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Intuitive Eating

By Laura Coster

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Intuitive Eating is a fascinating area of nutrition and health, and we think it’s a valuable principle to incorporate for many people. It’s beneficial for those who feel “out of control” with their eating and would like to rebalance their relationship with food. It’s used worldwide for many clients, such as those who’ve yo-yo dieted, experienced emotional eating, and some with eating disorders.

This article gives an overview of what Intuitive Eating is, its 10 key principles, and how you can use it to find the balance with your eating that you’ve been looking for.  

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is a concept that was first published in a book in 1995 by two experienced eating disorder Dietitians called Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s based on their experiences supporting clients and has over 100 scientific studies to date which show its health benefits:

  • improved well-being
  • reduced risk of eating disorders
  • improved blood biomarkers, e.g., blood sugar and cholesterol 

Tribole and Resch define Intuitive Eating as “A self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It’s a personal process of honouring your health by paying attention to the messages of your body and meeting your physical and emotional needs. It’s an inner journey of discovery that puts you front and centre.” 

The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. These pillars of health reflect what Intuitive Eating aims to help people achieve. It’s not about weight loss; aiming to change your weight is counteractive to Intuitive Eating, although it may happen when following its core principles. At its core, Intuitive Eating is about finding ‘authentic health’. This is the journey of being able to “achieve a healthy relationship with food, mind, and your body”. It helps you look after yourself with compassion and kindness – having this perspective encourages you to learn and grow and is free from diet stigma (which I fully endorse!).

The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating

These core principles explore either “cultivating attunement” (connecting with your body’s signals and experiences) or “removing obstacles to attunement”.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

The Diet Mentality can be described as a mindset where people are caught up in thoughts of particular diet plans, diet programmes, restrictions and particular eating rules. This way of thinking interferes with your body and mind connecting with your genuine eating experiences.  

Rejecting the diet mentality is the first part of finding your authentic health.

2.  Honour Your Hunger

Hunger is a natural signal your body needs nourishment through food. When we ignore it, we’re becoming out of sync with what our body truly needs, which unfortunately happens with chronic dieting. Ignoring hunger creates a biological cascade where we’re both psychologically and physically craving food which can lead to overeating. 

Hunger is the fundamental signal Intuitive Eating aids you to reconnect with so you can develop and move forward to your authentic health.

3.  Make Peace with Food

Tribole and Resch have the perfect quote, in my opinion, on this fundamental principle: “You can’t make peace with your eating by declaring a war on your body or the foods you put into it”. It’s a powerful statement highlighting the importance of removing judgement from eating to help you find your balanced relationship with how you eat and drink.

4.  Challenge the Food Police

I’m not the food police, and neither should you be. Unhelpful thoughts of “I can’t be hungry yet”“I can’t eat now” and “I shouldn’t eat [insert food name you feel is taboo]” keep us trapped in the diet mentality. Challenging these thoughts and following the other Intuitive Eating principles ultimately reconnects us with our body’s ability to nourish itself.

5.  Respect Your Fullness

As with hunger, our body signals when it’s full when we’re physically and psychologically satisfied. Understandably, we can be out of sync with this after chronic dieting, especially if we’ve not yet found how to honour our hunger. 

6.  Discover the Satisfaction Factor

A key phrase I often say is, “food is about enjoyment just as much as nourishment”. Denying the pleasure experienced from eating is denying yourself the whole experience of life and can hold you back from your health goals. Allowing yourself to feel satisfaction from eating is a powerful tool. I frequently use an activity with clients that many describe as eye-opening.

 7.  Honour Your Feelings without Using Food 

Many of life’s events have food and drink at their core, e.g. celebrating birthdays, religious or cultural festivals, or perhaps having a cup of tea with some biscuits or a glass of wine after a tough day. We use food and drink as part of celebrating and pick-me-ups.

Having food to soothe emotions isn’t wrong. When it’s frequent, and we feel it’s affecting our well-being, it can be worth doing some ‘rewiring’ work on this.

8.  Respect Your Body

Genetically, our body size and shape are predetermined and trying to change this is going against our biology. This isn’t to say that our body size can’t change from where we are now, although this isn’t an aim of inviting Intuitive Eating into your life. 

Respecting your body is equally about treating yourself with compassion, as this is known to help us make nourishing and satisfying food choices in the long term.

9.  Exercise—Feel the Difference

Connecting with how your body feels when moving, and dropping the thoughts of calorie burning, is liberating. Having a goal of losing weight isn’t a long-term motivating factor for moving more and can demoralise us from doing so if the scales don’t shift how we want them to. Changing this mindset and feeling the difference goes a long way to helping you find your authentic health. Also, did you know that exercise encourages diversity within our community of microbes in our gut!

10.  Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

You may be familiar with the famous quote by the philosopher Aristotle: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. One snack, one meal, or one day don’t equate to nutritional deficiencies hindering your health. It’s the consistency and overall pattern that counts. Gentle nutrition is about honouring your body and making progress rather than achieving perfection.

This is the final principle because focusing on nutrition at the start of your journey can hold you back from the other vital steps. This step is sometimes thought of as the paradox of Intuitive Eating, and people assume you can’t have this and the other 9 principles in your life – you can!

Authentic health can integrate with health guidelines and your own specific needs, e.g., allergies, improving your gut health, managing diabetes, and more. You’re still in tune with your body’s hunger, fullness, and satisfaction signals. You’re in a place where you can be free from anxiety about achieving health while being in touch with the rhythm of your body. 

Getting support with Intuitive Eating

If you’d like to work with me to incorporate Intuitive Eating into your life, please fill in our website contact form, and we can have a session and speak together about what may be beneficial for you. This session can be a one-off or may be the start of your journey.

Note: If you’re having eating disorder treatment from a team or are seeing a therapist, please check with them first. They’ll already know your background, your struggles, and if it’s right for you. Your well-being is the top priority.

 I can also recommend the following for you to take a look at:

  • Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
  • The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
  • Just Eat It by Laura Thomas

References:

A list of studies published on Intuitive Eating – https://www.evelyntribole.com/resources/studies/

Laura has over 8 years of experience supporting clients in the NHS and privately in the UK, helping them to achieve success across a full range of needs. She is a specialist in managing both eating disorders and gut symptoms conditions through various dietary techniques.

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