How to use the intuitive eating principles to break free from the toxic cycle of dieting and improve your relationship with food and your body
The Intuitive Eating program was originally written in 2012 by Evelyn Tribole, a registered dietitian and an award-winning author, and Elyse Resch, a nutritionist. Before they wrote the intuitive eating book, the term “intuitive eating” did not exist or was never used.
The intuitive eating books explain what is intuitive eating and how to eat intuitively. They also promote body positivity and help you develop a better relationship with your body and food.
There are many benefits of intuitive eating, and they have been clinically proven. In studies, participants who ate intuitively improved their self-esteem, and body image and lost more weight than those stuck in the cycle of dieting.
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The intuitive eating program is anti-diet and has two aims: to expose the problems with the diet industry and to lay the foundations for a better approach to eating. The authors present sad but true statistics that show that most people gain back more weight than they lost when they diet. That means that not only does the diet not work, but it brings you to a worse position than you would have been if had you not dieted. They ask an interesting question. If there was a pill that didn’t work most of the time and even when it did, it made your situation worse, would people still take it? No. So why do they continue to diet? When people don’t succeed on a diet, they don’t accept that the problem is with the diet mentality. Instead, they assume that they have a problem, such as a lack of willpower.
What is Intuitive Eating?
The intuitive eating definition is to eat according to what your body wants and needs without restricting or banning any foods. The intuitive eating meaning is to eat whatever you want and as much as you want, as long as you listen to your body. Therefore, internal cues will dictate what to eat and how much to eat, instead of eating specific foods and defined quantities.
How to eat intuitively
The Intuitive Eating program is based on 10 principles that teach you how to eat intuitively (see below).
Intuitive Eating Principles
The 10 principles of intuitive eating, as described in the Intuitive Eating book, are as follows:
See 10 principles of intuitive eating PDF file
Reject the Diet Mentality
The Intuitive Eating program asks you to reject the diet mentality and accept the fact that diets simply don’t work. They are based on somebody else’s rules that can never really apply to you. Nobody else knows when you are hungry and what you want to eat. The authors claim you are much better off listening to your own body as it intuitively knows what is best for you.
Dieting is a kind of semi-starvation which causes our bodies to think they need to hold on to their fat reserves since a famine is approaching. Our bodies don’t understand that they can have food when they need it. They are biologically designed to protect us from famine.
Our minds also don’t react well to this semi-starvation or being asked to stay away from certain foods. It causes us to want them more and leads to cravings and overeating. The authors also refer to something they call the “Last Supper”. Before you start a new diet, you eat everything you know you won’t eat once your diet begins. I can totally relate and most of my weight gain over the years was caused by this “last supper”. So, what is the alternative? The authors suggest intuitive eating. The intuitive eating concept is based on the premise that your body already knows what it wants and how much food it needs. All you need to do is to listen to it. Let your body decide when to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat. Don’t let your mind interfere with this process since your mind is too influenced by the diet mentality which is based on a lot of false premises. Instead, listen to and trust your body.
Honor Your Hunger
When we were toddlers, we knew exactly how much we wanted to eat and when we wanted to eat. Over the years, we started to ignore our hunger. We either didn’t eat when we were hungry in an effort to lose weight or we ate when we weren’t hungry to compensate ourselves for deprivation and restriction or to deal with certain emotions. The goal of the program is to go back to the way we once ate when we ate intuitively. To do this, we need to listen to the signals our body sends us.
The Intuitive Eating program is based on the premise that your hunger should dictate when and how much to eat. Your body knows when it wants to eat and what it wants to eat. Years of dieting and other factors have caused us to lose touch with our bodies’ basic signals. The Intuitive Eating program helps you get back in touch with your body and become more tuned into the signals it sends you when it wants to eat.
The intuitive eating hunger scale is used to measure your hunger. When you start the program, every time you eat something, rate your hunger on a scale of one to ten. When you are done with your meal or snack, rate your fullness on a scale of one to 10. Over time, you will be able to do this without thinking about it. You will have a better understanding of how long you wait between meals, how often you eat, etc. You will understand what your body needs, when, and how much.
Make Peace with Food
Food has become emotional and we often attach labels to it that evoke strong feelings. Slimming foods become virtuous and fattening foods are sinful. The problem is that most of us cannot live without these “sinful foods” forever. Therefore, when we try to cut them out and avoid them, we land up wanting them even more. We get stuck in a cycle of abstinence and guilty binge eating.
The authors ask you to make peace with food. When you restrict the foods you want, then you are sent on an emotional roller coaster ride. In the beginning, when you give up eating the “sinful foods” you feel virtuous. This is the first phase of a diet, but it doesn’t last long. Eventually, you begin to resent your deprivation. One day, you can’t take it anymore, and you “break your diet”. Once you have broken your diet, you tell yourself that you have already blown the diet so you might as well eat whatever you want and enjoy the “last supper” since you will eventually be going back on diet.
Eventually, the guilt and shame become unbearable and you start the cycle again. This cycle goes on over and over again. You keep going from famine to feast to famine and it’s difficult to get off this emotional roller coaster. The authors offer a solution to let go of this deprivation and make peace with food. The authors claim that when you allow yourself to eat “forbidden” food, it makes it less appealing. Instead of fighting your cravings, you need to work with them and give yourself unconditional permission to eat.
The book covers studies that have shown that when people with eating disorders were allowed to eat forbidden foods as part of their treatment, binge eating decreased significantly. If something is always available, then you don’t need to overeat during brief windows of opportunity. They also go into the details of a study where healthy men were deprived of food and eventually started binge eating.
The authors ask you to list the foods you enjoy. Mark those foods that you have been restricting. Go out and get them and try them. Check in with yourself to see if you actually enjoy them as much as you thought you would. If you do enjoy them, then give yourself permission to eat them. When you do eat them listen to your body and ask yourself how it feels. Once you get a better understanding of your body’s needs, you will start choosing foods that are more nutritious since they will make your body feel better.
The intuitive eating book describes a woman who craved birthday cake for years only to find out that she didn’t even enjoy it.
Challenge the Food Police
The authors refer to the Food Police (your internal bureau of dietary police officers who are always watching that you don’t disobey irrational food laws that often actually make no sense). The authors ask you to ignore the food police and listen to your body instead. They ask you to replace all the irrational thoughts you have about food and your body and replace them with more rational thoughts.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
In our compulsion to comply with diet culture, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts, which is the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. The authors urge you to eat what you really want, in an inviting environment that brings you pleasure. This pleasure will help you feel satisfied and content. Set the table, use pretty plates, listen to music when you eat, and ensure your environment is as pleasurable as possible.
When you eat food you enjoy, in an inviting environment, you will feel like you have had enough when you are full. On the other hand, when you deny yourself what you really want and eat other foods because you think they are better for you or less fattening then you will not really feel satisfied or content.
Feel Your Fullness
When you eat mindfully, your body will tell you when it’s full. When you learn to honor your hunger and your fullness, your eating becomes attuned to your body’s needs. You will eat when you are hungry and you will stop eating when you are full.
In order to tune in to your body’s signals and your fullness cues, you might need to pause in the middle of your meal or snack to check in with yourself. Ask yourself if you are full and if you are still enjoying the food. Rate your hunger and fullness levels. Keep checking in with yourself. As soon as you reach a comfortable level of satisfaction, stop eating. It takes a while to develop the skill to know when to stop eating and to learn to listen to your body.
It is more difficult to tune into your satiety cues when you eat while doing something else. On the other hand, mindful eating will enable you to be more tuned into your body’s signals.
You can only do this when you give yourself unconditional permission to eat. As soon as you think you will not be able to eat something, then your body will overeat in response to future deprivation.
Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Many people use food to deal with their emotions and over time this becomes a habit. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues. We all experience various emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger. Many of us have used food to distract us from these emotions or from the discomfort they cause us. Eating for an emotional hunger only makes it worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion. However, eating when you are not hungry is not necessarily emotional eating. Food restriction can trigger loss of control which can feel like emotional eating.
Learn how to cope with your emotions with kindness instead of with food.
It isn’t always easy to distinguish between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Listen to your hunger cues to tell them apart. Physical hunger usually builds gradually and emotional hunger starts suddenly and develops quickly. In time, after following the program, you will learn how to listen to your hunger signals and tune into them.
Respect Your Body
It is important to respect and accept your body. Just as you would not try and make your feet fit into a smaller shoe size, you need to accept the size of your body. You need to do this in order to feel better about yourself. All bodies deserve dignity. It is often very difficult to do this when you want to lose weight so badly, but the authors go into great detail about the importance of this principle.
Intuitive eaters respect their bodies and don’t eat food that they don’t actually want or don’t enjoy. Many of us have a problem leaving food on our plates or throwing away food we don’t want. The authors ask you to get over this even though you might feel bad doing this.
Movement – Feel the Difference
The Intuitive Eating program encourages exercise and movement but discourages difficult militant exercise programs. All you need to do is to be active and feel the difference. Instead of focusing on how many calories you burned, shift your focus to how it feels to move your body.
Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition
Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. The authors constantly stress that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. The focus is on what you eat consistently over time that matters and not on things that you eat once in a while. The focus should always be on progress and not on perfection.
Intuitive Eating Weight Loss
Do you lose weight when you eat intuitively? The authors warn against trying to lose weight. They want you to learn how to eat according to your body’s needs without trying to lose weight. Once you do that, you are supposed to lose weight and reach your natural weight. Your body naturally knows how much it needs to eat and the extra weight will come off without trying. They don’t want you to try to lose weight as you will automatically try to limit your calorie intake and then the whole restriction-compensation cycle will start again.
Free Intuitive Eating Workbook