The concept of intuitive eating was first introduced in 1995 by two registered dieticians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Essentially, the practice of intuitive eating eliminates the need for dieting by focusing on your body’s natural signals and needs. With this mindset, you don’t restrict calories or worry about arbitrary food rules. Instead, you tune into your body to give it the nutrients it needs when it needs it.
Why should you consider eating intuitively?
Even if this is the first time you’ve heard the phrase, intuitive eating isn’t a new idea in your life. Think about babies and children. Babies don’t eat on a schedule. They cry when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. This continues into early childhood. More simply, kids are more likely than adults to skip meals when they aren’t hungry and then eat when they are, even if it’s outside of normal meal times. Parents know all too well that kids can easily go a day or two barely grazing only to consume everything in sight for the next day or so. It all balances out.
The point is, we’re all born intuitive eaters. As we get older, though, certain food rules get imposed on us. We find ourselves snacking when we aren’t hungry just because it’s dinner time or keeping ourselves from indulging when we are hungry because we’re trying to lose weight.
Beyond learning that there are certain times to eat and certain times not to, we’re taught harmful habits about consuming as we grow. As kids, we’re rewarded for “cleaning our plate,” and so, as adults, we feel compelled to consume what’s on our plate, even if we are full. Our reward for finishing our full meal is dessert. This reward can be taken away if we don’t fulfill our obligations to eat our entire dinner.
When you think about it, the ways our culture defines eating habits and meals are backward.
Thankfully, there is research available to help you get your body back on track so you can stop feeling guilty for eating and start living life without restrictions.
How to practice intuitive eating
You can start learning how to eat intuitively right now. The leaders of this movement have created a set of principles of intuitive eating to follow. Here’s a quick rundown:
1. Reject the diet mentality
Study after study shows that diets don’t work for long-term health or weight loss. They’re restrictive, hard to maintain, and, let’s be honest, downright depressing. You might be able to drop a few pounds for an event with a diet, but you won’t get long-lasting results, so put that diet mindset to rest.
2. Honor your hunger
Instead of ignoring your hunger until you reach your breaking point and end up eating whatever you can get your hands on, recognize and honor the first signal of hunger that you feel. Trusting your body to tell you when it needs something is a key element of how to eat intuitively.
3. Make peace with food
As we age, we start seeing certain goods as “good” or “bad.” That type of mindset can be detrimental to your physical and mental wellbeing. Stop depriving yourself and give yourself permission to enjoy food when you’re hungry.
4. Challenge the food police
You know that voice that tells you you’re bad for eating that piece of cake for your co-worker’s birthday? That’s your inner food police, doling out tickets in the form of guilt every time you go “off track” from your diet. You’ll have to develop a new, stronger, louder voice that stands up to the food police and accepts that what you eat does not define how “good” or “bad” you are.
5. Respect your fullness
Recognizing signs of hunger and fullness is key. Pay attention to how your body feels as you go. Slow down your eating and take breaks to consider how full you are.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor
We’re often too busy or too obsessed with trying to be thin to take the time to enjoy food that’s satisfying in an environment that’s conducive to the dining experience. You’ll discover that you don’t need to consume as much food to feel satisfied when you put some thought and effort into creating the right environment to eat the foods you love.
7. Honor your feelings without using food
Gorging on your emotions isn’t good for your body or your mind. Learn how to handle your feelings more constructively, without food, to fully embrace intuitive eating.
8. Respect your body
No matter where you are on your health and wellness journey, respect your body as it is now. Honor what it has been through, and look at intuitive eating as a way to help your body feel its best, no matter what shape it is.
9. Get active
Exercising just for the sake of exercising isn’t fun. Instead of doing something you hate just to burn calories, find an activity you enjoy that will help you feel more energetic.
10. Honor your health
Being healthy doesn’t mean sticking to a perfect diet. You can (and should) snack and embrace decadent treats from time to time. Consistently eat whole, nourishing foods, and enjoy a break now and then.
How to eat intuitively and lose weight
Losing weight is a common goal. In our diet culture, we often end up losing weight after a diet, only to see the scale jump back up shortly after we resume normal eating.
With intuitive eating, the goal isn’t to lose weight. The focus isn’t on the number on the scale but on how your body feels inside.
If you’re the type of person who tends to nibble on food long past when you’re full, then you might find you naturally end up eliminating calories when you start learning how to eat intuitively. If you’re a serial dieter who’s used to restricting calories, you may find that you ingest more and end up gaining weight.
Stick to whole foods most of the time and drink plenty of water to reap the full benefits of intuitive eating. If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, talk to your doctor or nutritionist before jumping into a new routine. In some cases, your natural hunger and fullness cues might be unreliable.