Might you be upset and craving food to comfort and soothe yourself? Or are you bored and thinking about eating as a distraction? Considering these possibilities might inform your decision of what to eat, or even whether to eat at all.
The main purpose of Intuitive Eating is to cultivate a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body. It is a weight-neutral model, meaning that the focus is not on body size, but rather on healing your relationship with food.
In other words, our wants, needs, and emotions are very much tied to the direct experience of sensations in our here-and-now bodies. The Intuitive Eating principles work by either increasing interoceptive awareness or by removing the obstacles to this “superpower.” The obstacles usually arise from the mind in the form of rules, beliefs, and thoughts.
- The problem is that any focus on weight loss will sabotage your ability to reconnect with your body’s Intuitive Eating signals. When you focus on weight, it places your attention on external measures for eating—such as the portions of foods, and the macros of food—rather than connecting you with your internal cues.
- “Be sure to tell them that if they have a binge, it can actually turn out to be a great experience, because they’ll learn so much about their thoughts and feelings, as a result of the binge.”
- “Tell them that taking a time-out to see if they’re hungry doesn’t mean that they can’t eat if they find they’re not hungry. It’s just a time-out to make sure that they’re not eating on autopilot. If they want to eat anyway, they can!”
- Intuitive Eaters were found to have higher body satisfaction, without internalizing the thin ideal, which indicates that Intuitive Eaters are less likely to base their self-worth on being thin. Intuitive Eating Scale total scores were positively associated with self-esteem, satisfaction with life, optimism, and proactive coping.
- Hawks’s Intuitive Eating Scale (2004a) has four components: Intrinsic Eating (eating is based on inner cues). Extrinsic Eating (eating is based on external influences such as mood, social, and food availability). Anti-Dieting (eating is not based on diets, counting calories, or desire for weight loss). Self-Care (body acceptance, taking care of body regardless of size).
- Interoceptive awareness is the ability to perceive physical sensations that arise from within your body. It’s a direct experience, a felt sense that happens in the present moment—it’s not the past or future, it happens right now. It includes basic states like feeling a distended bladder, hunger and satiety cues, and the felt sense of every emotional feeling.
- The challenge in today’s diet culture is that many people do not value, let alone trust, their body sensations. Instead, they eat based on externality—that is, eating according to rules and diet plans, which ultimately create confusion between mind and body. Interoceptive awareness is based on inner sensation, which is an inside job. That’s why using external methods to eat—such as counting macros, calories, or points—does not help you connect to your body.
- General Benefits of Intuitive Eating ... Greater body appreciation and satisfaction • Positive emotional functioning • Greater life satisfaction • Unconditional self-regard and optimism • Psychological hardiness • Greater motivation to exercise, when the focus is on enjoyment rather than guilt or appearance.
- One of the strongest predictors of weight gain is dieting, regardless of the actual body weight of the dieter.
- If dieting programs had to stand up to the same scrutiny as medications, they would never be allowed for public consumption. Imagine, for example, taking an asthma medication that improves your breathing for a few weeks, but in the long run, causes rebound asthma attacks and ultimately damages your lungs. Would you blame yourself for the medication not working, yet still continue to take it? Of course not!
- A 2015 Harris Poll of more than two thousand Americans found that nearly eight out of ten women and seven out of ten men in the United States suffer from food guilt.
Intuitive Eating Principles:
- PRINCIPLE 1: REJECT THE DIET MENTALITY - Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the diet culture that promotes weight loss and the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet or food plan might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
- PRINCIPLE 2: HONOR YOUR HUNGER - Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise, you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust in yourself and in food.
- PRINCIPLE 3: MAKE PEACE WITH FOOD - Call a truce; stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.
- PRINCIPLE 4: CHALLENGE THE FOOD POLICE - Scream a loud no to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
- PRINCIPLE 5: FEEL YOUR FULLNESS - In order to honor your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry and observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is.
- PRINCIPLE 6: COPE WITH YOUR EMOTIONS WITH KINDNESS - 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. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort in the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you. But food won’t solve the problem. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion.
- PRINCIPLE 7: RESPECT YOUR BODY - Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and critical of your body size or shape. All bodies deserve dignity.
- PRINCIPLE 8: MOVEMENT—FEEL THE DIFFERENCE- Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as being energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm.
- PRINCIPLE 9: HONOR YOUR HEALTH—GENTLE NUTRITION - Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.
- The road to Intuitive Eating is like investing in a long-term mutual fund. Over time, there will be a return on the investment, in spite of the daily fluctuations of the stock market. It is normal and expected.
- You will learn to honor your hunger and recognize your body signals that indicate the many degrees of hunger. You will learn to separate these biological signals from the emotional signals that might also trigger eating.
- Dieting is correlated with feelings of failure, lowered self-esteem, and social anxiety, independent of body weight itself.
- Dieting gradually erodes confidence and self-trust.
- Many studies have shown that dieting makes no sense metabolically or to our brain chemistry. In fact, it’s counterproductive. The biological chemicals that regulate appetite also directly affect moods and state of mind, our physical energy, and our sex lives.
- Carbohydrates are the preferred source of food energy to the body. Cells function best when they receive a certain level of carbohydrates, in the form of glucose, and even small decreases can cause problems. The brain, nervous system, and red blood cells rely exclusively on glucose for fuel. Because of the importance of glucose, the levels of it in the blood are closely regulated by two hormones, insulin, and glucagon.
- Each time you eat, ask yourself: Am I hungry? What’s my hunger level? If the feeling of hunger is hard to identify, ask yourself: When was the last time I ever felt hungry? How did my stomach feel? How did my mouth feel?
- Monitor your hunger levels each time you eat, before and after, using the Hunger Discovery Scale Journal (Here). What pattern do you see emerging? Is there a certain time interval when you eat?
Five Steps to Make Peace with Food
1. Pay attention to the foods that are appealing to you, and make a list of them.
2. Put a check by the foods you actually do eat, then circle the remaining foods that you’ve been restricting.
3. Give yourself permission to eat one forbidden food from your list, then go to the market and buy this food, or order it at a restaurant.
4. Check in with yourself to see if the food tastes as good as you imagined. If you find that you really like it, continue to give yourself permission to buy or order it.
5. Make sure that you keep enough of the food in your kitchen so that you know that it will be there if you want it. Or if that seems too scary, go to a restaurant and order the particular food as often as you like.