Intuitive Eating and How it Works
By age five, girls already start internalizing their dieting beliefs and behaviors based on what they see from their mothers. In another study, researchers determined emotional eating caused weight gain and obesity more often than lifestyle behaviors.
With intuitive eating, you can recognize your own eating behaviors to develop a healthier relationship with food.
Otherwise, weight cycling and yo-yo dieting could have a worse impact on your health than never losing weight in the first place.
What exactly is intuitive eating, and how does it work? Keep reading to find out!
The Basic Concept
About 45 million Americans go on a diet every year. Meanwhile, 70% of American adults are overweight or obese.
If you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution to go on a diet, you know how it goes. Stepping on scales, avoiding carbs, counting your calories; it can all have a mental and emotional toll. Intuitive eating challenges the traditional concepts of dieting by taking a mentally healthier approach.
What exactly is the diet culture of intuitive eating? By allowing people to become experts of their own bodies, the philosophy teaches people how to recognize hunger signals. There are no restrictions about what or when you should eat.
Instead, the philosophy teaches participants that they’re capable of making healthy decisions by developing positive eating habits.
By learning how to trust yourself, you can develop a healthy attitude about food and your own body image. The traditional diet culture, on the other hand, can become a mental and emotional rollercoaster. You might blame yourself when progress stalls, then emotionally eat, starting the cycle over.
With the intuitive approach, you’ll learn to eat when you’re hungry, then stop when you’re feeling full.
Diet culture, including books and self-proclaimed experts, can impact your ability to trust yourself and your body. Instead, you can rely on your intuition to distinguish physical and emotional hunger.
Physical Versus Emotional
Physical hunger is a biological urge. This form of hunger occurs when your body tells you it requires vitamins and nutrients. Physical hunger develops over time.
Indicators of this form of hunger can include fatigue, irritability, or a growling stomach. You can satisfy physical hunger by eating a filling, nutritious meal.
Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is encouraged by emotional needs. For example, you might feel bored, sad, or lonely. These emotions can spark a craving for food.
Satisfying emotional hunger often causes self-hatred or guilt.
Learning how to distinguish between these two forms of hunger can help you develop smarter eating habits.
The Key Principles
The intuitive food philosophy recognizes that traditional diets don’t always work. To improve your long-term health, you need to focus on self-care instead. Making positive lifestyle changes can also help you develop better eating habits.
The term for this diet culture philosophy was first coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. The concept for this lifestyle, however, has existed since the early 1970s.
There are a few ways turning toward intuitive eating can benefit your mental and physical health. For example, you’ll:
- Learn a healthier, positive approach to eating and your body
- Develop a holistic approach to your overall health
- Change your perspective about nourishment, movement, nutrition, and exercise
- Heal and transform your relationship regarding your body and food
- Learn how to slow down and listen to your body
- Discover your challenges with food and your body
- Determine what you emotionally and physically want
Intuitive eating can improve a young woman’s body image. Instead of falling victim to emotional-eating or binge-eating, participants can rely on mindfulness practices. These can include meditation, which can help participants become better attuned with their bodies.
Using the principles of this philosophy, you can develop practical techniques for improving your overall health. Here are the 10 key principles Tribole and Resch outline in their book:
1. Rejecting Diets
You don’t have to rely on diet culture to lose weight. Instead, intuitive eating takes an anti-diet approach. You don’t have to obsess over finding a diet that will help you accomplish your weight-loss goals.
Rejecting the diet mentality can help you learn how to listen to your own body.
Many people are ingrained in diet culture to the point that they don’t realize how it impacts their health. Instead, you can ditch old dieting habits such as:
- Restricting when you eat
- Counting calories
- Constantly measuring yourself
- Avoiding foods that are considered unhealthy
You might not even realize which dieting habits are impacting your eating patterns. Learning how to recognize and avoid the diet culture can help you learn healthy habits instead.
2. Honoring Hunger
When trying to lose weight, many people view hunger as the enemy. Diet culture can make you forget that hunger is a natural bodily response. Instead of ignoring your hunger, it’s important to know how to feed your body.
If you let yourself get too hungry, you might unintentionally overeat.
Don’t let old dieting habits encourage starvation. Instead, learn how to recognize your hunger cues. Then, respond to that hunger by providing your body with the nutrition it needs.
Instead of binge-eating on junk food, you can turn to foods that are high in protein and healthy fats. These foods are more likely to satisfy your hunger and help you avoid cravings.
Your body needs to know it will have access to food when it’s hunger. Otherwise, you might struggle to break your habit of binge eating.
By learning how to pick up on biological cues, you can build a healthier relationship with food and respond to your body’s needs.
3. Making Peace
As you explore your eating habits, try to make peace with food as well. Don’t focus on what you should and shouldn’t eat. Instead, give yourself permission to eat what you want, when you want.
Remember, this food philosophy doesn’t focus on restrictions. There’s no definition of “good” and “bad” foods anymore. Telling yourself you shouldn’t eat a certain food can cause physical and emotional deprivation.
The physical and mental impact could cause you to binge eat again.
Instead, let yourself eat foods that were once considered forbidden. Restricting foods can cause you to splurge and eat unnecessarily large portions. By making peace with these foods, you’re less likely to binge (and feel guilty afterward).
4. Challenge Food Police
There’s no one monitoring your diet and enforcing your diet culture rules. Tell the food police in your head to take a break. Instead, learn how to stand up to those rules and think for yourself.
Remember, food isn’t good or bad. You aren’t good or bad for eating certain foods.
Learning how to challenge these thoughts can help you make healthy decisions on your own.
5. Know When You’re Full
Learn how to recognize when your body is full. Pay attention to biological signals such as comfortable fullness. When you’ve had enough food, stop eating.
Take the time to check in with your body as you’re eating, too. How does the food taste? Do you still feel hungry or are you starting to fill up?
Part of intuitive eating is learning how to trust yourself and your body. Remind yourself that you’re allowed to have the foods you want in satisfying quantities. Instead of shrinking your serving size, focus on eating until you’re full.
Learning how to recognize your fullness will help you determine when to stop eating.
6. Discover Satisfaction
Diet culture thinks of food as fuel and little else. This mentality can make it difficult for you to enjoy what you eat. Instead, let yourself feel pleasure.
Turn eating into a satisfying experience.
Allowing yourself to relax and eat what you want will help you avoid different types of food. Instead of feeling deprived of what you want to eat, you’ll feel satisfied with your meal. Then, you’ll learn how to eat the foods your body needs for nutritional purposes.
7. Honor Feelings
You don’t have to use food as a coping mechanism anymore. Developing a healthy relationship with food will help you avoid emotional eating. Try to find ways to process your feelings without turning toward food.
For example, you can talk to a friend, exercise, journal, or meditate.
Learn how to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger to avoid binge eating. By finding alternative ways of processing your negative emotions, you won’t feel guilty for eating.
8. Respect Your Body
Bodies come in different weights, shapes, and sizes. Don’t obsess over how you want your body to look in the future. Instead, learn how to accept your body the way it looks now.
By treating your body with respect, you’ll learn how to avoid body shaming. That self-criticism will only make you worse, which might encourage bad eating habits.
You can learn how to respect your body by engaging in movement. Don’t worry about burning calories. Instead, have fun and focus on other benefits such as strength and flexibility.
Starting a new workout schedule? Use these tips to get into shape.
10. Honor Your Health
As you work through these principles, don’t forget why you started. You’re honoring your health and your body.
Try to add foods to your diet that will meet your nutritional needs. Gentle nutrition can help you make positive decisions for your overall health.
Intuitive Eating: Developing a Mentally and Physically Healthier Diet Culture
To recap, what exactly is intuitive eating? It’s an approach to eating healthy by becoming more aware of yourself. By learning your mental and biological cues, you can improve your health and overall quality of life.
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