If all of the options have your head spinning (same), I’ve got just the thing for you. This diet actually isn’t a ~diet~ at all—but it can still help you with your eating goals. It’s called intuitive eating, and it’s a movement that’s gaining major followers.
On a basic level, intuitive eating is all about getting in touch with body cues (like hunger and fullness) and learning to trust your body when it comes to food, explains nutritionist Keri Gans, RD. There are no restrictions or forbidden foods; just an effort for you to eat well, feel healthier, and enjoy food more.
“For many people, the traditional diet approach leads to nothing more than years and years of weight loss and weight gain and a negative relationship with food and their body image,” Gans says. Intuitive eating is here to put that crap to bed.
Clearly, there’s something to it. Instagram is filled with comments from people who rave about how intuitive eating has helped them stop obsessing over their weight, quit binge-eating, and end feelings of guilt around food.
Of course, there’s a little more to making this whole intuitive eating thing work. Here’s what you need to know about the eating approach—and how to make it work for you.
What Is Intuitive Eating And Will It Help With Weight Loss?
As the name suggests, intuitive eating is all about following your own innate intuition.
“The biggest difference between intuitive eating and diets—or ‘lifestyle changes’—is the focus on internal signals and cues rather than external rules,” says nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor Alissa Rumsey, RD, owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. “Intuitive eating uses feelings of hunger, fullness, satisfaction, and body knowledge to dictate eating choices in the moment. Traditional diets, meanwhile, use external factors like nutrient counts, calories, or food groups to plan food ahead of time without room for flexibility.”
While you can lose weight by following an intuitive eating approach, it’s not necessarily the goal. Instead, the goal with intuitive eating is to foster a healthier, happier approach to food.
Yes, it sounds suuuuper simple—but it definitely takes work to achieve. “We’re all born knowing how to listen to our body’s hunger and satiety signals but, as we go through life, our natural intuition is blunted on so many levels,” says nutritionist Karen Ansel, RD. “As children, adults are constantly feeding us snacks, whether we’re hungry or not; we’re told to finish our meals even though our bodies may be perfectly well-nourished; we’re rewarded with food for good behavior. At the same time, we’re told that hunger is an emergency, even though it’s a completely natural sensation, just like being tired.”
Though intuitive eating offers the alluring promise of no food being off-limits, the process of reestablishing (and following) your natural cues is a tricky one.
“It’s long and time consuming, and sometimes you have to fail before you can succeed,” Ansel says. “The upside is that once you learn to eat intuitively, weight control often becomes infinitely easier, as your body naturally possesses all the tools to guide you.” At this point, you can easily eat only when truly hungry and stop when satisfied. No stress.
How Intuitive Eating Got Started
The intuitive eating movement has been around in some form since the 1970s, but the term “intuitive eating” was coined in 1995 by nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works.
In their book, Tribole and Resch encourage people to reject diet culture, find satisfaction in eating, and listen to their body cues around food. They also ID three different eating personalities that help define the eating difficulties you might have:
The careful eater: This person spends a lot of time thinking about what they eat—reading labels, asking restaurant servers about details, and meticulously planning out each meal.
The professional dieter: This person, meanwhile, is always on some kind of diet. They carefully count calories and monitor portions, all with the goal of weight loss.
The unconscious eater: Unconscious eaters can be broken down further into different camps but, as a whole, they are not as meticulous about what they eat as careful eaters and professional dieters. Unconscious eaters tend to eat what’s available, whether it’s inexpensive, whatever is lying around, or stuff they just don’t want to go to waste.
The ultimate goal, according to Tribole and Resch, is to become an intuitive eater, someone who listens to their internal hunger cues. When they’re hungry, intuitive eaters pick something to eat without debating about it or feeling guilty.
The 10 Principles Of Intuitive Eating
So, how does one become an intuitive eater, exactly? To help you get there, Tribole and Resch came up with the 10 principles of intuitive eating, which all focus on creating a healthier relationship with food.
“The principles of intuitive eating are guideposts that help you unlearn the dieting behaviors and diet mentality you’ve been taught and instead learn to tune back into your own body,” Rumsey explains. “While it’s not always a linear experience, rejecting the diet mentality and learning to honor your body’s hunger cues are some of the foundational experiences.”
Live by these principles, she says, and you’ll not only find a happier relationship with food, but more positive self-care and coping behaviors, body respect, and more intuitive, joyful movement, too.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating, according to Tribole and Resch, are:
1. Reject The Diet Mentality
This means ditching diet books and avoiding articles that tell you how to lose weight quickly.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Learning to listen to your hunger cues is crucial, Tribole and Resch argue. Focusing on keeping your body nourished with the right foods can help prevent overeating.
3. Make Peace With Food
This means giving yourself permission to eat what you want, when you want it.
4. Challenge The Food Police
Tribole and Resch urge people to remove “good” and “bad” thinking from eating. Have a bowl of ice cream? Don’t feel guilty about it; it’s just food, and it’s part of your overall healthy diet.
5. Discover The Satisfaction Factor
Eating should be a pleasurable experience and, if you enjoy what you’re eating, should help you feel satisfied and content. Identifying this satisfaction can help you learn when you’ve had enough of a food you enjoy.
6. Feel Your Fullness
Trust your body to lead you to the right foods and listen for the signals that you’re not hungry anymore. Tribole and Resch also recommend pausing in the middle of eating to ask yourself how the food tastes, and how hungry you are at that moment.
7. Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness
Learn to recognize that food restriction can trigger loss of control and emotional eating. Learn to ID your emotions and find ways to deal with them that don’t involve food.
8. Respect Your Body
Embrace your body, so you can feel better about who you are.
9. Movement—Feel The Difference
Be active for the sake of moving your body, instead of tracking how many calories you burn during exercise. Focusing on the energy you get from working out can help keep you motivated.
10. Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition
Make food choices that are good for your health—and taste great—while making you feel good. Know that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. That one snack, meal, or day of less-healthy eating won’t torpedo your goals.
How To Get Started With Intuitive Eating
If you want to rethink your relationship with food, Ansel recommends picking up the Intuitive Eating book to get the full view of what it’s all about.
It’s also a good idea to really immerse yourself in the concept. “You have likely been absorbing years and years of diet culture messages, so surrounding yourself with alternative messaging will be helpful,” says Rumsey, who recommends checking out different podcasts, books, and blogs created by registered dietitians and therapists certified in intuitive eating. “These will help you weed through a lot of your long-held beliefs about food and your body to start developing a new relationship,” she says.
Some of her recommendations:
Another question to consider: What do you really want to eat right now? “Allow yourself to have whatever the answer is,” Rumsey says. “By allowing yourself to eat whatever you want, you stop the diet cycle in its tracks.”
It can take time, but your mind and body will eventually learn that you have access to all foods and, with time, cravings and overeating should decrease. “If you’re unsatisfied, you’ll probably keep looking for that one thing that is going to make you feel satisfied and content, and you’re more likely to overeat,” Rumsey explains. “When you eat what you really want, the feelings of satisfaction and pleasure you feel will help you be content.”
You’ll also want to start tuning in to your hunger signals, Rumsey says. Start noting when you tend to feel hungry during the day—and what you tend to do in those moments. “Honoring your hunger—eating each time you are hungry—is an important step in building back body trust,” she explains.
If you’re looking for extra support, a registered dietitian can help guide you through the first few months of intuitive eating. “Each person is different and an intuitive eating registered dietitian can help you work through your unique challenges and questions,” says Rumsey.
The bottom line: Intuitive eating is a great way to feel healthier in your body and create a happier, easier relationship with food. Experts say that it’s never too late to work on intuitive eating—and that it really does work for most people.
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