Diets characterized by restrictive eating and rigid rules are often one of the root causes of disordered eating patterns that I observe in clients. Intuitive eating is a fantastic tool that can be used to break free of the rigid food rules that you may have picked up along the way.
Why Diets Don’t Work
Diets, particularly those focused on rapid weight loss and extreme restrictions, are often ineffective in achieving long-term, sustainable results.
Do you ever have thoughts like:
- When I eat out, I try to choose the entree that has the lowest number of calories even if it’s not what I want
- I can only have one piece of toast with breakfast, I’ll gain weight if I eat too many carbs
- I can only use half a banana in my smoothie, a whole banana is too much sugar
- I have to eat less on the days that I don’t work out
- I only use vinegar for dressing on my salads because using olive oil would be too many calories/fat
Or maybe you’ve done things at meal times that ignore your feelings of hunger or fullness, such as:
- I can’t eat more than the friends that I’m eating dinner with, even if I’m still hungry
- If I don’t have enough food left on my plate to take as leftover, I eat it, even if I’m already feeling full
- I already ate more dessert than I should so I might as well make the slip worth it and eat until I’m stuffed
Rigid food rules and diets can interfere with your life in a number of ways, making this approach unsustainable. Maybe you find it difficult to socialize with friends and family, especially in situations involving shared meals. You may feel constant stress, anxiety, and guilt around food choices. You may experience frequent cravings for forbidden foods. Maybe you may spend a lot of time or mental energy tracking calories or measuring portions.
Intuitive eating can teach you how to eat in a way that you never have to experience these scenarios.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is not a diet but a lifestyle approach to food and health. It encourages individuals to trust their bodies, break free from diet culture, and develop a positive and sustainable relationship with food, ultimately promoting physical and emotional well-being. It can be particularly beneficial for those looking to improve their body image, reduce disordered eating behaviors, and establish a healthier, more joyful relationship with food.
Intuitive eating is an approach to eating and overall well-being that prioritizes tuning into your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues, as well as your emotional and psychological responses to food. It emphasizes developing a healthy and balanced relationship with food, moving away from restrictive diets, and embracing a more mindful and sustainable approach to eating.
If you are interested in learning more about intuitive eating, below are the ten core principles of intuitive eating and some tips on how to start implementing them in your life.
The Ten Core Principles of Intuitive Eating
Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
The diet mentality refers to the pervasive idea that strict diets and rigid rules about food are the keys to health. It encompasses the belief that weight loss is the primary indicator of success and that one’s self-worth is tied to their ability to adhere to these diets. This often leads to a cycle of weight loss and regain, commonly referred to as “yo-yo dieting,” which can be physically and emotionally damaging. Reject the diet mentality means letting go of rigid diet rules, restrictions, and the obsession with weight loss. It encourages a shift from focusing on diets to embracing a holistic and sustainable approach to food and health.
How to start becoming more aware of how diet mentality affects your life:
Maintain a journal where you record your thoughts and feelings about diets, weight, and body image. Document how these thoughts affect your mood, social life, eating behavior, and exercise patterns.
Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
Honoring your hunger means recognizing and respecting your body’s natural hunger signals, and responding to them by eating when you’re genuinely hungry. It involves distinguishing between physical and emotional hunger and choosing foods mindfully. The goal is to eat until you’re comfortably satisfied, not overly full or restricting food intake. This principle promotes a balanced and intuitive approach to eating, preventing both overeating and undereating.
How to start getting to know your hunger:
Start to become more aware of your hunger by taking a moment before and after meals to rate your hunger using a rating scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is painful hunger and 10 is painfully full.
Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
Making peace with food means allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods without guilt or judgment. It promotes a healthy relationship with food by removing the labels of “good” or “bad” foods, reducing cravings, and ultimately fostering a balanced and satisfying eating experience.
How to start making peace with food:
Make a list of food that you currently forbid or restrict. Describe your eating behaviors and thoughts when you eat one of these foods. Does eating a forbidden food change how you feel about yourself or change your eating behavior for the rest of the day.
Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police
Challenging the food police involves questioning and challenging the critical and judgmental thoughts about food that may have been ingrained by diet culture. It encourages replacing these thoughts with a more compassionate and balanced perspective on eating, promoting a healthier relationship with food and body image.
How to start challenging the food police:
As you go through the day, write down food rules that you have (e.g., I need to limit the amount of carbohydrates in a meal, I should never eat foods with white flour or sugar, etc.). Where do these beliefs come from and how do they affect your eating behavior?
Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Discovering the satisfaction factor means finding pleasure and satisfaction in your meals. It encourages mindful eating by savoring the flavors and textures of food, helping you better enjoy your meals and feel more content with your choices.
How to start finding pleasure in your meals:
We often eat foods we think we should eat even if we don’t enjoy them. Ask yourself, what foods do you really like to eat? Start adding foods that you really enjoy to your meals.
Principle 6: Feeling Your Fullness
Feel your fullness involves tuning into your body’s signals to recognize when you’re comfortably satisfied, allowing you to stop eating. This principle encourages mindful eating and prevents overeating by respecting your body’s cues.
How to start feeling your fullness:
Distracted eating is a common barrier to noticing when you start to feel full. Make a list of ways that you are distracted while eating (e.g., watching TV, eating while working at your desk, scrolling through your phone, driving, texting, etc.). Challenge yourself to try one meal without any of these distractions.
Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food
Coping with your emotions without using food encourages trying to find alternative ways to manage and address emotions, stress, and feelings without turning to food as the sole coping mechanism. This principle promotes emotional well-being and prevents emotional eating.
How to start coping with emotions without using food:
Identify the emotions and associated thoughts that lead to emotional eating. For example, feeling lonely leads to using food as comfort or you use eating as a form of procrastination to put off the negative emotions that come up when you do a task you dislike.
Principle 8: Respect Your Body
Respecting your body involves accepting and appreciating your body for its unique shape and size. It emphasizes self-compassion, nurturing, and caring for your body regardless of its appearance. This principle promotes a positive body image and overall well-being.
How to start respecting your body:
Show gratitude for your body by finding something about your body that you appreciate such as the ability to engage in leisure activities you enjoy or the ability to play with your children/nieces/nephews.
Principle 9: Exercising for the Sake of Feeling Well
Exercising for the sake of feeling well means engaging in physical activity that promotes your overall well-being and vitality, rather than just focusing on calorie burning or weight loss. It involves choosing activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good physically and mentally.
How to start exercising for the sake of feeling well:
Exercise doesn’t need to be an intense workout at the gym. List the types of physical activities you enjoy. If this is difficult, think about activities you used to enjoy doing as a child. Consider factors like whether you enjoy doing physical activity alone or with a group or outside or inside.
Principle 10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
Gentle nutrition is a concept that encourages individuals to make food choices that prioritize both taste and health. It involves being mindful of the nutritional value of food without falling into the trap of rigid diets, rules, or restrictions.
How to start practicing gentle nutrition:
Diets can limit food variety by classifying foods as bad or eliminating entire food groups. Allowing yourself to eat a variety of foods without any rules will increase your enjoyment of food. Variety also increases your nutrient intake by helping to ensure that you consume a variety of nutrients (i.e., protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, etc.). Think about how you can increase the variety of your foods, especially if you restrict certain foods or tend to eat the same things day after day.