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What is Intuitive Eating?

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Organization: Erin Falco RDN, Inc.

Author: Dara Ledwitz RDN and Erin Falco RDN

Publish Date: 11-16-22

Are you ready to finally ditch the diet mentality? If so, Intuitive Eating is for you. Intuitive eating is known for its anti-diet approach to nurturing one's body. In this blog, we will go over what exactly Intuitive Eating is and the 10 principles that encompass the practice.

Intuitive Eating:

Intuitive eating is a mind-body approach to making food choices based on instinct, emotion, and rational thought. The practice of intuitive eating honors both physical and emotional health. It is based on the belief that you are the biggest expert in yourself- only you know your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and what foods will satisfy you. No diet could ever possibly know what is best for you. That is why intuitive eating also requires you to unlearn the negative messages that our society's diet culture may have engraved in your mind.

Why try intuitive eating? According to recent studies, intuitive eating has been linked to higher self-esteem, decreased rates of disordered eating patterns, and a higher level of general well-being .

There are 10 principles to intuitive eating. These principles work in two ways:

Some principles foster body attunement, which is the ability to sense and respond to physical cues of hunger or fullness. Other principles help by removing the obstacles to reaching body attunement, which may come form of rules, beliefs, or thoughts from years of dieting culture.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating:

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

Rejecting diet mentality is key to unleashing your freedom to rediscover intuitive eating. If there is any false hope that a new or better diet will come up, it will inhibit you from stepping into your intuitive eating journey. Discussion about diet culture seems to be everywhere, whether it is on social media or it is between family and friends, so rejecting claims can be a challenge.

You can reject the diet mentality by recognizing the diet culture claim and positively rephrasing it in your mind. For example, your friend may claim that she is using powdered peanut butter because it has "90% less fat". You can identify that as a diet culture claim, and ignore it by rephrasing to yourself, "worrying about fat is part of diet culture". I enjoy regular peanut butter because it is delicious and makes me feel happy and satisfied".

2. Honor Your Hunger

Honoring and nourishing your body throughout the day is important for both physiological and emotional needs. If having difficulty honoring and/or listening to your hunger cues, a primal instinct to overeat will occur. This has nothing to do with willpower. Long-term dieting encourages ignoring hunger cues. However, hunger is a biological response that occurs when your body needs fuel. Honoring your hunger allows you to learn how to give your body what you need when you need it!

Honor your hunger by enjoying snacks and meals when you feel physically or emotionally hungry. Listening to your hunger cues allows you to feel satisfied and energized throughout your day, and allows your body to feel safe because it is being nourished.

3. Make Peace with Food

Making peace with your food means granting yourself unconditional permission to eat. By allowing yourself to eat the foods you crave the moment you want them, peace with food can be achieved because food rules do not exist. Break the food rules you have made for yourself and do away with them forever!

Any time you think "I shouldn't be eating this because of ...", remember there are no food rules! By allowing yourself to eat what you want when you want it, you can avoid the harmful cycle of dieting.

4. Challenge the Food Police

The diet cultured thoughts that declare rules around the foods you eat, the amount, and the time you eat, are also known as the food police. The food police are deep-routed voices that declare foods as "bad" or "good".

Try to be mindful of your thoughts around labeling food as "good" or "bad". If you notice the food police declaring these, correct it with the statement "all foods are neutral". Speaking about foods in a factual sense can also be helpful. For example, if you think "I shouldn't add oil to my rice because it's too many extra calories", replace that thought with a Factual thought: "Oil is a fat that helps my brain, my cells, and my skin. Fats help me absorb vitamins which are necessary".

5. Identify Fullness

Being mindful of physical feelings of fullness can allow you to identify those feelings while eating meals. Try asking yourself what your hunger is on a scale of 1-10 at a given moment. If you are feeling on the side of 10, this is a cue that you are full.

Practice honoring your fullness- If you are eating a meal and are starting to feel full, and have not eaten everything on your plate, honor your feeling of fullness. Release yourself of the pressure of having to clean your plate. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable in your thoughts. Using a distraction may be helpful, or sitting with the feeling and knowing it will pass.

It is okay to eat past fullness because something tastes so good! This is also honoring your needs.

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Many times food choices may be influenced by what you think you are "supposed to eat", rather than what will be satisfying. Avoiding foods that satisfy your cravings can result in feeling hungry and unhappy, which can lead to binge eating.

Practice discovering your satisfaction factor by acknowledging what you are craving. Aim to make the meal fun and tasty!

7. Honor Your Feelings without Using Food

Eating and emotions often get intertwined, as eating can be used as a coping mechanism. Naming the feeling "I am stressed/ anxious/ bored/ sad..." can help you mindfully choose an alternative coping mechanism to follow. Sometimes, food is what is needed to relieve an emotion or a feeling. Food can be one coping mechanism that serves us, and there are other coping mechanisms that can feel good!

Experiment with honoring your feelings by trying other stress-relieving coping mechanisms. For example, you can light a candle and take a bath, go on a walk listening to your favorite song, color in a coloring book, or journal with a cup of tea in your favorite mug.

8. Respect Your Body

Your body has a unique genetic makeup that is individual to you. Acceptance of your body where you physically/mentally feel your best takes time, but your body is worthy and valued just as it is.

Diet culture encourages ignoring intuition when it comes to listening to your body's needs. Let's start showing our bodies respect, love, and care for all that it does for us every day!

9.Joyful movement—Feel the Difference

Incorporating movement into your day helps your body release hormones that help you feel happy and energized. Any form of movement is great, whether it is lifting weights, dancing, or going for a walk. Whatever makes you feel good!

Try experimenting with a different form of joyful movement every day or week. Notice how you feel after the different types of movement you choose. Just like listening to your hunger cues is important, listening to what form of movement feels best for you is important too!

10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Mindfully incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fats, and protein that you enjoy into your diet helps to nurture your body with important vitamins and nutrients. Incorporating these food sources alongside your cravings ensures you are honoring your health with gentle nutrition.

Final thoughts:

Intuitive eating may sound a bit intimidating if you have spent many years following diet culture. It is challenging to learn to identify and trust your hunger cues. Rather than trying to implement all principles of intuitive eating at once, try one at a time. As you feel comfortable with one principle, start to incorporate the next. If extra support or guidance is needed, see your Registered Dietitian.

1. Linardon J, Tylka TL, Fuller-Tyszkiewicz M. Intuitive eating and its psychological correlates: A meta-analysis. Int J Eat Disord. 2021 Jul;54(7):1073-1098. doi: 10.1002/eat.23509. Epub 2021 Mar 30. PMID: 33786858.

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