What is intuitive eating? 10 principles of eating for better health

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intuitive eating
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Are you sick of the diet culture and what it entails? Then this article is just for you! Try intuitive eating, where you can eat whatever you want whenever you’re hungry.

Want to know more about what is intuitive eating? Well then, read on!

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WHAT IS INTUITIVE EATING?

Wouldn’t it be nice to eat anything that your mind craves every time without caring about your diet? Intuitive eating is just that. You eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. It is essentially tapping into your body signals and acting accordingly. You will learn to understand when your body signals hunger, uncontrollable cravings, and fullness and honor those feelings without feeling guilt.

Our mind is conscious of external influences more than our body’s inner wisdom. The outside factors have influenced our way of living. We tend to give more importance to what society thinks than what we feel. This inhibition has filtered into our way of eating too.

As the name suggests, intuitive eating is an intuitive process of trusting your body more than outside influences. There is no rigid set of rules to follow like the diet culture. All you need to do is trust your body, and for that, you’ll need to learn to distinguish between the types of hunger

DIFFERENT TYPES OF HUNGER

1. Physical Hunger

When the body needs energy, it signals in different ways like growling stomach, fatigue, headache, and irritability.

2. Emotional Hunger

is when you feel hungry more in your head than in your stomach. Driven by emotional needs such as loneliness, anxiety, and boredom, this often leads to eating comfort foods and feeling guilty afterward.

3. Taste hunger

you wake up in the middle of the night and crave that pint of ice cream left in your fridge even if your stomach is full after eating a heavy dinner that evening! Taste hunger is when you feel a craving for that specific food, even if you are not hungry.

4. Necessity Hunger

is when you eat, knowing that you will be hungry afterward. You may not be able to eat due to your circumstances. For example, when you are in the middle of a meeting and would not be able to grab something to eat until late.

5. Nutrient Hunger

is when your body needs its nutrients to function. After a long wedding party, you may crave some greens or whole grains to nourish your body.

Intuitive eating is listening to your body and trusting the hunger cues. Connect with your body to distinguish between this hunger and honor your hunger without the feeling of remorse. For that, you need to quieten that inner voice that tells you about diet, workout, and all other notions that have been deep-seated in your mind related to eating.

ORIGIN OF INTUITIVE EATING

Before we dwell deeper into the process of intuitive eating, let us look into the history of intuitive eating.

Two California-based dieticians, Elyse Resh and Evelyn Tribole coined the term’ intuitive eating’ in their bookIntuitiveDieting: A Revolutionary Program That Works, published in 1995.

However, the concept has been out there even before that.

In her book, Fat is a feminist issue, Susie Orbach, published in 1978, bashes wildly against the notion of perfect body size and a balanced diet. She encourages women to accept their bodies and learn to enjoy their food without any food anxieties.

Geneen Ruth has also written about emotional eating since 1972

The weight management program Green Mountain founded by Thelma Wayler in 1973, focuses on a non-dietary approach such as lifestyle changes and sustainable habits.

It is clear that intuitive eating has been around since the 1970s and has gained considerable momentum.

YES, WE ARE BORN INTUITIVE EATERS!

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To understand more about intuitive eating, observe a baby. They eat intuitively. They cry when they feel hungry and feed until they are satisfied. You cannot feed a baby more food when they are full.

We were born intuitive eaters until the diet mentality, and the notion of good food and bad food got engraved into our mindset. After a certain period, we are thrown into diet culture, wellness techniques, and the constant guilt of either eating more or eating less. This mindset has tampered us from accepting our body and gaining our inner body wisdom.

So how do you tap into your internal cues and build a healthy relationship with your hunger cues and food? For that, let us look into the ten principles of intuitive eating.

10 PRINCIPLES OF INTUITIVE EATING

Do not compare these 10 rules of intuitive eating to all the diet rules or weight loss or weight gain rules. These rules of intuitive eating are just a source for you to reconnect with your body. These 10 key principles were first outlined in Elyse Resh and Evelyn Triboles’ book.

While some of them might resonate with you, some might not. And that is okay! There are no hard and fast rules to follow for intuitive eating. But to understand more about intuitive eating, let us look into the 10 principles of intuitive eating.

1. Reject the diet mentality
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The cycle of eating – dieting- craving – cheating, and feeling guilty afterward has been the norm for many of us. It is high time to break from this cycle and start making our own food choices.

When you eat sugar or carbs, your guilt consciousness kicks in. The urge to start your diet or exercise to burn that excess calorie gain will outweigh your happiness. Your inner food police will show a stop sign when you feel the urge to eat a little more of that delicious mouthwatering sweet dessert.

The cycle of eating, dieting, working out, craving, cheating, and feeling guilt has been the norm for many of us. It is high time that we break this cycle and start making our own food choices.

The years of external diet rules and ingrained perfect body image have set up a mental food scale where the external factors far outweigh the satisfaction factor. This mind scale is highly harmful to both the mind and the body.

Intuitive eating kicks out these external factors that determine your food intake and helps you to make peace with your food. Intuitive eating is an anti-diet approach where only your hunger signals and your satisfaction are what matter. Body acceptance is the key.

2. Honor your hunger

Hunger- is just like any other signal that our body gives to maintain itself. Do you feel guilty after peeing? Hunger is another body cue telling you that the body needs its nutrition- Honor it!

Honoring your hunger and trusting your body is the foundational part of intuitive eating. Take the biological cue and start eating. Also, stop when you are satiated. A delay in not recognizing these hunger signals might lead to overeating. So trust your inner wisdom and respond to your body signals.

3. Make peace with food

Once you make peace with your food, you will feel a sense of peace in your mind.

As the first line of this article suggests, eat whatever you want without any external factors influencing you. For that, you need to make peace with your food. This may seem as easier said than done. But once you make peace with your food, you will get a sense of peace in your mind too. There are no forbidden foods for you. Unless you are allergic or have a strong aversion to that particular food item, eat whatever your mind craves.

You might feel that if you can eat whatever you want, you might get out of control and cannot stop eating. But that is not the case.

When someone forbids you from opening a box, all you can think of is what might be inside that box. Similar is the case with food. When you are restricted from eating a particular food, your primary tendency will be to eat that.

The uncontrollable urge decreases as you can eat it whenever you want. This feeling becomes overwhelming until you quench that desire. When you are on a diet, you will have a cheat day where you can eat whatever you crave to your desire. But, when you crave something and eat it immediately, you will be able to control the desire to eat more.

4. Challenge the food police

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Why are there food police in our minds? There are no good points for eating green veggies and bad points for eating a juicy grilled burger. Stop the mental food police determine what you eat and when you eat. Break free from the constant critical voice. These voices result from long engraved external factors that have determined your eating habits. They have become deeply ingrained in your brain.

Some common misconceptions include not eating after a certain period at night, exercising after eating a heavy dinner to burn that extra calorie off, and forbidden foods like ice cream or bagels because of extra carbs. These thoughts are not only affecting the body but also the mind.

Restriction of food would only lead to mental distress. Eating should be viewed as a pleasurable activity without the constant reminder from your internal critic voice.

5. Discover the satisfaction factor

The feeling of fullness is a physical sensation, while satisfaction is a mental sensation. Learn to distinguish between the two to enjoy the path of intuitive eating.

To feel satisfied both mentally and physically, you need to make eating a pleasurable activity. Enjoy your bowl of meals and choose foods that give you satisfaction. If the satisfaction quotient is absent, your brain might interpret it as a false signal and continue to send hunger signals. This will make you want to keep eating, leading to overeating.

6. Feel your fullness

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Learn to stop eating when your stomach is full. Another principle of intuitive eating is to feel your fullness. This might be difficult or seen as next to impossible because who can say no to an extra dessert even after a heavy meal. But when you eat consistently whenever you feel hungry, you will naturally stop eating when you are physically full by not restricting yourself from eating any food.

As the saying goes, trust goes both ways. When you trust your body signals and act accordingly, your body begins to trust you back. When the body signals hunger cues and you satisfy them every time, your body will know that it will be honored the next time.

Some tips to feel your fullness is mentioned below:

  • Hunger meter: This tool helps reflect on what we feel when eating.
  • Try to eat slowly: This is to allow our body to react and digest the food
  • Pause a minute: It is good to pause for a minute while eating. Use this minute to check in with your body. Ask yourself if you want to eat more or feel full?
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness

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Do not feel guilty for eating comfort foods. While going through a trauma, it is natural to feel emotional hunger. But it becomes a problem when eating becomes the only coping mechanism you follow.

Reflect on the root cause of the emotions rather than distracting yourself by turning to comfort foods.

In such circumstances, it is better to turn to other coping mechanisms like talking to a friend or seeing a therapist. The practice of yoga or meditation can also help.

While emotional eating is, to an extent, a source of comfort, depending solely on it has harmful effects. It is advisable to seek other coping mechanisms extent to get through that phase of life. You might also benefit from talking to an intuitive eating counselor when undergoing difficult situations.

8. Respect your body

Everyone is unique. Society has set up unrealistic expectations about body image. But there is no perfect body size. It is up to you to respect and take care of your body. Being compassionate to your body and believing in body positivity helps you in the journey of intuitive eating.

Taking care of your body both physically and mentally will help your long-term health. Listen to your body and be kind to it without comparing your body to others. Everyone is unique in their way.

9. Movement – feel the difference

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Did you know that there is an intuitive movement like intuitive eating?

Intuitive movement is the process of doing exercises that makes you feel good and bring you a sense of more joy than what you should do. Most often, exercises are linked to either weight loss or weight gain. But the intuitive movement is much more.

Tap into what makes you feel good and energized rather than focusing on perfecting your body image.

10. Honour your health with gentle nutrition

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You might have a meal plan prepared that is rich in nutritious food. But does that meal make you content after eating? Sometimes yes, but most of the time, the answer would be no.

Gentle nutrition is taking care of the body’s nutrition gently without being harsh on your body and mind.

Gentle nutrition is more about the consistency of food intake rather than a richly nutritious food bowl. There are no food rules to follow except your own body’s internal wisdom.

You can create a beautiful relationship between yourself and your body by following these rules. Trust your inner wisdom to become an intuitive eater. Losing weight or gaining weight is not the end goal of this process. Free your mind from all your body inhibitions and start respecting your body.

INTUITIVE EATING AND MINDFUL EATING

Intuitive eating and mindful eating are two different concepts. Although they may feel the same, there are many differences between the concepts.

In mindful eating, you become aware of your food choices and the nutritional benefits of consuming them.

Although some principles like rejecting diet, respecting your body, and listening to inner wisdom are similar to intuitive eating, there is a rigidness in mindful eating, which is absent in the intuitive eating process.

So try to eat intuitively rather than setting a rigid milestone and getting stressed by mindful eating.

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Benefits of intuitive eating

The benefits arising from intuitive eating are two types- physical benefits and mental benefits.

Physical benefit:

In a 2019 study, researchers analyzed interoceptive sensitivity among 37 adults with anorexia nervosa and 39 people without any eating disorders. Interoceptive sensitivity measures how accurately a person can identify their body signals.

The study suggested a correlation between increased intuitive eating and higher interoceptive sensitivity in people with and without eating disorders. However, the rates of intuitive eating were lower among people with anorexia.

Mental benefit:

The psychological benefit of intuitive eating is much more. Intuitive eating has its mental benefits by making eating a much more pleasurable activity than one causing more stress. Spreading body positivity and teaching how to reach into one’s inner wisdom, intuitive eating is a psychological journey.

In short, Intuitive eating brings:

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better body image
  • More satisfaction with life
  • Optimism and well-being
  • Proactive coping skills
  • Higher HDL cholesterol levels
  • Lower Triglyceride levels
  • Lower rates of emotional eating
  • Lower rates of disordered eating

DEMERITS OF INTUITIVE EATING

While intuitive eating has many benefits, it has its own set of demerits.

Intuitive eating might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is not advised for people suffering from eating disorders.

Also, people suffering from diabetes or cholesterol need to take advice from their registered dietician before practicing intuitive eating.

HOW TO START THE JOURNEY OF INTUITIVE EATING

Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach. Unlike the diet books, there are no fixed steps to follow. The practice of eating intuitively can differ from person to person. You have to be a master of your own body. Trust your body and own internal wisdom.

Some of the guidelines that help you start your intuitive eating journey are given below:

Observe your food habit

Keenly observe your food habits without holding any prior judgment. Mute that mental critic voice inside your head and pay attention to whatever you eat.

Reflect on reasons for eating

When you feel like eating, take a moment to analyze the feeling. Check whether it was the natural hunger cue from your body or the emotional hunger. Learn to distinguish between the two to enjoy the intuitive eating experience.

Try mindfulness

Be mindful of what you are eating. Enjoy the pleasure of eating without the label of good food or bad food.

Listen to hunger cues.

The journey to intuitive eating begins when you start listening to your body’s internal cues.

Try to eat whenever you feel hungry without any delay. When you delay eating, the hunger turns into starvation. Starvation can lead to overeating.

So give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want and whenever you want.

Avoid moralizing food

Stop labeling food as good and bad food. Start intuitive eating by making peace with your food.

Restrain from being influenced by social media

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Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

Social media has a powerful influence on determining our way of life. Unfollow all the social media that spread diet mentality and make you feel low self-esteem. You know what you are worth. Do not let anybody convince you otherwise.

To know more about intuitive eating and how to start practicing this concept, you can check in with an intuitive eating counselor. Also, there are numerous sites and programs designed to help you ease into the process.

SUMMARY

The process of intuitive eating as an anti-diet approach is spreading among people, and more and more people are getting attracted to this process. It can help to build a healthy relationship with your body and mind. Healthy eating leads to healthy habits and a better way of living.

So start eating without any inhibitions and feel the positivity in your body and soul.

People with health conditions need to check with a certified intuitive eating counselor before starting the process of intuitive eating.

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While at times contributed by guest authors, our content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. We pride ourselves on our high-quality content and strive towards offering expertise while being authoritative. Our reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students. 

Do note that any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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