You might have heard a fair bit of excitement circulating about Intuitive Eating recently. As more and more people begin to take healthy eating to an extreme, and as a result are struggling with food related fears and the newest eating disorder on the block, orthorexia (an unhealthy preoccupation with foods that are ‘pure’, ‘good' or ‘clean’), intuitive eating is being offered as a solution. Intuitive eating helps people make peace with food and release the need to follow food rules. Obviously, this is a good thing. So let’s get you better acquainted with the concept - I’ll be your Food Cupid ;)
Intuitive eating is a way of eating where you make food choices based on your body’s inner cues, with the understanding that your body has an innate wisdom of how to nourish itself.
Intuitive eating has a lot in common with mindful eating, but it is slightly different in that it has a stronger focus on challenging negative food associations and using your own intuition as a tool for making nutritional choices, as opposed to just slowing down and raising your awareness whilst eating (though that’s definitely part of it).
Intuitive eating is at once a very simple concept and a deeply complex combination of nutritional science and food psychology. It developed to help the chronically food obsessed and struggling food dieter create a healthy relationship between their minds, bodies and food. Everyone was born with the ability to eat intuitively, and many people still instinctively eat this way without even knowing that they are. But many of us have lost touch with this body wisdom and so our relationship to food has become seriously twisted. Intuitive eating can help us all, but especially if ...
- you feel out of control around food
- you feel like you can’t be trusted around cake/crisps/ice-cream/your kryptonite food
- you’re constantly searching for the next weight-loss solution, detox or health trend
- you’re thinking “I can’t go out with my friends for dinner because there won’t be anything on the menu that fits my diet”
In the book Intuitive Eating Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch provide 10 principles for intuitive eating, but I think that they can be boiled down to just 5 core pillars.
The 5 Pillars of Intuitive Eating
1. Reject food rules, fearful thoughts and social pressure
Intuitive eating requires you to give up dieting and succumbing to the pressure of society’s body ideals. Not only will you need to be resolute in the face of external pressures, but you will also need to challenge your own negative internal dialogue that you will have picked up over the years. Your worth as a person does not change and is not dependant on whether you eat ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods (in fact, you'll need to recognise that there are no such things) - you are more than just a body.
2. You are the expert on you
Rather than following some external direction (like a diet, meal plan or label like 'vegan') you rely on your body’s natural wisdom to make your choices. Intuitive eating involves building trust in your body’s ability to support you instead of outsourcing it so a health expert or ‘guru’ that has no experience in your body. You know your body best and which foods make you feel the most energised and nourished better than anyone else. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat in a way that feels good to you.
3. Honour your hunger and fullness
After years of dieting, following meal plans and depending on outside information to make food choices it is common to lose touch with your body’s natural sensations of hunger and fullness. By tuning in to your body before, during and after each meal it is possible to reestablish an understanding of your body’s signals. Respect your body enough that if it is communicating to you that you need food that you eat food to satisfy the hunger, and if it is signalling a comfortable fullness that you stop eating. It is also important to gain an awareness of the difference between physical and emotional hungers. If you feel an emptiness despite a satisfied stomach then it is vital that you acknowledge this by feeding yourself appropriately: self-care practices and social connection are more effective forms of emotional nourishment.
4. Enjoy your food
Your body has been designed to experience pleasure, and eating is one of the primary forms of doing so - you have 2,000-8,000 taste buds! Enjoying food is not dangerous, it’s key to your wellbeing. Your mental and emotional experience of food has a powerful effect on your physical experience of food. Just as stress can create digestive discomfort, enjoying your food can heighten your feelings of satisfaction. Eating the foods that you desire in a calm and agreeable environment is an important step to take towards peace with your plate and body.
5. Embrace your body
Behind most food-related fears and unhealthy food behaviours are body-image issues. It’s impossible to heal your relationship with food without addressing your relationship to your own body. No body is the same - we are all genetically unique and have had different environmental experiences. Even though your lifestyle choices can influence your genetic expression, your body may only change size and shape within the parameters of your genetic potential. You must accept your ‘bioindivduality’. Wishing for another body is mentally taxing, emotionally draining and physically impossible. Rather than wasting energy on resenting your body you are better off embracing it.
What intuitive eating isn't:
- Intuitive eating is not another diet. It is not the ‘hunger and fullness diet’ or ‘emotionless diet’. It is a holistic and nourishing approach to eating that you cannot ‘fail’ at. It is an ongoing practice. Yes, you will likely eat emotionally or overeat in the future, and that’s OK! It’s all part of the process, but so is being aware of how your hunger can be satisfied in other, often more fulfilling ways. Listening to your body doesn’t mean that you must ignore your emotional cravings; it just means that you can satisfy them in the most effective way, which might mean saying “yes” to cake or it might mean saying “no”. There is not “right” or “wrong” way to eat and intuitive eating recognises this.
- A guaranteed weight-loss method. When the aim of intuitive eating is weight loss this approach to food becomes a substitute for dieting, and we already know that diets and a weight-orientated mentality towards food isn't a successful weight-management tool in the long-term, let alone conducive to personal happiness. A vital part of the intuitive eating philosophy is embracing body diversity - recognising that a healthy weight and shape may be different for everyone. You may lose weight, your may not - you body will likely reach its healthy set point. But more importantly, you will be happy within yourself, and yes, with your body too.
- Intuitive eating is not a cure-all or magic pill. If you struggle with compulsive, emotional or disordered eating then you may need support beyond intuitive eating. These behaviours are largely motivated by a lack of self-worth and self-acceptance. Regardless of the method you use to manage your weight or physique, you will continue to feel uncomfortable in your body unless you address the underlying cause.
Creating peace around food is about learning to turn inward, mindfulness and listening to your body, but more than anything it's creating a positive attitude towards food. Intuitive eating opens the door to Food Sanity.
I know that this is a pretty theory-heavy post and the learning curve can be steep when healing your relationship with food and your body, but intuitive eating is worth spending some time exploring. if you are curious to learn more about intuitive eating, body-image and eating psychology then I've included some suggested starting points.
- Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David (one of my faves!)
- Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth
If you have more questions about intuitive eating then please ask me in the comments! I want to help :)
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