10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

intuitive eating Jun 01, 2019

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive Eating is a non-diet, weight inclusive approach to health and wellness that helps you make peace with food and your body. It’s about discovering what a well-nourished life means to YOU by listening to YOUR body. It’s about following internal cues (hunger, fullness, satisfaction) over external cues (diet culture, food rules, societal trends). For more detail, read my What is Intuitive Eating post.

We live in a world obsessed with eating the perfect diet and having the perfect body (diet culture).

What is diet culture?

Christy Harrison describes diet culture to a T. She says:

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that…

…Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”

…Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that intentional weight loss fails more than 95% of the time.

…Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.”

I don’t know about you, but this is definitely a system of beliefs I do NOT want to be aligned with. Especially because food is just one small piece of the puzzle when it comes to your health. There are so many other important factors like your mental health and your relationships. Intuitive eating is a practice that allows you to choose to eat what makes you feel good on a moment-to-moment basis instead of eating what you “should” dictated by diet culture, the food police or your own diet mentality.

Intuitive Eating is based on 10 core principles which I break down for you below. These concepts can provide a solid foundation of understanding how to transition to listening to and trusting your body’s natural signals.

Here’s an overview of each of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating:

1. Reject the Diet Mentality:

Rejecting the diet mentality is a critical step in making peace with food and your body. The diet mentality is that sneaky voice in your head that tries to decide your food and exercise choices for you without factoring in your internal body cues like hunger, fullness and satisfaction. This doesn’t just mean “being on diet”; you can still be caught up in the culture of dieting even if you aren’t “on a diet”.

First, it’s important to recognize how the diet mentality plays a role in your life. How much time and money do you spend thinking about your food and body? How does it affect other areas of your life like your relationships and mood? Once you are aware of these harmful beliefs, you can then take action to dismantle them.

Research has shown that 95% of diets fail and eating restraint is actually associated with weight gain over time. Not to mention, of those 5% who “succeed”, many of them are actually engaging in disordered eating behaviors. Our bodies literally can’t tell the difference between dieting and actual starvation. This leads to slowing of your metabolism and increased cravings. It’s not surprising that most diets result in weight cycling which is associated with increased mortality risk and inflammation. So WHY THE F**K is everyone so caught up in diet culture?!

Here’s why: the weight loss industry is worth over $60 billion dollars/year on the premise that you are “not okay” and need to be “fixed”. It’s interesting to think about it this way. The diet industry creates a problem by convincing you that you need to change your body. Then, they pretend to have the solutions to your “problem” (and they were the ones who created this fake problem!). Do you see now why diets literally make no sense?

Throw out your diet books, your scale and anything else you associate with dieting or trying to lose weight. Let yourself get angry at the lies you’ve been told that have led you to feel like you were a failure every time a diet didn’t work for you. It’s really important to commit to giving up dieting and the pursuit of weight loss for good because holding onto any diet mentality thoughts will inhibit you from becoming an intuitive eater.

2. Honor your Hunger:

Honoring your means learning to notice and honor the natural, biological hunger cues from your body. Sometimes, it’s hard to notice the early, more subtle signs of hunger. But, once you learn to, you are able to make food choices from a place of self-care rather than from a place of feeling deprived and like you need to have self-control. It’s kind of crazy if you really think about it. Why the hell do we listen to diets to tell us when and what to eat when our bodies are designed to notify us when we need nourishment?

When your body trusts that you will consistently and adequately nourish it, you build trust between your mind and body and no longer feel out of control around food.

3. Make Peace with Food:

Say goodbye food rules and restrictions. No more labeling foods as “good” or “bad”. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat anything at anytime. The goal here is to have the same emotional response regardless of if you are eating a kale salad or cookies, for example.

When you have completely made peace with food and know that what you want will always be allowed, you’ll be able eat amounts/types of food that feel right for you in any given moment. If you don’t fully believe you have unconditional permission to eat anything at anytime, intuitive eating won’t work because you will still feel a sense of deprivation. It’s normal to find yourself eating more of the foods you have restricted in the past. Your body is like “OMG I better stock up now before I’m not allowed to have this again”. However, once your body trusts that you won’t deprive it anymore, these foods will become a balanced part of your eating.

4. Challenge the Food Police:

Say FUCK YOU to that inner voice in your head or anyone who tries to tell you that you’re “good” or “bad” for eating a particular food. In today’s culture, we are constantly bombarded with unreasonable messages about what we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, how are bodies are “supposed to” look, what diet we should be on, etc. These rules and messages hinder us from being able to tune into and satisfy our bio-individual needs. Stop giving these mother fuckers (the food police) control and re-claim your freedom by shutting these messages and thoughts down.

5. Feel your Fullness:

Check in with yourself when you’re eating. Ask yourself how the food tastes and listen for your body’s signals that you are no longer hungry. When you know you have unconditional permission to eat whatever you want whenever you want, it becomes much easier to stop when you are full.

Try to eat mindfully and without distractions. Check in with your body throughout your meal. Notice the food with all of your senses. Ask yourself if you’re satisfied yet and what your hunger/fullness level is.

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor:

Allow yourself to eat foods that satisfy you and give you pleasure. Learn to tune into what feels good and what doesn’t feel good in your body. Ask yourself, “If I could have anything in the world to eat right now, what would that be?”. When you release judgement and guilt and eat the foods that you really want, it’s much easier to feel satisfied.

The emotions you feel when you are eating definitely affect the experience. If you’re eating a plate of pasta and really present, enjoying beautiful scenery or in good company just taking pleasure in the meal at ease, that’s going to be nourishing. But if you’re eating the same pasta and filled with anxiety over eating it or totally distracted, that may not be nourishing. It’s a totally different experience when you allow yourself to enjoy your meals without guilt or judgement.

Remember, intuitive eating isn’t all or nothing. It’s flexible, which means it doesn’t have to be perfect. There will always be another opportunity to honor your hunger and fullness and have satisfying meals.

7. Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food:

Eating should be enjoyable but it’s not an effective coping mechanism for working through your feelings. Yes, sometimes it’s totally okay to eat to soothe emotions. This is a normal part of eating and being human (just take it as an opportunity to learn and move on). It’s when it becomes your only coping mechanism that it becomes problematic.

Our relationships with food are a blessing. They let us know what’s going on inside the body. Becoming aware of coping mechanisms can give you information about something you are trying to avoid in your life that may need attention.

Ask yourself “what do I really need in this moment?”.

8. Respect your Body:

Recognize your body for all that it does for you instead of criticizing it for all of the ways that it’s not perfect. When you respect your body, you’re able to nurture it in a way that feels good for you.

Here’s some questions you can ask yourself to better understand how you relate to your body and shift towards feeling less awful about your body:

  • What would an ideal relationship with your body look like?
  • If you knew what your body dissatisfaction was really about, what would that be? What parts of your life do you maybe need to address to feel better?
  • What would it be like to love your body? What changes might take place in your life?

9. Exercise – Feel the Difference:

Exercise, or better referred to as joyful movement, can definitely be part of your life as in intuitive eater as long as you dissociate it from the pursuit of weight loss. The goal here is to think about movement from a place of self-care rather than self-control.

Shift from focusing on burning calories or losing weight (or whatever diet mentality thoughts you have tied to exercise) and instead focus on how movement makes you FEEL. Ask yourself “Do I feel like moving my body? Do I need to rest or will movement feel good? What kind of movement would feel just right?”.

10. Honor your Health:

Eat what tastes good to you and what makes you feel good. The goal isn’t to see all foods as equally nutritious; it’s to have the same emotional response regardless of what you eat. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want ultimately results in variety and balanced food choices. You’ll want to feel good and feeling good comes with listening to YOUR individual needs. Our bodies have bio-individual nutrition needs and intuitive eating is what allows you to really listen to them.

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