Intuitive Eating: the best “diet” ever?
Hunger is our body’s cue for survival, to deny hunger is to deny life. Literally. Listen to what your body wants. Honour that. It means you have a healthy brain that is doing its job to send signals to your body to eat! Honouring this hunger is honouring your body and what it needs for survival.
What exactly is intuitive eating?
Intuitive Eating is all about listening to what your body really wants in the moment and letting go of external messages from our fad diet led culture. One of the key things that is great about this approach is that intuitive eating isn’t about perfection. It is about letting go of perfection and tuning into your body. You learn to tap into your hunger and full cues, and how food makes you feel. This style of eating as it is really flexible and means you can still enjoy eating in or out…life is not meant to be spent meal prepping, counting calories or weighing or counting macros…it is meant to be enjoyed.
Intuitive Eating makes you empowered rather than a slave to a diet – it is a philosophy of eating that makes you the expert of your body and its hunger signals. Essentially, it’s the opposite of a traditional diet. It doesn’t impose guidelines about what to avoid and what or when to eat. It’s an approach that honours your hunger and your health, it respects your body and its signals, it embraces an approach that fuels you with loving kindness.
With support and guidance, you will feel really good on an Intuitive Eating plan. You can expect better digestion, more energy, a clearer mind, deeper sleep, elevated mood and most importantly empowerment to choose foods that work for your body.
Often when we are working on healing our relationship with food and discovering Intuitive Eating, we can feel a bit lost and caught between two worlds – the old one of restriction, food rules and control vs. the new one of truly understanding and listening to what our body wants and needs intuitively. So it is important to seek guidance and support because without the right tools we can’t leap from one side to the other – so seek support with guidelines and meal plans.
10 KEY PRINCIPLES OF INTUITIVE EATING
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Reject the diet culture once and for all and feel the relief as you let go of feeling like you have failed every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. You haven’t failed, the diet failed – diets don’t work. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet or food plan might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
2. Honour Your Hunger
Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honour this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust in yourself and in food.
3. Make Peace with Food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.
4. Thought Shake
Scream a loud ‘no’ to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. Mindfully monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created. Banishing these thoughts is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The Japanese have the wisdom to keep pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our compulsion to comply with diet culture, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes just the right amount of food for you to decide you’ve had “enough”.
6. Feel Your Fullness
In order to honour your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is.
7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
To eat intuitively, you may need to relearn how to trust your body. To do that, you need to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger:
Physical hunger – This biological urge tells you to replenish nutrients. It builds gradually and has different signals, such as a growling stomach, fatigue, or irritability. It’s satisfied when you eat any food.
Emotional hunger – This is driven by emotional need. Sadness, loneliness, and boredom are some of the feelings that can create cravings for food, often comfort foods. Eating then causes guilt and self-hatred. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your emotions. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you. But food won’t solve the problem. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion. Learn to recognise if you are eating for emotional comfort and replace the food with something to nourish yourself OFF the plate – a relaxing bath, yoga, meditation, a great book, a meet up with a dear friend.
8. Movement – feel the difference
Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energised, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze button.
9. Respect Your Body
Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body size or shape.
10. Honour Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
Make food choices that honour your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.
Intuitive Eating is right for you if you:
- Want to get off of the endless yo-yo diets
- Want to get in touch with your hunger and full cues and understand how food makes you feel
- Are healing from the restrict/binge cycle or orthorexia and are wondering, now what?!
- Want to reset or renew your digestion with simple nourishing foods
- Want to understand how food makes your feel and become empowered to make decisions for your body
- Don’t want another restrictive meal plan that is hard to stick to
Intuitive Eating is not the right fit for you if you:
- Are looking for a quick fix for weight loss
- Have an active eating disorder
Louise Murray is a Health & Mindfulness Coach with the qualification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She looks at nourishing people ON and OFF the plate by coaching them around 12 different aspects of one’s life. You can follow her on Instagram at @live_well_with_lou