When we think of getting healthy and losing or maintaining our weight, we think of diets, calorie-counting, meal plans, and workouts. Yet that’s not enough to sustain a healthy weight in the long-run. It’s missing one essential ingredient…that’s where intuitive eating comes in.
No, intuitive eating is not another diet, in fact it’s anti-diet. Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that teaches you how to trust your body’s natural hunger-fullness signals, rebuild a healthy relationship with food and take back the power that you have given to destructive dieting.
It works at the deeper psychological level to understand why you’re reaching for that box of cookies, rather than (like a diet) just telling you not to reach for the cookie. Without understanding why you are overeating, you can’t really change your behavior in the long-run. That’s why so many people can’t stick to a diet and end up putting all their weight back on.
That was me, for years stuck in the diet-binge-guilt cycle
With every diet fail, I’d beat myself up about it, feeling completely useless. Only when I started using the principles of intuitive eating, first developed in the mid-90s by dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch did I finally get off the diet-binge-guilt rollercoaster and make peace with food.
The approach uses our natural cues for hunger and fullness as an indicator of when to eat. We did this as babies and toddlers, but as we get older, outside influences can disconnect us from our internal signals. These influencers can include our parents, siblings, friends, teachers or coaches, and the media promoting the latest fad diet. The more we take on the opinions, ideas, and views of everyone around us when it comes to what we should or shouldn’t eat, we learn to distrust ourselves and instead trust the noise instead.
Yet, we are all unique beings with our own genetics, energy levels, activity, stresses, hormone levels, tastes, and preferences when it comes to food and our body. No generic diet or person can know what you need at any given point…not even a nutritionist – only you know this by tuning into your body and mind’s hunger and satiety signals to know when what and how much to eat.
Reject your diet thinking
Dieting can set you up for failure, actually causing weight gain. It also chips away at your self-esteem and makes you feel crazy around food. Learning to reject the diet is the first step to this anti-diet method and rebuilding a healthy relationship with your body and with food.
Honor your hunger
When your body and mind know that they will have access to food (i.e.: not being deprived on a diet) you will settle into a healthy normal eating pattern. As soon as you restrict food, your body freaks out and results in panic-eating, intense cravings, and binges. Understanding the signs of real hunger through mindful eating and knowing that it’s ok to eat when you’re hungry is a fundamental key to intuitive eating.
Make peace with food
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want can be scary for many chronic dieters who have clung to a laundry list of forbidden foods for years. Once you realize that food is just fuel for your body, you can take back the power you have given to it and find peace around mealtimes.
Challenge the food police
Many dieters attach a moral compass to their food. Will you be ‘good’ and eat a salad, or ‘bad’ and eat a dessert. Often when cheating on a diet, we have a voice in our head that berates us for failing to stick to the diet rules. It is destructive and unhelpful, and challenging this voice is a necessary step to intuitive eating.
Feel your fullness
In the same way as honoring our hunger, we need to honor our fullness, but sadly when in dieting-mode, we are often disconnected from fullness or we’re in full-blown binge mode, we override our fullness with panic eating. Learning to tune in and become mindful about when you are getting full and stopping when you’ve had enough (knowing you can always have more later) is part of this key factor.
Eating foods that you don’t enjoy, are bland, or not what you’re really craving will set you up for overeating later. Your food should be enjoyed, it should nourish you. Learning to tap into what foods bring you pleasure is important to feel satisfied, and when you’re satisfied you are less likely to binge later.
Cope with emotions without using food
Emotional eating is common – many of us have an emotional attachment to food that we use to soothe our stress, anxiety or boredom. Unfortunately, food will not resolve these feelings and it’s vital to learn coping mechanisms to deal with your emotions without self-medicating with food.
Respect your body
Body shame and bashing can happen so regularly, particularly for women dieters, that it becomes automatic – we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Learning to love and respect your body is a critical step in the journey to becoming an intuitive eater.
Honor your health with gentle nutrition and exercise
Only now do we come to the nutrition and exercise part…
Eating healthy most of the time, instead of perfectly all the time is the mandate for intuitive eaters. This allows for wiggle room in your life, rather than the all-or-nothing experience of dieting, which is not sustainable. Exercise too should be fun and enjoyable rather than something you dread – the more you enjoy it, the more likely you’ll do it regularly.
Intuitive eating is about understanding you. Your needs, tastes, feelings, limitations, and potential. Then using this information to make calm and rational food, health, and exercise choices.
To start getting into intuitive eating, why not access my Mindful Eating Journal, which has practical tips, exercises, and a journal to get you on your way to becoming an intuitive eater.
There are hundreds of research studies that have shown the benefits of intuitive eating from better blood work (cholesterol and blood pressure), healthier body weight, more body confidence, less depression and anxiety, and binge eating.
If this is something you are interested to learn more about, sign up for my newsletter where I will announce future webinars, to help you get started on your journey to food freedom.
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