Not sure how to start intuitive eating? I'll walk you through the first couple steps that I walk my clients through. The best way to start intuitive eating is to start small and learn how to tune into your body. I'll show you how to do that in this post. Learn about creating an Intuitive Eating Meal Plan (it's not your traditional meal plan at all!) and How to Eat Mindfully.
Disclaimers: I'm not a certified Intuitive Eating counselor, but am a registered dietitian who works with clients to improve their relationship with food and their bodies through Intuitive Eating. All content in this post is for information sake, not to treat or manage diseases. Individual support is recommended.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a way of nourishing your body that focuses on tuning into your own body's innate wisdom and cues instead of external sources. It was created by Evelyn Tribole and Elise Resch, they wrote a book on their method, called Intuitive Eating which is an important read.
To me, intuitive eating is about releasing ourselves from the damaging negative messages we get from diet culture that tell us that our weight determines our status, our value, and our health. We can't completely disengage and remove ourselves from these messages but we can build up our immunity to these messages and believe that we are more than our bodies or our health. Intuitive Eating is about enjoying food and getting out of that frustrating restriction-binging cycle that is easy to get into through traditional diets. That cycle and the negative thoughts that accompany us forever unless we can get out of that mindset.
What are the Intuitive Eating Principles?
Here are the 10 Intuitive Eating Principles, they're not in any particular order, but note that movement and gentle nutrition do come last. The first 8 principles are foundation to learning about movement and nutrition.
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Feel Your Fullness
- Cope with Emotions with Kindness
- Respect Your Body
- Movement-Feel the Difference
- Honor Your Health-Gentle Nutrition
How will Intuitive Eating help me?
Think back to your attempts to lose weight, if you've made them. If you're like most people, you tried and it worked for a bit, but then you either couldn't stick to the restrictions or your life slowly moved back toward where you started. I want to be clear here, this is not your fault. This concept of humans being able to lose weight and keep it off is flawed. Also the concept of being at a certain 'best' weight. ALSO flawed.
Instead of sticking to that normal system of constantly starving yourself trying to lose weight and being left feeling like a failure, Intuitive Eating will help you learn how to tune into your own body to make food choices and determine how much to eat too. This is actual personalized nutrition that allows you to eat foods you enjoy, eat enough to feel satisfied (no more feeling constantly hungry!), and reduce your stress about food/eating.
How to start intuitive eating
step 1: learn to tune into your body
When I work with clients to tune into their bodies, we start by actually learning how tot tune into their bodies. I mean can you identify the signs and signals your body is sending you? Most of us are taught to disengage from our bodies. To push off those feelings of hunger, to not pay attention to how our favorite foods taste (so we don't eat too much), and just to remove ourselves from our bodies.
To be able to get anywhere with Intuitive Eating, it's necessary to make steps to learn how to listen to our bodies.
How do we do that? There's a great activity in the Intuitive Eating Workbook that teaches you how to perceive your heartbeat. Since our hearts are always beating, this is a great first activity to tune into our bodies.
Start by feeling your pulse, you can follow these directions. Repeat until it's easy to find. The next step is to quietly sit, place your hands on your thighs, close your eyes and perceive your heartbeat. This will probably take time and practice, but it's a great first step to connect with your body. (you can find this activity in page 35-36 in the workbook)
step 2: recognize the messages you receive about food
This is important to put your thoughts and feelings about food into context. Understanding where they're coming from helps you address them and overcome any negative messages and thoughts about food. This takes a signifiant amount of introspection and time, but it's really helpful to help you avoid getting sucked into words and beliefs that don't serve you.
Ask yourself these questions to get started:
- What messages does the media I consume tell me about food, (and even my body)? Media can include TV/movies, magazines, and social media.
- What messages do my family members and friends tell me about food (and even my body)?
- What messages did I get about food (and even my body) from people close to me as I was growing up?
step 3: pay attention to your thoughts about food
The messages you identified in the last step play a big role in guiding your current thoughts about food (and your body). Note that I am starting to bring up how you feel about your body. I've come to realize that our body image and how we feel our bodies *should* be directly affects how we eat and our relationship with food. Pretty much, our relationships with our bodies determine our relationships with food. Think about it, why do people try to change their eating habits? Usually to change their weight.
Ask yourself these questions to get started with paying attention to your thoughts about food:
- What thoughts and feelings pop into your head when you hear or feel your stomach growling? (or whatever signals your body sends to tell you you're hungry)
- What thoughts and feelings pop into your head when you see different foods? ie: foods that you plan on eating, foods that you think are 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' etc.
Steps 2 & 3 take time and lots of practice. Don't feel like you have to figure out these thoughts and feelings quickly. Take the time and dig deep. Work with a non diet dietitian (like me) to help you do this more quickly and effectively.
How can I eat intuitively and lose weight?
I have clients come to me to lose weight through Intuitive Eating. Let me be clear, the point of Intuitive Eating is NOT to lose weight. Intentional weight loss doesn't work and doesn't last for a majority of people. It's even been shown that our bodies are built to withstand and fight against weight loss as shown in a few studies on past participants in The Biggest Loser show. These contestants's metabolisms actually slowed down after participating. That show is THE WORST.
But I will also acknowledge that, since we live in a world that praises weight loss and still teaches that weight loss is healthy and beneficial, it's really difficult to step away from that line of thinking. It's ok to feel like you still want to lose weight, it's ok, but a real non-diet dietitian will not help you lose weight intentionally. Anything that says you can lose weight with Intuitive Eating is not really Intuitive Eating. Be wary of that program that has coopted a program that teaches Health at Every Size.
will I only eat brownies if I practice intuitive eating?
This is another question or concern I hear a lot. Lots of people believe that if you give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want, you'll just want foods that were previously off limits. Also, totally understandable. I mentioned it before, but restriction is the biggest predictor of binging. So with a history of restriction, you're likely to binge on those foods you avoided. This may sound scary, but it's totally expected. It's true you may (edit: probably) eat all those foods you avoided. But as you allow yourself to eat a wider variety of foods, you'll start to eat a wider variety of foods. We want what we can't (or don't let ourselves) have. Once we can have whatever, those foods that used to have power over you start to lose that power and foods all even out. I also want to note that Intuitive Eating isn't a moderation diet. If you feel like you can eat whatever you want, but still in moderation, you still have some work to do to more fully practice Intuitive Eating, and feel food freedom.
Remember, it takes time, effort, digging into your thoughts and beliefs, and lots of practice and experiences. The point isn't necessarily to become an Intuitive eater but to practice eating habits and thoughts about food that help you feel confident, help you feel better (or neutral) about your body, and feel less stress around food/eating.