What it Means to Eat Intuitively
No grains? No problem. Sugar free? You’ve got it! In fact, it seems anyone with an ear to the ground for the latest healthy shift in dietary science has no problem deciding what — or what not — to eat. Of course, even the best diets don’t always address when to eat. In fact, unless you’ve been prepping for a fitness competition or dieting for athletics, the concept of when and how to eat some of your favorite healthy options might be a novel idea. Intuitive eating is a holistic approach to healthy eating, eschewing the typical “diet” mindset and focusing on hunger cues to signal when your body needs sustenance, and exactly how much it needs.
There are several approaches and variations on intuitive eating tips, with strategies varying according to goals and lifestyle. However, some principles for this healthy habit-building shift are acknowledged by all of its proponents. Before the guidelines, though, let’s look at some benefits of intuitive eating — proven by science and enjoyed by intuitive eaters everywhere:
- Mindfulness: often overlooked in dietary management, is a large focus of intuitive eating, and psychology professors at Harvard Medical School have noted that mindfulness training helps to avoid eating out of “anxiety, sadness or irritation.”
- Stability: Evidence is mounting that yo-yo dieting, the up-and-down weight shifts common with restrictive dieting, can be more deleterious than staying at a steady weight — even if that weight is higher than optimal.
The concept of intuitive eating originated with two registered dietitians looking to evolve past the growing fad diet scene: Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD. Their approach was tenfold, and they outlined the original intuitive eating tips as follows:
- Reject the diet mentality.
- Honor your hunger.
- Make peace with food.
- Challenge the food police.
- Respect your fullness.
- Discover the satisfaction factor.
- Honor your feelings without using food.
- Respect your body.
- Exercise — feel the difference.
- Honor your health.
Each of these principles of intuitive eating has a broader explanation, but our starter guide is a great place to jump into eating intuitively. As in all things regarding health and mindfulness, be sure to check out the source, do your research and consult with your physician before making any major changes.
A Starter’s Guide to Eating Intuitively
Forget the word “Diet”
Weight loss has preoccupied civilization since the infamous “Banting Pamphlets” of 1863. With each successive generation, novel ways to reduce, restrict, sculpt and tone have arisen. Some (Paleo and Keto) have shown science-backed results and introduced the world to delicious new recipes and healthy new outlooks; others (like the Graybar Stimulator and Obesity Soap) were not quite as effective.
Thought leaders of the intuitive eating movement have cited diets — with their reward, restriction and guilt cycle — as less than ideal for a healthy relationship to food:
“If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet or food plan might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.” Intuitiveeating.org
Moderation is a challenge when your body is depleted of the macro nutrients it needs to function properly. Furthermore, restrictive dieting in the face of excessive hunger can often lead to unmindful eating, and at worse, binging. Responding to the body’s caloric needs according to energy and mood levels is more important than counting calories. Being attuned to the body’s needs is one of the essential principles of intuitive eating.
A focus on mindful eating as a response to appetite, as opposed to boredom, anxiety or stress, is a pivotal part of the process. Our relationship to food is both primal and social, so triggers to overeat, or eat unhealthy foods excessively, can come from the need to cope. Look for long-term solutions as opposed to the short-term salve of a fatty meal. Above all, one of the biggest intuitive eating tips is to be gentle with yourself as you work through distinguishing true hunger from other emotionally ravenous prompts.
Satisfied vs Full
Learning to trust your body — as opposed to a scale, calorie guide or list of foods — can be a difficult process, but eventually, if you listen, it will tell you when you’re comfortably full. The other side of that is giving your body the foods it needs so as to avoid subbing an abundance of hunger for an abundance of health.
Understanding fullness as a healthy body signal and not a state of being following a binge, is essential to another part of a sustainable, healthful food paradigm: the Satisfaction Factor.
“When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, 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.’” Intuitiveeating.org
Many of the principles of intuitive eating are about harmony: elements in balance, two sides of a coin. The same is true of giving permission: permission to have a piece of cake without guilt, permission to exercise with the focus on functional movement and permission to embrace your specific body type. While the intricacies of this approach bear examination, a focus on balance, vibrancy and abundance is essential.
Have a question or want to share your intuitive eating tips? Leave a comment below. Ready to embark on your intuitive eating journey? Start by stocking up on your favorite go-to healthy snacks from companies that are dedicated to a nutrition-forward life like you are, and you’ll have an easier time trusting and honing your instincts as you navigate your intuitive eating adventure.