If you have been dieting for years, can you imagine letting your body take the lead in deciding what and how much you eat, instead of letting diet rules run the show? For many the thought of doing that can seem scary.
After all, if you let your body lead, what if it just chooses to desire donuts, ice cream and chips all day? What if it decides it just wants to overeat all the time? If you can fully embrace intuitive eating you’ll likely find the opposite to be true. I certain did when I went from food obsessed to living my best.
Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that encourages you to listen to your body and its internal hunger cues. It is different from following a restrictive diet that ignores these natural signals. The focus is not on the scale, but on health-promoting behaviors such as improving body image and your relationship with food.
Many times, either because of a history of restrictive dieting or from the pressure of diet culture, we have lost touch with our ability to recognize true hunger and fullness signals.
Intuitive eating teaches you how to relearn these natural signals so that you can find a balanced, enjoyable way of eating without guilt. I use this approach with my clients to help them break away from the yo-yo diet mentality and heal their relationship with food for good.
Studies have shown better physical and mental health from practicing this approach.
The intuitive eating approach is based on 10 core principles. These are:
1. Reject the Diet Mentality. The research proves that restrictive diets don’t work. Sure you may lose weight in the short-term but there is a very likely chance that you’ll gain it back, and possibly more, within 5 years.
In fact, long-term your weight going down then back up may cause you more physical and mental harm than the short-term benefits you received. Reject the notion that you have no willpower or that you “failed” when you couldn’t stick to a diet or later regained the weight. The diet actually failed YOU.
2. Honor Your Hunger. Hunger is a normal process, not something you should ignore or fear. This intuitive eating focuses on learning how to feed your body adequately throughout the day with nourishing foods.
If you have ever ignored your hunger, you will probably find that your cravings or likelihood of bingeing increase. When you ignore what your body is telling you, your body will respond in an effort to protect you, by increasing hunger.
Plus, nobody deserves to experience deprivation regardless of the size or shape of their body. You deserve to be nourished and taken care of.
3. Make Peace With Food. This means allowing yourself to eat foods that may have previously been off-limits for you. If you’ve ever told yourself you couldn’t eat certain foods because of your diet, you’ve probably found that you crave those foods so much more. This leads to a restrict-binge cycle of eating.
Letting go of the guilt and the mentality of “good” or “bad” foods will help heal your relationship with food. When you first allow yourself to eat your forbidden foods, you may be scared you’ll overeat. While this may happen initially, this is a necessary part of the process that is only temporary. At a certain point, that food will lose its appeal and power over you, and those intense cravings will fade.
4. Challenge the Food Police. Challenge the messages around you and the voices inside your own head that you were “bad” for eating certain foods or “good” for avoiding others. This way of thinking associates your moral worth with your food choices. Instead, remember that one food won’t make or break your health and all foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle.
The food police can also be external voices that make you feel like you “should” or “shouldn’t eat a certain way. For example, a friend or loved one commenting on your food choices. A co-worker trying to convince you to join them in their new diet endeavor. Or the magazine headlines promising a new diet fix.
5. Feel Your Fullness. Dieting encourages us to eat at certain times and doesn’t always take our actual hunger and fullness into account. Take your time when eating and truly listen to your body, so you’ll be able to recognize when you’re starting to feel full.
Look for the signs that you are satisfied with your meal. Does the food still taste good? How do you physically feel? Using a hunger and fullness scale can help you to better identify these feelings. Eating is so much more pleasurable when you learn how to fully enjoy your food but also are able to stop before you become overly full or uncomfortable.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. The satisfaction factor is when you fully enjoy what you eat and savor it, without guilt. It is possible to feel physically full, but not satisfied. If you feel any negative feelings such as guilt or shame when eating certain foods, you will feel less satisfied and more likely to crave other foods later on.
But avoiding those foods in an attempt to feel guilt will likely backfire as your meals will be missing pleasure, thus you won’t feel fully satisfied even if you are full.
7. Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food. We often eat for so many reasons other than actual hunger. We eat out of boredom, stress, anxiety, depression, or even as a way to pass the time.
The first step is acknowledging this without any guilt or shame. The second step is then learning healthier coping strategies to replace these habits so that you no longer use food as a crutch.
8. Respect Your Body. Treat your body with respect and be proud of it. Turn off the internal voices that criticize your body, and learn how to accept your body for exactly how it is. We are all born different shapes and sizes and that is out of our control. Once you develop a more positive body image, you will be able to reject the diet mentality with more ease.
9. Exercise – Feel the Difference. In the traditional dieting mentality, we feel like we have to exercise in order to work off the calories we ate. You may exercise because you feel like you “have” to or you “should,” and it can feel like a chore.
Instead, choose the type of movement that feels good for you. Don’t choose an exercise solely for its calorie-burning effects, but one that you look forward to doing. Consistent exercise, no matter what it is, is what brings you the biggest mental and physical health benefits.
10. Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition. Instead of trying to eat perfectly every day, focus on how certain foods make you feel. Through this, you will discover which foods satisfy you, give you long-lasting energy, and also taste good. Pleasure is an important part of the eating process and is something that should be celebrated.
I frequently hear from clients who have embraced intuitive eating that after they go through a period of indulging, their body actually begins to crave healthier foods. In the past they may have felt they needed to restrict or control their food intake after indulgences and that would just feed into the eat-repent-repeat cycle.
Now they realize if they listen to their bodies they will more gently realign with healthier choices. But it may take time for you to rebuild trust in yourself and your body that was destroyed by dieting.
If your relationship with food is impacting your everyday life and preventing you from achieving your health and wellness goals, it can be healed. The first step is starting to implement the 10 principles of intuitive eating into your own life, one step at a time.
It may feel scary at first if you have been dieting for a while and are afraid to allow yourself more flexibility in your diet. But, with the right support, you can get to a point where food is no longer the enemy, so you are eating in a way that fuels you rather than leaves you feeling run down or guilty.
If you are struggling with your relationship with food, the intuitive eating approach may be your solution. If you are interested in seeing if the intuitive eating approach is right for you, sign up for a free strategy session. I’d love to help you find a sustainable, healthy way of eating without stress or guilt.
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