What is Intuitive Eating?

by | Dec 10, 2018 | #StripTheNonsense, Intuitive Eating

So…what is Intuitive Eating

Have you heard about Intuitive eating but you’re not sure exactly what is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a framework that can be used to move away from chronic dieting and heal your relationship to food. Intuitive eating has plenty of research behind it, and is now considered an evidenced based approach. It was developed by Dietitian’s Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995.
Intuitive Eating is not a diet and it does not control or restrict food intake. It’s an approach to help you get out of your head, and more into your body. It helps remove the exhausting should / shouldn’t voices that may constantly sit on your shoulders around food choices
Intuitive Eating includes mindful eating practice, where we eat in a ‘present’ state, free from distraction. That means putting away our phones and laptops, and bringing our attention to the food we are eating. By fully tuning in to what we’re eating means we can listen to our hunger and fullness cues; another important part of this practice
This practice is also about honouring our body’s physical and psychological needs. Ask yourself, what do I really want to eat NOW? If you feel like a slice of cake, eat the cake. If you feel like a Caesar salad, order the salad. By honouring your body’s needs and not depriving yourself of the thing you really want to eat means you’re more likely to feel satisfied. In turn this helps to reduce binge eating and aid in you in feeling in-control with food. Hurrah! 
If you’re thinking…”that sounds great…but if I let myself eat what I want I will surely overeat” then keep reading to the bottom of the article. Here, I address this common fear. 
Intuitive eating encourages “putting weight loss on the back burner”. This means allowing our body to settle at its natural weight once eating patterns normalise. This practice is all about learning how to enjoy food and feel satisfied, and therefore decrease binge eating and increase our overall health and wellbeing
Over 100 published studies have confirmed that many psychological and physiological benefits can arise through this practice. As such, Intuitive Eating has become a buzz term in the social media world as many people discover it can help stop dieting and reduce binge eating episodes. But sadly, it has been misinterpreted by some as being yet another potential tool for weight loss, which it is not.
“Intuitive Eating is not a diet. It does not pursue weight loss and it does not control or restrict food intake.”

Why try Intuitive Eating?

How many attempts have you made in your life to try and lose weight?
How long have you been able to maintain the weight that you’ve lost?
Have you ever considered that it might be time to look for something different?
One of the strongest predictors of weight gain is engagement in weight loss dieting, regardless of the actual body weight of the dieter. And upwards of 90% of people who intentionally lose weight gain it back within five years. Between one third and two thirds of people who lose a substantial amount of weight on a dietary-based weight loss program will regain all the lost weight and more within 5 years 
And sometimes I think we’re not always clear on what dieting is. Dieting has become twisted and morphed into “wellness” and it’s sneaky. Dieting is anything that pursues weight loss, whether it be fasting, calorie counting, eating clean, going gluten-free, vegan, or following a Keto plan.
For many of us, we’re lead to assume that diets are safe and harmless. What we’ve come to learn through research and experience is that dieting and restriction for the purposes of weight loss, don’t work for the majority.
For a lot of people, this can sounds completely different and foreign. And if we’re hearing things for the first time, the human response is to think “no that’s not me”.
Robust studies show that restrictive eating can increase disordered eating, make us gain weight, binge eat, become totally preoccupied with food, lower our self–esteem and decrease our overall mental health. Have experienced any of this yourself?
If dieting doesn’t lead to weight loss, and causes so much mental turmoil, why do we do it?
Because we live in a diet culture that is obsessed with thinness. Where it is considered normal to diet and pursue weight loss. We’re sold the idea that when we’re thinner, we will be healthier, more confidence, and more successful.
Stopping dieting can be so hard. There is a lot of unlearning involved. Intuitive eating is a framework that provides structure for this, with research to back it up.

“Intuitive Eating is not a diet. It does not pursue weight loss and it does not control or restrict food intake.”

So how do you actually start Intuitive Eating? 

Developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995, Intuitive Eating is evidence-based with 10 principles underpinning it (3).

Below, I have outlined the 10 principles and some tips to get started implementing them.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality  

Unfollow any social media accounts that promote weight loss and push unrealistic body standards. Toss out diet plans, magazines and books that once graced your bookshelf. It’s time to break up with diet culture for good so you can allow Intuitive Eating to become part of your life.  

2. Honour Your Hunger 

Nourish your body with the right amount of energy to avoid going into starvation mode. Allowing yourself to become excessively hungry triggers a natural intense desire to eat, often leading to unintended binge eating. Try not to skip meals or have long gaps in between eating which can leave you feeling ravenous! 

3. Make Peace with Food 

Give yourself permission to eat ALL food! No single food is going to make you healthy or unhealthy, and restrictive eating can often lead to extreme feelings of deprivation. This often leads to binge eating which can fill you with guilt. No food should be “forbidden”.  

4. Challenge the Food Police  

Stand up to the Food Police in your head who create unrealistic food rules (e.g. no sugar, dairy, gluten, eating after 6pm, counting carbs). The Food Police often let you think that only healthy eating is good and eating cake is bad. It’s time to give these guys the flick!  

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. 

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor  

Eating rice cakes, kale crisps and low-calorie cereal bars probably aren’t going to leave you feeling satisfied. If you’re out at dinner and feel like ordering the chips, order themIf you deprive yourself of the thing you really feel like most, you are fuelling the restrictive diet mentality, which at some point will likely lead to feeling out of control around food.  

7. Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food 

Emotional eating is perfectly natural and is usually an act of self-care. It should not fill you with guilt. As you move through the intuitive eating journey, honour your hunger and remove the forbidden of foods, emotional eating can dissipateHowever, if food is still your only or main coping mechanism, we can work together to identify other ways to soothe your emotions that aren’t just with food. 

8. Respect Your Body  

It’s time to accept that your body shape and size is special and unique. Your genes are set in stone, so being critical about something that you can’t change is not a helpful exercise. Focus on all the wonderful things your body can do or has done to help rediscover self-love.  

9. Exercise – Feel the Difference 

Find movement that you love and do it as much or as little as you wish. Ditch rigid exercise plans and certainly don’t pursue activities that you don’t enjoy. If you find movement that you makes you feel good, you’ll automatically want to do it more often without even realising!  

10. Honour Your Health  

There is no such thing as eating perfectly. It is about making progress to consuming a variety of foods that make your body feel well and also satisfy your tastebuds. It turns out that most people find eating a nutritious balanced diet feels good! And it is about doing this consistently over time.

If you would like some more in depth information on how to implement these, head to my other article with tips on how to start intuitive eating

With this, please keep in mind that Intuitive Eating is a nuanced framework and how it is applied depends on where you are at as an individual. I would recommend reading the Intuitive Eating book for more detailed info and/or seeking support from a Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor.

So you’re interested in Intuitive Eating but have some reservations?

Embracing Intuitive Eating can be more of a challenging process than just being given a diet plan or set of rules. But it’s a way to find true freedom so you never have to go back to diets again. Of course, diets and the scales will always be there to go back to…

Here are some answers to common fears:

“If I give myself permission, I may never stop eating” 

 As result of years of chronic dieting and under-eating it can be hard to trust that you will ever stop eating. As you move through intuitive eating there may be a short period of time where you eat more than you desire. This is totally normal, and a natural response to restriction. When you start learning to trust that food is ALWAYS available, and there are no weird conditions on this, you will start to trust that you will only eat as much as you need.

 “I don’t know what or how to eat” 

When you actually stop and pay attention to what you are eating, you may realise that you don’t even enjoy those foods! But rather than being concerned about what to eat, use intuitive eating to explore different kinds of foods and flavours. This is a great opportunity to figure out what you like to eat rather than what you think you should eat.  

“If I let myself eat whatever I want, I might lose control”

Imagine if said you can eat whatever you want all day, every day. You may think you would never stop yourself eating chocolate chip cookies, wine, cheese, crisps and all the foods you consider ‘bad’. Let’s see what happens if I give you an endless supply of cookies.   

  • Day 1, you would eat a lot.  
  • By Day 2, you may still eat a lot, but less than Day 1.  
  • Day 3, you’d most likely eat less than Day 1 and 2.  
  • After a few days, you will start to crave other foods.  

This process is called habituation and is another key part of the Intuitive Eating practice.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember about Intuitive Eating is that it is not about eating a perfect diet – there is no such thing! The goal is to eat a variety of nutritious food with some ‘play foods’ that truly satisfy you. To remove the noise in your head and make peace with food and your body, so you can move on with other things that matter more in life. 

For more on how to start intuitive eating check out my free download This will guide you through some of the first steps to support you through your food problems. You will learn how to stop food obsession, battling with emotional eating, stress eating, and some tips to start intuitive eating.

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