What is Intuitive Eating?
If you are tired of alternating between following your meal plan and binge eating; emotional and stress eating; and obsessing about food and your body, Intuitive Eating just might be the answer you’ve been looking for.
Have you been hearing about Intuitive Eating lately and wondering what it means? Many of my clients started in just the same place. They hear about Intuitive Eating and are intrigued by it, but they’re also scared to give up dieting – dieting is what they’ve known, but maybe not loved, for so long!
Are you curious? Read on to discover how this approach could help you improve your eating habits and body image, forever.
That’s right! No more New Year’s diet plans, cleanses or fasts. Just transformational change that improves every aspect of your life!
So What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating means learning to tune in to you and your body, and tune out external messages that tell you what, when, and how much you should eat. Intuitive Eating is an eating framework rooted in self-care.
In contrast to diets or wellness plans that tell you which foods you can eat, when to eat them, and how much to eat, with Intuitive Eating, you are in charge! You learn to trust your body’s signals body to guide you.
[Want to get my free PDF summary of the principles of Intuitive Eating delivered to your inbox? You can download it here.]
Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to heal your relationship with food & your body, that is rooted in self-care.
Characteristics of Intuitive Eaters:
- We can eat ALL foods, unconditionally.
- We eat (mostly) for physical, rather than emotional reasons, while understanding that food is meant to be pleasurable.
- We trust our bodies to help us determine how much to eat at any given meal.
Does that sound too good to be true?
I get it. You probably started your first diet 20+ years ago. Your mind houses an encyclopedia of facts: WW points, grams of carbs, calories…
You are always doing some calculating in your head.
“If I eat that bagel, I’ll skip the pasta at dinner tonight.”
What if I told you that all that counting and calculating was unnecessary? That your body adjusts your hunger and fullness based on what it needs…. (and here is the tricky part) as long as you take the time to listen.
That’s the essence of Intuitive Eating. Through the process of becoming an intuitive eater, we learn to turn away from the external cues of how we determine what we’ll eat (grams, points, calories), and we turn towards our internal signals (eating what we truly want, savoring our food, eating until we feel pleasantly satisfied).
Now, I know from experience with my clients that this can bring up a wide range of thoughts and emotions:
Often, when I explain that we eat ALL foods, I inevitably get what I call ‘the eye roll.’
Then I hear something like this: “I already eat everything! But I’m addicted to sweets and I just can’t have them in my house!”
If you feel the same way, I challenge you to really think about your relationship with food.
Ask yourself these questions, and make note of your answers:
- Do you really give yourself permission to eat whatever you want or do you limit or avoid certain foods?
- Do you have lots of food rules about what, when, and how much you can eat?
Food rules are actions and statements like this:
- I’m addicted to sugar so I can’t keep any sweets in my house.
- I shouldn’t eat anything after 8pm because it will make me gain weight.
- I’m not eating carbs.
This may surprise you, but if you answered yes to any of these examples, you’re on a diet. You may not think you’re on a diet, but if you are restricting yourself in some external way, you are not giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. Having ‘forbidden foods’ means that you are entrenched in the diet mentality, even if you aren’t realizing that you’re on a diet.
- Do you eat to respect your body, eliminating distraction and taking advantage of the full sensory experience of eating?
- Do you sit down to eat your meals without the TV or other electronics as a distraction?
- Do you spend more than 10 minutes eating your meals?
- Can you recognize what fullness feels like in your body and do you choose to stop eating when you are pleasantly full? Or do you let the amount of food on your plate dictate what you eat?
Most frequently, women have rules about what they’ll eat. (Sometimes these rules are even unconscious.) And when they emotionally eat or binge eat their forbidden foods, they assume that is giving themselves permission.
But, if you think about the guilt and shame that accompanies these eating situations, you’ll probably admit that’s not really permission. For a deeper dive on this concept, check out my article, 5 Steps to Make Peace with Food: Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating is based on the work and book of the same name by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Intuitive Eating has been scientifically validated in over 125 peer-reviewed studies and has helped many people break free from the cycle of dieting and binge eating to find physical and mental health.
Becoming an intuitive eater involves curiosity and experimentation. It’s a highly individual process. But the reward is a transformation that touches every aspect of your life!
Here’s what some of my clients have said about our work together:
- “I don’t have anxiety around food anymore. I truly didn’t think I could keep certain foods in my home because I didn’t trust myself. I’ve now had the same bag of Skittles in my house for almost 2 months and that’s my favorite candy! I am able to eat ALL foods now and don’t feel like food has power over me.” – Elizabeth H.
- “major improvements in body acceptance and body love….eating intuitively, …less struggles with guilt. No more binge eating!” S.Z.
Intuitive Eating is based on 10 basic principles and they are:
- 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
- Exercise – Feel the Difference
- Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
When you begin to eat intuitively, you will use these 10 principles to guide you as you develop these new skills. But, there’s no picking and choosing just the principles that resonate with you! Intuitive Eating works when we buy-in to ALL of the principles.
There are so many myths about Intuitive Eating
- We only eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full. We use our hunger and fullness as guides, but we aren’t rigid about it. We realize that life sometimes means we need to adjust when we eat.
- We only eat burgers, cake, pizza, and candy. Research actually shows that we eat a more diverse diet. We don’t only eat to satisfy our taste buds. We also want to feel good!
- We don’t care about health. Self-care is at the heart of Intuitive Eating.
- We only do exercises like walking and yoga. We do whatever movement we enjoy. For some it’s running, weight lifting, a team sport, or pilates. For some, it’s walking and yoga.
- You can’t do Intuitive Eating if you have a health condition like diabetes. The greater body awareness that intuitive eaters develop means that it’s a perfect complement to the management of chronic conditions.
Once you understand how these 10 principles can change your approach to eating and food, you will see improvements like:
- no more obsessing about what and when you are going to eat, and
- eating the foods you love and being able to stop when you feel satisfied, even if your plate still has food on it!
Many people ask me what is the best way to get started on their Intuitive Eating journey.
My answer always starts with five initial steps:
1. Focus on one principle at a time.
I know that you’re excited and want to jump right in! Most of my clients are overachieving perfectionists (Is that you too?) , and I completely understand the urge to go ‘all-in.’
But, Intuitive Eating is unlike anything you’ve done before. And though you can read the book and intellectually understand each principle, integrating the principles into your life takes time and practice.
You need the time and space to reflect and practice each principle. That’s where the magic and transformation occur.
2. Do a media detox.
- It’s really hard to start paying attention to YOUR body when your inbox, social media feeds and magazines are all displaying images and promising quick fixes that often include buying certain products, eating according to set rules, and doing particular exercises.
- Consider unsubscribing to emails, and unfollowing those on social media that feature unrealistic body images, or that promise to fix you through their rules.
- Evaluate your magazine subscriptions and weed out the ones that make you feel worse about yourself and your body.
3. Identify your forbidden foods.
- If you’ve been dieting for a while, you probably have a big list of forbidden foods. They’re the foods that you don’t think you can even have in your house because you fear you would eat the entire package!
- When you start an Intuitive Eating journey, it’s important to identify these foods and examine the power that they hold over you.
- You could even try eating them, in plain sight, while sitting down at your kitchen table!
- Learning to eat these foods is a big step. For more information and my free workbook, read my article How to Make Peace with Food – Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating. [insert link]
4. Examine your relationship with the scale.
- While I’d love for you to consider tossing your scale in the trash, I know that might seem too drastic for many people.
- If you still weigh yourself frequently, focus in on how you feel and act afterwards.
- Let’s say the scale gives you a number higher than you expect:
- Do you move the scale around your bathroom a few times in the hopes that you can get a lower number?
- Do you curse the restrictive plan you’ve been following ALL week and grab a “junk food” breakfast on your way to work?
- Do you continue to splurge all day out of frustration?
- Chances are, the ripple effects continue, as the memories of that number on the scale cause your self-esteem and feelings of self-worth to plummet too.
- See if you can make some connections between the number on the scale and the way you act afterwards. You might just decide that the scale really doesn’t do much to promote healthy behaviors after all.
5. Define what exercise means to you.
- If you find yourself putting in hours daily at the gym, working out while you are injured, feeling anxious when you have to take a day off, or stressed because you don’t feel like your yoga class burned enough calories, these are signs that your relationship with your body has entered the unhealthy zone.
- Don’t get me wrong. I love exercise. It’s a wonderful part of a healthy life and is great for stress relief. But so many diet regimens have taken the joy out of exercise and have made it something we just need to get through.
- Take a look at your exercise practices and see if you can up the joy factor. Do what feels good for you regardless of the number of calories you’ll burn.
You can use these five steps to get started on the road to Intuitive Eating.
Once you begin your Intuitive Eating journey, you will start to see changes.
Imagine how you would feel:
- eating all the foods you love, while feeling great in your body?
- enjoying social situations without obsessing over what you can eat and drink?
- being able to eat one brownie and stop when you are satisfied?
- freedom from the restriction that dieting brings?
- being able to handle your emotions around food?
- finding true joy in exercise, rather than just a means to burn calories?
Sounds great, doesn’t it!
That’s what Intuitive Eating does….it changes everything when it comes to food & eating and body image.
Are you thinking it might be time to start your Intuitive Eating journey? But worried you cannot go it alone? It can be challenging to try an Intuitive Eating approach when you are used to the rules of dieting. Many people benefit from support and accountability along the way.
Contact me to schedule a complimentary call so I can guide you on the best way to move ahead so that your needs get met.
I offer 1:1 Intuitive Eating coaching and Intuitive Eating groups for women.
If you’d like to read more about Intuitive Eating, check my articles on each of the principles of Intuitive Eating:
- Principle 1 of Intuitive Eating – Reject the Diet Mentality.
- Principle 2 of Intuitive Eating: Honor Your Hunger
- 5 Steps to Make Peace with Food: Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating
- Principle 4 of Intuitive Eating: Challenge the Food Police
- Intuitive Eating Principle 5: Learning To Feel Your Fullness
- How To Discover The Satisfaction Factor with Food: Principle 6 of Intuitive Eating
- How To Cope With Your Emotions Without Turning To Food: Principle 7 Of Intuitive Eating
- Stop Hating Your Body: Principle 8 of Intuitive Eating
- 7 Simple Ways Exercise Can Make You Happy: Principle 9 of Intuitive Eating
- How Gentle Nutrition Can Make You Feel Great: Principle 10 of Intuitive Eating
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”