Why is intuitive eating not so… intuitive? I blame diet culture.
From a young age, we’re bombarded with messages of what we should be eating. Whether it’s from advertisements, TV, movies, Instagram, magazines (do people still read physical magazines?!), or even our families and friends. It’s impossible to escape the constant diet chatter. Intuitive eating encourages us to ditch the diet mentality, and instead, tune in to our inner cues surrounding eating.
What is intuitive eating?
The ‘founders’ of Intuitive Eating are Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, both Registered Dietitians, who wrote the book Intuitive Eating in 1995. Of course, eating intuitively dates back much longer than 1995 when the book initially was released.
Intuitive eating is the idea that we listen to our hunger and satiety cues, cravings, as inner cues to guide us in deciding what, and how much, to eat. We couple this with outer factors, such as what we have on hand, our current budget, and social situations. Groundbreaking, right?
When we combine all of these factors, we end up deciding what to eat based on what feels good, considering many different avenues, at that time.
There’s a lot of misinformation about intuitive eating. Many people think intuitive eating involves eating exactly what we want, exactly when we want it. Sure, that would be great, in an ideal world. Sadly, life doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We’re constantly surrounded by outer influences that shape what we eat-from occasions, to social gatherings, to weekly budgets, to what we have on hand or how much time we want to spend cooking. Acknowledging that other factors exist, and will sometimes play an influence in what we eat, is okay. And actually, that’s one of the best parts of intuitive eating in my opinion. There’s no guilt. There’s no should.
How do I practice intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating involves acknowledging when you feel physically hungry or emotionally hungry. It involves recognizing what you want to eat, and how much of it. This ultimately means we need to tune into our bodies. Sometimes we feel emotionally hungry rather than physically hungry, and that’s okay. When we take the time to recognize these feelings, we’re better equipped to handle them in a way that feels appropriate at that given time.
There are 10 key steps to intuitive eating (as developed by the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, with my own interpretation). To gain a deeper understanding, I highly recommend reading this book.
1. Reject diet mentality
Stop listening to media, people, and influencers that tell you you need to be on a diet. This is challenging, but arriving at the mindset that you don’t need to listen to what other people are doing in terms of their diet and trying to push onto you is vital for eating intuitively. This involves realizing that diets don’t work, and that searching for the next best diet that could fix everything won’t work, either. You can’t truly tap into intuitive eating if you’re constantly thinking about the next best diet that might help you.
2. Honor your hunger
Allowing yourself to eat when you’re hungry is liberating. It sounds silly, right? But how many times have you pushed away feelings of hunger, making yourself wait for the next designated mealtime to eat, or force yourself to stop eating before you’re truly satisfied or full? Allowing ourselves to eat when we’re hungry by honoring our biological signs of hunger allows us to build trust with ourselves around food.
3. Make peace with food
Have you ever noticed that telling ourselves that we can’t have a certain food just makes us want it more? This is one of the dangers of the all-or-nothing mindset (I talk more in-depth about this mindset here and here!). Making peace with food allows us unconditional permission to eat the food that we want when we want it.
4. Challenge the food police
I think we’ve all been around people that are constantly telling us how we should be eating. But have you ever considered that maybe the food police is in your head, too? Oftentimes, we have nagging thoughts in our heads about what foods we should and shouldn’t eat, or put limitations on when we should be allowed to eat certain things. Challenge these rules that we put on food, and refuse the food police in all forms- from friends, family, coworkers, and even yourself. This plays into the all-or-nothing mindset, which I talk more about here and here.
5. Respect your fullness
Many of us have gone so long denying our hunger cues that we forget what it feels like to be genuinely hungry or full. Try to recognize what hunger and fullness mean to you. Maybe hunger is a slight rumble in your stomach, a moment of low energy, a dull headache, or not being able to focus on your work. Comfortable fullness should leave you feeling energized, satisfied, and not ‘snacky’ immediately after a meal. If you’re eating too quickly or mindlessly, you might eat past the level of comfortable fullness. Try stopping in the middle of eating to assess how the food tastes, and where your hunger levels are at. Respecting hunger and fullness takes practice.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor
When Kate Moss said nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, she probably had never had an amazing meal surrounded by family. She probably had never tasted ice cream on a hot summer day or sat cozied up with freshly popped popcorn for a movie night with friends.
Food is meant to be enjoyed. It’s not meant to make us feel guilty, unworthy, or weak. When we eat food that tastes good to us, in quantities that are appropriate to us individually, we truly tap into the joy that food can bring.
7. Honor your feelings without using food
We’re human. We have feelings and emotions like loneliness, anger, and boredom that many of us try to conceal with food. But it’s important to recognize that food won’t make these feelings go away. It may serve as a short term distraction but ultimately may leave us feeling worse in the long run. Instead of trying to disguise these feelings with food, try to learn other coping strategies that may be more productive. Ultimately, we shouldn’t feel ashamed of distracting ourselves with food, but trying to learn other habits to deal with these emotions will likely serve us better in the long run.
8. Respect your body
As Evelyn and Elyse say, you wouldn’t try to fit into a size 7 shoe if you were truly a size 9, would you? So why do we expect the same of our bodies? Respecting our bodies means being grateful for all that our bodies do for us, without trying to constantly change them.
9. Exercise-feel the difference
There’s no doubt that exercise is good for our heart, brain, mood and energy levels, but so many people view exercise simply as a way to burn calories. Have you ever thought about how good it feels to go for a brisk walk after sitting at work all day? Or how nice it feels to unwind with a yoga class? The important thing about exercise is finding something that feels good to you, not doing something that you think you should be doing. Exercising in a way that we love, to better our mental, emotional, and physical health (like heart health and mental health-aside from what we actually see) is wildly beneficial and 100 times more motivating than exercising to look a certain way on the outside.
10. Honor your health
I’m a dietitian, so of course, I believe in the power of eating an abundance and a variety of nutrient-dense foods. But there’s no such thing as eating perfectly. What matters more is that we eat in a way that feels like it’ll be sustainable to us for the next 20, 30, 40, or 50 years. This involves eating the food that you love when you want to. Gentle nutrition means recognizing that there are some foods that are nutritious for us, and if we enjoy them, are good to include in our lives. But this focuses on what foods we’re including, rather than taking away.
For example, I know that adding a source of plant-based protein to my lunch will keep me fuller for longer and help me power through my afternoon at work. But does that mean I won’t have some chocolate in my afternoon snack? Definitely not! In both situations, I’m listening to what my body is telling me it wants- using both inner and outer wisdom.
Intuitive eating involves tuning into our bodies and allowing ourselves to eat what we want without guilt or food rules. This takes practice. If you want to learn more about intuitive eating and work with a registered dietitian for personalized care, please reach out to book a 15-minute discovery call.
The purpose of this blog post is for entertainment purposes only and is in no way a substitute for personalized medical care. Please reach out to a registered dietitian for more personalized care.