As more people start talking about Intuitive Eating, it's important to know what it is really about to avoid turning it into a diet. Learn more about anti-diet wellness and how everyone can benefit from embracing intuitive eating.
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What is intuitive eating?
While many are hearing about Intuitive Eating for the first time, this concept isn’t new at all. Two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch wrote their first edition of Intuitive Eating back in 1995, but the anti-diet topic for wellness has been ongoing since the early 70s. Concepts of intuitive eating have been staples for helping people recover from eating disorders. Now they are blending over into assisting folks in healing from the woes of chronic dieting (which some suggest is disordered eating and borderline eating disorder behavior). Intuitive eating is not about body size manipulation but a framework of self-care that focuses on the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of a person and their relationship with food. By becoming more attuned to your body, you can better support what you need physiologically and emotionally.
Why do I use intuitive eating in the Heart of Eating?
It is imperative to call attention to the fact diet culture has failed many people, including me. The pursuit of weight loss comes to many at an unhealthy price – negative feelings of self-worth, poor body image, low life satisfaction, weight stigma, fat-shaming, weight cycling, and behaviors that align closely with disordered eating. The narrative continues to link obesity to chronic health conditions, while other researchers continue to argue the validity of the connection. As we continue to rage war on obesity, the rates continue to rise. This increase is because weight is a multi-faceted subject and many approaches to weight loss are unsustainable long-term. Obesity is different for everyone, from genetics and social experiences to inconsistent health care and systemic issues, therefore making the solution not as easy as dieting sounds.
While I can preach on this subject forever, the point to be made here is that the current approach we are using with continuous failed attempts at dieting is not only not working but also causing more problems than they solve. In fact, I often hear how it was super easy to lose weight at the first attempt, but then it was also super easy to gain it back and never lose it again. At this point, many people lay blame and shame on themselves for not being good enough to maintain weight loss, and it further perpetuates poor mental health and thoughts about themselves. No one ever questions what happens internally that prevents the weight from falling off a second time like it did the first. Instead, it must be because they are lazy or not doing something right, leading to the next best diet. We need to be discussing more that continuous weight cycling may lead to poorer health outcomes than maintaining a stable weight (Kuk et al., 2011).
Intuitive eating shifts the focus away from weight and more towards our mind and body wellness. It focuses on cultivating awareness of our physical beings, aligning our minds to better self-care, giving ourselves and our body the respect it deserves, and honoring ourselves. It is an anti-diet approach to wellness, void of restriction and negative self-talk. It creates attunement to your needs and teaches you how to listen and respond with compassion. Some individuals with health conditions (not weight-related) may require food restrictions. To read more about gentle nutrition in intuitive eating, click here to see my post What is Gentle Nutrition?
Who benefits from intuitive eating?
Everyone can benefit from practicing intuitive eating. Bringing more mindfulness and awareness into your food routines can help you identify what foods feel best in the body, build better self-care practices, and create a sense of trust within yourself. It is easy to identify when our relationship with food has gotten a little out of hand. Here are some examples of folks that may want to consider beginning an intuitive eating journey:
The Yo-You dieter
The yo-yo dieter experiences the on-again-off-again cycles of dieting accompanied by various weight loss and weight gain measures. This trend can be more harmful to the body than staying at a steady weight. The yo-yo dieter goes on multiple diets a year, each with the intent to lose weight or “better their health,” but either find it extremely hard to maintain or, once their target weight is achieved, picks up increased eating patterns to fill the void caused by restriction leading to increased weight gain.
The guilt/shamers are the people that will immediately feel guilty or shameful for eating foods that they consider are not good for them or within their diet plan. Typically, these feelings of failure result in increased eating of those “bad” foods because they might as well since they ruined their diet. These habits perpetuate further feelings of guilt and shame and increase emotional eating. The vicious cycle feels impossible to escape. This style of eating also leads to feelings of low self-worth.
The wagon faller offers
“Everything was going great until I fell off the wagon!” Does that sound familiar? If it was going great, why did you fall off the wagon, why does it feel impossible to get motivated to get back on, and what kind of wagon was it? This eating style contributes to a poor mindset and can eventually cause someone to entirely give up on their health goals. When we feel like we fail at something, we must have done something wrong; why bother trying again?
Your diet menu is in full action. You wake up and have two boiled eggs, no snacks between breakfast and lunch. The salad you fixed for lunch was healthy with just lettuce and extra veggies—you are starving by dinner, which is chicken and broccoli. But when the kids go to bed, it’s game on in the kitchen cabinet. Cookies, cakes, cheese – whatever! You’ve been craving these foods all day, and it’s the only thing you can think about as you watch your coworker eat their delicious meals that look far more appealing than the salad. Not to be confused with Binge Eating Disorder, the bingers' eating style overcompensates for what they couldn’t eat when they follow a strict diet, leading to overeating by feelings of deprivation.
The Diet Starts Monday Crew
Oh yes, that diet will start on Monday. When we put early restrictions on ourselves, we feel a little anxious about all of the foods we will be giving up. Therefore, Friday-Sunday is an open menu, and we feast like it is our last supper. By Monday, we feel so sluggish and bloated, guilty and shameful, that we find it hard actually to muster up the energy to go on that diet. Or we do start the plan accordingly until life happens on Wednesday, causing us to fall off that wagon (see above), and it is over until Monday begins again. We continue the feelings of failure, guilt, and shame while embarking on another last supper feast.
The emotional eaters
This eating style looks similar to the guilt/shamers but can extend beyond just feeling unworthy in our bodies. High-stress day at work? The whole box of girl scout cookies. Argument with a family member? An entire pint of ice cream. Any uncomfortable emotion that we feel triggers eating mindlessly. Emotional eating is not a bad thing, per se. However, what other tools do you have to help you balance your emotions or work through the emotion you may be trying to avoid feeling? Stress eating is a whole different topic, but optimizing self-care practices can help us find balance and moderation in how we can avoid using food as a coping mechanism.
What Intuitive Eating teaches
Learning to incorporate intuitive eating into your life begins with deciding that enough is enough. It’s time to step out of the same ole diet routines that control our lives and learn to embrace a new way of thinking about health and wellness. Before you begin your intuitive eating journey, you must first have an open mind and be willing to let go of all of the previous tools you used to keep you trapped in the diet cycle.
The Intuitive Eating Principles (get your copy here) outline ten principles that help you reconnect with your body and break up with dieting once and for all. These steps include learning to honor your hunger and your fullness, eating for satisfaction and self-care, deconstruction diet mentality, rebuilding with more interoceptive awareness, setting boundaries, and respecting your body. The journey includes bringing more self-compassion into your life, learning how to cope with emotions, and expanding your tools and resources to help you find balance with your eating.
After working through all of the principles, you will then be equipped to discern how food feels in your body from an intuitive place and trust yourself to make food decisions that honor your food-body harmony goals. Gentle nutrition is the last topic discussed in intuitive eating. We want to fully dismantle diet logic before incorporating more nutrition science so that it doesn’t become just another diet. Again, intuitive eating aligns with Health at Every Size, and it is not used for intentional weight loss.
Final thoughts on intuitive eating…
We know that what we have been doing in the diet world isn’t working. Something has to give. As you can see from the many types of eaters, dieting contributes to disharmony and distrust in our bodies. With intuitive eating, we can create peace and balance once and for all. We can learn to love ourselves, eat with purpose and harmony, enjoy our lives, and live healthfully at the same time. That is the true definition of holistic health, taking care of our mind, body, and spirit. Intuitive eating is one aspect we practice in the Heart of Eating program. If you are interested in learning more about breaking the diet cycle, listening to your body, practicing self-compassion, and becoming an intuitive eater, book your free one-on-one discovery call now for one of my nutritional coaching packages.
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Tribole, E., and Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. New York, NY; St. Martin’s Press.
Kuk, J. L., Ardern, C. I., Church, T. S., Sharma, A. M., Padwal, R., Sui, X., & Blair, S. N. (2011). Edmonton Obesity Staging System: Association with weight history and mortality risk. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquee, Nutrition Et Metabolisme, 36(4), 570–576. https://doi.org/10.1139/h11-058