Intuitive Eating

What is intuitive eating?

First and foremost, intuitive eating is not a diet. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Put simply, intuitive eating is normal eating. We are born with the innate ability to eat intuitively. Babies will cry when hungry and stop eating when satisfied. Children naturally stop eating when they're full. Sometimes kids will eat ravenously one day and then hardly eat anything the next day. Then as we get older, the influx of meal schedules, diet talk, and labels get in the way of eating intuitively. We are taught that some foods are ‘good’ and others ‘bad’. Food becomes rewards or punishments instead of simply…food. What’s wrong with labeling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Well, by doing so we create feelings of shame, guilt, and regret. We let our food dictate to us whether we are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You might be thinking, but aren’t some foods better than others? Yes, to an extent. Nutritionally not every food is the same, and there are foods that are better for our bodies. However, all foods are, or should be, treated emotionally as equal.

Our society is increasingly focused on diets, restrictions, and rules when it comes to what and when to eat. These are all external sources that sabotage our innate ability to eat intuitively. Intuitive eating is about ‘re-learning how to eat outside of the diet mentality’. This encompasses learning how to recognize our natural signals of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. What gets you closer to wellness - eating the donut, or obsessing about the donut all day causing you stress, which will likely cause you to just eat the donut anyway.

Intuitive eating is much more than just eating when hungry and stopping when full. It’s about giving yourself complete, unrestrained permission to eat anything and everything without feeling guilt. For most of us who have been caught in the dieting cycle for years, the idea of eating cake without feeling shame or the need to excessively work out can seem scary! Many people worry they'll spin out of control if the reins of restriction and dieting are released. Won’t I just eat pizza and ice cream non-stop? At first this may happen because your body is enjoying everything it's been forbidden to enjoy. However, as time goes on, you will find that if you give yourself complete freedom when it comes to food, you may not crave certain foods anymore. Those foods are always available, so what's the big deal? This is called food habituation. Research shows that the more exposed someone is to a certain food and the more they're allowed to eat it, the less desirable it becomes. It’s completely opposite to restriction, which can lead to binging.

An important aspect of intuitive eating is building a trust relationship with your body. You have to trust that your body will give you proper signals and your body has to trust that you will honor those signals. If your body is telling you it wants vegetables, then eat vegetables. If it’s craving a cookie, eat a cookie. Re-learning to eat intuitively can take years, and requires patience and mindfulness. Remember: intuitive eating is a shift in belief and thought, not another diet.

Here are the 10 principles of intuitive eating.

1.       Reject the diet mentality - many people assume that they fail at diets and weight loss because they lack willpower. The truth is, it's the system of dieting that is sabotaging your mind and your body. Get rid of all those dieting books and magazines. Allow yourself the freedom to eat food without attaching emotional value to it.

2.       Honor your hunger - hunger is a natural and crucial biological process that keeps us alive. When we honor our hunger signals, our body learns to trust us. When we don't eat enough or when we're hungry, it often leads to intense cravings and binges. Bottom line - eat when you're hungry; stop when you're satisfied.

3.       Make peace with food - allow all foods into your life by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat anything. Ironically when we restrict a certain food, that food is all we think about. At some point that restriction leads to feelings of deprivation, which leads to cravings and overeating, and thus feelings of guilt.

4.       Challenge the food police - if you are stuck in the diet mentality, the food police run amok in your brain. They tell you you're good for eating a salad, bad for eating cake. They govern your food decisions daily. Challenging the food police is crucial in becoming an intuitive eater.

5.       Feel your fullness - to eat intuitively it's important to tune into your body. Pause during your eating to check in and see if you're still hungry or if you're satisfied. Eat without distraction. Recognize that you don't have to clean your plate of food and if you get hungry again later, you can eat!

6.       Discover the satisfaction factor - it's possible to have an entire meal, be full, and completely unsatisfied. At this point you roam around the kitchen until you find what you really wanted all along. Intuitive eating is about recognizing what you really want to eat and then eating it. Often this leads to less food consumption because you're fully satisfied with the first meal or snack.

7.       Cope with emotions without food - we often use food to numb our emotions leading to overeating and mindless eating. Find ways to deal with these emotions without using food as a source of comfort.

8.       Respect your body - we have become much too quick at criticizing ourselves. Learning to love our bodies as they are in this moment is one of the most important steps to rejecting the diet mentality.

9.       Exercise - feel the difference - forget about doing certain exercises because you ‘should’. Instead, do what you love and what makes you feel good. Rather than focusing on creating a negative calorie deficit, focus on how different exercises make you feel afterwards. Do you feel invigorated or drained?

10.   Honor your health with gentle nutrition - diets would have us believe that health and perfection are interconnected. This is not the case. It is possible to be healthy without being perfect. One cookie won't ruin your life-unless you let it consume your mind. Focus on how you feel after eating certain foods. Do you feel energized or lethargic? Eat to live!

If you are interested in learning more about intuitive eating, check out www.intuitiveeating.org. You can also work with your Orriant Health Coach. It’s hard to get out of the trap of the diet mentality. If it’s something you want to do, your Orriant Health Coach is an excellent resource to help you.