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  • Writer's pictureKelly Neilson, MDA RD LD

What Is Intuitive Eating? Understanding the Basics

Intuitive eating has grown in popularity, and if you’re new to eating disorder recovery and healing your relationship with food, you’re probably wondering, What is intuitive eating?

The good news is that intuitive eating has gained a lot of attention, but as always, diet culture likes to sneak its way into everything, stirring up confusion and misleading concepts about intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating is for everyone and it’s the foundation behind the work you do in eating disorder recovery to truly relearn how to be a normal eater.

It’s important to lay the groundwork, understanding what intuitive eating is and what it isn’t so that you can feel more confident in your journey to leave dieting behind and find freedom with food!

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What Is the Definition of Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is a self-care eating framework, rooted as a non-diet, weight-inclusive, mind-body health approach that integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought.

Developed by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995, intuitive eating is an evidence-based model with over 100 research studies and a validated intuitive eating assessment scale.

Intuitive eating is listening and responding to the messages, signals, and cues that your body gives you in order to best meet your physical and psychological needs. It’s a personal practice and process of truly honoring your health with YOU as the expert of your own body.

Intuitive eating is simply eating how you were born to eat, just like babies and children do! We all have an innate ability to trust our bodies and use our intuition to guide our eating.

Dieting has clouded our natural abilities by bombarding us with external rules including what, when, and how to eat. Even if you’ve never been on an “official diet,” things such as conflicting familial messages, comments from doctors, unrealistic societal body standards, and misinformation about nutrition can still get in the way of your ability to eat intuitively.

Only YOU know what your hunger, fullness, and satisfaction feel like for you. Your thoughts, feelings, and experiences around food and your body are highly individual and no diet can determine what’s best for you.

Intuitive eating is aligned with the Health at Every Size movement (HAES), embracing that all bodies are worthy of respect, and a person’s weight or size does not reflect their health status.

Intuitive eating and HAES also stand behind the evidence that diets do not work and intentional weight loss only leads to more health problems such as food and body preoccupation, weight stigma, weight cycling, mental health concerns (including low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression), and eating disorders/disordered eating.

Intuitive Eating Is Not…

  • A diet, or intended for the purpose of weight loss

  • A set of rules or counting calories, points, portions, etc

  • A “quick fix”

  • Anti-health, “letting yourself go,” or eating “unhealthy foods” nonstop

  • Only eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full

In short, intuitive eating is normal eating. It’s flexible, easy, peaceful, eating what you enjoy, eating what makes you feel good, and incorporates your body’s inner wisdom with your mind’s knowledge.

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating consists of 10 principles that are used as an empowerment tool. They help you become more in tune with the physical sensations in your body AND help you remove any obstacles or disruptors.

Disruptors are any rules, beliefs, or thoughts about food and your body that can hinder your body attunement.

You can’t pass or fail at intuitive eating because it's about self-discovery and connection to YOUR physical and mental needs.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

Say goodbye to diets. Delete your calorie-tracking apps. They only instill a false hope of weight loss, when in reality diets do not work. Identify the lies that diet culture has taught you. You’re not the one that failed, the diet failed.

2. Honor Your Hunger

Keep your body biologically fed with enough food so that you don’t trigger a primal drive to overeat from excessive hunger. Honoring this basic biological signal sets the foundation for trusting your body and yourself around food. Adequate nutrition can be a game-changer since the body functions best when it’s not in survival mode.

Eating disorders, disordered eating, and chronic dieting disrupt, interfere, and hinder your natural hunger cues to the point where they may be out of touch from being ignored or numbed. It’s important to work with a registered dietitian to help you repair your hunger cues and get back in tune with them (I promise your body is not broken!).

3. Make Peace with Food

End the fight you have between yourself and food. Call a truce, and give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Yes, even foods that are “off-limits” or triggering. Telling yourself that you shouldn’t eat particular foods leads to deprivation and last supper overeating.

4. Challenge the Food Police

Say “NO” to the thoughts that label food or behaviors as “good” or “bad.” Unreasonable rules created by diet culture only induce guilt and drive disordered eating. Mental permission to eat particular foods is just as important as physical permission.

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Make your eating experience pleasurable by eating what you really want and enjoying it so that you’re truly content. Contrary to popular belief, giving yourself the foods you truly desire makes it easier for you to tell when you’re satisfied and when you’ve had enough to eat.

6. Feel Your Fullness

By giving yourself full permission to eat the foods that you desire, you’re then able to honor your fullness signals. Check-in with your body during the meal to observe your hunger level and whether you're comfortably full.

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Find ways to treat yourself kindly when you’re experiencing difficulties by comforting, nurturing, and distracting. Food may be one of your tools to soothe, and emotional eating has its place, but it’ll only help short term. It’s best to have different coping strategies on hand so that you can ultimately deal with the root problems.

8. Respect Your Body

Accept your natural body size and your genetic blueprint. By doing this you can release unhealthy and unrealistic expectations and stop being overly critical of yourself. Body diversity naturally exists and all bodies deserve dignity. You don’t have to love your body to respect it and treat it well.

9. Movement - Feel the Difference

Find joyful movement and physical activity that feels good to your body instead of militantly forcing yourself to exercise. Moving for enjoyment results in a huge mental shift from calorie-burning purposes, punishment, or weight control to physically moving for fun and self-care!

10. Honor Your Health - Gentle Nutrition

Eat foods that you want and foods that taste good, while also including food choices that feel good and are beneficial to your body. Health isn’t about being perfect and one meal won’t break your health. It’s about the big picture, and over the long run as an intuitive eater, you receive a balance and variety of all foods.

Relearning how to eat intuitively takes time. Give yourself grace, compassion, and patience; you have the rest of your life to figure it out! With a lot of practice and trial and error, you’ll figure out what normal eating looks like for you!

Do You Need Support Relearning How to Eat Intuitively?

Together we can win the battle against dieting and you can relearn how to eat effortlessly as an intuitive eater. As an intuitive eating registered dietitian, I can walk with you into a life of food freedom! Message me to get started!

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