Intuitive eating has become a buzzworthy topic in the last couple years and with good reason. People are starting to realize that diets don’t work long term and can take an unnecessary toll on our mental health. But many are still wondering what is this intuitive eating craze, and is it for everyone?
What is intuitive eating?
The concept of intuitive eating actually started back in 1995. It all started with a book entitled… you guessed it, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works”. The book was originally written to help people “recover” from a lifetime of chronic dieting. To be completely honest with you, although I love the overall message and the concept behind intuitive eating, the book can be a bit dramatic and preachy at times.
The book helps you to figure out your starting point in regards to your relationship to food, the areas that may need some work and the struggle points you may hit. It provides lessons and strategies to help you get more in tune with your body and allows you to build a trusting and kind relationship with food.
Simply put intuitive eating is listening to your body and honoring your hunger cues with health in mind. It sounds pretty straight forward but getting to that point requires hard work and you will likely learn a lot about yourself in the process!
What steps does it take to become an intuitive eater?
The lessons of intuitive eating are taught in 10 main principles or steps. They are as follows:
- Reject the diet mentality: Remove diet propaganda from your life, unfollow people sharing restrictive diets on social media, stop hoping for the miracle, quick fix diet. Squash the idea that you “should be on a diet”.
- Honor your hunger cues: This one sounds simple, you should eat when you are hungry or you feel the beginning stages of hunger, but, oftentimes if you have been restricting yourself for a long time those hunger signals might not be clear at first.
- Make peace with food: In this step you give yourself unconditional permission to eat and stop telling yourself that you cannot or should not eat certain foods. Depriving yourself of certain foods or food as a whole is often what leads to binges.
- Challenge the food police: The food police are the voices in your head that are telling you that you are “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods. Often times these voices are influenced by external messages you’ve heard either through media, nosey family members, or friends. Challenging the food police will relieve you of guilt around eating.
- Feel your fullness: This can often involve slowing down with your eating to allow you to check in with your senses and determine where you lie on the hunger to fullness scale.
- Discover the satisfaction factor: If you have been dieting for a long while you may be so used to stress around eating that you forgot the pleasures it could bring. This step is intended to help you regain the ability to enjoy food and the social situations surrounding it.
- Cope with your emotions without using food: This one can be very tough, especially if you have not ever seen a mental health practitioner. You must find non-food related coping mechanisms to comfort yourself and resolve your emotions at their source. It is important to recognize that food won’t solve the problem, it just provides short term relief.
- Respect your body: A teacher once told me “you would never expect to diet your labrador down to look like a greyhound, so why would you think you could manipulate your own body in that way”. This step is all about embracing the #bodypositivity and treating the body you were born with with respect.
- Exercise and feel the difference: I know it seems sacrilegious be preaching the importance of exercise in an “anti-diet” book, but movement and exercise is part of living a long healthy life. This doesn’t have to mean taking an intense class or throwing heavy weights around the gym. It means find something you love and focus on how you feel while you do it. It means focusing on the increase in your energy levels and improved sleep rather than the amount of calories burned.
- Honor your health: This section is all about “gental nutrition” and choosing foods that make you feel good. It encourages the intuitive eater to consider the entirety of the diet over time rather than stressing about each individual choice.
These are the steps outlined in the book and although they are not the only way to become an intuitive eater it is certainly a helpful guideline! If you want to learn more about each step the book dives deep into each one.
Possible health benefits
- Improved blood pressure
- Increases in physical activity
- Weight loss or weight maintenance (however many studies done are using an obese population)
- Mental benefits such as decreases in disinhibition around food and binge eating
- Reported improvements in body satisfaction and decreases in body preoccupation and negative self talk.
- Improvements in quality of life, self esteem, anxiety, and depression
Notice I said POSSIBLE health benefits. Unfortunately at this time research on intuitive eating is not expansive. Most studies have limited sample sized and relatively short follow up periods. In addition, they often focus on specific population subsets such as “obese” women, pregnant women, and eating disorder patients.
However, we do have convincing research indicating restrictive diets do NOT work long term and can have long term negative affects on our mental health. So, if you are stuck in a yo-yo dieting cycle or are dealing with disordered eating patterns Intuitive Eating may be a great option for you as it provides an outline to work your way out of a cycle that has been proven to be ineffective. As always if you are starting a new diet plan consult with a Registered Dietitian to figure out what approach works best for you.
Now that you know what intuitive eating is, check out this post answering some of the most frequently asked questions I get around intuitive eating.
If you still have questions feel free to check out my FAQ on intuitive eating here, where I answer things such as “will I gain weight when eating intuitively”, “Does intuitive eating just mean eating whatever I want, when I want?” and “where should I start”.