What is Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is a non-diet, evidence-based framework that teaches you to trust yourself around food again. How amazing does that seem?

what is intuitive eating

After years and years of chronic dieting, it’s likely that the concept of life without diets seems strange and a little scary. It’s also likely that thinking about eating without following a diet seems overwhelming and that you might be at a loss of where to even begin. This is where intuitive eating can really help.

With intuitive eating, we don’t focus on the scale. Instead we focus on behaviors that promote your health, that heal your relationship with food, and that help cultivate a better body image. To do this, intuitive eating integrates your instincts, emotions, and rational thoughts. It teaches you to how to eat based on your own wants and values while promoting a healthy attitude toward food and your body.

As a dietitian, I prefer the approach of intuitive eating because it allows me to work with people on nutrition interventions that are behavior focused instead of nutrition interventions that are restrictive in nature or rule focused.

Before we take a quick look at the intuitive eating principles, let’s take a moment to explore what intuitive is not. Intuitive eating is not a diet. It is not the “hunger-fullness diet.” It is not the “eat whatever you want” meal plan. Intuitive eating is not about following a meal plan (but intuitive eating and meal planning can coexist). Intuitive is not giving up on your health. In fact, there are numerous health benefits associated with intuitive eating such as lower HDL cholesterol (this is the “good” cholesterol), lower triglycerides, better body image, more life satisfaction, better self-esteem, lower rates of emotional eating, and more.
Intuitive eating is also not giving up on your health.

Now, for the 10 principles of intuitive eating…

Reject the diet mentality
This is the first principle and it’s first for a reason. To begin your intuitive eating journey, you have to acknowledge the harm that diets cause. You have to acknowledge that you did not fail. The diets failed you! You start here by reflecting on your own dieting history.

Honor your hunger
Your hunger is normal. Your hunger is a gift. You deserve to be fed but dieting has taught us to suppress or ignore our hunger. Learning what you hunger feels like is part of the intuitive eating process.

Make peace with food
Give yourself permission to eat. Give yourself permission to eat all foods! No more labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Let yourself eat and enjoy all foods including those that have been on the forbidden list.

Challenge the food police
Those thoughts in your head that tell you what foods are “good” or “bad” or that tell you that you have been “good” for eating you veggies but were “bad” for eating a cupcake – those thoughts are the food police. It’s time to face them, acknowledge the, and flip the script on them.

Respect your fullness
Do you know what comfortable, satisfied fullness feels like? Like hunger, dieting has taught us to ignore what fullness feels like and to only eat a certain amount. Learning to recognize when you are full is an important part of honoring your health and becoming an intuitive eater.

Discover the satisfaction factor
Eating should be enjoyable. It should be satisfying. If you’re not satisfied, it’s likely that you’ll continue searching for the food or foods that will satisfy you. Knowing what textures, smells, and tastes lead to you being satisfied with a meal or snack will lead to being able to eat more mindfully and being able to stop eating when your body has had what it needs.

Cope with your emotions with kindness
It’s common to eat for emotional reasons and there are times when food really does help. But, we don’t want food to be the only coping mechanism so we’ve got to learn to recognize when we are eating for reasons other than biological hunger.

Respect your body
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. All bodies are good bodies. You don’t have to love your body to be an intuitive eater. You will need to work toward respecting your here-and-now body and showing it kindness as part of your intuitive eating journey.

Movement – feel the difference
Stop thinking about exercise as something that you should do. Instead, think about exercise from a perspective of something that you want to do because you respect your body and your health. This will take finding a type of movement that brings your joy and feels good.

Honor your health with gentle nutrition
Nutrition does have a place in intuitive eating. Nutrition is an important part of intuitive but to get here, we have to go through some diet reprogramming first so that we can focus on nutrition from a place of self-care and respect.

Mindful Eating – What it is & getting started

With many clients, I use a mindful eating approach to help them achieve their goals. I’ve found that utilizing mindful eating practices can help my clients not only reach their nutrition goals but also help them continue lifelong healthy eating habits. I believe that mindful eating can help clients reach their happy weight, improve their eating habits, develop a healthy relationship with food, and more. Because this is the approach that I will utilize at Friendly Nutrition, let’s take a moment to discuss mindful eating.

person holding donut

To better understand mindful eating, first consider it’s opposite – mindless eating. Mindless eating is eating food because it is there. You may not be hungry and it may not be time to eat but there’s food around so you eat. Mindless eating is grabbing a piece of candy because you walk past a candy dish. Mindless eating is grabbing a handful of chips while watching a game because there’s a bowl full of chips on the counter. Mindless eating is not thinking about the food that you are putting in your mouth. It’s eating because of habit or reflex.  

Mindful eating is being thoughtful about the food you are eating and why you are eating. It’s about listening to your body and selecting foods that provide nourishment and satisfaction. It’s about learning to recognize the difference between eating for hunger and eating for emotional reasons. It’s learning to trust yourself and knowing that you will make a good food decision. Mindful eating teaches you to stop judging foods and teaches you to be flexible about your eating.

Mindful eating isn’t easy but the practice can be extremely rewarding. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Slow down. Take time to enjoy what you are eating. When you slow down, you allow yourself the opportunity to notice flavors that you might have missed if you ate quickly. You also allow yourself a better opportunity to recognize when you are full.
  2. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. When you get too hungry, you’re more likely to eat quickly and overeat. Learning to pay attention to hunger and eating before you feel you are starving will make eating mindfully much easier.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions. Mindful eating allows you to learn when you are eating for reasons other than hunger. Once you recognize that your craving is driven by emotion, you can find something besides food to meet that emotional need.
  4. Focus on how food affects your body. Pay attention to how food makes you feel while you are eating and after you have eaten. You might discover that certain foods make you feel great and others make you feel yucky. Honor those feelings!
  5. Be mindful when you can and don’t punish yourself when you can’t. Eating mindfully 100% of the time is impossible. Part of learning to be mindful is also understanding that it’s okay to not be perfect.