Picture a world where food packaging doesn’t focus on nutrition labels; where fitness influencers and celebrities don’t preach food “shoulds” and “should nots” on social media; and where body trust and intuition take the place of nutrient recommendations. You might wonder, how would I know what to eat? What resources would tell my body what it needs and what it doesn’t? If you can believe it, your body was perfectly designed to seek out and signal for exactly what it needs at each moment in time. When you can quiet all the noise and opinions surrounding food and nutrition today, your body can guide you toward what it needs to happily thrive. Each of us is born with a gut intuition that knows how to fuel and support our own individual body – the problem is that we so often tune out this voice that we can hardly hear it anymore. So how do you reconnect with that intuitive voice? How do you regain trust in your body and allow your body to regain trust in you?
Intuitive Eating Snapshot
Intuitive eating is a set of principles for reconnecting with your body’s innate ability to nourish itself without rigid rules or outside influences. The principles were developed and described by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. Though the concept of intuitive eating did not solely originate with them, their book has created an awareness of its existence and created an outline for those wishing to embark on the intuitive eating journey to follow.
Let’s dive into the 10 principles of intuitive eating:
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Forget about rules and restrictions around food and actively remove diet culture influences from your life. Get rid of anything that makes you feel the need or desire to change your body or eat in a certain way. If you have books, subscriptions or apps that promote these ideas, such as those tracking food, weight or exercise, remove them so you can begin to reconnect with your body’s intuition.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Your body is exceptionally good at letting you know when you need food, though diet culture often teaches us to ignore these body signals. Learning to tune back into your hunger cues can take some time and allowing yourself to eat when your body uses these cues will help them become more recognizable. The most familiar is the feeling of emptiness in your stomach, often indicated by a growl or rumbling. However, there are other signals to watch out for, such as feeling sleepy or not energetic, experiencing minor headaches or lightheadedness and having persistent thoughts around food. At the end of the day, keeping your body biologically fed is important.
3. Make Peace with Food
In today’s world, food is often given labels of “good” or “bad.” It’s important to understand that food has no moral value, and that eating any certain type of food does not make you a “good” or “bad” person. By giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, it can help to alleviate the feelings of guilt and shame, in turn helping diminish the feelings of stress and anxiety around food and eating.
4. Challenge the Food Police
Think back to those rules and restrictions you may have had surrounding food – where did they come from? We aren’t born with the notion that certain foods are better or worse than others. Most of our food judgement comes from outside sources like social media, articles, TV ads or shows, as well as from the people around us. These rules reinforce feelings of guilt and shame around eating and challenging them is an important step to reconnecting with your innate ability to feed yourself.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
You’ve probably heard the statement “food is fuel” at some point in your life, and it’s true that food provides energy and life for our bodies. But it’s also so much more than that; food can be joy and happiness, nostalgia and comfort or a way to connect with family and friends. Disordered eating and diet culture will have you believe that eating for enjoyment is wrong, but having foods for the sole purpose of enjoying them is an important part of self-care and satisfying the body. Also tap into all your senses as you eat: feel the textures, take in the aromas, look at the colors and even notice the temperatures of food. Using all your senses while eating is a big part of the enjoyment and satisfaction factors.
6. Feel Your Fullness
Feeling full can be a scary sensation when you’re working to overcome rigid rules and restrictions around food. However, allowing your body to feel fullness is an important step in recovering from a disordered food relationship. There is no shame in eating to a point of fullness, and it is actually a great sign from your body that it’s received adequate nutrition and fuel!
7. Use Kindness to Cope with Your Emotions
It’s very normal for food to be used for comfort in times of stress even though it’s often shamed and associated with guilt. While eating food for comfort is a perfectly normal way to cope with difficult emotions, it’s important to create a larger toolbox of coping skills that you can choose from. Allow yourself to experience and explore your emotions without judgement and you’ll soon develop effective ways to cope with any stressor that may arise.
8. Respect Your Body
Accepting your body is an important step in the process of eating intuitively. Our bodies are designed to support our unique selves and when given the opportunity, they will settle into our own specific set point weight without need for diets or restriction. Celebrate everything your body allows you to do and how it makes you the unique individual you are today.
9. Movement – Feel the Difference
When you think of movement or exercise, you might picture being subjected to high-intensity, painful workout sessions that are typically done with the goal of body alteration or weight loss. It doesn’t have to be this way! Focus on outcomes from movement that aren’t related to body size, such as gaining strength, feeling more energized, sleeping better or just purely enjoying the activity.
10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
When making food choices, pay attention to how you feel while eating. You may begin to notice differences in how you feel and find different patterns of eating make you feel better than others. Allow yourself to also eat a variety of food groups: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, dairy, fruit and vegetables. Combining foods you enjoy eating with foods that make your body feel its best is the ideal way to ensure you’re meeting your needs without restriction.
Start Practicing Intuitive Eating Principles
Rid yourself of diet culture’s influence on how you view and feed your body and reconnect with your body’s intuition. Intuitive eating can help you find food freedom and live a well-nourished life full of energy and enjoyment. If you’re unsure how to begin your journey through intuitive eating, reach out to your therapist or registered dietitian for support. For those who need additional help, contact Center for Discovery today.
Madeline Radigan Langham is a registered dietitian with experience in mental health and eating disorder residential treatment. She is passionate about advocating for weight inclusivity and a non-diet approach to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time on trails with her family. You can find more of Madeline’s thoughts and work at radnutrition.net or on Instagram at @mradnutrition.