Ditching dieting 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?”
Well IE is an evidence-based way of eating, created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. 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 they naturally seek out a wide variety of different foods. They may even leave ½ 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/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 the chronic side effects of dieting (binge eating, secret eating, rebound weight gain, food obsession, food guilt and much more).
It can help remove those judgy 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.
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 a method where you learn to honour hunger and fullness while respecting your body.
Intuitive Eating is composed of 10 key principles:
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honour Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Respect Your Fullness
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food
- Respect Your Body
- Exercise—Feel the Difference
- 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.
1. 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?
2. Say goodbye to dieting.
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.
3. Start honouring 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 monstrous hunger? Of course you’re going to shovel it down, eat anything in front of you, feel overly full and then potentially guilty about ‘overeating’. If you can stop yourself getting to this point of monstrous hunger, you may be able to implement some of the other principles. See this as the first layer to 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.
4. Quit the food labelling.
Try to eliminate the “good/bad”, “healthy/unhealthy” food language. 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. When you remove them from their pedestal, put them onto a level playing field with all foods, you get to decide whether you actually like the food. No single food is good/bad/healthy/unhealthy. After all, you don’t just eat a carrot and tick off health. Or eat a cake and undo your health.
5. 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, 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.
6. Practice a bit of mindful eating.
Take some time, if possible, to eat without distractions. Sit down alone at a table, with your phone tucked away and the TV turned off. How does the food taste, smell, and look? Practice acknowledging your hunger and satiety. This will help you learn what is 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. Stop thinking that your body isn’t worthy of care.
Our bodies are pretty freaking cool. They are so many systems in place that allow us to survive. 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 to 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.
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 of you! 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.