the first part of my deep dive into intuitive eating from what it is, how to begin to put it into practice and my take on it as a registered dietitian.
The long awaited post that so many of you have asked for! It’s taken me some time to pull this together because I wanted to make sure I could be thoughtful in my approach, but with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week upon us, I wanted to get this series going in the hopes that it might help just one of you that may be struggling.
The topic is a big one and can feel a little overwhelming, so to help with that I’m going to break it down into smaller, more digestible parts. For this first part, we’re keeping things really simple – I’m just going to provide you with a brief overview of what intuitive eating is.
There are many different programs out there that deal with intuitive eating (also sometimes referred to as a ‘non-diet approach’). However, the concept was first developed by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, CEDRD, FADA. In 1995, they wrote a book called Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works which remains one of the pillars of the intuitive eating community today.
Tribole describes Intuitive Eating as “a form of attunement of mind, body, and food.” Essentially, mind, body and food all living together in harmony.
There are several principles of Intuitive Eating (IE) according to Tribole and Resch’s book (which I highly recommend as a resource – more listed at the end of this post) but there are four main pillars upon which IE stands:
- Give yourself unconditional permission to eat with attunement (i.e. in harmony with your mind, body & food)
- Let your internal hunger & fullness cues guide you
- Eat in accordance with physical rather than emotional cues (*see note)
- Achieve body-food-choice congruence – select foods that feel good and energize your body.
Let’s look at that first principle. According to Tribole, “once you have unconditional permission to eat (regardless of the food’s perceived health value), you can then honestly ask yourself:
1. Do I really want to eat this?
2. Will I enjoy it now or later?
3. Will I really taste the food now?”
If the answer is “yes,” then according to the Intuitive Eating (IE) principles, you should go ahead and have it. No guilt, no shame, no strings attached (i.e. “I’ll eat this now and tomorrow I’ll start my diet”).
We all know that when dieting (or even just following self-imposed food rules), there can be a tendency to hyper-focus on the foods that are deemed “off-limits.” That hyper-focus can lead to significant cravings that, as humans, we can only deny for so long. When we eventually “give in” and listen to what our body is asking for, it can result in overeating as feelings of deprivation mix with guilt for “failing.”
The idea behind IE is that by giving ourselves permission to eat any food, many of those “off-limit” foods become less compelling. Once the allure of the forbidden food is gone, you’ll likely find that hyper-focus goes with it and any control/power that food had over you.
Finally, just as important in IE as the permission to eat any food, is the principle of allowing your hunger & fullness cues to guide you. While “eating when you’re hungry & stopping when you’re full” may seem simple and straight-forward, it can be one of the most difficult things to master with all the outside influences we face in a single day (social media, magazines, websites, friends, family, etc.). For those with a history of chronic dieting, eating disorders or disordered eating patterns, it can be nearly impossible to recognize, acknowledge and act upon those internal cues.
And learning to distinguish biological hunger (a growing stomach, feeling “hangry” or dizzy) from other influences (emotional cues, external messages, internal disordered thoughts, etc.) takes time and effort (and sometimes guidance from a Registered Dietitian who can help you to help you access and best apply those cues).
We’ll dive further into Intuitive Eating over the next several posts, but one thing I want to say is this: A healthy relationship with food and your body takes time. Becoming an intuitive eater is by no means a linear, or overnight process. It’s a journey during which we learn about our bodies, our food behaviors and how to cultivate a positive relationship with both. While it’s not a quick fix, it will pave the pathway for a lifelong positive relationship with food & your body.
Intuitive Eating Resources & Books:
- Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works (2nd edition here)
- The Intuitive Eating Workbook
- Eat To Love
- Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat
- The Eating Instinct
- Just Eat It
*NOTE: We have discussed this in the past, but obviously we are not always going to eat only for physical reasons. As stated, there are many reasons that we eat and while it’s ideal that the majority of the time we’re eating out of physical hunger, that doesn’t make it wrong to eat for other reasons every once in a while (i.e. boredom, cravings, to celebrate, for social reasons, etc.). Tribole also states “If you look at just the health merits of any food or meal, it is a one-sided view that does not take into consideration the importance of fostering a healthy relationship with food.”23