Learn what intuitive eating involves, as well as the health benefits it can bring.
If you’re looking to lose weight or develop a more positive relationship with food, you may have come across the phrase ‘intuitive eating’. But what is intuitive eating exactly?
In this beginner’s guide, we breakdown the basics of this non-diet dietary approach to help you understand how to adopt healthier habits at the table.
What is intuitive eating?
In a nutshell, intuitive eating is a healthy approach towards food consumption that prioritises physical cues like hunger and fullness over external diet rules such as what, when and how much to eat.
Although we all enter this world free from the constraints of diet rules, they are gradually instilled in us as we’re told to eat and avoid specific foods. Additionally, society may teach us that certain physiques are more attractive and accepted than others – standards which in turn influence our dietary decisions. Focus on these external cues can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors such as dieting, binging and emotional eating.
Intuitive eating teaches you to reconnect with how food makes your body feel, rather than its impact on your appearance. Essentially, it places emphasis on eating when you’re physically hungry and stopping once you’re full and satisfied. This approach aims to encourage a healthier relationship with both food and your body.
The difference between intuitive eating and mindful eating
The main difference between mindful eating and intuitive eating is that the latter is centred around the importance of replacing dieting mentality with respect for your body.
Mindful eating is described as being aware and conscious of your actions and feelings while selecting, preparing and eating food. This approach advocates revelling in all of your senses during these stages to truly experience how food is affecting your physical body.
While intuitive eating adopts the principles of mindfulness, it is also centred around the importance of replacing dieting mentality with respect for your body. Both approaches are helpful and healthy mechanisms that will help you to foster a happy mind and body through a positive relationship with food.
Benefits of intuitive eating
Many research studies have demonstrated the positive impact of intuitive eating on attitudes toward food and body image, with high retention rates suggesting that people are likely to keep up these behavioral changes long-term.
More specifically, studies have associated intuitive eating with lower body mass index, higher HDL cholesterol levels, reduced triglyceride levels and weight maintenance. What’s more, intuitive eating has also been linked to improved psychological health. Participants in such studies reported a boost in self-esteem and general quality of life, as well as exhibiting lower levels of anxiety, depression and disordered eating.
10 principles of intuitive eating
1. Say goodbye to the fad diet mentality
Fad diets can be a recipe for short-lived results and feelings of failure. Instead of spending your time on rapid weight loss articles, crash diet books and social media accounts that promote an unhealthy body ideal, refocus your energy on content that shares positive approaches to food and health.
2. Respect your hunger
Remember that hunger is a natural process designed to drive food consumption. And acknowledging this physical feeling is a critical step towards ensuring your body stays nourished and healthy. If you ignore hunger in an attempt to curb food intake, your body will only respond with more intense cravings, which increase the likelihood of bingeing on comfort food.
The intuitive eating approach also advocates making sure that you eat enough throughout the day, even when you don’t realise you are hungry (for instance, when you’re overloaded with work and lose track of time!). In such a case, it’s important to fit in regular meals so that your body gets the nutrients it needs and doesn’t become overly hungry as the day progresses.
3. Be at peace with food
Another key tenet of intuitive eating is the belief that you shouldn’t completely cut out certain food groups. Rather, this approach advocates allowing all foods into your diet so that you can eat what you like, albeit in moderation. That’s because if you forbid yourself from consuming a specific food, this deprivation will likely develop into significant cravings and overeating.
4. Don’t let the food police bring you down
Who are the food police? Those voices in your head that praise you for eating greens and scold you for indulging in dessert. In other words, they are a set of strict, internalised dieting rules that shape the way food makes you feel. To practice intuitive eating properly, you must learn to challenge the food police when they speak out of turn. Otherwise, you’ll find it tough to enjoy your meals in peace.
5. Recognise the satisfaction factor
We’ve all experienced feeling physically full yet not quite satisfied with our meal. When this happens, it’s hard to stop yourself from searching for something to quell your cravings and leave you feeling content. That’s why it’s often best to eat foods you actually enjoy the taste of (again, in moderation) and that will make you feel satisfied without overeating.
6. Appreciate the feeling of fullness
Make the effort to practice mindful eating when it’s time to sit down at the table. Essentially, this means being more consciously aware of your meal, including how the food tastes and makes your body feel. Once you practice eating according to physical cues instead of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ food groups and portions, your body will learn that it can be nourished with what it wants when it needs.
Take your time, setting down your fork between bites and making sure to chew your food properly before swallowing. Avoid distractions as you dine, turning off the TV and stepping away from your laptop before you bite. Watch out for physical cues of fullness and satiation, checking in with your body throughout the meal so that you do not find yourself overeating.
7. Treat yourself how you’d treat others
Emotional eating is when you eat to cope with unpleasant feelings rather than to satisfy physical hunger. If this sounds familiar, it’s important to be aware that although food might provide short-term distraction and comfort, it will not solve your issues for good. In fact, it may cause feelings of guilt and shame that can set off a harmful cycle of unhealthy eating behaviours.
That said, don’t be too hard on yourself if you find that you’re engaging in emotional eating behaviours. Instead, be kind to your feelings and give them the respect you would give your friends’. You can also explore a range of alternate coping strategies, such as meditation, yoga, or therapy.
8. Respect your body
Another core principle of intuitive eating is having genuine respect for your body as it is in its current state. That means being kind to your body no matter its appearance, acknowledging its various cues and caring for your physical and mental wellbeing.
Try to refocus your attention away from your physical insecurities and upward comparisons with others to the many wonderful things your body can do for you and why you appreciate it. Know that it is completely normal to find this shift in mindset challenging – it takes time and compassion to progress through this constant journey.
9. Enjoy physical activity
With the pressures of an aesthetically-focused society, exercise can feel like a chore instead of a pleasurable activity. That’s often why so many people find it difficult to keep up a consistent exercise schedule.
Intuitive movement involves reconnecting with your body and concentrating on what forms of movement are enjoyable and positive experiences. Replace thoughts of how many calories you’re burning with how good an exercise makes you feel. By shifting your perception of movement from a weight loss method to an enjoyable pastime, you can grow to love it for the long run.
10. Honour your health with gentle nutrition
Gentle nutrition revolves around the concept of treating food as a form of self care, instead of a way to change your body through restrictive control. Instead of perceiving nutrition in regards to what foods you should avoid, why not think of what food groups you can introduce to your diet? Take time to explore new nutritious foods and see which flavours you enjoy the most, experimenting with delicious recipes.
Remember that your meal plan doesn’t always have to be perfect. Rather, it’s sticking with a stable, nutritious diet over time that will make you feel your healthiest and happiest.
Get trusted support with intuitive eating from a registered dietitian
If you have undergone bariatric surgery and wish to avail of professional advice and guidance with intuitive eating, our dietitians are available to assist you with your dietary goals. Our expert team offers round-the-clock contact, exclusive support groups and monthly progress reviews.
To start your journey with Newcastle Obesity Surgery Centre, please book an appointment via our contact form or give us a call on 02 4058 3936. We’d love to hear from you!