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What is intuitive eating

Learn to listen to your body with intuitive eating

You may have heard the term intuitive eating and wondered what is intuitive eating. The intuitive eating approach is connecting with your body’s internal signals of satisfaction with what foods and amounts are needed for your body.

Simply put, intuitive eating is making peace with food, listening to your body, and connecting with what makes your body feel good physically and mentally. There is no need to follow specific rules that dictate if food is “good or bad”, only the connection where you find your balance with honoring your hunger, fullness, satiety around food, and self-care.

Yes, even YOU can intuitively eat

Great news! You were born with the skills and even you can intuitively eat.

Dieting may have disconnected your internal regulation, but you can reconnect with your body’s intuitive eating again. I know you might be thinking, there is no way I can trust myself. How can I be intuitive? I can’t control what I eat.

While you may have lost your regulating connection over time, you can re-establish this connection again. The society we live in has taught you that you need rules that dictate what is OK to eat. However, these rules do not factor in enjoyment, satisfaction, and the emotional aspects of eating.

Sometimes it does feel easier to just follow strict rules about what to eat. The rule-following takes a lot of the emotions and thinking out of food decisions. But those rules do not help you late at night when you catch yourself emotionally eating ice cream, chips with salsa, or any other “favorite food.”

You can eat without food rules

There’s a way you can eat without food rules, make peace with food, and prioritize your physical and mental well-being. It’s called “intuitive eating” and it’s not a weight loss program. Instead, it’s a way to get back in tune with your body and refocus your mind away from “food rules.”

While you may feel safe with food rules, these rules are not sustainable or needed. Sure you can follow anything for a short time, but eventually, these rules don’t fit what’s happening in your life. I mean, who can stay away from chocolate and ice cream for the rest of their life?

Intuitive eating has a set of 10 principles that serve as a guide to help you follow the journey that is right for you.

"There's Always Room for Ice Cream and Chocolate!"
Chocolate Cake

The 10 principles of intuitive eating

The two dietitians who popularized intuitive eating in 1995, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, have outlined 10 principles.

You are not a failure for gaining weight after a diet, fast, or even weight loss surgery. Breaking free from the hope that there’s a new diet, technique, or procedure around the corner and turning internally for answers is how you progress with intuitive eating.

1-Reject the diet mentality

Ditch diets that give the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. You are not a failure for every time a diet stopped working and you gained the weight back.

2- Honor your hunger

Your body needs adequate energy and nutrition. Keep yourself fed to prevent excessive hunger.

You are born with a great internal regulator of hunger and fullness.  But the “clean your plate” messages, restrictive diets, forced hunger with weight loss surgeries and the struggle with eating disorders have created a lot of disconnection and confusion about hunger.

By honoring the first signal of hunger you can start rebuilding trust in yourself and food.

3- Make peace with food

Stop fighting with food and give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Stop fostering intense feelings of deprivation by denying yourself a particular food, as these can lead to cravings and bingeing.

The way you talk about food is key.  Accept all foods and that you have the ability to recognize and respond to your hunger. You don’t want your “giving in” to lead to overwhelming guilt.

Making peace with food is essential, no matter what your dieting and food history may be.

4- Challenge the food police

Confront the thoughts that you as a person are “good” or “bad” based on what and how much you eat. Diet culture has created unreasonable rules. The food police are the negative, hopeless, or guilty thoughts that you can chase away.

Some health care providers find it simpler to provide quick messages labeling foods and do not educate and really work with a big-picture approach.  However, the messages heard,  even though given with good intentions, can be received in ways that confuse how food should be viewed.  Overcoming labeling messages is doable.

5- Discover the satisfaction factor

Pleasure and satisfaction are some of the basic gifts of existence. By allowing yourself to feel these when you eat, you can enjoy feeling content and fulfilled. When you do this, you will be able to identify the feeling of “enoughness” and not be left feeling like you need more.

If you are worried your eating feels out of control and you wonder if you might have binge eating disorder and you would like to do a quick screen, Grab the Binge Eating quiz here

6 – Feel your fullness

Trust that you will give yourself the foods you desire. Pause in the middle of eating and ask how the food tastes. Listen for the signals that you’re not hungry anymore. In other words, respect your body and the signals when you become comfortably full.

If you have had bariatric surgery, this is a big key point to help reduce the complications.  Learning to stop when your body has had enough is the key to keeping from the uncomfortable feeling of food backing up into the esophagus. Read more about intuitive eating and bariatric surgery.

7 – Cope with your emotions with kindness

Restricting food can trigger a loss of control and feel like emotional eating. Be kind to yourself. Comfort and nurture yourself.

Everyone feels anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger. Food won’t fix these feelings—it’s just a short-term distraction. Ultimately, you have to deal with the uncomfortable emotions.

There is nothing wrong with emotional eating, the way you treat your body after can be a challenge.

8 – Respect your body

Everyone is genetically unique, whether it’s shoe size or body size. Respecting your body will help you feel better about who you are.

Being unrealistic or overly critical of your shape or size makes it hard to reject the diet mentality. Don’t compare yourself to others or your past.

9 – Movement—feel the difference

Feel the difference activity makes. This means not being militant about calorie-burning exercise, but simply moving your body. Focus on how energized it makes you feel.

Joyful movement is moving in a way your body feels good about.  If you hate running, don’t do it!  Find a way to move your body that feels good.

10 – Honor your health—gentle nutrition

Choose foods that honor your tastebuds and health. Don’t focus on eating perfectly. One snack, meal, or day of eating won’t suddenly make you unhealthy or deficient in nutrients.

Look at how you eat over time. Trends of eating long-term are what are key. Choose progress, not perfection.

The science behind intuitive eating

When looking at the science behind intuitive eating, studies show that people who eat intuitively tend to also have lower body-mass indices (BMIs) and higher levels of body appreciation and mental health. There are also intuitive eating studies associated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and inflammation.

A review of eight studies compared “health, not weight loss” eating styles with conventional weight-loss diets. While they found no significant differences in heart disease risk factors between the two types of diets, they did find that body satisfaction and eating behavior improved more for people in the “health, not weight loss” groups.

Another review of 24 studies of female college students showed that those who eat intuitively experience less disordered eating, have a more positive body image, and have greater emotional functioning.

Overall, there is a growing amount of research that shows the benefits of intuitive eating on both physical and mental health.

Intuitive eating is for everyone

Tips for Intuitive Eating

There are many things you can do to start eating more intuitively and ditch diet culture and “food rules.”

  • Put aside your guilt for previous diets, gadgets, and surgeries that have failed you. (You have not failed them, and you are not bad for participating in them.)
  • Stop focusing on finding or implementing diets, procedures, and gadgets that promise easy, permanent weight loss.
  • When you feel like eating, ask yourself if you’re truly physically hungry (and not emotionally hungry).
  • Eat when you’re physically hungry, don’t deprive yourself. Get back in tune with your body’s signals and don’t wait until you’re extremely hungry.
  • Ask yourself what type of food will satisfy you. (Remember, there aren’t “good” or “bad” foods, and you don’t need to judge yourself for eating—or not eating—them.)
  • Pay attention to and enjoy your food while you’re eating it (eat mindfully, use all your senses).
  • Stop eating when you are comfortably full.
  • Treat your body with dignity and respect—regardless of its size or shape.
  • Move your body in a way that is enjoyable and see how that makes you feel.  Joyful movement is not punitive.
  • Stop worrying about eating perfectly. If you get off track, gently bring yourself back on track.
  • Work with a certified intuitive eating professional who is a registered dietitian during your journey

You can live by my motto “There’s Always Room for Ice Cream and Chocolate!”

If you feel overwhelmed and confused about how to do this, working with a professional that can assist you in laser focusing on areas you struggle with will help. Consider carving out the time for self-care and joining a program, working one on one, or reading one of the books on Intuitive Eating.

Continuing your journey with intuitive eating

Intuitive eating helps to improve your relationship with food and your body as well as your mind. It’s about challenging external rules and subconscious habits around eating. It also challenges feelings of guilt or shame associated with eating a certain way.

To eat intuitively, listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Enjoy a wide variety of foods (because none are inherently “good” or “bad”), and respect your body.

For a nutritious approach to health based on intuitive eating and a non-diet approach, consult a certified intuitive eating counselor who is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. I can help. Here’s the link for scheduling time to start feeling in control of your eating and meeting your dietary needs.

Grab the binge eating quiz here

Binge Eating Quiz

Kathryn Fink Martinez

Conquer food fear and overwhelm! My passion is helping guide people who are embarrassed about their struggle with food and teaching them simple habit changes that lead to a life with more energy, happiness, and the freedom to eat the foods they truly enjoy. Find a realistic food and exercise approach and remove the uncertainty about what to eat. Get started with some of the free resources on my Confidence in Eating website, especially the Bariatric Success Guide., Emotional Eating Quiz, and Binge Eating Quiz resources. I offer telehealth nutrition programs so you can live your life knowing how to nourish your body, mind, and soul.