The prevailing message we hear is that we need to regulate our food intake in order to manage our body size. That, if we don’t keep a close eye on things, our weight will increase indefinitely and our health will be ruined. In a world of strict diets and food rules, the concept of intuitive eating feels very unstructured and maybe even a little bit scary.
Intuitive eating is more than just eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full. While these are two of the principles of intuitive eating, it also involves learning to cope with emotions without using food, exercising in a way that feels enjoyable, eating satisfying foods, learning how foods make you feel physically and mentally, and ditching your internal food police, learning to enjoy food without labeling it (or yourself) as "good" or "bad".
Believe it or not, you’ve been an intuitive eater before! Intuitive eating is the way we’re born eating. Think of a small child – they eat when they’re hungry and they stop when they’re full. They’re not afraid to tell you what they like or don’t like and to eat accordingly. Food isn't "good" or "bad", it's just food.
At some point, someone or something tells us that we should only eat at certain times or that certain foods are “bad”. These external inputs start influencing how we eat and how we think about food. Any external factor that we use to determine what our eating should look like takes us away from our otherwise reliable internal regulation system.
It takes some work, but it is possible to return to using internal rather than external cues to guide our eating. If you’ve been restricting your food intake or following other strict food rules for a long time, you’ve likely lost touch with your internal hunger and fullness cues. Repairing this damage requires eating adequately and on a regular schedule to rebuild trust with your body and get systems working properly again. This is best done with the help of a dietitian who is experienced in intuitive eating and a non-diet approach.
As you start to feed your body regularly, you’re able to start recognizing and challenging the thoughts and beliefs you have previously held about food that took you away from focusing on internal cues. You can recognize emotions for what they are and deal with them in more helpful ways than distracting yourself with food.
Using your own body as a guide for what to eat is so freeing. It allows you to tune in to your physical and mental needs and make the best food decision for yourself in each moment.
Intuitive eating "working" means taking the guilt and shame out of your eating experience. It may seem scary at first, but won’t the freedom be worth it?
If you want to read more about intuitive eating, we highly recommend the book Intuitive Eating by dietitians Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, CEDRD. You can find it on our Favorite Things page!