By Dr. Brian Hester
A quick google search for “diets” will give you endless results. We talked about that in the blog on intermittent fasting. Everyone wants to tell you what foods you should eat, how much to eat and what foods you should avoid all together. But when you think about it, who knows best what your body needs? You! No other human is present in your body for a single moment. All the nutritional education in the world can’t actually compete with the knowledge you naturally have about the needs and wants of your body.
Enter intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating doesn’t involve counting calories, macros, “good” or “bad” foods, or even telling you when to eat like intermittent fasting does. It removes all of that and focuses more on your relationship with food, how it makes you feel, and really honing in on being able to identify and honor your body’s true hunger needs.
It might seem daunting. What if I wake up one morning and really feel like my body could use some chocolate cake? Well, it’s possible it does. But more likely, if you’re really in tune with your body and its signals for hunger, you’ll be able to dig deeper and see if what you’re actually feeling isn’t true hunger for chocolate cake but perhaps boredom, sadness, loneliness or fear. Or simply wanting a piece of chocolate cake because it sounds delicious (no good or bad foods, remember?).
This type of relationship with your body won’t happen overnight. Psychologist and author of “When Your Teen Has an Eating Disorder: Practical Strategies to Help Your Teen Recover from Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating” Lauren Muhlheim says, “As with any relationship, it takes time to build your body’s trust that it can really have what it wants and needs.” You’ve got to trust the process.
So how does it work?
In their primer on rejecting traditional diet mentality and following our bodies (aptly named Intuitive Eating), registered dietitian nurses Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch outline the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating to help give you a place to start.
1. Reject the diet mentality
Realize that any diet, whether scientifically sound for weight loss and health or not, is nowhere near as personalized for you as your own knowledge of your body. You have to completely reject the idea that there’s going to be some magic set of rules that will bring you life-long results.
2. Honor your hunger
Find the signals your body naturally produces when it is beginning to be hungry and eat then. Don’t wait until you’re starving, because you will mostly likely overeat. Pay attention to what kind of hunger you’re feeling—emotional or physical. One can be quenched by food; the other will probably only make you feel worse when you eat because of it.
3. Make peace with food
No list of forbidden foods. No “good” or “bad” that you can give in to. No depriving yourself of certain foods. This leads to overeating every single time. Tribole and Resch say, “Give yourself unconditional permission to eat.”
4. Challenge the food police
This one is similar to No. 3 but really emphasizes the emotions that come with food. Kick “food guilt” to the curb. It’s not serving you. Acknowledge how eating something made you feel in the long run and decide if you want to feel like that again.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor
I can’t say it better than the authors. “In our compulsion to comply with diet culture, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want … the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes just the right amount of food for you to decide you’ve had ‘enough.’”
Take your time and enjoy what you eat.
6. Feel your fullness
Similarly to honoring your hunger, you’ve got to honor your fullness as well. Trusting that you’ve given your body the fuel it needs with the flavors you desire leads you to trust your body to show you when you’re comfortably full. When you don’t deprive yourself of the foods you really want, you don’t feel the need to eat until you’re stuffed, because you know you can eat it again whenever you want.
7. Cope with your emotions
Going back to why you’re hungry in the first place—is it based out of a physical need? Then eat up. Is it based on an emotional need? Then survey what you’re feeling and why and realize that no food will change or heal those emotions in the long run.
8. Respect your body
We were all created differently. Two people could eat the same foods and do the same workouts for their entire life and they a) won’t feel the same after doing either activity and b) still won’t have the same physical makeup. About 20% body fat may be the healthiest one person can realistically ever get down to while another might be feeling extremely sluggish in their body if it ever gets over 15%. We’re all different and need to treat ourselves as such. Everybody deserves dignity.
9. Movement—Feel the difference
This one is my favorite. Exercising for the sake of how it makes you feel rather than how it makes you look. For the sake of what it does to your mindset instead of how many calories it burns. We should use food to fuel our body for all the movement we want to do, rather than using exercise to punish our body for the food we ate.
10. Honor your health—
Essentially, give yourself grace. One meal, day or week of less-than-optimal eating isn’t going to ruin your life. But small habits every day will build the routine and mindset you need to hit your goals and have a life full of healthy choices.
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