What is Intuitive Eating and how can it help you?

Intuitive Eating is a framework underpinned by 10 principles which teach you how to tune into and eat according to your bodies natural hunger and fullness cues as opposed to eating based on external rules e.g. “I can’t be hungry now, its nowhere near lunchtime” or “I won’t have pizza because I’ve already had bread today”.

We are all born intuitive eaters. As babies, we cry when we are hungry and stop eating when we are full because we listen to what our bodies are telling us. But over time with the influence of diet culture we start thinking about what we should be eating based on what we read online, hear from our friends or what our parents say we have to eat before you can leave the table or have dessert. It sounds pretty simple right, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full? Well although that is part of the intuitive eating process there is much more nuance to it than that.

First and foremost, Intuitive Eating is NOT a “eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full” diet and it’s not a weight loss intervention. Its designed to move you away from the dieting mentality that tells you to be healthy you have to lose weight, towards trusting that your body knows what you need and learning to enjoy food without thinking about it constantly or feeling guilty or anxious when it comes to mealtimes.

There are 10 Principles to Intuitive Eating which you are encouraged to work through:

  1. Ditch the Diet Mentality – Rejecting the idea that “thin” is the only body type to strive for and that losing weight/toning up is the only way to be healthier. We have been manipulated to believe that our bodies are wrong or undesirable unless they fit a very narrow beauty standard and that constantly watching what you eat is totally acceptable – it’s not and you are worth so much more than that – we come in all shapes and sizes and this diversity should be celebrated!
  2. Honour your Hunger – Skipping meals, avoiding snacking or putting off eating until you’re HANGRY is super common because we’re taught that our bodies can’t be trusted when it comes to hunger. Once we’ve had breakfast we can’t possibly eat something until lunchtime! Acknowledging those early feelings of hunger and eating in response to them rather than trying to pacify your hunger with water, caffeine, chewing gum etc starts with tuning into your own hunger signals which can look different for everyone.
  3. Make Peace with Food – Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and allowing all foods to fit into your life. This may sound scary but it’s a vital part of the process. Foods that you feel out of control around usually stem from restricting them to begin with. When foods are off limits they are instantly more desirable!
  4. Challenge the Food Police – Dieting is very black and white when it comes to food, its either good or bad. Healthy or unhealthy. That little voice in your head telling you to to have a salad when you really wanted pasta is the food police, guilt tripping you into eating things that are “safe” and unsatisfying. Get curious with these thoughts and what they serve.
  5. Feel your Fullness – Eating when distracted, in a hurry or when you’ve gone past the point of hunger can lead you to eat more than you need in a short pace of time, which can result in feelings of guilt, shame and physical discomfort. Regularly checking in during a meal to see how you are enjoying the food and how full you are starting to feel can help level things out. When you know no foods are off limits, it reduces the desire to eat so much in one go, so if you want to leave some for later it’s ok to do that – no rules here!
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor – Diet foods are often lacking something that hits the spot so you never feel truly satisfied. This is why you could easily eat a handful of low sugar 99 calorie brownie bars when one regular gooey brownie would be just what you fancied. Discovering the foods that really bring you pleasure and letting go of foods that don’t can make the whole eating experience enjoyable and improve the connection between body and mind.
  7. Understanding Emotional Eating – Comfort eating is a common and completely normal coping mechanism, however if it’s your only option when you aren’t feeling great its not going to solve those long term problems that eating could be masking. Checking in with what emotions come up when you want to comfort eat can help you to find other ways to cope. These could include reaching out to a friend, reading, taking a bath or going for a walk so that you aren’t only relying on one thing to ease those feelings.
  8. Respect Your Body – Another one of diet cultures lies is that once you lose weight you will love your body but the truth is you are worthy no matter what your body looks like! You might never love the body you have but its yours. Learning to respect it and be more neutral towards it can help improve body satisfaction and body image.
  9. Joyful Movement – Moving your body in ways that you actually enjoy, whether that’s walking, yoga, swimming, or pole dancing, can help change your mindset that physical activity has to be a punishment or to compensate for what you are eating. There are many reasons physical activity is beneficial for our bodies and our mental health and focusing on them rather than exercising to burn fat or lose weight is more likely to last long term.
  10. Gentle Nutrition – Once you’ve ditched the diet mentality and give yourself unconditional permission to eat this principle can help you to figure out what foods are enjoyable but also how they make you feel. Understanding that all foods can fit into a balanced diet but not all have to provide nutrients for the body, some are just good for the soul.

You don’t have to follow these in order as it’s by no means a tick box exercise but it can be beneficial to work on certain principles at the early stages of the process and others towards the end. For example it would be very difficult to honor your hunger if you haven’t ditched the diet mentality first. If you’ve ever dieted before you will know that once you’ve used up your calories, macro’s, points or syns (bleugh!) for the day then that’s it, regardless of how hungry you are, you aren’t allowed any more.

The practice of trying to shrink our bodies through restriction of food or avoiding whole food groups is so normalised and often praised in our society that losing weight is perceived to be the only way to actively improve your health. Working through these principles is a process and it takes time to unlearn a lot of unhealthy behaviours that diet culture ingrains into us. However you can find freedom from this all or nothing thinking and develop a better relationship to food with the right support.

If you are interested in this approach and feel that working through these areas would benefit you, please do get in touch and see how we can work together.

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