Intuitive eating is designed to inspire a healthy relationship with body, self and food by empowering you to feel what your body needs and create a more intimate relationship with your physical self — inside and out. Imagine what your life might look like if you decided to accept your body and eat freely, without food rules and restrictions.
Understanding Intuitive Eating: What It Is and What It Is Not
The concept of Intuitive Eating (IE) is definitely not “new,” as the original Intuitive Eating book was published back in 1995, however, it has recently started gaining traction in the social media space, especially among Registered Dietitians and other wellness advocates who use and promote a non-diet approach. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works was written by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who saw a need for change. They wanted to show people that there was an alternative to the vicious cycle of shaming our bodies, following every restrictive fad diet out there in an attempt to lose weight, ultimately binging and “failing,” regaining the weight (and then some), in turn worsening our poor body image, increasing our disordered eating patterns — diet, shame, repeat.
What’s Up With Our Dieting Culture?
Still, in today’s society, it is fairly typical for people to be in a constant state of dieting, which is why the weight-loss industry makes nearly $60 billion a year regardless of the fact that 90-95% of diets fail. However, you, the dieter, are not failing, the diet is failing you.
Dieting can have serious, long-term negative effects on one’s relationship with food and body image. Studies have shown that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of weight gain. Yep, you read that right: up to two-thirds of [dieters] regained more weight than they lost, according to thirty-one studies reviewed by UCLA researchers.
According to another five-year study, teenage dieters had twice the risk of becoming overweight, compared to non-dieting teens. Just a few of the other side effects of chronic dieting include increased binge eating, decreased metabolic rate, increased preoccupation with food, increased feelings of deprivation, increased sense of failure and decreased sense of willpower.
Despite all of these findings, people do and will continue to engage in dieting behaviors.
Intuitive Eating: Re-Framing Our Relationship With Ourselves & Food
Although intuitive eating is gaining popularity, the vast majority of people are still not familiar with it nor do they fully understand the concept. Eating intuitively goes much deeper than simply eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, and it also doesn’t mean that you eat pizza and donuts for every meal just because you can. However, that might be part of the process in the beginning when you are re-learning to honor your cravings and hunger cues. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat is a key part of IE, but another key component is respecting your body, which means paying attention to how different foods make you feel. You will likely find that your body craves nutritious foods too, and in the end, those cravings will balance each other out.
10 Principles Of Intuitive Eating
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace With Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Feel Your Fullness
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food
- Respect Your Body
- Exercise — Feel The Difference
- Honor Your Body With Gentle Nutrition
To be clear, the goal of intuitive eating is not weight loss. It is to make peace with food and ditch the diet mentality for good.
IE and Freedom In Your Food
Intuitive eating provides freedom and flexibility in your food choices; something that dieting certainly does not. It helps you let go of “black and white” thinking and strict food rules, and embrace the gray area. IE helps you relearn to trust your body and make eating decisions based on what you truly want and need vs. your “calories remaining” for the day according to your food tracking app. It makes YOU the expert of your own body again. No one else can tell you when you are hungry, how much food you need to feel satisfied, or which foods you even enjoy. You might find that the foods you previously labeled as “off limits” because you were afraid you’d binge turn out to be much less exciting than you once thought.
My Journey With Intuitive Eating
When I truly started practicing intuitive eating, I had a huge mindset shift and noticed it begin to spill over into other areas of my life. I finally allowed myself to rest when I needed it rather than exercising five or six days a week regardless of how sore or fatigued I felt. Saying “no” to invitations or requests that didn’t serve me became easier. I began to give myself grace and respect my own needs, which was as if a weight was lifted off my shoulders. The daily practice of stepping on the scale was discarded from my habits and the shame I associated with whatever number stared back at me was released. My food anxiety went away which allowed me to enjoy special occasions like parties, vacations and even casual dinner dates with my husband without subconsciously calculating the calories in my head or thinking about the exercise I needed to do to burn it off. Food freedom has helped me become significantly more adventurous in my food choices and enjoy the spontaneous moments of life.
We live in a world full of pressuring messages telling us that we “should” eat a certain way, look a certain way, and move a certain way, or we’re doing it wrong. The intuitive eating community challenges those messages and fights back, and I’m honored to be a part of it.
Intuitive eating has empowered me to be in charge of my own life and to simply take care of me. The saying is true — you can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself. Eating intuitively and giving myself unconditional permission to eat and enjoy all foods at any time without guilt or shame is my favorite form of self-care to date. And the best part? It’s completely free!
Some of the Research on Intuitive Eating
The most amazing thing about this concept is that there are now over 80 studies that have shown health benefits of practicing intuitive eating (according to one of the authors, Evelyn Tribole, on a recent podcast episode). Back in 2012, when the most recent version of the IE book was released, there were only 25 studies, so it is exciting to see growing interest and research around the concept.
- A study in 2004 showed that women scoring high on an Intuitive Eating scale were shown to have a lower body mass index, lower levels of fat in the blood, and a reduction in overall risk for heart disease, compared to participants who scored low
- A study in 2006 showed that women who scored high on an Intuitive Eating Scale were found to have higher body satisfaction, and were less likely to base their self-worth on being thin. The IE Scale total scores were also positively associated with self-esteem, satisfaction with life, optimism and proactive coping
- Intuitive eaters are less likely to engage in behaviors that may lead to weight gain (such as eating in the absence of hunger, eating in response to emotional fluctuations and situational factors) compared to people engaged in dieting behaviors, thus the relationship between lower BMI and higher IE scores
- Adolescents who scored high on the IE scale also had fewer mood problems
- College students who scored high on the IE scale ate a more diverse diet and had a lower BMI, and there was no association between IE and the amount of “junk food” eaten in the diet
- For more studies and research on this topic, click here
On my blog, Wellness For The Win, I talk more about My Journey to Food Freedom and the positive impact Intuitive Eating has had in my life. In addition, I provide an extensive list of helpful resources, including books, podcasts and Instagram accounts to check out if you are interested in learning more about this concept.
Intuitive Eating Book