We have always had a relationship with food. I mean, we can celebrate with food, treat ourselves with food—some may find that food can be difficult when we have an anxious tummy, while others find food is their go-to when stressed. Our emotions and food can go hand-in-hand. Throw in lots of food rules about good and bad food and our relationship with food can be impacted. Ask yourself how you would describe your relationship with food? Mostly positive? Mostly stressful? Do you ever tell yourself that you can eat food because you’ve been good? Or that you can eat what you want as long as it is less than x amount of calories? These are just a few examples of how diet culture can take over our lives and leaves little room for anything else. Intuitive eating is learning how to reclaim that freedom.
Intuitive eating is an eating style that promotes a healthy attitude towards food and body image.
It can mean not having food rules, not excluding things from our diet (unless for cultural reasons), not feeling stressed or anxious about food, or not feeling guilty about eating cakes or crisps or other foods you enjoy.
To eat intuitively, we need to be able to distinguish between emotional eating and physical hunger. Physical hunger is when our body sends signals to the brain telling us that we are hungry, such as a growling stomach, lack of energy or being hangry! On the other hand, emotional hunger relates to feelings of sadness, loneliness and boredom that can create cravings for food and often more comfort food. This is when eating then causes guilt, shame and potential self-loathing.
Similar to the responsive feeding concept that we encourage parents to do with their babies, an integral part of Intuitive eating can help you get back in touch with internal cues like hunger and fullness, cravings and how food makes you feel. Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to a healthy life. It contradicts the negative health consequences that are associated with dieting today, such as eating disorders, yoyo dieting, lower self-esteem and weight stigma.
The term intuitive eating was actually coined by two dietitians in 1995, and they describe 10 basic principles of this theory:
- Reject the diet Mentality – Diet culture is all around us and has affected virtually everyone at some stage: Your best friend is trying to cut back on carbs, influencers are touting the benefits of keto. It’s everywhere. When we block out the influence that diet culture presents to us as false truths, we can then truly listen to what our body wants and needs from food.
- Honour your Hunger – Accept that hunger is not your enemy. Respond to signs of hunger by feeding your body. If you ignore these signs, it can lead to overeating.
- Make Peace with food – Stop labelling food as bad or good. There is no such thing as a bad or good food, only a bad diet.
- Challenge the Food Police – Bring awareness to your thoughts around food. Are they judgement or neutral? Then, replace those negative thoughts with a voice of self-care. Unfollow social media accounts that only fuel these negative thoughts.
- Respect your fullness – Just like hunger cues, listen to your fullness cues. Check-in with yourself on how full or hungry you are feeling.
- Discover the satisfaction factor – Make eating an enjoyable experience and allow yourself to eat foods that help you feel satisfied and comfortably full.
- Cope with your emotions without using food – Find ways that are unrelated to food to deal with your feelings, such as taking a walk, calling a friend or journaling.
- Respect your body – We are our own worst critics. Treat your body with dignity by meeting its basic needs. Express gratitude for what your body does, rather than what it looks like.
- Exercise: feel the difference – Find ways to move your body that you enjoy. Shift the focus from losing weight to feeling energised and strong.
- Honour your health with gentle nutrition – Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect diet. Gentle nutrition is about the bigger picture of what you eat most of the time that will shape your health.