It seems like every week there is another diet trend that people are jumping on. Most of the time, these diets are marketed as ways you can lose fat within a specific time frame. Often these diets are very restrictive and reinforce unrealistic body standards. Intuitive eating is less of a diet and more of a way of thinking about our bodies and the food we eat. It is a philosophy of eating that makes you the expert of your body and it’s hunger signals. Essentially, this method of eating is opposite of a traditional diet. For example, there are no guidelines on what to eat, when to eat, or what foods to avoid.
Intuitive eating: The Basics
Intuitive eating focuses on your mental health and having a healthy attitude towards food and your body image. The main concept of intuitive eating is that you should eat when you’re hungry and stop when you are full. This is build on the idea that dietary trends can lead you away from trusting your body and the signals it sends you.
In order to eat intuitively you need to understand the two types of hunger: physical hunger and emotional hunger. Physical hunger is when your body sends you signals to replenish your nutrients. These signals can be a growling stomach, fatigue, or irritability. Once you eat, your body is satisfied and the signals or symptoms of hunger disappear. Alternatively, how you feel drives emotional hunger. For example, feelings of loneliness, boredom, or sadness can all trigger cravings for food. When you eat to fulfill your emotions, you can be filled with guilt or self-hatred. In order to be an intuitive eater you need to understand if you are eating to fulfill your emotional hunger or your physical hunger. An intuitive eater focuses on satisfying their physical hunger to prevent the feelings of guilt and the development of negative feelings towards food.
History of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating was a concept first publicized in the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Followers of the program believe that traditional diets don’t work. They believe that changes in your lifestyle and personal care will have a longer lasting positive impact on your long term health. The book highlights 10 key principles that will help you change your mindset on food and body image to help you live a healthier life.
10 Key Principles of Intuitive Eating
These principles for intuitive eating are just that, principles. There are no set rules with this diet, you can incorporate these principles into your life at the pace that suits you and helps you reach a better mindset towards food and body image.
Reject the Diet Mentality
The first principle of intuitive eating involves changing your mindset about dieting. It involves understanding that you are not the reason diets have failed. The argument of intuitive eaters is that diets are not a successful weight loss management tool because of their restrictions. The restrictions often lead to binding which leads to feelings of guilt and failure. These negative feelings lead to quitting the diets and adding the weight back on. Try to focus on the reasons you are dieting and the healthy lifestyle that you want to have.
Honor Your Hunger
The second principle focuses on understanding your bodies needs. You should be feeding yourself adequately throughout the day. The argument is that your body and brain function best when it is well fed. You need all of the macronutrients along with vitamins and minerals to be healthy. This principle teaches you how to identify your more subtle signs of hunger and to understand when we are overeating due to our emotions. Additionally, this principle tries to help us understand when we are eating foods due to our cravings and not for nutrition.
Make Peace with Food
This principle focuses on not having any negative feelings against food. You should make peace and allow yourself to eat all the foods you enjoy, even the ones that could be off limits in other diets. The idea is that if you tell yourself you can’t have a food, you are creating an uncontrollable craving. This can lead to binding and more feelings of guilt when you fall to your cravings. This principle is about defining that there are no bad foods, nothing is off limits.
Challenge the Food Police
This principle works in collaboration with making peace with food. Making peace with food is about giving yourself the physical permission to eat all foods. Challenging the food police is about giving yourself the emotional permission to eat all foods. You are challenging the voice inside your head that says you are bad when you eat a certain food or good when you eat another. You should look at nutrition as self care rather than as a punishment. Shifting to this mindset can help improve your mental health when it comes to eating and healthy living.
Respect Your Fullness
This principle is about understanding when you should stop a meal. When you eat a meal, you should stop when you are satisfied instead of reaching the point where you are uncomfortably full. Understand that you can always come back or get more food when you are hungry again and you don’t have to stuff yourself at every opportunity.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
This principle focuses on enjoying what you eat. Everyone has the right to enjoy what they eat. Focusing on enjoying food will help you remove the positive and negative emotions that you have associated with food. Intentionally choosing food that you enjoy will also help you reduce binding and overeating. By eating more mindfully, you start to notice when a food stops to taste good and when to stop eating. It is all about listening to your body and how you are reacting to food.
Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
Food can provide you with feelings of comfort and help distract you from uncomfortable emotions. However, this is not a healthy coping system and does not address the causes of the emotions. Additionally, emotional eating can cause negative feels such as guilt compounding the issues at hand. It is important to find out what is causing your emotions and address those issues or feelings without the help of food. Food should be used to satisfy your physical cravings not your emotional ones.
Respect Your Body
Photoshop and the unrealistic body standards presented in social media have cultured negative feelings towards our bodys. It is important to understand that not everybody will look the same, and that naturally body diversity exists. Even if everyone ate the same and exercised for the same amount of time, nobody would look the same. The goal of intuitive eating is to respect your body and have a positive image of yourself. The idea is that you will naturally settle at your bodies designed weight when you eat, exercise, and take good care of it. This may be smaller, larger, or the same size that you are right now. Your body image shouldn’t provide you with negative emotions and you should be content with the fact that everyone is different.
Exercise – Feel the Difference
This principle helps us have a positive feeling towards exercise. You should find ways to move your body that you enjoy. You should not only exercise because it will make you lose weight, but because it helps you feel energized. For example, if you don’t like running on a treadmill then don’t do it. Focus on doing movements that you enjoy, like playing tennis, riding a bike, or throwing a frisbee in the park. This will help you have a more positive perspective of fitness and help you incorporate it into your lifestyle.
Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition
The final principle focuses on helping you understand that the food you eat should make you feel good. One meal or snack isn’t going to make or break your health. You should eat foods because they taste good and because it relieves your physical hunger. If you want to eat chocolate, it is ok as long as you are eating it because of your physical hunger and not your emotional hunger.
Scientific Support for Intuitive Eating
Studies on intuitive eating and mindful eating have been conducted for more than two decades. Intuitive eating and a positive attitude towards body image and food has been associated with a lower body mass index and better weight management1. However, this does not link it improved weight loss. The major benefit of intuitive eating is an improvement in mental health. People who follow this philosophy had an improvement in their self-esteem, body image, and quality of life while lowering their symptoms of depression and anxiety2. Additionally, intuitive eating reduces eating disordered behaviors and symptoms3.
Intuitive eating is unlike many of the other diet trends. It focuses on how we approach our feelings towards food and our bodies. The main idea of intuitive eating is that we should eat to fulfill our physical hunger and not to satisfy our emotional cravings. Additionally, we should focus on having a positive perspective on food, exercise, and our body image. To get started with intuitive eating, you need to become more aware of how, when, and why you eat. Finally, you should understand the signals your body is sending you and the reasons behind those signals. Following this plan can lead to improved weight management, improved self-esteem, and improved mental health.
- Van Dyke N, Drinkwater EJ. Review Article Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review. Public Health Nutrition. 2013;17(8):1757-1766. doi:10.1017/s1368980013002139
- Schaefer JT, Magnuson AB. A Review of Interventions that Promote Eating by Internal Cues. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(5):734-760. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.024
- Bruce LJ, Ricciardelli LA. A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite. 2016;96:454-472. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.012