a friend, animal or young child who is suffering. Perhaps we feel affected by their suffering, and have a strong desire to help them ease that discomfort. Self-compassion is about directing that compassion inwards to ourselves. Recognising our own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, and generating the desire to alleviate and heal that suffering with self-kindness (Neff 2003). This may sound a little spiritual, and if you’re not into that, stick with me here. There is some sound research to suggest that adopting some self-compassion may attenuate body image dissatisfaction.

So how can you adopt some self-compassion?

  • Quit following #fitspo #fitspiration images on social media, and start following some #selflove and #selfcompassion quotes instead.
  • Give yourself permission to be imperfect. After all, there is no such thing as perfect!
  • Recognise that you’re not alone – 1 in 5 adults feel shame about their bodies.
  • Talk to yourself like you would your best friend that felt dissatisfied with their body.

2) Ask yourself who’s profiting from body hatred?

The diet industry is worth $60 Billion and is profiting from trying to cure you from a problem that really doesn’t exist. How are you fuelling into this and how else could you best spend your money?

3) Get clued up on weight science, and understand that weight does not define your health

This social requirement that we need to achieve an “ideal weight” is based on the misconception that we can completely control our body size. You may be surprised to learn that some of the most basic assumptions you hold about weight and health aren’t supported by scientific evidence. Misconceptions:

  • “It’s just calories in versus calories out right?”
  • “Surely shrinking your body shouldn’t be so hard, I’ve just not go the willpower”.
  • “Thinner = healthier”

Unfortunately, weight is not that simple. We know (and maybe you’ve experienced) that in the short term, weight loss is typically possible. But over the long-term the body has compensatory mechanisms that undermine its ability to maintain weight loss. Health is not dictated to by what the number says on the scales. You can read more about that here

4) Can you show your body some respect?

You may not love or even like your body right now. But for now, how can you show it a basic level of respect? Here are some examples:

  • Nourishing it regularly with food that you enjoy
  • Wearing clothes that fit you and that don’t pinch
  • Taking your medications
  • Having regular medical and dental check ups
  • Move your body in a way that feels comfortable
  • Allow it adequate sleep and rest

5) Notice how diet culture is deeply ingrained in our society

Diet culture is everywhere. It teaches us that we’re not good enough as we are. That we have to live a life of constant monitoring, controlling our bodies, restricting ourselves, and over exercising. It’s not until we open our eyes to this messaging, that we can start to shut it out. Here are some examples of messages that promote negative body image that we are often not aware of:

  • The consistent diet advertisements – on Spotify, in the gym, in the doctors surgery, on the train, tube or bus, on TV.
  • The casual use of fat phobic language – jokes around the dinner table, in the office, on TV and in films.
  • The general assumption that larger people are lazy, lacking in will-power, incompetent, unclean and undisciplined.
  • The lack of body diversity in the media.
  • Public health campaigns that shout about the “obesity epidemic” and place blame on those people in larger bodies being a “burden” on the NHS. These indirectly stigmatise larger bodies and indirectly contribute to appearance-based bullying.
  • The way we talk about food – good/bad/healthy/unhealthy/guilty/indulgent/clean

This work is hard so don’t expect to master is overnight. Consider how many months or years you have you been trying to change or manipulate your body? It’s normal for this work to take some time and it particularly difficult to embrace in a society that’s telling you otherwise. If you’re struggling with your body image it’s important that you seek support from a qualified professional who can point you in the right direction.

Am I addicted to sugar?

Am I addicted to sugar?

When clients first come to me, I often hear “I am addicted to sugar”. They question whether sugar addiction is a real thing and if so, whether they should go cold turkey to quit.

Quitting seems a logical solution, given that it is often the advice for someone with drug and alcohol addiction. In this article, I am going to break down what sugar addiction is, why you crave sugar and some tips to overcome feeling like you have a sugar addiction. I aim to answer your question “am I addicted to sugar”. 

Firstly, what is addiction?

This is a complex question because the definition of addiction is controversial.

In short, you can have two categories of addiction:

  1. A substance addiction such as drugs, alcohol or tobacco
  2. A non-substance behavioural addiction such as gambling

It has been suggested that some foods with “addictive agents”, such as salt, fat and sugar, could result in people showing the same symptoms as someone with drug addiction. There have even been media reports suggesting that sugar addiction is a thing and that it’s as addictive as heroin and cocaine. But the reality is that there are not many studies that have examined sugar addiction specifically in humans – the studies that do exist have been carried out in rodents.

Sugar addiction – is it the same as being addicted to drugs?

Chances are that you have already googled “am I addicted t sugar”. After reading a ton of contradictory information, you may think sugar addiction and drug addiction manifest the same symptoms.

Well let’s look at it in detail.

If we were to go by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it diagnoses a Substance Use Disorder (substances such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs) based on 11 symptoms. These can be grouped into four categories:

  • Impaired control: symptoms relate to cravings and a strong desire to use the drug or failed attempts of cutting back on drug use.
  • Social issues: symptoms relate to situations where the person’s work, home and social life is disrupted due to continued drug use.
  • Risky use: symptoms relate to a person’s continued use of the drug despite the known negative consequences.
  • Drug physiological effects: symptoms of tolerance (the body requires more of the drug to produce the same effect) and withdrawal (the body shows withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer in the body and a tolerance has developed

So could some of those symptoms occur with a “sugar addiction”? After reading this, you may think so!

For example:

  • Do I have cravings and a strong desire to eat sugary foods? Yes!
  • Have I repeatedly attempted to cut back or “quit” sugar? Yes!
  • Do I feel so “out of control” with food that I’m not in the mood to attend social events? Yes!

But let’s pause for a second. For a substance use disorder diagnosis, the symptoms need to cause “significant impairment or distress”.

And anyone who is experiencing significant distress such as this related to eating patterns, is more than likely going to be diagnosed with an overall eating disorder, which is very different to suggesting that someone is addicted to sugar in the same way that someone is addicted to drugs.

Another key part of a diagnosis, is that the symptoms produce physiological effects. Drug taking can cause people to develop withdrawal and tolerance symptoms. The good news is that there has never been a human study to show that sugar (or any nutrient for that matter, except for caffeine) produces tolerance or withdrawal effects.

So am I addicted to sugar if I crave it all the time?

There are a number of reasons why you may feel addicted to sugar. Here are some reasons why:

1) Restriction

The root cause of feeling out of control around food is restriction, not food addiction. We know this because as soon as we deprive ourselves from a food, we want the food even more and there a number of studies to support this (see my recent article with the research on how to stop food obsession). We subsequently eat more of it than we would have if we’d just allowed ourselves to eat in the first instance! Following food rules that restricts intake of our “forbidden foods” can lead to excessively focussing on those foods which just exacerbates disordered eating.

You may have heard that in animal studies, sugar is addictive. However, these studies fail to emphasise, that the animals have actually been deprived of sugar. So of course they ended up “bingeing” on it when they were allowed it again. The group of rats that were deprived, actually ate the same amount of sugar in a 12 hour period compared to a group of rats that weren’t deprived over a 24 hour period. What’s the moral here? Eat the sugar!

2) Food is pleasurable (which is not a bad thing!) and needed for survival

Whilst animal studies might show that the brain reacts in a similar way to when drugs are taken, they fail to recognise that food is something that is needed for survival. Sugar is not a drug – it’s the most basic fuel source we need to stay alive! It is therefore supposed to bring joy. Our brain needs glucose to make sure we can carry out all the required biological functions to keep us alive. So how could we be addicted to something that we need to function?

The same centres light up when we have sex, when we stroke a puppy or even when we win or anticipate winning money. Does that mean we are addicted to sex, puppies or money? No.

Where does that leave us?

Studies in this field are still in their infancy, and of the research that does exist, it is limited to animals.

Also, it is difficult to confirm that sugar, as a standalone nutrient, is addictive as we rarely consume this on its own. Sugar is in starchy foods such as potatoes, breads and pastas as well as in fruit, vegetables and dairy products. Things we usually eat in conjunction with many other things!

In saying all of this, I do not want to lessen the struggles that some people may feel they have around food. It is still possible to feel “out of control” around sugar and overeat sugary foods, but it is unlikely to be addiction. It’s more likely to be rooted in restriction.

If you feel this is you, Intuitive Eating is a gentle evidence-based approach that doesn’t require going cold turkey. This framework has helped people reduce overeating or binge eating because it teaches how to identify hunger and fullness signals without restricting food.

Intuitive Eating requires time and patience, but also the right support from someone qualified. A Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor is a good place to start. If you’d like to know more about what you can start to do today to overcome your difficulties with feeling addicted to sugar, check out my free 20-minute audio download below.

Please note: if after reading this, you think you might have an eating disorder, I encourage you to visit your GP to discuss this. You can also listen to this in depth YouTube interview on sugar addiction that I share on sugar addiction to find out more of the juicy details! 

References throughout text.