You’ve heard of Mindful eating, but what about intuitive eating? What exactly is it? Is it another fad diet or zen-sounding dieting philosophy in disguise? Glad that you asked. Let’s dive in and find out…
What is intuition anyway?
Before we talk about intuitive eating or how to eat intuitively, let’s first define intuition. According to Mirriam-Webster, intuition is a noun. It means: “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference,” “ immediate apprehension or cognition,” “knowledge or conviction gained by intuition,” or “quick and ready insight.” In short, it’s a way to bypass traditional methods of thinking to gain knowledge or insight.
Then what is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a term that was coined by a registered dietitian and a nutrition therapist. It first appeared in a book release in 1995 called Intuitive Eating. Intuitive eating means trusting yourself or your body to make food choices that feel good. This is done without judgment or the influence of our culture of dieting. It is the opposite of dieting. We come into this world knowing what we like to eat, when to eat, as well as when to stop eating. However, the messages from the media, friends and/or family complicate things. Over time, we distrust our own inner wisdom and rely on authority figures to tell us how we should be eating. Intuitive eating boils down to trusting your internal hunger cues, knowing when you’re full, yet not excluding any foods. None are considered bad or completely off limits. Sounds simple right?!
Many studies have explored intuitive eating. A review of almost 100 studies found that intuitive eating is associated with: positive body image and healthy self-esteem, decreased rates of disordered eating, and an increased sense of well-being.
Intuitive eating principles
In order to begin eating intuitively, you first have to unlearn negative messages about food and eating. These messages have been passed down and reinforced through society.
There are 10 Intuitive eating principles:
- Reject dieting mentality – to start, you need to let go of everything diet-related. Actively rejecting diet culture, and everything it stands for that’s harmful to your body. For example, you hear that one of your favorite foods is fattening. You recognize that diet culture is at play, and you continue to eat your favorite food. It should be noted that this is different from learning that a food you love can cause a harmful health condition.
- Honor your hunger – when you do a lot of dieting, you learn to ignore hunger cues. Some will tell you that you should drink something instead as you may be thirsty. I don’t disagree that you might be thirsty, but hunger is a biological response that shouldn’t be ignored. What if you had a strong urge to use the bathroom? I’m hoping you would do what you needed to do! Sometimes we can’t take care of biological urges right then and there, but they become our priorities. The same is true with honoring your hunger. The only risk here is that we tend to mistake hunger for other things. Get to know your hunger cues. If you eat something when you’re not hungry (for instance, due to boredom, wanting to fit in, etc.), then you’re crossing the line into emotional eating.
- Make peace with food – you may have a lot of rules with food. That could mean not eating after a certain time, or not eating certain foods because they go straight to your belly. Start getting comfortable with eating things that you like. You may feel bad at first, but no foods are evil or off-limits.
- Challenge the food police – sometimes you praise yourself for good behavior. For instance, you feel good about yourself after having a salad or eating light. Other times you beat yourself up after having something you shouldn’t have had. Consider that there are no rights or wrongs with eating. Even feeling good about a food choice can lead to making a “bad choice” later. It’s reward seeking behavior, which only deepens the cycle you’re trying to break free from.
- Discover satisfaction – do you eat what you’re supposed to eat, or do you eat foods that will satisfy you? Food should bring us joy. Even healthy foods shouldn’t be bland. Otherwise, there’s little incentive to continue eating them. When looking at a menu or sitting in front of a meal you prepared, ask yourself: is this the food I really want? Will it satisfy me? If not, then consider what else might satisfy you and make any adjustments that you can.
- Feel your fullness – your body will tell you when you’re full and should stop eating. The problem is that we either eat too quickly, or we ignore (or don’t recognize) the feeling of satiety. Some foods will satisfy you more quickly than others. In general, eating until we’re full is generally eating too much. What happens is you missed your satiety signal and will realize you’re full when it’s too late – after you’ve overeaten. Slowing down while eating can be helpful. Check out my blog post: How to Practice Mindful Eating for more practical tips on eating more slowly.
- Deal with your emotions with kindness – like I mentioned above, eating for any other reason than hunger is emotional eating. We turn to food for many different emotional reasons. We may eat because we’re excited, nervous, sad, etc. Food doesn’t fix our feelings, even though it can make us feel better temporarily. For this reason, it is important to find appropriate ways to deal with our emotions. The next time you experience stress and find yourself craving something sugary, realize that it’s not the sugar that you’re really after. It’s just a bandaid. What you really need is to alleviate your stress. There are many different ways to do that, such as by taking a walk, listening to music, hitting the gym, etc.
- Respect your body – all of our bodies are different. They come in different shapes and sizes. Although you have some control over this with diet and exercise, there’s a lot you don’t have control over. Other factors play a big role in how you look such as your genes. In short, we have the body we have and there’s not too much we can do to change it. Respect your body however it looks. Otherwise, you risk never being satisfied with it and fighting an uphill battle. Recognize that your body is different from other bodies and that that’s okay. Nevermind that the media pushes certain body types.
- Movement – exercise is healthy and our bodies like it. However, diet culture can make you dread it. It’s often all about burning calories and pushing as hard as you can. A better focus is on movement. Our bodies like to move. Rather than thinking about exercise as an obligation and a way to burn calories, recognize that it feels good to move in some way. You can still lift heavy weights, ride that exercise bike until you’re drenched in sweat, but you’re doing it for pleasure and not because you have to do it, or for health reasons. Find something you enjoy doing, and do it when you feel like doing it. Notice how your body feels when it’s active.
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition – the intuitive eating principles laid out above may suggest that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. But don’t throw out what you know about health or nutrition. Some foods are legitimately bad for us and should be minimized. Other foods may not make us feel so good. Listen to your body. What is it telling you after you eat particular foods? Even if you have something healthy, not feeling good after eating it is valuable feedback.
Now you have a better idea for how to eat intuitively. You can implement intuitive eating principles into your life for more mindful eating. I’m curious to hear how intuitive eating has impacted your life. If you’ve never tried it, how do you think it can help. Either way, please share your experiences in the comments below…