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6 Things to Know About Intuitive Eating

What Intuitive Eating is …

Intuitive eating stems from a principle of self-care, like mindful eating. It was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch over 20 years ago but has resurfaced in recent years. It differs from mindful eating in that it homes in on physical cues to help us determine when and what to eat.

It doesn’t cut out whole food groups, consider meal plans, ration our favourite foods, encourage calorie counting, have food portion control techniques or trick our bodies into eating more or less. When diets would focus on calorie or macro intake, intuitive eating relies on behaviour. It creates a foundation of nutrition that is unique and unrestrictive in an attempt to ditch diets and fad food trends and step in the direction of guilt-free eating. 

Intuitive eating achieves this by listening to the signals our body gives us. We have these from birth, for example, as a baby we cry when we’re hungry and stop eating when we’re full. Our body tells us in many ways what our body needs and it’s important that we listen. Through diet culture, cultural socialisation & living in a fat phobic society, we start to ignore these signals – having to fill or finish a plate, cutting out food groups, saving sweet treats, restricting meals to a certain time etc.

Intuitive eating is all about reengaging our body in our food-related decisions and learning once again how to listen and interpret what our body needs. It’s a tough practise, but many achieve a guilt-free, balanced and nourishing intake by eating intuitively. Before considering this, it’s important to know the fundamental principles of intuitive eating…

The principles of intuitive eating

There are 10 principles that frame the intuitive eating lifestyle:

1. Reject the diet mentality

2. Honour your hunger

3. Make peace with food 

4. Challenge the food police

5. Discover the satisfaction factor 

6. Fell your fullness

7. Cope with your emotions with kindness 

8. Respect your body

9. Movement – feel the difference 

10. Honour your health – gentle nutrition

It’s important to embody these principles when eating intuitively, something a dietitian can guide you through.

How to eat intuitively 

There are 3 signals your body gives you which should determine your intake of food – hunger, satisfaction and fullness. With mindless eating the line between satisfaction and fullness can be significantly blurred. Intuitive eating begins with reengaging these cues into our eating habits; using them to make our food choices. 

Hunger – your body is hungry when it needs calories, you can tune into hunger cues such as a gurgling stomach, light stomach aches, salivating mouth, headache, tiredness – this is your body telling you to eat

Satisfaction – satisfaction from food is when you feel comfortably full, and this is when you should stop eating. It’s possible to feel pleasure from eating less if you stop before you reach an uncomfortable fullness. Satisfaction isn’t always in relation to fullness. You might find that by listening to how it makes your body feel, that you prefer certain foods over others. Satisfaction is as much as pleasure and taste as it is about fullness. 

Fullness – when you ignore your body and ‘eat with your eyes’ you can reach this uncomfortable fullness of aches and fatigue. This means you’ve eaten beyond what your body needs. Eating to this point puts pressure on your digestive system which often makes you feel unmotivated and uncomfortable. 

Intuitive eating is not a diet 

Intuitive eating was founded on the principle of ditching diets and listening to your body. Instead of researching what the internet thinks your body needs, intuitive eating listens to the messages your body sends, telling you exactly what to do. It is a lifestyle as opposed to a diet and aims to avoid restrictions and open food possibilities to allow diverse and guilt-free nutrition. 

Instead of following a diet that will help you lose weight by avoiding or rationing certain foods, intuitive eating can help you achieve nourish & while enjoying your favourite foods.

Intuitive eating is not for everyone

Intuitive eating is not for everyone. It relies on trust between the body and the choices we make. It is therefore not suitable for those who are recovering from an eating disorder to do alone. After recovery it is a great method of maintaining a healthy weight but not the best way of getting there. It’s so important to deal with an eating disorder head on, before trying to alter the diet, something a dietitian can help with. A dietitian can even help you recover from an eating disorder with intuitive eating, but it is something that shouldn’t go unsupervised.

An eating disorder may not always be obvious, even to the person who suffers it. For example, emotional eating, eating food as a coping mechanism in response to strong emotions, is less obvious than the sudden gain or loss of weight. I’d like to list some eating disorders or negative relationships with food that are extremely important to dissolve with a dietitian rather than considering intuitive eating alone:

• Bulimia 

• Anorexia 

• Binge eating disorder 

• Emotional eating 

• Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder 

• Purging disorder

• Night eating disorder

• Orthorexia 

Long-term benefits of intuitive eating

An intuitive eater can create a positive relationship with their body and food and reap long-term health benefits. Studies have shown intuitive eating to have a diverse, positive effect on the body. Here is a summary of what intuitive eating could improve:

• Improved self-esteem 

• Improved body confidence and body image 

• Lower occurrence of emotional eating and other disordered eating

• Lower occurrence of depression and anxiety 

• Improved cholesterol levels (HDL)

• Increased energy levels 

• Decreased stress over eating which can benefit your digestive system

Overall, there are enough physiological and physical health benefits to brand intuitive eating as a positive lifestyle change. It works solely on an individual basis which can bring power to your nutrition. If you would like to eat intuitively, speaking to a dietitian is the best way to guide your eating habits.

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