Intuitive eating sounds like another diet trend that might pique the interest of health-conscious types out there. But while it might be helpful as a nutritional approach, we’re sorry to burst your bubble because it’s anything but a diet.
So if you’re looking for a quick fix for weight loss, this may not be the diet for you.
The good news is, intuitive eating is about helping you build a healthy relationship with your food, body, and mind.
Intuitive eating doesn’t come with food rules like a traditional diet. Instead, it’s an essential and natural approach to eating without the influence of the diet culture staples like meal plans, food restrictions, or even calorie counting.
While it might be hard to understand how this works, you’d be amazed by how liberated you feel after completely ruling out the diet approach and food police we’ve been conditioned by for so long.
Popularised by two dieticians in 1995, Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework rooted in science and informed by clinical experience.
The evidence-based approach involves listening to the body’s hunger and fullness cues. And as you listen to those cues, it’s essential to distinguish between physical hunger and just mere emotional appetite, habit (or even boredom, as many of us discovered over the past two years.)
Mindfulness plays a vital role in this philosophy, as you prevent emotional eating. You can use your internal wisdom to decide what, when, and how much to eat, triggered by your biological urge to replenish nutrients.
Intuitive eating also honours the eating experience as a nourishing tradition we share with loved ones or ourselves, providing connection, cultural ceremony, contentment, and satisfaction.
In fact, sitting down at dinner to eat as a family is shown to lower the risk of depression, developing an eating disorder and obesity.
In a nutshell, it’s an eating style that promotes a healthy attitude toward food and body image. Emotional needs like loneliness or boredom do not drive it. Instead, it’s about making food choices that feel good in our bodies, all while allowing for satisfaction minus the guilt.
The spiral of dieting, eating disorders and low self-esteem.
Diet culture sells the idea that smaller isn’t just better; it’s healthier. But we are well aware that weight is not the only marker of health, and that’s why the founders decided on a different approach.
Trendy diets such as Intermittent Fasting, Paleo, sugar-free diets, Atkins, juicing, meal replacements, wheat and gluten-free, dairy-free, and mono diets have some benefits.
But how do they fare after a year or six months?
This begs the question about dieting’s long-term benefits and effectiveness for overall health without suppressing the body’s full range of nutrients. Is it really a health hack, or does it need more registered dietitian reviews?
Rachael Hartley, a dietitian and nutrition therapist, poses impactful questions on the diet mentality and encourages us to reflect on our own dieting history.
“Has dieting ever helped you sustainably improve your health? Live life in line with your values? Or, has it set you on a spiral of dieting, restricting, giving in to a craving, shame and guilt, binging, and then starting all over Monday?”
The focus of those diets is usually on short-term weight loss as opposed to sustainable health-promoting behaviours. And to our dismay, most diets lead to an epidemic of eating disorders such as binge eating disorders (BED), emotional eating, and obsessing about food.
There are studies that weight-cycling increases the risk of disease. And to be honest, disordered eating is the last thing we want when treading the path toward a healthy lifestyle: that and a chaotic eating pattern.
That begs the further question, does what and how much I eat in a day really matter?
Eating disorders are actually related to lower self-esteem due to failure in dieting.
With intuitive eating’s goal of rejecting the diet mentality, you can throw away false hopes of losing weight quickly and easily.
As a peace movement, intuitive eating aims to prevent the development of eating disorders that negatively impact mental health and self-esteem.
Intuitive eating is a peace movement
Let’s delve further into how intuitive eating promotes peace and acceptance.
First, your hunger is a biological signal to eat; making decisions around food based on your body’s hunger signals allows you to honour these internal cues and build trust in yourself.
And as you trust yourself more, you cultivate that sense of inner peace you need when it comes to deciding when and what to eat.
Second, by giving yourself unconditional permission when deciding on lunch, you eliminate bothersome thoughts on whether you indulged too much in carbs or cholesterol.
Instead, you can observe how your body feels, collect the data and use it to inform your next meal. If a big bowl of pasta didn’t feel so good this time, you could keep that in mind for next time.
If it made you feel GREAT, then even better! It’s about listening to these signals and not punishing yourself after each meal.
This thought process is beneficial to avoiding binges that might result from restricting yourself. And ridding yourself of overwhelming shame is a healthy step in honouring your cravings, as you get to enjoy eating without the guilt.
While you enjoy your food, you can even check how the food tastes and how hungry or full you feel. Those moments of pause encourage you to reflect and have a fantastic eating experience!
Lastly, learn to trust the signs that show you are comfortably full. It’s also important to discover the satisfaction factor. And with more satisfaction, your mind and body will be at peace.
Body neutrality as a component of intuitive eating
Body neutrality encourages peace among different body types. Still, unlike the trend of “body positivity”, it doesn’t enforce unrealistic mantras around having to love yourself at all hours of the day, as our relationship with our bodies is complex.
It emphasises a lack of attachment to how your body looks at any moment and discourages time spent fretting about your physical self.
If you are a victim of weight cycling, you will discover how intuitive eating plays a big part in recovery. It can be a life-changing experience when you start trusting and respecting your body’s choices without shame.
Research shows that intuitive eating is associated with better emotional functioning, a more positive body image, and decreased disordered eating.
Intuitive eating’s holistic approach and high regard for food, body, and mind are essential in promoting body acceptance and preventing adverse psychosocial effects.
There are lots of social media influencers and bloggers with an army of subscribers behind them that promote “nutrition tips” and “supplements”, but in reality, their content seems to be problematic in that they propagate a prejudice of sorts towards people that do not meet beauty standards.
That’s one reason why intuitive dieting should gain more traction. It can address weight gain with healthy recipes and meal prep without making the dieter bummed about their lack of progress.
So from those guilt-free, unrestrictive bites to greater control over emotions, we can say that intuitive eating does contribute to overall wellness.
It’s a movement that encourages individual decisions and a peaceful, nonjudgmental approach to health of any size.
10 tried and tested principles of intuitive eating
The crux of our nutritional advice includes the first six principles of intuitive eating:
1.) Reject the diet mentality
2.) Honour your hunger
3.) Make peace with food
4.) Challenge the food police
5.) Discover the satisfaction factor
6.) Feel your fullness
As you may have noticed, the principles of intuitive eating work as a holistic, interconnected approach to your eating experience. One goal cannot work without the other.
The following three principles are more focused on how you treat yourself.
7.) Cope with your emotions (with kindness)
8.) Respect your body
9.) Get in some movement (however you choose to do so)
Coping with kindness is an alternative response to emotional hunger.
Negative life experiences are inevitable, and the typical response revolves around anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger.
Basically, when your hunger is triggered by emotions, addressing the problem with food, most likely binge eating, may worsen the issue.
What matters is dealing with the root of the emotion for your overall well-being.
Coping with kindness encourages self-care. It allows you to deal with your feelings — maybe while taking a walk, meditating, journaling, or calling a friend.
Respecting your body is about acknowledging all types of bodies. As with body neutrality, you must appreciate your body to recognise its capabilities and develop better self-esteem.
It goes without saying that these principles aim to improve mental and physical health.
The ninth principle is about movement and exercise. But we’re not talking about intensive workouts you don’t enjoy. Instead, it’s about finding ways to move your body while feeling energised, strong, and alive.
Who doesn’t want that, right?
The benefits of gentle nutrition
It’s fitting to end the list with an encouraging note on honouring your health with gentle nutrition.
One person that promotes healthy meals and counters the stigma of hardcore dieting is registered dietitian Abbey Sharp. You can watch her Youtube vids here, or if you don’t have time for a full video, follow her on TikTok (@abbeyskitchen) for bite-sized info about intuitive dieting.
We’re trying to highlight progress and not perfection.
You don’t have to be too hard on yourself if you can’t abide by all the principles. It’s about building healthy eating habits without restrictions, with complete trust in your intuition, all while enjoying and feeling satisfied with your food — be it a slice of pizza or an açai bowl.
Again, we’re all human, and gentle nutrition seems like a more sustainable approach to healthy eating with the typical changes in lifestyle — that we all experience throughout the years — in mind.
So you can say that this non-diet approach stands the test of time.
Intuitive eating means returning to the basics, removing fad diets, and discovering a healthy outlook on food and eating.
With this easy-to-love approach, it’s safe to say that intuitive eating’s growing following of ex-dieters, registered dieticians and nutritionists can end diet culture, once and for all.