November 16, 2020 7 min read

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    Principles of Intuitive Eating

    The term intuitive eating and all of its principles were developed by Evelyn Tribole, RD, and Elyse Resch, RDN in the 1990s. Intuitive eating was born of a desire to reverse the damage that our diet culture has done to our view of food and eating and ultimately our individual relationships with food. Doctors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch saw the number of eating disorders growing alongside a never-ending slue of diet fads. They saw their patients struggling through diets, only to gain the weight right back after they were done. Not only did the weight come back, but it also came with feelings of guilt, lower self-esteem, and a negative body image.

    Personally, I remember being obsessed with gaining weight as a 12-year-old girl. Any time I'd visit a fast-food restaurant, I pressed my french fries between two napkins to get all the grease out before I ate them because I was scared to gain weight. This was before the prevalence of social media. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine how children and teens navigate their body image and self-worth among the constant barrage of social media influencers advertising weight-loss products and the many images of thinness, as well as the promotion of plastic surgery to custom build a body circulating through the media.


    Dieting is unsustainable and exhausting and it often seems that the "finish line" keeps getting pushed further and further away. Intuitive eating flips this notion on its head. Intuitive eating doesn't prescribe a strict diet or a lengthy list of forbidden foods. In a nutshell, it teaches you that your body knows what it's doing and that you should honor and trust your body's internal cues to help guide your nutrition. Here are the 10 principles of intuitive eating to help ditch the diet mentality and shape a healthy relationship with food:

    1. Reject the diet mentality: This is the foundation. Reject the diet books and magazine articles that dangle weight loss in front of your face as if it is the ultimate yet unobtainable standard of beauty and health. Intuitive eating is rooted in nutrition, not weight loss. You already have all the tools you need.
    2. Honor your hunger:Overeating and binging are triggered by excessive hunger. It overrides any intentions you have to eat mindfully and nutritiously. Listening and fulfilling your body's signs of hunger is not a weakness.
    3. Make peace with food: Food is not your enemy! Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you love and that make you feel good is paramount. Without it, you can develop uncontrollable cravings, followed by overeating rather that can otherwise be avoided by just allowing yourself the simple, deserved pleasure of eating delicious foods.
    4. Challenge the food police:Forget those little voices in your head that commend you for skipping whole meals or yell at you for enjoying your favorite dessert. Listen to your own body instead, your body needs carbohydrates for the energy and they are not going to derail your goals!

    Eat What You Really Want

    1. Discover the satisfaction factor: As stated by Evelyn and Elyse themselves, "When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes just the right amount of food for you to decide you’ve had “enough.”
    2. Feel your fullness: This works hand in hand with honoring your hunger to get proper food intake. You can eat what you want and enjoy it, but there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing" and your body will tell you when you get there. Rather than getting caught in the experience, pause to enjoy how your food tastes and evaluate your hunger levels to see how much you really want.

    Eating Behaviors

    1. Cope with your emotions with kindness:As Evelyn and Elyse put it "First, recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues." In short, realize that eating behaviors are linked to your emotions but they can't resolve them; you need to find other ways to manage your emotions outside of food.
    2. Respect your body: Every body is different; they cannot all fit into the same mold because it's not in their genetic blueprint. This principle can be extremely hard to "achieve", but respecting your body is a form of self-care that demands dignity for yourself, shape, and size as a human being.
    3. Movement—Feel the difference: Exercise does not have to be linear and result based. Moving your body on a daily basis in a way that you actually enjoy can be freeing - focus on how it feels to get to know yourself and your movements. Try to reflect on how it can boost your mood and energy levels afterward rather than trying to measure a waistband. Finding an activity that you genuinely enjoy is key to keeping physical activity consistent.
    4. Honor your health—Gentle nutrition: "Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good." No nutritionist or personal chef could ever make a more perfect meal plan than the one your body tells you you need. Healthy eating doesn't have to be perfect, and there are ways to ensure you're getting all the nutrients you need while still enjoying your favorite foods.

    Benefits of Intuitive Eating

    Psychological Health Benefits

    Intuitive eating is backed by hundreds of studies, but its benefits might not be what we're used to seeing. To reiterate, intuitive eating is not a diet, it is a tool to connect you with your body and to understand its cues to better control your eating habits and promote a more holistic well-being. Intuitive eating is not meant to produce weight loss or other short term benefits like the typical diet approach would, it is a long-term lifestyle change with long-term benefits. It has been found to have numerous psychological health benefits, including increased self-esteem, positive body image, and decreased depression and anxiety. This is mostly due to reshaping the eating experience and tuning you into your body's cues of hunger and fullness. For this reason, registered dietitians and certified intuitive eating counselors have found that it can be an effective tool for recovering from eating disorders.

    How to Start Your Journey towards Intuitive Eating

    The best way to become an intuitive eater is to work with a registered dietitian, nutritionist, or certified intuitive eating counselor. It can seem like a big leap to begin your own journey, and it can be hard to trust yourself and your body's cues at first. Many people worry that they'll go off the deep end and over-indulge in carbs or sweets and eat like it's their last supper. It's hard to ditch the diet mentality, so it's best to work with a guide at first. Together, you will be able to create a nutrition plan that helps you to fill in any gaps to make sure you are eating the foods you love while getting the nutrients your body needs. This is where some people choose to add in supplements.

    Supplements to Support Your Journey

    The body is a powerful compass in filling your nutritional needs. This is to say, if you're suddenly craving a juicy steak, your body is probably telling you that it needs some more protein! Your food choices will guide the majority of your nutrition, but every individual has different nutritional needs based on their gender, genetics, age, hormones, activity levels, and their current eating habits as well. Guided by a nutritionist, you can use supplements to support your health while still embracing intuitive eating and removing the stress of hitting micros and macros with your daily diet.

    For instance, vitamin C supplements can be used to keep your levels high without putting pressure on you to consume more citrus, tomatoes, etc. Collagen peptides can be used to provide you with protein to support your joints, hair, skin, and nails without having to fight your body's cravings and eat a bowl of bone broth soup every day. Those with specific dietary restrictions can also fill their nutritional needs via supplements without having to step outside of their limitations. For example, the first thing many of us think of when we think "omega-3" is fish oil but this poses a problem for vegans who still rely on omega-3s to keep their hearts and minds healthy. In this scenario, vegan omega-3 supplements can be taken to fill this gap without forcing the individual to consume fish. Similarly, marine collagen can be used in pescatarian diets to alleviate cravings without consuming beef or other protein-rich foods that are outside of their diets. Additionally, nutrients like glucosamine which cannot be found abundantly in food sources can be provided in supplement form.

    Intuitive eating is becoming a popular tool to promote health at every size. Today, doctors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch still have their own private practices and are continuing the push towards intuitive eating. In recent years, they've developed their own Intuitive Eating Workbook to help you along your journey to holistic health and hone your skills as an intuitive eater. If the traditional diet culture is all you've ever known, it can be difficult and even scary to embrace intuitive eating. Luckily, there are plenty of dieticians to help you along your way to ensure that you are embracing your body's cues while still acknowledging your individual nutrition.

    Summary Points:

    Intuitive eating teaches you that your body knows best: Honor and trust your body's internal cues to help guide your nutrition.

    It is necessary to find other ways to manage your emotions outside of food.

    Intuitive eating has numerous psychological health benefits, including better self-esteem, positive body image, and decreased depression and anxiety.

    Guided by a nutritionist, you can use supplements to support your health while still embracing intuitive eating.

    Article References:


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