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What's Intuitive Eating and how can I get started?

Updated: Mar 28, 2022


If you’ve only heard this term on social media - depending on the content you’ve seen - you might be under the impression that intuitive eating is as simple as eating whatever you want, whenever you want! And whilst true, it’s only one component of the intuitive eating framework, and certainly not the be-all and end-all.


Despite becoming so popular in recent years, this concept isn’t new. The first edition of the book was written back in 1995 and was originally inspired by research. Today however, intuitive eating is evidence-based and there are more than a hundred studies that incorporate the framework.


Research has shown many benefits that are experienced by intuitive eater’s, such as:

  • decreased risk of binge eating

  • greater life satisfaction

  • a joyful attitude towards exercise

  • and increased body appreciation and satisfaction (to name a few!).


OK. SO REALLY, WHAT IS IT?


Intuitive Eating prompts us to come back to our intuition. We each have the innate ability to understand which foods will best fuel and satisfy us. And it’s actually a really simple concept. This ability comes when you quiet out all of that external noise and come back to your unique bodily cues. In other words, if you start feeling any signs of hunger, then the best thing for you to do is EAT!

For context, consider this similar scenario:

When the sensation arises that you need to pee, do you fight that urge? Do you tell yourself that it isn’t time yet? That there is a certain window of time that you deem to be acceptable? That there is a certain amount of pee that is allocated each day, and anything above that amount will need to be suppressed until tomorrow?

(How many times can I say pee in a blog?)

The answer, I’m assuming, is an astounding ‘no’. If you have access to a bathroom (and hopefully aren’t stuck in traffic), then I’m certain you would utilise a bathroom the second you felt that urge. So why on earth do we believe that hunger is something that needs to be controlled and suppressed? Hunger cues are on the same spectrum as our sensations that trigger thirst and the need to urinate. They are automatic and unpredictable. They adjust accounting to our daily intake, exertion and needs.

We have become a culture that relies on being told what and when to eat! And those recommendations never stop changing. What was once deemed the premium way to eat, might be villainised the very next month!


Intuitive eating recognises that no-one can possible know your body better than YOU! Only you know the foods that make me you feel pleasant and satisfied. Only you know what you feel within your body all day.


And it's so much more than just food. As we reconnect with our hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues, we also become more in sync with our emotions and needs along the way. Those of us who have felt addicted to food or align with being an emotional eater, begin to understand that we are typically using food as a coping mechanism to distract from something else.




WE WERE ALL INTUITIVE EATERS ONCE

Back before our culture became obsessed with taking up less space, and before restricting food became normalised, we ALL would’ve been considered intuitive eaters. In fact, back then, it would’ve just been called eating. No fancy name necessary!


Something really fascinating to think about is the fact that babies are actually intuitive eaters. We all began our lives crying out when we needed to be fed, and stopping when we were full. There was no “this is good/bad for you”, “this isn’t organic”, or “this will make you gain weight!”

As we get older, the more messaging we become exposed to by our loved ones or the media. We become concerned with what is deemed “right” or “wrong” and most of us eventually lose that intuitive part of us. But it’s never too late to get it back!

 

MAJOR TAKEAWAYS OF INTUITIVE EATING

  • The aim of becoming an intuitive eater is to have a happy and healthy relationship with food, your mind, and body. All 3 components work best in unison! This entire concept is cultivated from a place of self-care.

  • Yes, you can eat anything you want. But how will certain foods personally make you feel? It's different for everyone! Examples of things to consider: how much energy will I need today? Does this food make me feel sluggish? How well do I digest this food? Is this an appropriate time to enjoy some ice cream, despite not taking to lactose well? etc!

  • We direct our thinking from a place of prioritising physical appearance and all of the "should's" that come with our cultures narrow perception of healthy eating. We instead honour the innate messaging that comes from within. Weight is no longer the focus of health, as it simply is not a behaviour.

  • Intuitive eatings pulls you away from the dichotomous thinking that comes with diet culture: e.g. right or wrong, good or bad, off-limits or acceptable. To contrast, intuitive eating encourages you to approach all eating experiences with compassion and curiosity.

  • Over-eating and/or emotional eating are not viewed as negative actions, but rather, seen as messaging that another need may be requiring some attention.

  • As an intuitive eater, there are no mistakes! Perhaps you have eaten something that didn’t make you feel great - and that is ok. The next meal is an opportunity to trial something new! We're forever learning and growing!

Approach food with unconditional permission to enjoy whatever it is that you feel like. This may sound terrifying whilst living in a culture that is so obsessed with rules and labels. But once you allow that unconditional permission, the pedestal that you’ve placed food on diminishes.


All food eventually becomes just food!

And although this takes work and time, I guarantee you this WILL happen!

Honouring your hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues will lead to a life without constant feelings of deprivation. Too often we create stress around food and leave ourselves feeling unsatisfied or unsatiated. This is almost a surefire pathway to a binge!

~ So to avoid chaotic eating: eat enough, and eat foods you like!


There are 10 principles that act as guidelines on your journey to becoming an intuitive eater. I will go into detail in another post in the near future, but for now, take notice that this framework outlines so much for than food.

  1. Reject the diet mentality

  2. Honour your hunger

  3. Make peace with food

  4. Challenge the food police

  5. Feel your fullness

  6. Discover the satisfaction factor

  7. Cope with your feelings without using food

  8. Respect your body

  9. Exercise: Feel the difference

  10. Honour your health with Gentle Nutrition.

 

HOW CAN I START MY INTUITIVE EATING JOURNEY?

(Pick and choose a couple of options that appeal to you!)

  1. Podcast:Ep. 220 Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris (Ft. Evelyn Tribole). This is such a fantastic introduction to Intuitive Eating. It's a back and forth conversation between one of the co-creators of intuitive eating and somebody who knows very little about the concept. It's essentially like a mini-session!

  2. Expose yourself to Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size accounts on social media. The community consists of diverse bodies and cultures and it is seriously such a warm and welcoming space!

  3. Read:Intuitive Eating (fourth edition) by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This book is profound and goes into great detail about the science behind intuitive eating, the studies that back the concept, as well as many recounts from the patients that they've worked with over the years.

  4. Read and write: For less reading and to get straight to the work, you could go straight to The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This Workbook offers a great mix of summarised information, reflections and journal prompts.

  5. Seek support! This journey absolutely takes work. It isn't quick, linear or easy. But I promise it’s worth it!! It can get lonely in a world that is completely consumed with diet culture. If you want to create a peaceful and loving relationship with food and body but don't feel confident to tackle this alone (or simply want to see results much faster), schedule a free call to learn more about the benefits of investing in high-level support!


*BONUS: Challenge yourself by questioning a food that you currently believe to be off-limits. Do you know why you decided you cannot/should not have this food?

Action: Write down all of your beliefs around this food. Where did they derive from? Are your thoughts about this food actually true?

 

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