Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2020 issue.
What would it feel like to eat whatever you want when you are hungry? What would it be like to respect, even love, your body? These are two of the main ideas behind the methodology know as “intuitive eating” — based on 10 principles. It is not a diet, but a way of developing a new relationship with food and your body.
Here are the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating and steps you can use to take action for each:
REJECT THE DIET MENTALITY.
Dieting is about restriction. Rejecting diet mentality underlies all of the subsequent principles. By following the 10 principles, your body reaches a weight that is effortless to maintain. Rejecting the diet mentality is helped by cultivating nonjudgmental awareness and curiosity about your thoughts.
Action step: Watch for diet-related thoughts. Diet-related thoughts are about restriction, calories or your body not being ideal. When you identify dieting thoughts, be curious about where they came from and if they are serving you. Becoming aware of how often you have dieting thoughts can help you begin to change them.
MAKE PEACE WITH FOOD.
Rather than restricting food and labeling food “good” or “bad,” accept that food is just food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat any food you want. Allowing yourself to eat unconditionally removes the allure of restricted foods.
Action step: Make a list of foods that you restrict. Look through the list and ask yourself why each food is restricted. Then, ask where that restriction came from. Think about how you would feel if you could have that food whenever you want it.
HONOR YOUR HUNGER.
Dieting teaches us that we can’t trust or believe our bodies biological hunger signals. Learning to eat when your body is asking for food helps you learn to fuel your body and trust it again.
Action step: Registered dietitian Melissa Altman-Traub recommends “seeing if you can adjust when you eat based on how hungry you feel. Instead of eating because it’s ‘time to eat’ or others are eating, try to tune into your own hunger cues.”
FEEL YOUR FULLNESS.
Just as learning to eat when we are hungry helps us learn to trust our bodies, so does learning to stop when we are full. Learning the amount of food that it takes to achieve a comfortable level of fullness that will hold you for three to four hours until your next meal takes time and trust in your body.
Action step: Keep a log of what you ate and your fullness level when you finished. Be curious and explore how much food it takes to be comfortably full and not need to eat again for three to four hours.
CHALLENGE THE FOOD POLICE.
The “food police” are the voices in our heads and the people around us who tell us not to eat foods. They are the enforcers of the food rules.
Action step: When your internal food police bring up a diet rule, stop and ask yourself where that thought came from. Then, ask yourself if the thought is serving you.
DISCOVER THE SATISFACTION FACTOR.
Eating isn’t just about the food, but also about the setting — plates, lighting and music, for example. The whole experience of eating should be satisfying. Although every eating experience can’t be a full, sensual experience, adding in one or two things that you enjoy to make can make it more satisfying.
Action step: Make a list of things that make eating satisfying for you. What does it feel like, smell like, look like, taste like? Then, incorporate one or two (or all!) of those things when you can.
COPE WITH YOUR EMOTIONS WITHOUT USING FOOD.
Find ways to comfort yourself without food. Eating for comfort ends up making us feel worse, because we have to deal with the emotional aftermath of eating when we weren’t hungry, while still having the emotions that lead us to eat initially.
Action step: Make a list of things that trigger your emotional eating. Next, make a list of things you could do to comfort yourself rather than eating. The list could include sitting with the emotion until it passes, as well as things that could distract you from the emotion. Keep your list handy to refer to the next time you face eating for emotional reasons.
RESPECT YOUR BODY.
Why not respect our bodies for all they do for us? Starting small is fine. Perhaps you respect that you woke up this morning or that your heart beats and your lungs breathe.
Action step: Make a list of five things you respect about your body. They can be big or small. Add to the list as things come to mind.
Focus on movement that feels good, rather than focusing on the calories burned. Some days a hard workout feels good. On other days, taking an easy walk may be what your body needs.
Action step: Try a new workout/movement and see if it feels good. Make a list of types of movement you enjoy and keep it close so you can refer to it when you feel the need to move.
HONOR YOUR HEALTH WITH GENTLE NUTRITION.
Once you’ve made peace with food and worked on the other principles, you can start thinking about eating in ways that help your body feel good. You get to explore and see what foods help your body feel good.
Action step: Keep a log of the foods you eat and how they make you feel. Then, you can focus on how you want to feel after eating and eat the foods that help you feel that way. The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating are like the poses in a yoga practice. They take time to master and have nuances. Being a lifelong intuitive eater takes practice, patience and gentleness with yourself. In Intuitive Eating, progress is better than perfection. You can start by taking any of the steps above and start you Intuitive Eating practice today.
Photo by Pablo Merchan-Montes.