Intuitive Eating in a Diet-Obsessed World
Chances are that you’ve either been on a diet or have, at the very least, thought about going on one at some point in your life, in the hopes of dropping a few pounds. We live in a society that equates worth with body size, and the motivations for achieving a prescribed weight or size number (“00” anyone?) are abundant. This drive has conditioned us to believe that there is one universally ideal (and unattainable) body shape, weight, or clothing size, and that our value as people is intrinsically tied to these impossible goals.
We are literally steeped in diet culture—how to eat, when to eat, what to eat, what not to eat—there is no end to the ways in which our society defines how we can go about fitting into the prescribed, accepted norm. And to add to the confusion, these instructions often come masked in the guise of health and wellness—a difficult motivation to resist!
How do we reconcile the need to have healthy attitudes toward food and exercise without becoming slaves to impossible-to-sustain diets and lifestyles that focus on achieving external, socially approved “perfection”? Two dieticians, Evelyn Tribole, RD, and Elyse Resch, RD, did just that by creating a framework of healthy eating that focuses on self-care, emotion, and intuitive and rational thought. Intuitive eating is a weight-inclusive, evidence-based approach, with ten simple principles that are promising to turn diet culture on its head!
10 principles of intuitive eating
Designed to help people deal with the emotional and psychological aspects of food consumption and body image, intuitive eating promotes the idea that there are no restricted or “bad” foods. At first glance, it may seem that it’s a no-holds-barred-eat-yourself-silly extravaganza. But intuitive eating is a framework that seeks to reset the troublesome ways in which we deny our bodies the necessary food it needs, whether through a reduction of calories or an avoidance of certain foods. Once those areas are addressed, then gentle movement and nutrition are introduced.
Following a diet places trust in an outside source, telling you when and how to feed your body, regardless of how your body feels. What if you’re on a diet but you’ve already consumed the allotted calories and you’re still hungry? Do you deny your body the energy it needs? This act of consistently disobeying the body can lead to a relationship with food that distrusts your own bodily cues. Intuitive eating is an act that allows us to revert to how we saw food as a child, without the lens of diets or expectations, when we ate because we were hungry, and when we were full, we stopped. The goal is to start to listen to your body and find trust in your own ability to know what it needs.
Reject the diet mentality
Changing the way you look at dieting and your body, and rejecting the false health narratives you’ve bought into creates an opportunity to shift your perspective. It may mean unfollowing social media accounts that make you feel inferior and replacing them with body-positive, anti-diet creators, donating any dieting books and magazines you’ve collected, and refraining from weighing yourself.
Honour your hunger
Your body literally has two hunger hormones: ghrelin and leptin. You feel the messages of ghrelin when you’re hungry and leptin when you’re full. Listening to your body’s innate cues around food and respecting feelings of both hunger and satiation allows you to eat in accordance with them.
Make peace with food
Working toward unconditional permission to eat whichever foods you want and dispelling the notion that there are good or bad foods means not feeling deprived or being at the mercy of uncontrollable cravings or overeating.
Challenge the food police
Whether it’s your own super-critical self-thoughts or the unasked-for “advice” of others, words can negatively impact your beliefs about food and your body. Standing up to the food police and rethinking labels like “bad” is key to the process.
Discover the satisfaction factor
Appreciate, savour, and enjoy the food you are eating both for physical and mental satiation. When we are not satisfied by the food we are consuming, the brain will continue to look for comfort, leading to overeating and feelings of failure around food.
Feel your fullness
In order to understand when you are full, your body needs to trust that it will be fed regularly. Listen to your body’s signals of comfortable fullness and stop eating. This way, you won’t overeat or feel out of control around those foods you had been depriving yourself of.
Cope with your emotions with kindness
Too often we rely on food to fill emotional voids. Instead, find alternative coping mechanisms like therapy, yoga, mindfulness, or journaling.
Respect your body
No two bodies are the same. Recognizing that your body, its needs, size, and shape are unique to you means moving the narrative from negative to respectful, and having the ability to make better decisions for your health.
Movement—feel the difference
Find ways to move your body in a way that feels good and nourishes you, like walking, stretching, yoga, or lifting weights. The goal is to respect your body, not because you feel you have to in order to lose weight, but because there is a host of other benefits gained from movement, including improved mood, energy, and sleep.
Honor your health—gentle nutrition
A holistic view of nutrition that comes from a place of self-care rather than restriction and deprivation is the goal. This is the last principle because the unhealthy relationship with food must be addressed first, otherwise, nutrition can revert into the diet culture mentality. Be kind with yourself and consider the whole picture of your nutritional goals.
Giving yourself permission to just eat is monumentally important for allowing yourself to trust your mind and body around food. Rejecting diet culture is a lot of work but it’s so worth it to find food freedom, to stop obsessing, and to build a healthy relationship with your body!