Intuitive Eating: Eat With Respect

July 22, 2020
July 22, 2020 Laura Gouge

            When it comes to eating, there are thousands of people ready to give you “the answer”. One quick google search yields an unending list of people to listen to, foods to try, and promises about lasting weight loss in just a few weeks. And often, these tricks and tips work well–at first. But research overwhelmingly shows that dieting for the sake of weight loss doesn’t work (Rothblum, 2018). In fact, 95% of dieters end up gaining all the weight back and more after two years, and weight-loss diets are not effective in improving overall health (Bacon et al., 2005). Not a single study has shown that dieting for weight loss works long term. Not one. While this news may sound disappointing to those trying to improve their health, there is good news: one philosophy of eating called Intuitive Eating has consistently been shown to improve one’s physical and mental health, without relying on weight loss as the answer. 

What is intuitive eating?

            Intuitive eating is a food philosophy created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in 1995. Let me assure you: this is not a diet. There are no harsh rules, no failing or succeeding. Instead, as described by Evelyne Tribole, “Intuitive Eating is a personal process of honoring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs” (Tribole, 2018). This practice relies on caring for yourself through a respectful and weight-neutral lens. Perhaps you could see it as a practice of undoing the ineffective act of dieting.

            Unlike diets, which are top-down approaches (you have an intellectual understanding of how to eat and impose it on your body, regardless of internal cues), intuitive eating encourages you to listen to your own body’s cues. This approach reminds us that our bodies are not fixed; bodies as constantly adjusting and requiring different needs for different situations, all of which can only be felt by us. We are the experts of living in our body.

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is guided by 10 principles to guide you in listening to your body with respect. 

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality. If you are going to practice intuitive eating, you must let go of weight loss as an ultimate goal. Remind yourself that the weight loss industry has failed us, and fed us false promises about dieting that are consistently debunked by research. As tempting as it is to cling onto weight loss messages as the answer, holding onto them will only cause you harm as you engage in a healthier relationship to food.
  2. Honor Your Hunger. It is important to keep your body consistently fed with balanced and satisfying meals. Denying your body of necessary nutrition can lead to a deprived body, causing your primal starvation mode to kick in. When the body senses we are not getting the balance and nutrients we need (even if calorically or volume-wise we are getting what we’ve deemed as “enough” but are still depriving the body in some way), the body will put in extra effort to demand food, often leading to intense cravings and urges to eat beyond fullness and comfort. 
  3. Make Peace with Food. Stop “should-ing” all over yourself. We all have strongly conditioned beliefs about what we should eat, when we should eat, and how much we should eat. Though it may seem counterintuitive, if you want to find balance in eating, you must give yourself full permission to eat without any rules. These rules we hold are a sort of “deprivation mentality”, as described by anthropologist and intuitive eating expert Isabel Foxen Duke: by restricting our freedom on how we are eating, even if we are not undereating, our bodies can still go into freakout craving mode. Deprivation mentality often leads to bingeing and a sense of shame or guilt when we can’t keep resisting our cravings and finally “give in” or “cheat”.
  4. Challenge the Food Police. Don’t give airtime to your inner food police. You know the one: it tells you that you’re good and clean when you eat a vegetable and shame you and punish you for eating “bad” food. This police is the voice of the diet industry and is not to be trusted.
  5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. Eating can be fulfilling beyond the physical body–it can be pleasurable, tasty, comforting, social, and more–and all of this is an important part of our mental health and well-being. Emotional eating gets a bad rap, but we do it all the time in meaningful ways. We don’t eat cake on our birthday because that is what our bodies are hungry for every year, but because it is a satisfying and emotional experience to share this special treat with ourselves and our loved ones. Embrace the joy of eating. 
  6. Feel Your Fullness. Many of us have lost the skill of listening to our hunger cues. Pay close attention to what your body wants. Get to know your cues for hunger, and honor them. Pay attention to when your body is full, and respect those cues, too.
  7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness. While there is nothing wrong with eating to soothe yourself, there are some emotions that call for more than comfort food. Coping with emotions means learning how to hold and tend to emotional experiences using the right tools. Sometimes, food can be a placeholder for something else our emotions are really needing.
  8. Respect Your Body. Knowing that diets don’t work, start practicing body respect for how it is. Regardless of how it changes (or not) over your lifetime, your body deserves to be loved and cared for, not deprived and punished. 
  9. Movement—Feel the Difference. Just as intuitive eating takes the emphasis off weight loss while eating, take it out of your movement practices, too. Movement can be used to punish a body or force it to be something it isn’t, or it can be a practice of caring for one’s mental and physical well-being, infused with joy and balance.
  10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition. Make food choices for yourself that feel good for your body, mind, and soul. Practice flexibility and let go of perfectionism. Intuitive eating doesn’t mean throwing out all you know about health and eating. It does, however, mean making nutritional choices as a form of care for yourself, not to control yourself.

             Intuitive eating can be challenging at first, as many of us have been steeped in diet culture for a long time. But over time, you may find your desire to jump on a new diet waning, as you learn to listen to your own needs. 

            To learn more about this approach to eating, check out the book “Intuitive Eating” by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, and the Intuitive Eating website.

            If you find yourself struggling and feel you need more nutritional support, consider seeking a certified Intuitive Eating dietitian in your area.

                                                                              References

Rothblum E. (2018). Slim Chance for Permanent Weight Loss. Archives of Scientific Psychology (6)63–69. 

Tribole, E. (2018). What is Intuitive Eating? [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.intuitiveeating.org/what-is-intuitive-eating-            tribole/

 

 

{Cover art by Natasya Chen/in-text art by Supriya Bhonsle}

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