Tired of dieting and food rules? Try intuitive eating – tuning in and listening to what your body truly needs.
Limiting your food choices and intake, or switching from one diet to another can tire your mind and body out real fast. Doing so might help you lose weight quickly, but it is hard to keep the weight off when you return to your normal eating habits.
For sustainable healthy eating habits that you can maintain for life, try out intuitive eating, which means listening to what food your body needs.
We spoke to dietitian Kathleen Meehan, who’s also a certified intuitive eating counsellor, to find out more.
What is intuitive eating?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could eat whatever you craved? However, that’s not what intuitive eating is about.
In an interview with Shape, Kathleen explained that intuitive eating is a mind-body approach in which the individual gets to decide how to care for their bodies. It serves as a framework for self-care with 10 principles that work to encourage self-compassion and improved well-being through increased awareness of physical, mental and emotional cues from the body.
Listening to your body means finding out what foods fuel you best, allow you to work out harder, and let you get through the day energetically.
In intuitive eating, there is no such thing as “good” food and “bad” food, as everything can be eaten in moderation. As you get a better understanding of foods that make you feel upbeat and those that make you lethargic, you will naturally be more inclined to eat healthier, fresher, and more wholesome foods.
This is the type of thought process that intuitive eating provides, to help you overcome the fear of food and calories.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating
Kathleen believes that all of us are born intuitive eaters. Although we often become disconnected from our internal signals and cues, it’s possible to unlearn the barriers that make intuitive eating challenging. It takes time, exploration, experience and patience, so while it’s not necessarily an easy process, it is possible for everyone.
There are 10 principles of intuitive eating that will help you to understand it better. This may sound complicated, but they are really just ideas that will help you approach intuitive eating with knowledge.
The 10 points can be grouped into three different aspects:
- You should not fear food according to the principles of “rejecting the diet mentality”, “making peace with food”, “challenging the food police”, and “feelings without using food”.
- Trust yourself and listen to the principles of “honouring your hunger”, “respecting your fullness”, and “discovering the satisfaction factor”.
- You’ll also learn more about your body as you follow the remaining principles of “respecting your body”, “exercising”, and “honouring your health”.
Intuitive eating is not a diet or weight management tool
The first principle of “rejecting the dieting mentality” reflects the science that shows that crash dieting doesn’t work.
Intuitive eating will encourage a person to reflect upon their own experiences with dieting, and recognise that it’s important to acknowledge the external forces that might make a person want to lose weight.
In practising intuitive eating, some people notice their weight stays the same, others gain, and others find weight loss as a side effect – however, it’s important to note that weight change is not the intended outcome.
The immediate benefits of intuitive eating
Once you get the hang of intuitive eating, your relationship with food will improve tremendously. There won’t be any yo-yo dieting, obsession with numbers, or sudden weight fluctuations.
When you know what your body needs for energy, your meals will be an easy grab and go. There will be less contemplating what to eat for lunch, or what to buy at the supermarket, because you feel and know what you need.
There are other benefits too
Most people think that intuitive eating is just a simpler and healthier way to see food, but Kathleen pointed out that intuitive eating is also associated with many health benefits.
These include better self-esteem, improved lipid profile, good glycaemic control, increased interoceptive awareness, improved body image, less weight cycling, increased variety of food intake, and protection against the development of eating disorders.
A review of adult women who tried intuitive eating found that this style of eating made the ladies more body-positive, have better emotional functions, and eat more regularly.
Another study published in the British Medical Journal of Eating Behaviours also found that intuitive eating presented less disordered eating and insecurities.
To find out more about the benefits of intuitive eating, Kathleen recommends looking up some studies – there are over 90 compelling ones that show how intuitive eating improves your overall health and well-being.
When you’re eating well, you will be able to focus on working out and leading a healthier lifestyle, making your goals much more easily achievable as well.
Who will benefit from intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is recommended for everyone, but some people may require a bit of guidance through the principles and the nuance. A healthcare provider who specializes in intuitive eating will be able to help anyone explore the 10 principles and navigate how to incorporate them, all while considering that person’s individual needs and requirements.
“It’s a common myth that certain conditions like diabetes or food allergies prevent a person from being able to practise intuitive eating, but this isn’t true. Intuitive eating allows for nuance and individualization – concerns around food allergies or blood sugars or past disordered eating will be addressed,” Kathleen said.
As intuitive eating is growing in popularity, it’s helpful to work with someone who has received adequate training and has expertise in helping people address their individual concerns.
If you think you are already eating intuitively to fuel your body well, there’s probably no need to overthink it – just keep it up!