Part 1: What is Intuitive Eating
If you’ve been reading the headlines lately, you may have heard the term ‘intuitive eating’. Some have also coined it ‘the non-diet approach’ to eating. But you may be wondering, what is intuitive eating and what is all the buzz about?
Where Did It All Begin?
Babies and young children are intuitive eaters. When babies are born, they know exactly how much they need to eat. Think of a newborn baby who is breastfed, when they have had enough, they unlatch and turn away. They are born an internal sense that guides them to choose the amount of food they need to keep them healthy. Babies have this innate ability, but gradually, over time, this skill is often lost as we age. We begin to eat for other reasons than hunger, such as being influenced by marketing, social pressures, boredom and other emotions.
Intuitive eating is a concept developed by two Registered Dietitians, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. They began to recognize that many of their clients who were attempting to lose weight through traditional, restrictive dieting were struggling. No matter the type of diet or the amount of effort they put in, their clients’ weights were constantly fluctuating and their mental health and wellbeing were suffering in the process. The science paints a similar picture as well. Studies show that almost all dieters regain the weight they lose and 2/3 regain even MORE than their original weight when they are followed over longer periods of time (1). A diet may appear to be working in the first few weeks or months, but our bodies make adjustments when they are confronted with restriction and many rigid diets are hard to maintain, so over time the weight slowly returns. So, Resch and Tribole recognized the need for a new approach: intuitive eating.
Resch and Tribole developed a set of ten core principles for eating intuitively:
1) Reject the Diet Mentality
2) Honour Your Hunger
3) Make Peace with Food
4) Challenge the Food Police
5) Feel Your Fullness
6) Discover the Satisfaction Factor
7) Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food
8) Respect Your Body
9) Exercise- Feel the Difference
10) Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
Ten principles may seem like a lot to remember, but at its core, this approach is about pivoting away from rigid diet rules and reconnecting with our body’s internal cues, just like we did when we were babies. It’s about recognizing our hunger and fullness, honouring our cravings, developing emotional coping strategies that don’t involve food and, most importantly, not beating ourselves up for the decisions we make around food. One key theme of intuitive eating is that nobody is perfect 100% of the time. Taking each meal as a learning opportunity rather than an opportunity to beat ourselves up is a much more gentle and sustainable approach.
Three Ways You Can Get Started
1) Don’t label foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.
Labeling foods as “bad” is a subtle way that we deprive ourselves of certain foods we desire. We may feel guilt or shame when we choose these foods over others. Even subtle deprivation like this can trigger overeating, so it’s important to look at all foods as valuable in their own time and place. If avoiding categorizing foods is a challenge for you, you can try using the term ‘play food’ to describe foods that provide pleasure more than they provide nutrition. It may be a challenge to move away from these black and white labels after so many years of using them, but all foods serve a purpose even if it is just to savour and enjoy.
2) Practice rating your hunger on a scale of 1-10.
This can be done throughout the day or throughout a meal. This might sound silly, but if we have been in a cycle of fad dieting and “falling off the wagon”, we can sometimes lose touch with our hunger cues because we have been adhering to what a certain diet tells us to eat. It’s good to get back in touch with those internal signals again and it might take some time. It’s good practice to at least have a snack every 3-6 hours to make sure we’re never running on empty. Even if you’re too busy to consciously feel hungry, your body still notices and this increases cravings for sugary foods.
3) Choose foods that you enjoy.
Eating is supposed to be about pleasure, not shame or guilt! Try to create an enjoyable eating environment as much as you can. Take your time and savour your food. It’s tough in today’s busy world, but making meal times a priority as much as possible can really affect how much satisfaction you get out of your meals. Meal times won’t be calm and relaxing 100% of the time, but when they are don’t forget to enjoy the moment. Even if meal times don’t always go smoothly, we can practice listening to what our body wants to eat between meals as well. If you have a craving for a certain food, such as cookies, cake, or chips, honour that. This might be scary because we feel that once we have one or two we will lose control and eat the whole box, but research shows that even with these types of foods, we won’t continue to eat them all day long. We will reach a point of satisfaction and stop, even if we let ourselves eat as much as we want.
There is no right or wrong way to eat intuitively, but it’s helpful to start noticing our own relationship to food. Everyone is different, so it only makes sense that we should all eat a little bit differently as well. This strategy is all about eating what feels best for you, becoming more mindful and letting go of any food beliefs that cause stress or shame. In today’s day and age, we could all use a bit more intuitive eating in our lives.
If you want to learn more about intuitive eating, check out this website https://www.intuitiveeating.org/
Article contributed by Madison Darragh, RD2BE