What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating has been around since the 70’s but the term was only officially coined in the mid 90’s. It was a method created as somewhat of an anti-diet to promote healthy body image and a healthy relationship with food without having to follow strict guidelines. It is exactly as it sounds, intuitive eating – trusting your body to tell you when it’s hungry and when it’s full, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Intuitive eating requires you to understand your body and the signals that it sends you. Surprisingly, not all of us are as in-tune with our bodies as we may think, not because we are not paying attention, but because these signals are often disguised at something else entirely; for instance, we may think we are hungry when in fact we are just bored.
How does it work?
To successfully practice intuitive eating, you will need to retrain your body to understand and differentiate between emotional and physical hunger to avoid eating unnecessarily. Physical hunger is a signal sent from your body to your brain, letting you know that you need to refuel. You’ll recognise these signals by symptoms of physical hunger which include fatigue or a rumbling tummy which will inevitably stop when you eat.
Emotional hunger, however, is your body tricking you into thinking you’re hungry with signals which are brought about by emotions such as boredom or sadness. Your body will usually respond to these feelings by convincing your brain you need comfort food, resulting in emotional eating which can often lead to a feeling of disappointment and self-resentment for indulging these cravings.
What are the risks of intuitive eating?
Nutritionist and Director of Sydney City Nutritionist and Food Intolerance Australia Jennifer May says before diving into intuitive eating, we should first address the quality of our diet, lifestyle and any symptoms which could potentially be causing food cravings.
“I think it’s something to aim for after you’ve made certain healthy diet and lifestyle changes and addressed any underlying symptoms (including food cravings) before you can rely on being sent the right messages intuitively,” Director May said.
“My intuition is telling me to drink coffee and eat dark chocolate right now – but this is because I’m exhausted,” she said.
“Due to my education I know that these cravings are just due to fatigue and that eating more healthy food, drinking more water, getting more sleep and doing a better job of remembering to take my multivitamin will correct this.
“Sure, short term I can give in to the craving for some dark chocolate and I may feel better for an hour or so but it’s not going to resolve the problem.”
It is important to note that intuitive eating does not translate to smorgasbord, nor does it translate to weight loss. Intuitive eating leans more towards maintenance of weight and self-love, so if you are hoping to drop a dramatic amount of weight based on your body’s intuition, this may not be for you.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating:
According to authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, intuitive eating follows 10 key principals.
- Reject the diet mentality
Don’t beat yourself up if you start a difficult diet but can’t finish. Give up on the idea that you will find the perfect diet for you and that weight loss is inevitable with the perfect diet. Dieting does not necessarily work for everyone.
- Honour you hunger
Do not starve yourself. If you feel hungry, feed your body because the longer you leave it the hungrier you will get and the more likely you are to overeat.
- Make peace with food
Don’t let yourself become overly critical about what you’re eating. If you try to stop yourself from eating a particular food, you will find yourself with extreme cravings and when you do finally allow yourself to eat that food – bingeing.
- Challenge the food police
Don’t let what you eat dictate whether or not you are good or bad. Ignore the food police whispering in your head telling you that you’re naughty for eating that bowl of fries. It is the next big step in rejecting the diet mentality which your internal food police enforce.
- Discover the satisfaction factor
One of the greatest things about being alive is our ability to shamelessly and unconditionally enjoy our favourite foods. If you make the most out of eating the food you love, it is likely you will be well more satisfied and less likely to snack after your meal.
- Feel your fullness
It’s very easy to overeat, especially if you’re noshing down on something you love, but we need to listen to our body’s signals. While you’re eating, stop and think about whether you’re full or still hungry.
- Acknowledge your feelings without treating with food
Become more familiar with why it is you might be feeling hungry. Are you emotional? You could be using food to deal with your feelings. Find other vices to deal with these emotions, for example, try exercising, meditating or reading.
- Respect your body
Try not to tear down your physical appearance. Go easy on your body and acknowledge that you may just be overcritical.
- Movement – feel the difference
Find exercise that makes you feel good. Whether it be running, HIIT training or yoga, find a method of exercise that suits you and focus on how good it makes you feel, rather than how much weight you’re losing.
- Honour your health – Gentle nutrition
Eating healthy doesn’t mean completely eliminating the foods you love, it’s more about what you are eating on a regular basis that matters. One cheat meal or cheat day isn’t going to make you unhealthy.
What are the benefits of intuitive eating?
Perth-based nutritionist and dietitian Alex Rutkowska believes there are plenty of benefits to intuitive eating, including diminished temptation and greater control over eating habits.
“The advantage of intuitive eating is that everything can be consumed in moderation, which means that there’s less temptation and food cravings. In this way, people can maintain a healthy relationship with food and feel in control of it,” Alex said.
“Research confirms that intuitive eating helps to minimise binge eating. On top of that, choosing foods that not only nourish our bodies but also satisfy our palate means that we’ll be reaching for unhealthy snacks less often,” he said.
“A healthy relationship with food is the basis of weight control, and intuitive eating teaches us just that.”
Dietitian and hypnotherapist Caroline Power utilises the same 10 key intuitive eating principals in her practice to help patients develop a healthier relationship with food. Caroline believes it’s not what you eat but why you eat and that a better relationship with food can lead to healthier self-esteem.
“The biggest benefit in my opinion is healing your relationship with food and not focusing on what you eat, but WHY you eat. You get in touch with your inner knowing, your hunger cues, how you like to move your body and use a non-diet approach,” she said.
“Overall, you change the rules you have around food, expectations of society of what your body ‘should’ look like or how many times you ‘should’ exercise a week etc. This actually comes naturally when you start listening to what your body is really craving.”
Intuitive eating is the closest thing to an anti-diet you’ll find, but that does not mean intuitive eating promotes binge eating or is an excuse to eat junk food. This particular philosophy allows for unconditional permission to eat and lends itself to mindful eating, which is a Buddhist method of eating sharing many of the same principals as intuitive eating but while respecting the body’s need for proper nutrition and self-care. It’s all about becoming aware of your own body, understanding the signals it is sending you and differentiating between physical and emotional hunger, all while rejecting the diet culture. It is important that before attempting intuitive eating, you first seek out advice from a professional to ensure you have addressed any underlying issues which may be causing particular food cravings. Once you have been given the all clear, it will be much easier for you to distinguish your bodies needs and to supply yourself with a healthy, balanced diet without giving up on the food you love.
Intuitive eating is the closest thing to an anti-diet you’ll find, but that does not mean intuitive eating promotes binge eating or is an excuse to eat junk food. This particular philosophy allows for unconditional permission to eat and lends itself to mindful eating, which is a Buddhist method of eating sharing many of the same principals as intuitive eating but while respecting the body’s need for proper nutrition and self-care. It’s all about becoming aware of your own body, understanding the signals it is sending you and differentiating between physical and emotional hunger, all while rejecting the diet culture.
It is important that before attempting intuitive eating, you first seek out advice from a professional to ensure you have addressed any underlying issues which may be causing particular food cravings. Once you have been given the all clear, it will be much easier for you to distinguish your bodies needs and to supply yourself with a healthy, balanced diet without giving up on the food you love.