The Basics of Intuitive Eating
As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Intuitive Eating plays a central role in my approach to helping individuals make peace with food and their body.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based model that teaches you how to become the expert of your own body and have a positive relationship with food and your body.
Intuitive Eating is based on 10 principles that either help you gain body attunement (i.e., the ability to hear and respond to your body’s cues) or remove obstacles to body attunement. The 10 principles include:
Reject the Diet Mentality
Honor Your Hunger
Make Peace with Food
Challenge the Food Police
Feel Your Fullness
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food
Respect Your Body
Exercise: Feel the Difference
Honor Your Health: Gentle Nutrition
In short, according to its originators, Intuitive Eating is about “honoring your body’s cues (e.g., hunger, fullness); choosing foods that are both pleasurable and nourishing; removing morality and judgment from eating; rejecting the diet mentality; and respecting your body, regardless of how you feel about its shape."
Why does Intuitive Eating reject dieting?
Dieting disconnects you from your body's wisdom, including your own internal cues that tell you what, when, and how much to eat. Focusing on a number, such as your weight, interferes with your ability to listen to your body and leads to problematic eating and exercise behaviors.
When you diet, you eat according to a set of external rules (e.g., calories, points, grams, forbidden foods, pre-determined schedule, etc.) rather than honoring your body’s needs, desires and preferences.
Restricting the timing, amount, and type of food eaten is not intuitive, sustainable, flexible, pleasurable or empowering. Dieting erodes your ability to trust your body and your instincts, and negatively impacts your physical and psychological wellbeing.
While almost any diet can result in initial short-term weight loss, the most predictable outcome of dieting is weight cycling (yo-yo dieting), which can have a detrimental impact on your health. The majority of dieters are unable to maintain their weight loss and an estimated two-thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost.
When dieters “fail” a diet, the natural response is to try another diet. The only winner in this vicious cycle is the $66 billion diet industry—an industry that has a 95 percent failure rate yet thrives on repeat customers.
Rebound weight gain is not due to a lack of willpower or self-discipline. When you deprive your body of food, it thinks it’s being subjected to a famine and will do everything it can to survive. This includes triggering numerous compensatory processes, such as hormonal changes that increase appetite and decrease metabolism
Not only can dieting lead to weight cycling, it can also lead to food and body preoccupation; body dissatisfaction; intense food cravings; feelings of deprivation; emotional eating; overeating; binge eating; disordered eating; eating disorders; anxiety; depression; low self-esteem; feelings of guilt, shame and helplessness; increased weight stigma; reduced metabolism; elevated blood cholesterol; increased cardiovascular risk; and more adverse conditions.
What is an Intuitive Eater?
An Intuitive Eater is guided by internal cues versus external rules.
Being an Intuitive Eater means you trust your inner body wisdom to guide you toward the foods and forms of movement that make your body feel good, without internal judgment or external influence from “authorities” and diet/weight-loss culture.
Intuitive Eating includes giving yourself unconditional permission to eat—with attunement. This means making food choices based on messages from your body, such as hunger, fullness, desire and how different foods impact you (e.g., energy, mood, focus, etc.). It also includes choosing foods based on their satisfaction factor and your personal preferences, values and nutritional needs.
With Intuitive Eating, no foods are off limits (unless medically necessary). There are no good or bad foods, and you are not a good or bad person based on your food choices. All foods are emotionally equivalent regardless of their nutritional value. A carrot is equal to carrot cake; eating one or the other doesn’t make you good or bad.
An Intuitive Eater consumes a healthy balance of foods and has a healthy relationship with food. Nonjudgmental attention is given to your body's nutritional and fuel needs with an eye toward balance, variety, moderation, satisfaction and pleasure.
What are the benefits of becoming an Intuitive Eater?
First and foremost, Intuitive Eating helps you make peace with food and your body. By doing so, you can shift all the time, energy and headspace you’ve spent warring with food and your body toward more fulfilling, meaningful pursuits.
Research shows that Intuitive Eating decreases:
food-related guilt and anxiety
eating disorder risk
drive for thinness
cholesterol and triglycerides
Studies have also found that Intuitive Eating increases:
interoceptive awareness (the ability to perceive bodily sensations)
body positivity, appreciation and acceptance
self-esteem, self-respect and self-compassion
emotional awareness and acceptance
emotional coping skills / psychological hardiness
general life satisfaction