“Eating low-carb is part of my healthy lifestyle.”
“I have to have a meal plan to eat healthy.”
“I’m a sugarholic — I’m addicted to brownies.”
“Without portion sizes, I’ll overeat.”
Healthy eating has become synonymous with food rules, labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods, and restricting the evil macronutrient of the year — currently carbs. It has become “normal” to control your eating to get “healthy.”
But notice how this restrictive approach feels. It’s wrought with guilt and shame. It’s filled with fear and a preoccupation with food, creating a stressful relationship to food.
Relying on external rules to determine what we should eat disconnects us from trusting our inner signals to guide us to eat healthfully. We were born with this instinct and can return to our birthright through the process of intuitive eating.
What’s intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based, compassionate self-care eating framework with 10 principles created by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch as a solution to a problem they faced more than 25 years ago: “Dieting” doesn’t work.
The 10 principles are designed to enhance or remove obstacles to interoceptive awareness — considered intuitive eating’s “superpower” — a process in which your brain perceives physical sensations arising from the body such as heartbeat, breathing, hunger and fullness.
The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Feel your fullness
- Cope with your emotions with kindness
- Respect your body
- Move and feel the difference
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition.
Only recently has intuitive eating gained popularity. Since this summer’s fourth edition release of Tribole and Resch’s 1995 book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach,” articles regularly appear in mainstream media such as Self and Real Simple magazines and Goop.com.
Why intuitive eating now?
Because we’re tired of being at war with our bodies. We’re fed up with the 95% failure rate of restrictive diets that an estimated 45 million Americans return to year after year. See BostonMedical.org. We’re frustrated by the dismal statistics that report two-thirds of dieters regain the weight, plus more, within two to five years. We’re craving both the happy and healthy relationship with food and our bodies that intuitive eating delivers.
The intuitive eating process begins with “reject the diet mentality.” But you may say, “I’m not dieting. I’m just eating healthy.” Most of us don’t realize that we’re swimming in diet culture. As Tribole says, we’re like fish in water: We’re not conscious of it.
Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear conversations about being “good” for skipping dessert, needing to make up for “overeating” by skipping a meal or burning it off with exercise, and ordering bunless burgers. This is diet mentality, which has become a “normal” part of “healthy” eating. Thus we must opt out of the diet mentality to engage fully in the intuitive eating process.
With popularity comes confusion
Perhaps you’ve read that intuitive eating is just a mindfulness diet or a hunger/fullness diet.
Yes, it includes eating with awareness and honoring satiety is key. But these descriptions oversimplify the process of intuitive eating by cherry-picking one or two of the 10 principles, which are designed to be practiced together, synergistically.
Furthermore, the principles are guidelines, not rules to pass or fail. Instead the process emphasizes a self-compassionate, curious, “for the most part” mindset. There’s no room for restriction, guilt, shame, judgment or the black-and-white thinking of diet culture in intuitive eating.
“Make peace with food” focuses on unconditional permission to eat all foods, especially the ones you feel are your “problem” foods.
Take the pan of brownies. You feel you can’t trust yourself to have them in your house because you’re “addicted” to sugar and will eat them all. But by practicing an evidence-based strategy called habituation — repeated exposures to a food making it less appealing — you can make peace with the brownies.
Common food “problems” such as cravings, emotional eating, binge eating, overeating are often caused by the restrictive, “I can’t have” mentality.
Intuitive Eating is not a weight loss plan
If you encounter an “intuitive eating” plan that promises weight loss, Tribole says to “run away.” Recognize that it’s sneaky diet culture co-opting the term.
Putting weight loss on the back burner is critical to becoming an intuitive eater. Focusing on your weight interferes with your ability to perceive the physical sensations that arise from within your body.
“Honor your health — gentle nutrition” is the 10th principle of intuitive eating. To make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well, you must ditch diet culture confusion that muddles your mind, master interceptive awareness and experience all the principles of intuitive eating.
Finally, Tribole and Resch remind us that healthy eating isn’t perfect eating. “You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one food, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters; progress not perfection is what counts.”
After learning, practicing and experiencing the 10 principles of intuitive eating, the conversations about healthy eating sound different:
* “I can enjoy sandwiches again, guilt-free.”
* “I don’t need a meal plan, because healthy eating isn’t complicated.”
* “Dinner didn’t fill me up, but it felt good not to have the negative head space about getting seconds.”
* “My husband is thrilled that having a pan of brownies in the house is no big deal anymore, just a pleasurable food to enjoy.”
Ah, yes, that last statement was one of my shifts.
Intuitive eating, the “revolutionary” anti-diet approach, is changing lives and healing relationships with food and body. Be a rebel. Let it change yours, too.
To your happiness and health,
♡ Ready to learn how to eat intuitively? Get started!
(This article was originally published in the September 20, 2020 Jackson Hole News and Guide).