Intuitive eating encourages you to listen to your natural hunger and to respond to it.
You eat when you are hungry and you stop when you are full; it being the complete opposite of dieting, which is often dominated by restrictive rules on food types, quantities or calories.
It also promotes a healthy attitude to food and body image.
And doesn’t it sound so simple, natural and instinctual – just like breathing in and out?
Simple maybe, but sadly, it is something that many of us have forgotten how to do. We do not trust our body or listen to its normal signals.
Instead, we hear the ‘shoulds’ and regulations that keep our appetites in check.
As a little baby, your hunger cues would certainly have been intuitive, and hopefully, with the right care and attention, you received the food you needed when hungry.
As you grew up though, external messages from family, friends and culture might well have distorted your ability to listen to your body.
As a child
‘Eat all the food on your plate, if you want dessert’
‘You can’t be hungry; you’ve only just eaten dinner’.
‘You’ve hurt yourself. Have a sweetie to feel better’.
As a teenager/young adult
‘You’ve put on a few pounds – why not come to the diet club with me’.
‘You’re greedy for wanting that’.
‘I’ve made you a cake to cheer you up’.
To begin to eat intuitively, you need to distance these messages, and begin to tune into your physical and emotional hungers.
Physical hunger: when your body is telling you that you need to eat. You might experience a rumbling stomach; tiredness; irritability and food preoccupation. When you satisfy physical hunger, these signs disappear as you have met your body’s biological need for food.
Emotional hunger: when you turn to food, not out of hunger but rather an emotional need. This is often experienced as a craving, where you experience a strong desire for the food, even if not biologically hungry. Beneath the craving, you might feel angry, anxious or sad. You may have learned to temporarily soothe these feelings by eating.
Early influences of an intuitive eating style include Thelma Wayler, Geneen Roth and Susie Orbach. However, it was cemented as an official philosophy of eating in 1995, by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch who created ten intuitive eating principles.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
1. Reject the diet mentality – make a commitment to reject dieting wholeheartedly and then stick with this. This means abandoning old diet books, avoiding websites or any materials that might lead you back down this unhelpful, but seductive road.
2. Honour your hunger - Ensure that you keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Without this, you will trigger a primal drive to overeat, which will render intuitive eating impossible.
3. Make peace with food – no food is forbidden. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat any food. Banning particular foods will only increase your desire to overeat or binge on them.
4. Challenge the food police .Challenge the judgement in your head that some foods are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Judgement induces guilt and shame, which encourages restriction and paradoxically further overeating.
5. Respect your fullness Listen to your body and begin to recognise feelings of fullness. You might need to slow down your eating and tune into your body’s physical sensations.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor In our drive to be healthy or thin, we often miss one of the most basic gifts of existence – the pleasure derived from the eating experience. Eating foods that you truly enjoy ensures the ‘yum yum’ factor is attained and satisfaction is more likely achieved without overeating.
7. Honour your feelings without using food Difficult emotions are part of life and food cannot fix these feelings. It may soothe you temporarily, but long-term creates further problems. Instead, find ways to comfort, distract, and problem solve without using food to do this.
8. Respect your body Work on acceptance of your body type. We are all different shapes and sizes, and our genetic blueprint plays a part in this. It’s tricky to reject dieting if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
9. Exercise: feel the difference Exercise for the joy of movement and the benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing. Forget obsessive workouts or exercise motivated only by weight loss.
10. Honour your health– Work to make food choices that honour your taste buds and your health, so optimising wellbeing. You don’t have to eat a perfect diet to achieve health; rather the bigger picture of how you eat consistently is key.
If you would like to begin to eat intuitively, be patient and kind with yourself in this process. It may take time to reconnect and trust your hunger signals and to work with your body.
Some resources that can help with this:
The Intuitive Eating Website by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch