While intuitive eating seems like a new trend, it’s actually our default setting for our eating patterns. Babies and young children typically eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. This lifestyle change can help you get back to your natural eating style and help you build a healthier relationship with food and with your body.
What is the philosophy behind intuitive eating?
The principles behind intuitive eating say that as we grow older, we learn rules for eating. Unlike babies, who eat when they’re hungry, we gradually fall into rigid patterns. We’re conditioned to think we should eat three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We learn we should eat breakfast in the morning, lunch at midday, and dinner in the early evening. Typically, we eat these meals regardless of whether or not we’re hungry at these times or if our bodies are in need of the foods traditionally served during these meals. Intuitive eating helps people learn to reject the eating rules they’ve accepted and learn to become more aware of their bodies’ needs.
How does intuitive eating work?
Intuitive eaters follow a ten step plan: reject diet mentality, honor hunger, make peace with food, challenge the food police, respect fullness, honor feelings without using food, respect your body, notice how you feel when you exercise, and honor your health.
Typically, it works well to start with the first four steps, all of which involve shifting your mindset regarding food. Because we live in a diet culture, we form skewed views on food, considering some good and others bad. We’ve learned that certain foods are healthy and will help us lose weight while other foods are unhealthy and will promote weight gain. These four steps encourage intuitive eaters to challenge their false beliefs about food and talk back to thoughts that tell them they’re good or bad people based on the foods they’re choosing—otherwise known as the food police.
Intuitive eaters should make sure they practice the first four steps until they feel comfortable moving beyond that point. This is hard work because it requires undoing thought patterns that many of us have practiced since childhood. Once you feel you’ve mastered the first four steps, then you can move on.
Next, you should try to recognize when you’re full and stop eating at that point. Find ways to cope with difficult emotions without emotionally eating. Take up other methods like exercise, conversations with friends, and caring for yourself. Recognize that it’s unproductive to try to force your body to imitate a specific desired shape. Notice how exercising makes your body and mind feel, and try to use those feelings as motivators for your workouts rather than weight loss. Finally, remind yourself that healthy living comes from your habits and patterns over time and that perfection is unrealistic. One day of indulgence won’t tarnish your health.
Will intuitive eating just cause weight gain?
Some people hear about intuitive eating and have the false idea that if you eat whatever your body craves whenever you need to, you’ll end up overeating and overindulging constantly. However, intuitive eating actually promotes healthful choices. You’ll become more aware of the foods your body wants, which means you’ll know when you should grab that slice of birthday cake. More often, though, you’ll recognize that your body needs fruits, vegetables, protein, and other foods that nourish you and help you function.
Beyond weight loss, intuitive eating has been shown to improve self-esteem and body image, enhance optimism and sense of well-being, decreased rates of emotional and distorted eating, and so much more.
We know that traditional diets often backfire, leading to increased binge eating. People often gain back the weight they’ve lost after ending a diet program and returning to typical eating patterns. Intuitive eating, the opposite of dieting, could produce the opposite results. As always, talk to your doctor to see if this eating style is right for you.