Do you find yourself chronically dieting without any sustained success? Do you find that you have a list of food rules that you need to follow and if you don’t you beat yourself up? Do you find yourself eating based on external cues instead of internal ones? If yes, Intuitive Eating may be for you.
Intuitive Eating is a personal process of honoring your health by paying attention to your body and meeting your physical and emotional needs. It is a journey of discovery in building a healthy relationship with food. Created by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN in 1995, this revolutionary program has helped many people get off the diet roller coaster and make peace with food and rediscover the pleasure of eating. Their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, helps to focus its readers to nurture their bodies instead of starving them and encourages attunement to your body’s signals for hunger and fullness.
Intuitive eating focuses on respecting and valuing your “here and now” body. The philosophy shifts awareness away from calorie counting and rigid food rules to understanding how the food connects with you. Some questions you may ask yourself are:
The philosophy shifts awareness away from calorie counting and rigid food rules to understanding how the food connects with you. Some questions you may ask yourself are:
- What will sustain me?
- What will sustain me?
- What will satisfy me?
- What am I in the mood for?
Intuitive Eating is not a pass or fail process, rather it is a bunch of small eating experiences that lead to opportunities to learn about your body. Self-compassion is a critical component of the program. It allows you to have a neutral understanding and the ability to practice kindness instead of criticism.
There are 10 principles of Intuitive Eating that work in two ways- to help you gain body attunement which is the ability to notice physical sensations that arise in your body such as hunger and fullness and to remove any obstacles that get in the way of attunement.
1. Reject the diet mentality
Principle 1 encourages people to get off the diet bandwagon. Through research and evidence-based studies, it has been found that diets do not work. Dieting leads to weight gain and impacts your psychological health and well-being in a negative way. The diet mentality is dictated by external rules, but Intuitive Eating focuses on attunement and uses direct sensations from your body. Intuitive Eating cultivates self-compassion whereas dieting leads to shame and guilt. It encourages us to pay attention without judgment as we heal our relationship with food. It encourages people to review their dieting history, identify and then get rid of the tools of dieting that they have learned and explore other hidden forms of dieting.
2. Honor your hunger
Principle 2 discusses the role of attunement, which is the ability to observe physical bodily sensations, like hunger, and to remove any obstacles that may get in the way of this attunement. These sensations are not right or wrong, they just give us information, and honoring our hunger is a critical healing step. For some hunger may be a growling stomach, light-headedness, irritability, low energy, or a dull ache in their throat. Learning to honor your hunger is a path to rebuild trust with yourself and with your relationship with food. The principle also helps us to identify attunement disrupters which can come in in the following ways: distractions, thoughts, rules, beliefs, and lack of self-care.
3. Make peace with food
Principle 3 encourages us to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat all foods. Instead of forbidding specific foods, all foods fit which removes the deprivation effect which can lead to bingeing. The principle encourages people to remove all morality from their food choices and to make their choices emotionally equal. It describes the concept of habituation which is being consistently exposed to the same stimulus and over time the effects reduce and the novelty disappears, whether it is with pizza, chocolate, or pretzels. Dieting impedes habituation and often sets dieters up to engage in the last supper” mentality- bingeing, feeling out of control, and full of guilt. This principle legalizes all food and increases your flexibility with your food choices.
4. Challenge the food police
Principle 4 allows us to identify the unreasonable rules that diet-culture has created and that we have internalized and learn to refute these thoughts, judgments, and demands. The first step is to examine our beliefs (which are often distorted), then examine our thoughts and then challenge them by evaluating them and ultimately reframing them. The principle encourages you to approach them with curiosity instead of judgment which helps us to heal and stop negative self-talk. Intuitive Eating is a journey to challenge the food rules that we have internalized from our culture, family, and past dieting to find our innate intuitive eater voice.
5. Feel your fullness
Principle 5 encourages us to listen to our body signals and sensations to observe fullness, even pausing in the middle of a meal to identify the tastes of the food and notice our current fullness level. It discusses barriers to experiencing fullness, such as distraction and externally based patterns of eating. It helps us to say no and set boundaries to honor our bodies. It encourages us to identify foods that create fullness and satiety. It also helps us to discover our last bite threshold– an endpoint to eating by paying attention to our fullness.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor
Principle 6 is about finding pleasure and satisfaction from food. This is often referred to as the hub of Intuitive Eating and it is the touchstone for all the other principles. The concept encourages us to eat what is truly satisfying and enjoyable without connecting it to morality which overall improves psychological and biological health. In terms of pleasure consider sensory considerations- tastes, textures, aromas, temperature, appearance, volume, and sustaining capacity. The principle also encourages us to practice mindful eating and slowing down during the experience and examining our current eating environment and cultivating a pleasant space.
7. Cope with your emotions without using food
Principle 7 teaches us about how to find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve issues without using food. It also helps us to distinguish between emotional eating and non-attuned eating due to deprivation in self-care. It encourages us to identify emotional triggers for eating and to become more aware of our feelings. Then to heal emotional eating by incorporating self-care, nurturance, and compassion in your life, sitting with feelings without acting on emotion-driven urges, and learning helpful distraction techniques.
8. Respect your body
Principle 8 encourages us to accept our genetics and to treat our bodies with respect. Practicing body respect looks like practicing gratitude, self-care, getting rid of the scale, stopping bodychecking, throwing out old clothes, wearing and buying comfortable clothes that fit your here-and-now body, and stopping comparing yourself to others. It also encourages us to reduce body bashing, negative body talk and to increase positive body image and body appreciation.
9. Exercise- feel the difference
Principle 9 discusses how to intuitively bring movement into your life, focusing on how the movement feels, instead of the calorie-burning impact or fitness benefits. It encourages us to pursue movement that is pleasurable and enjoyable whether it is hula-hooping or walking. It also encourages us to identify the benefits of physical activity and the possible obstacles that may get in the way.
10. Honor your health- gentle nutrition
Principle 10 focuses on making food choices that honor your health, make you feel satisfied, and feel good in your body. The goal is authentic health which is achieved by connecting messages from your internal body and mind (attunement) and health guidelines and nutrition. The principle reviews food wisdom, nutritional guidelines, the amount you are eating, and satisfaction. It is important to recognize that there is no perfection in nutrition, and we strive for “variety, moderation, and balanced eating “most of” the time.
Meredith O’Brien, LCSW is a licensed social worker, a certified intuitive eating counselor, a certified Carolyn Costin Institute eating disorder coach, and an author. With advanced training in dialectical behavior therapy, Meredith specializes in mental health services, more specifically the areas of depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders, chronic suicidal ideation, self-harm, family conflict, emotional dysregulation, and life transitions.
To learn more, please visit http://meredithobrienlcsw.com/