The Case For Intuitive Eating
You’re probably reading this article about intuitive eating because you already know that diets don’t work. Even if you’ve managed to lose weight on a diet, you’ve likely found that it doesn’t stay off for long. If so, you’re not alone. It’s becoming clear that dieting is more closely associated with weight gain than with weight loss, and repeated dieting is strongly related to disordered eating behaviors. If this is news to you, I bet you’re a little relieved! It means that your inability to “stick to a diet” doesn’t indicate any lack of willpower or self-control. It means that the process of dieting is flawed. You haven’t failed your diet – your diets keep failing you.
There’s a better approach: intuitive eating. Intuitive eating helps you shift your focus away from counting calories, your BMI, or trying to lose weight and move towards eating in a way that supports a healthy, angst-free relationship with food. By taking an intuitive eating approach, you’ll start practicing health on every level: physically, spiritually, and mentally.
Core Principles of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating has lots of press lately, but it’s not a new concept.* Here are the intuitive eating principles I use to help clients ditch the diet and cultivate a balanced, flexible, and JOYFUL relationship with food.
(*Most of these principles were first described by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in their 1995 book Intuitive Eating, which I highly recommend.)
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
You already know that your past efforts at dieting have not helped and have in fact likely harmed your relationship with food. So, give yourself permission to stop believing that the next diet you try is going to work for you. As you do, let go of the idea that your body weight determines your health or that losing weight will make you healthy and happy.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Your body can tell you when it needs fuel, but years of dieting have made you forget how to hear it… or you’re now used to ignoring what it tells you. Through intuitive eating, you’ll learn how to listen to and honor your hunger. You’ll begin to see that allowing yourself to get too hungry leads to overeating. When you begin to trust your body’s hunger cues, your body will begin to trust that you will feed it when it needs more fuel.
3. Legalize All Food
It’s time to stop being afraid of eating food that you’ve been told is “unhealthy” or “bad.” By demonizing food, you give it power. When you instead give yourself permission to eat any food you wish, your cravings and binges will begin to subside. Intuitive eating will allow you to add the foods you used to fear into a balanced, delicious eating pattern.
4. Tune out the Food Critics
Is there a little voice inside of you still telling you that some foods are “bad?” Does it judge your choices and make you feel guilty or ashamed? Tell it to shove off. You’ve chosen to use intuitive eating to stop following rules about food and exercise. You can decide for yourself what is supportive for your health and happiness. Therefore, your worth as a person will never again be defined by your “disciple,” “willpower,” or “control” when it comes to eating. You can learn to recognize these critical, untrue thoughts and change them into statements that are true.
5. Respect Your Fullness
Listen to your body and learn what fullness and satisfaction feel like for you. Physiologically, your body is not as good about telling you when you’re full as it is about telling you when you’re hungry. Therefore, this is a skill that can take a little longer to learn. You’ll get there by checking in with your sensations of hunger and fullness during your meal and stop eating when you’ve had enough. If you struggle, it’s helpful to pick a point in your meal to stop eating and just listen.
6. Ditch the Diet Food
The amount of food eaten is not the only factor our bodies and minds consider as we eat. Oftentimes, we continue to eat until we feel satisfied with our eating experience. Compare the experience of eating sugar-free ice cream with the experience of eating real, delicious ice cream. You may not feel satisfied with the diet ice cream until your spoon hits the bottom of the pint, but you might after a few spoonfuls of the real stuff.
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Food
Emotional eating happens on occasion for people with healthy relationships with food. However, if you regularly use food to avoid negative emotions, you are eating in a way that is not supportive of your emotional well-being. You can learn coping mechanisms that help you honor and address your feelings while moving towards true resolution (I’m posting a new blog about this later this week, so stay tuned!).
8. Respect Your Body / Earth Suit
We have all been given Earth Suits of different shapes and sizes. Some of them are bigger, some of them are taller. It may take time to love the Earth Suit you’ve been given. You can begin by respecting it. You won’t be able to eat intuitively, reject the diet mentality, or legalize food if you’re still wishing that you’d been given a different Earth Suit.
9. Exercise Intuitively, Too
Physical activity makes us healthier, stronger, and happier. Move your body to support your mental, physical, and emotional health. Reject the notion that exercise is for burning calories or earning whatever it is you’re going to eat next. When we exercise for our health, we are not exercising to change our body’s appearance.
10. Take the Long Road (And Enjoy the Ride)
Choose foods that you enjoy eating and that make you feel well. Eat in a way that supports your health, but never strive to eat perfectly. One bad day, week, or month of eating is not going to doom you to nutrient deficiencies or ill-health. Your overall pattern of intuitive eating is going to last an entire lifetime, not the next 30 days. You’re now going to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full (most of the time). As you do so, you’ll reach a body weight that is healthy for YOU.
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