Chances are, you’ve heard about Intuitive Eating before. Originally coined in 1995 by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, it has taken popular culture by storm.
The premise behind Intuitive Eating (IE) is that dieting is not only ineffective for weight loss in the long run (95% of diets ultimately fail), but may also be harmful for physical and mental health. Tribole and Resch developed ten Intuitive Eating principles to help guide individuals away from rigid dieting rules, instead to come home to their bodies and tap into their innate wisdom in order to heal their relationship with food and body.
Embracing intuitive eating is actually a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it. It’s the opposite of the diets we’re familiar with in that there’s no defined amount of time or gimmicky promises.
With intuitive eating, you’re in it for the long haul. It doesn’t mean throwing in the towel and “letting go,” it means unlearning diet rules and rigidity, rediscovering what foods are satisfying for you, and discarding the belief that we’ll be healthier and happier when we reach a certain weight. So, it requires letting go of food rules, rigidity, and black and white thinking around food by rebuilding trust with your body.
We wanted to briefly introduce you to the 10 Principles if you aren’t familiar yet! These steps don’t necessarily have to happen in this exact order, but the succession is not without reason.
If you want more beyond this post, do not fear! We have created the Intuitive Eating Course that walks you through everything you need to know to help you get started on a path of true food freedom.
Let's dive in!
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
First and foremost, we need to ditch diet culture. Diet culture is fueled by the over $60 billion industry that profits off of our thin-obsessed ideals, insecurities and fatphobia; that tells us we are more worthy if we lose weight.
And here's the kicker: research demonstrates that repeated weight cycling (losing then regaining weight) is linked to subsequent regain, slowed metabolism and even increased risk of heart disease.
This weight rebound gets more pronounced with each weight loss attempt - as the body gets better equipped to respond to the threat of dieting (which it perceives as starvation). Dieting induces a “fight or flight” response - releasing cortisol (a stress hormone) and our body enters survival mode, holding onto reserves as tightly as possible.
Once you’ve internalized the truth that diets don’t work and do more harm than good, unsubscribe completely. Toss or donate old diet cookbooks, magazines and apps. Unfollow accounts on social media that preach weight loss and dieting. Put your blinders up to diet culture. For even more on how ditching diet culture might be the best decision you make all year, click here. Feeling surrounded by toxic diet talk? We can help you avoid that! here. (Can you tell this topic irks us?!)
2. Honor Your Hunger
Diet culture likes to villainize hunger, spewing out clickbait articles with headlines like “curb your hunger for good with these 5 foods” or “suppress your appetite with these simple tricks.” The problem with this messaging and attempts to ignore hunger is that it causes us to lose touch with our bodies. If you attempt to suppress your hunger, you may end up energy deprived...leading to feeling “hangry” and possibly setting yourself up for a binge later.
Think about it: would it be wise to ignore your body if you had to use the restroom? Of course not! You’d pee your pants.
Hunger cues are just as normal and biological. Honoring your hunger with food is the best way to “suppress your appetite” and move on with your life. Check out this post to learn more about honoring your hunger.
3. Make Peace With Food
PERMISSION may be the single most important thing about Intuitive Eating. Challenge your beliefs about which foods are “good” and which are “bad.” Attaching morality to our eating makes us more likely to feel shame after eating certain foods, leading to feeling out of control and crazy around food. When all foods are neutral, there’s no “forbidden fruit” factor that leads to feeling deprived and wanting that certain food simply because its off limits in our minds.
Unconditional permission removes the guilt and shame from eating, instead enabling us to have a relaxed and enjoyable relationship with food rather than being stuck in the perpetual restrict, overeat, feelings of shame cycle. Read more about relinquishing food rules and allowing yourself permission here.
4. Challenge the Food Police
The food police is your inner dialogue that pops in your head with unhelpful thoughts and judgments about food choices. These are the thoughts that say you are “being bad” for eating certain foods like cake or “good” for eating a salad. The food police keeps you in a shame spiral and perpetuates the idea that food is morally superior or inferior.
Sure, some foods have a higher nutritional value than others, but they are still perfectly fine foods that might be perfectly appropriate in the moment. Your body can handle all kinds of foods (as long as it isn’t rotten), so call out your inner food police and reframe those thoughts with helpful thoughts.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Some foods or meals may be physically filling, such as an apple, salad or even a bunch of celery sticks….but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re satisfying. You can be physically full without feeling satisfied and that's when you might find yourself seeking more foods, looking for that point of satisfaction. You might think to yourself, “but that salad was so healthy and filling, why am I still hungry??” To prevent overeating and thinking about food constantly, seek food that is filling but also pleasurable. That way you can eat, feel satisfied, and move on.
6. Respect Your Fullness
The constant banter of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” when it comes to eating can often make us feel like we are only allowed to eat at structured mealtimes, and when we do we may claim to belong in “the clean plate club.” Just as we want to honor our hunger and eat when our body is asking for food, we will feel better and more connected with our bodies when we tune into it.
Practice checking in with your body periodically during the meal. How is it tasting? Are you still enjoying it? Pay attention to the signals letting you know when you are satiated and satisfied. Remember, you can always save the leftovers for later. You aren’t being wasteful by not cleaning your plate.
7. Cope With Your Emotions with Kindness
It is entirely normal, and healthy even, to use food to cope with emotions. Food is meant to be pleasurable, so eating “comfort foods” from time to time to treat uncomfortable feelings can offer a temporary reprieve. However, it’s important to have other skills in your self-care toolbox to lean on for dealing with unpleasant feelings. If food is your only coping mechanism, this can feel self-sabotaging and ultimately be unhelpful.
8. Respect Your Body
All too often, we are quick to judge our body rather than appreciate it. Intuitive eating depends on listening to your body without judgment, so making peace with your body is an important piece of making peace with food.
Take time to appreciate what your body does for you and what it allows you to do. Addressing your relationship with your body might bring up a lot of feelings and pain from past experiences so working with a supportive team can be very beneficial. Our team of compassionate dietitians is here to help you in this work.
9. Movement: Feel the Difference
Our culture is numbers and data driven but exercise and eating are not a transactional, “calories in-calories out” equation. If you use exercise as a way to "make up" for calories, punish yourself for what you ate, or if it feels like an obligation, try to shift your thinking to how movement makes you feel in your body. There’s no doubt there are numerous health benefits to exercise but if it adds more stress to your day, it might not be so healthy.
If joyful movement sounds intriguing to you then you are going to love our Movement PATH. An online library with exercise videos that focus in on body connection and inclusivity.
10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
The last principle, for a reason, as nutrition should not be a major consideration until you’ve worked on ditching the diet mentality and healing your relationship with food. Gentle nutrition is about considering how food makes you feel, with balance, variety, and enjoyable foods. You wouldn’t feel so great if all you ate was donuts, just like you would be lacking if you only ate salads. Making small shifts and focusing on the overall eating pattern will be a lot more impactful overall than any diet.
Food freedom and body liberation is a beautiful thing. If you’re working on healing your relationship with food and body, you don’t have to navigate it on your own. Reviewing the principles only really scratches the surface of practicing IE. That's where our Intuitive Eating course comes in. Let's take the first step towards saying goodbye to diet culture and hellooo to a more peaceful relationship with food together.
As always, we're here for you! Drop us a line to see how we can best support your individual needs.