Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating
Chances are, you’ve heard of Intuitive Eating (IE) by now. Originally coined by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995, it has taken popular culture by storm.
The premise behind IE is that dieting is not only ineffective for weight loss in the long run (95% of diets ultimately fail), but may also be harmful for physical and mental health. They developed ten principles to help guide individuals away from rigid dieting rules, instead to come home to their bodies and tap into their innate wisdom in order to heal their relationship with food and body.
You might be thinking, “wow, that sounds great and all but I need structure and rules! I can’t trust myself around food! If you tell me to eat whatever I want...I’ll lose all self control!”
Okay, we hear you!
Embracing intuitive eating is actually a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it. It’s the opposite of the diets we’re familiar with in that there’s no defined amount of time or gimmicky promises. With intuitive eating, you’re in it for the long haul. It doesn’t mean throwing in the towel and “letting go,” it means unlearning diet rules and rigidity, rediscovering what foods are satisfying for you and discarding the belief that we’ll be healthier and happier when we reach a certain weight. So, it requires letting go of food rules, rigidity, and black and white thinking around food by rebuilding trust with your body.
With intuitive eating, we’re working on living in the grey area with food, tuning into our hunger and fullness cues, and leaning into our food desires. Instead of letting a diet or arbitrary food rules dictate what we should and should not eat, we honor our body’s specific wants and needs. When we do this, there’s no “wagon” to fall off of, and we subsequently remove guilt and shame from the equation. It should be noted that this shouldn’t be interpreted as “I can eat whatever I want as long as I stop when I’m full.” While yes, all foods are neutral and you can eat whatever you want, there’s no rule here saying you have to stop as soon as you become full. Instead, we recognize that fullness is a normal human thing and realize that sometimes we’re going to eat past the point of fullness because the food tasted so good. And that’s okay!
You can revisit our previous blog post on Intuitive Eating, but we wanted to briefly introduce you to the 10 Principles if you aren’t familiar yet! These steps don’t necessarily have to happen happen in this exact order, but the succession is not without reason.
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Reject the Diet Mentality
First and foremost, we need to ditch diet culture. Diet culture is fueled by the over $60 billion industry that profits off of our thin-obsessed ideals, insecurities and fatphobia; that tells us we are more worthy if we lose weight. You can reject that. Consider: what has restriction, cutting out food groups, eating certain foods or avoiding others because of food rules done for you? How has it impacted your psychological health and well-being? What has it robbed you of? Keep in mind the research demonstrating that repeated weight cycling (losing then regaining weight) is linked to subsequent regain, slowed metabolism and even increased risk of heart disease. This weight rebound gets more pronounced with each weight loss attempt - as the body gets better equipped to respond to the threat of dieting (which it perceives as starvation). Our “caveman” brains, that is, the mechanisms we have in place as a result of evolution, do everything in their power to keep us alive. Dieting induces a “fight or flight” response - releasing cortisol (a stress hormone) and our body enters survival mode, holding onto reserves as tightly as possible. Once you’ve internalized the truth that diets don’t work and do more harm than good, unsubscribe completely. Toss or donate old diet cookbooks, magazines and apps. Unfollow accounts on social media that preach weight loss and dieting. Put your blinders up to diet culture. For even more on how ditching diet culture might be the best decision you make all year, click here. Feeling surrounded by toxic diet talk? We can help you avoid that! Here, here, here, here and here. (Can you tell this topic irks us?!)
Honor your Hunger
Diet culture likes to villainize hunger, spewing out clickbait articles with headlines like “curb your hunger for good with these 5 foods” or “suppress your appetite with these simple tricks.” The problem with this messaging and attempts to ignore hunger is that it causes us to lose touch with our bodies. If you attempt to ignore or suppress your hunger, thus going too long without eating, you may end up energy deprived...leading to feeling “hangry” and possibly setting yourself up for a binge later. Think about it: would it be wise to ignore your body if you had to use the restroom? Of course not! You’d pee your pants. Hunger cues are just as normal and biological. Honoring your hunger with food is the best way to “suppress your appetite” and move on with your life. We talk more about honoring your hunger here.
Make Peace with Food
PERMISSION may be the single most important thing about Intuitive Eating. Challenge your beliefs about which foods are “good” and which are “bad.” When all foods are neutral, there’s no “forbidden fruit” factor that leads to feeling deprived and wanting that certain food simply because its off limits in our minds. When we attach morality to our eating, we are more likely to feel shame after eating certain foods, leading to feeling out of control and crazy around food. Unconditional permission removes the guilt and shame from eating, instead enabling us to have a relaxed and enjoyable relationship with food rather than being stuck in the perpetual restrict, overeat, feelings of shame cycle. Read more about relinquishing food rules and allowing yourself permission here.
Challenge the Food Police
The food police is your inner dialogue that pops in your head with unhelpful thoughts and judgments about food choices. These are the thoughts that tell you you’re “being bad” for eating certain foods like cake or even “good” for eating a salad. These are untrue and unhelpful thoughts because no food is morally superior or inferior. Sure, some foods have a higher nutritional value than others, but they are still perfectly fine foods that might be perfectly appropriate in the moment. Your body can handle all kinds of foods (as long as it isn’t rotten), so call out your inner food police and reframe those thoughts with helpful thoughts. For tips on how to challenge those inner negative thoughts, check out our blog post, Can I Eat That? (Yes! Yes, you can!)
Respect your Fullness
The constant banter of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” when it comes to eating can often makes us feel like we are only allowed to eat at structured meal times, and when we do we may claim to belong in “the clean plate club.” Just as we want to honor our hunger and eat when our body is asking for food, we will feel better and more connected with our bodies when we tune into it. A great way to get started with this is checking in periodically during the meal. How is it tasting? Are you still enjoying it? Perhaps take a moment to put your fork down and take three deep breaths to center yourself before continuing. Pay attention to the signals letting you know when you are satiated and satisfied. Remember, you can always save the leftovers for later. You aren’t being wasteful by not cleaning your plate.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Some foods or meals may be physically filling, such as an apple, salad or even a bunch of celery sticks….but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re satisfying. You can be physically full without feeling satisfied. It’s these instances where you might find yourself seeking more foods, looking for that point of satisfaction. And you might think to yourself, “but that salad was so healthy and filling, why am I still hungry??” To prevent overeating and thinking about food constantly, seek food that is filling but also pleasurable. That way you can eat, feel satisfied and move on. Not sure how to decipher between what you think you need and what your body truly wants? Try out this sensory experiment.
Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
It is entirely normal, and healthy even, to use food to cope with emotions. Food is meant to be pleasurable, so eating “comfort foods” from time to time to numb uncomfortable feelings can offer a temporary reprieve. However, it’s important to have other skills in your self-care toolbox to lean on for dealing with unpleasant feelings. If food is your only coping mechanism, this can feel self-sabotaging and ultimately be unhelpful.
Respect Your Body
All too often, we are quick to judge our body rather than appreciate it. Take time to appreciate what your body does for you and what it allows you to do. It can be extremely difficult to honor your body when you are harsh and critical of it. Need some body loving inspiration? Check out these blog posts - here, here, here and here.
Exercise - Feel the Difference
Our culture is numbers and data driven - however, exercise and eating is not a transactional, “calories in -calories out” equation or relationship. If you use exercise as a way to purge calories, punish yourself for what you ate, or if it feels like an obligation, try to shift your thinking to how movement makes you feel in your body. There’s no doubt there are numerous health benefits to exercise, however if it adds more stress to your day, it might not be so healthy. How do you feel after moving your body? More alert, energized, centered, maybe? If your only motivation to exercise is to change or shrink your body, it may not be helpful overall for cultivating a positive relationship with your body. We talk more about exploring your relationship with exercise here and what it looks like to engage in joyful movement here.
Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition.
The last principle, for a reason, as nutrition should not be a major consideration until you’ve worked on ditching the diet mentality and healing your relationship with food. Gentle nutrition is about considering how food makes you feel, with balance, variety, and enjoyable foods. You wouldn’t feel so great if all you ate was donuts, just like you would be lacking if you only ate salads. Making small shifts and focusing on the overall eating pattern will be a lot more impactful overall than any diet.
Food freedom and body liberation is a beautiful thing. If you’re working on healing your relationship with food and body, you don’t have to navigate it on your own. We’re launching a Getting Started with Intuitive Eating online course that walks you through these ten principles in greater detail, plus concrete steps and exercises to help you along the way. Visit our course page for more details!
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We're a group of non-diet, balance seeking, cupcake consuming, quinoa loving, registered dietitians.
By sharing our expertise, favorite tools and services, we want to help you heal your relationship with food and body and find your own balance amidst the diet culture chaos.