Fitness Facts: Intuitive Eating
By Liz Cook
Registered Dietitian, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
In a world of diets and detoxes, cleanses and cutting carbs, Intuitive Eating stands out as a different kind of diet.
In reality, Intuitive Eating (IE) isn’t a diet at all. According to The Original Intuitive Eating Pros, IE is a self-care eating framework that integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought.
Essentially, Intuitive Eating helps cultivate an awareness of the hunger, fullness and satisfaction that go on inside of our bodies. It helps take our focus inward instead of dwelling on external factors that dictate how we should eat.
IE is a weight-inclusive approach that helps ensure that both our physical and mental needs are met while removing obstacles such as food rules, false beliefs about eating, and misconceptions surrounding dieting.
This framework was created in 1995 by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and has since been studied extensively with more than 100 studies in the past 25 years. To put it simply, IE works.
IE is based on 10 principles that guide the transition to a more inwardly guided eating pattern:
- Reject Diet Mentality
The key here is reflecting on where previous dieting has led you. What have you achieved by dieting in the past? The goal is to break free from the failed promises of previous diets – for example, lose 20 pounds in 30 days! Instead of focusing solely on the end goal, IE encourages thinking about how we can work with our bodies and minds to get there.
- Honor Your Hunger
The first thing to realize here is that restriction inevitably leads to overeating. When we ignore our hunger cues, it’s extremely hard to eat to fullness without eating past fullness. This is why we often go from totally starving before a meal to totally stuffed after a meal. Working with our bodies and feeding them when they ask for food is important.
- Make Peace with Food
When we diet, we usually become a pendulum that swings from the extreme of eating less, picking healthier foods and being “good” to the opposite extreme of overeating, selecting unhealthy foods and being “bad.” The goal of IE is to stop the food fight and stop the swing of that pendulum by not demonizing certain foods and giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat.
- Challenge the “Food Police”
Many of us have ideas of “good” foods and “bad” foods. If we stop and think about this for a minute, by applying those labels we are assigning a moral value to a piece of food. Further, we often label ourselves as good or bad when we consume these foods. The idea here is to silence our inner critics that tells us doughnuts are bad and apples are good.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Eating should be pleasurable, and we should leave meals feeling satisfied. However, if we are wrapped up in the labels we assign to foods and tie our emotions to what and how much food we eat, we never will feel that internal satisfaction. Focus instead on building healthy, satisfying meals so you can leave the table feeling satisfied instead of too full and guilty or still hungry and already thinking about the next time you’ll eat.
- Feel Your Fullness
Honoring your hunger is a prerequisite to feeling your fullness. Once we can respect our hunger and allow it to guide what, when and how often we eat, we can start to tune in throughout our meals and feel our fullness as it builds. The goal is finding a comfortable level of fullness and satisfaction at the end of every meal and snack.
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
As we discussed before, the restriction that comes with dieting often leads to a loss of control and, eventually, overeating. This in turn leads to feelings of guilt and shame. This guilt and shame can lead to emotional eating, which leads to more guilt and shame, and the cycle continues. We must realize that food does not fix our emotions. It may make us feel better in the short run, but if we do not cope with the root cause of those emotions, we never will be free from their weight.
- Respect Your Body
IE is weight-inclusive, meaning it is not focused on body size, shape or weight. Instead, IE recognizes that all bodies deserve dignity. We are all born with a different genetic blueprint, and while we may want to change that, we must at least respect what we have.
- Movement – Feel the Difference
Exercise is part of IE, but not in a specific effort to burn calories or build muscle. The goal of movement in IE is to get active and feel a difference. Exercise should be done because we want to and it feels good, not because we must. Instead of running to the internal monologue of “I can’t wait until this is over,” think about how you feel while exercising, how you feel after exercising and how exercise improves your life.
- Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition
Nutrition was intentionally placed as the 10th principle. The idea is to focus on listening to what our bodies are asking for instead of focusing on carbs, protein, fat, etc. To improve our nutrition over time, it is essential to focus on progress, not perfection, and maintain consistency over time. Taking baby steps and making small shifts leads to big change! Consider the healthiness of foods in addition to how they taste and how they make you feel.
One important factor to recognize is that we were all born with the wisdom to eat with trust. As infants we eat until we are full and then simply stop eating.
Somewhere along the path to adulthood, most of us lose that simple approach. The transition back isn’t going to be overnight, but slowly retraining our brains to work with our bodies, instead of against them, provides an approach to eating that can be maintained for the long haul.
There are a few common misconceptions about IE that are worth addressing – mainly, that it promotes eating whatever you want, whenever you want and does not take nutrition into consideration.
While IE does allow you to eat all foods, the idea is not to live solely on pizza, ice cream and soda. Many people fear that if they give themselves unconditional permission to eat those foods, they love they will lose all control and gain weight.
However, as with many things, when less healthy foods are put off-limits and restricted, they become more desirable. If we allow ourselves to eat those foods when we truly are craving them, we won’t feel constant cravings for them, and they will become less desirable over time.
The key is to commit to eating foods that make you feel good, which includes foods that give our bodies good energy and nutrients as well as foods that taste good.