What the Heck is Intuitive Eating Anyway? As an Intuitive Eating Counselor and Coach, I get this question a lot.
I’ve written a couple of other articles about Intuitive Eating, here and here but now I’d like to give you the full rundown of what Intuitive Eating really is. I’m going to break it down, give you the basics, and make it as simple as possible.
What is Intuitive Eating?
According to Evelyn Tribole, one of the co-authors of the book, Intuitive Eating, “Intuitive Eating is a personal process of honoring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs.”
To put it simply, Intuitive Eating is listening to your body (instead of listening to rules and diet culture) and feeding your body when it’s hungry, or when you want to eat!
That’s a simplified definition of a practice that is quite nuanced, but hopefully, you’re getting the idea.
It’s also important to understand that Intuitive Eating is a self-care practice. And, just like with other self-care practices, it takes both patience and grace. But, in time, Intuitive Eating can help you truly heal your relationship with food!
Why Would I Want to be an Intuitive Eater?
My answer to that is why wouldn’t you?!
Becoming an intuitive eater means feeling freedom with food and ultimately experiencing more freedom in your life.
What would it be like if you could stop having so much worry, anxiety, and control with food? What if you could just enjoy eating when you’re hungry and move on with your life? That’s what Intuitive Eating can help you do.
Here’s are just a few of the benefits of becoming an intuitive eater:
- Freedom to eat what you want and when you want without guilt.
- Trust and confidence in your body.
- More headspace to think about things other than food.
What else do I need to know about Intuitive Eating?
Good question! There’s a lot to learn (and unlearn) when it comes to Intuitive Eating. It’s important to understand that Intuitive Eating is not a diet and there are no rules! With Intuitive Eating, there’s no right or wrong and there is no perfection. Intuitive Eating is a journey and it’s about getting to know yourself and learning how to listen to yourself as you go.
The practice of Intuitive Eating is based on 10 principles. The principles are not rules, but rather guideposts to help and support you on your journey to healing.
No More Diets!
The first principle of Intuitive Eating is “Reject Diet Mentality” and it’s about saying no to diet mentality and diet culture. You might not be aware of it but you’ve been surrounded by diet culture, inundated with it, your entire life. And, if you want to become an intuitive eater, the time has finally come to question it and reject it!
Caroline Dooner, the author of one of my favorite books The F*ck It Diet, says, “We live in a diet culture, where everything is tinged with the belief that thinner is better and that less food is better — both things that can actually do a lot of damage and are squarely not true.”
I invite you to start paying attention to the messages you are being told by diet culture. Start questioning what the diet industry wants you to believe so that you’ll keep spending more money on diet foods, products, books, programs, diets, etc. If diets actually worked you wouldn’t need to keep investing in them! Think about that for a second…
When You’re Hungry, Eat!
Diet culture wants us to believe that hunger is a bad thing. We are taught to do things to suppress and ignore hunger. And, heaven forbid you do feel hungry, we are told to do something immediately to avoid that feeling.
Intuitive Eating teaches the exact opposite of that. The second principle of Intuitive Eating teaches us to “Honor Your Hunger “and eat when your body asks for food.
We get hungry because our bodies need nourishment. We actually do need food and many of us need to eat more than we think we do. Feeling hungry is not bad, it’s your body telling you that you need to eat!
I know that for a lot of people recognizing signs of hunger can be difficult, especially if we’ve practiced avoiding them for so long. So, I invite you to explore this a bit. Start noticing your body’s hunger signals. What does your body feel like when you’re hungry?
Make Peace with Food
The third principle, “Make Peace with Food” might be my favorite of the 10 principles, although I love them all.
Many of us have been at war with food for a long time. It’s time to make peace. Making peace with food means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods and actually allowing yourself to eat all foods.
This is liberating.
Diet culture teaches us to think of certain foods as “good” and other foods as “bad.” When we make peace with food, all food is neutral, it’s just food. There are no good or bad foods and there is no moral value placed on what or how we eat.
How would your life change if you could make peace with food?
No More Food Rules!
Principle number four is “Challenge the Food Police” and this one is about letting go of all the rules we have around food and eating. Do you feel like you need to eat at certain times of day? Certain amounts of food at each sitting? Maybe you feel like you can only eat certain foods at certain times and some foods are even completely forbidden all the time.
If you’re ready to reject diet culture, you’re ready to start challenging your food rules too!
What rules do you have with food and eating? What would it mean to let go of them? I invite you to consider these questions and perhaps try to challenge one or two of your rules…
Enjoy Your Food
Do you enjoy your food? Many of us don’t. We eat for other reasons, but pleasure and enjoyment aren’t part of the experience. Did you know that when you eat something you don’t really enjoy and don’t find satisfying, you’ll probably keep searching for something more to eat. You might even end up eating more than you wanted to. Ironic isn’t it?
The fifth principle of Intuitive Eating is about eating foods that truly satisfy us and it states, “When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content.”
The next time you’re hungry, I invite you to ask yourself what would be truly satisfying. What are you in the mood for? What textures, tastes, and temperature are you desiring?
Listen to Your Body
So, remember a few paragraphs up when I asked you how your body feels when it’s hungry? Now I’m going to ask you what your body feels like when it’s full or satisfied. Are you aware of your feelings of fullness?
The sixth principle is “Feel Your Fullness” and this principle invites you to pay attention to your body and notice when you’ve had enough.
This one can be tricky because we don’t want to start setting rules for ourselves or getting back into diet mindset. Remember there is no wrong or right when it comes to Intuitive Eating. We are on a journey and we are learning how to really listen to our bodies. If you eat past fullness sometimes, that’s okay. Give yourself grace with this one and be patient with yourself.
Be Kind to Yourself
Principal number seven is truly my favorite one. “Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness” means being aware of your feelings and emotions and kindly giving yourself what you need. When we are hungry we need food, when we are sad we may need a hug or maybe we need to cry, when we are tired we need rest. Food can solve some problems but it certainly doesn’t solve all problems. The key here is to figure out what we actually need and give that to ourselves.
Emotional eating gets a very bad rap but there are times when eating does give us comfort and actually does help us. Sometimes we eat because we are happy or celebrating something – that’s great! Sometimes we eat when we are feeling down, and that’s okay too.
If you’d like to listen to an excellent podcast episode about emotional eating, I recommend this one: Train Happy Podcast – Emotional Eating with Dietitian Katherine Kimber
It takes patience, grace, and work to figure out what we need when we need it, so please be kind to yourself and give yourself grace on your journey.
Accept and Respect Yourself
The next principle is “Respect Your Body”. Wow, this one can be hard, can’t it?
We tend to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We compare our bodies to others and we are constantly trying to change what we look like. What if we could accept our size and shape as we are now? What if we could respect our body and be grateful for everything that it does for us every day?
We also need to recognize that our bodies change with age, with experiences, and throughout our life. Expecting to look like we did in high school forever is unrealistic and will definitely lead to disappointment.
Please also remember that accepting and respecting your body doesn’t mean you necessarily need to love it. You can accept and respect even if you have some complaints.
All bodies deserve respect and dignity, including yours! What needs to shift for you in order for you to finally accept yourself?
Move Your Body and Feel Good About It
What if you moved your body because it felt good instead of because you feel pressure to lose weight or change your body? What if you could take the pressure of exercising out of your life completely? Regular movement is beneficial to our body, mind, and spirit, and it feels great.
The ninth principle is “Movement – Feel the Difference” and this one is all about letting go of rules and pressure around exercise. With this principle, we shift our focus to noticing how we feel when we move our bodies.
If you’d like to learn more about Intuitive Movement, I recommend following Tally Rye on Instagram. She is fabulous.
Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
Sometimes people think that with Intuitive Eating we completely forget about nutrition and that’s not true at all.
But, this principle is last for a reason. If you start thinking about nutrition too soon, you may be very likely to fall back into the habits of dieting and creating food rules. It’s important to embrace the other principles first and then, when you’re ready, bring in gentle nutrition. Craving nutritious foods will most likely happen very naturally as part of your journey when you truly let go of control around food.
Like with all the other principles of Intuitive Eating, we need to focus on progress, not perfection. There is no perfection, there is only learning, growing, and having grace for yourself along the journey of healing your relationship with food.
In this article, I have offered you brief and simple explanations of each of the principles of Intuitive Eating. There is so much more to learn, explore and implement of course.
I invite you to consider the questions I’ve asked you in this article. Or perhaps you’d like some focused one-on-one time with an Intuitive Eating Counselor. It’s always my honor to work privately with clients to support them on their Intuitive Eating journeys.
If you have questions or would like to take a deeper dive into Intuitive Eating, please reach out to me. I’d be so honored to help.
And, please follow me on Instagram for more on Intuitive Eating and updates on my brand new Intuitive Course coming later this year!