Diet culture tells us that we need to restrict our eating—often in oppressive ways—in order to be healthy. But obsessing over ingredients and depriving ourselves of the foods we love eventually becomes unsustainable. We end up reverting back to a cravings-driven lifestyle and feeling chaotic about food until we decide to go on another diet. The cycle goes on and on.
But what if there were another option? A way of approaching eating in a way that is both health-promoting and fulfilling. A non-diet lifestyle that is free of guilt.
Intuitive eating is a style of eating that promotes creating a healthy relationship with food and respecting your body. At a very basic level, it involves honoring your internal cues by eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. With intuitive eating, no foods are off-limits.
While at first glance, intuitive eating may sound like permission to eat pizza all day every day, that’s not the case. The theory behind intuitive eating is that when we allow ourselves to eat whatever we want, whenever we want it, we are better able to recognize and honor our true cravings, and we’ll be less susceptible to binge-eating.
As you become an intuitive eater, you begin to pay more attention to the way foods make you feel physically. You might find that nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables make you feel more energized and nourished than less nutritious options, such as cookies and French fries. However, those foods have a place too, and as an intuitive eater, you always have the freedom to choose. Intuitive eating can help you find the balance that makes you feel like your best self.
Intuitive eating is:
- Using internal cues to guide you regarding when, what, and how much to eat.
- Honoring your hunger & feeling your fullness.
- Learning to make peace with all types of food.
- Giving yourself grace if/when you overeat.
- Rejecting diet culture and embracing your natural body shape.
- Enjoying a wide variety of foods.
- Understanding how to prepare healthful foods you enjoy eating.
- Discovering foods that make you feel physically well & nourish your body.
- Recognizing that food/nutrition are an important part of your life, but not the ONLY important part.
Intuitive eating is not:
- Only eating at certain times of day.
- Restricting calories and/or types of food.
- Using food to satisfy emotional needs.
- Permission to eat pizza and fries with reckless abandon.
- Another way to manipulate your body weight/size.
Intuitive eating is a way of getting back in tune with your body, including your hunger and fullness signals, cravings, likes, dislikes, and more. Learning to eat intuitively can help you establish (or re-establish) a healthy relationship with food while respecting your body and your health. Interested in ditching diets for good and trying intuitive eating? Here are some tips to help you get started.
Step 1: Ditch the diet mentality
Our society tends to be highly focused on weight and the next best diet to help with weight loss. Unfortunately, this often forces us to stop respecting and listening to our bodies in the process. With intuitive eating, the goal is not weight loss; it’s caring for your body and developing a healthy relationship with food.
You may benefit from intuitive eating if you’ve ever experienced any of the following:
- Feelings of guilt after bingeing foods you decided were off-limits.
- Feeling stress and anxiety around food.
- Feeling ashamed about the foods you are or are not eating.
- Feeling like you can’t stop eating.
- Frequently going on/off diets.
- Feeling like you’re constantly at war with your body.
Intuitive eating can help you make peace with food so that it no longer feels chaotic. It can help you break free from dieting and the restrict/binge cycle. It’s about learning which foods help you feel your best, leave you feeling satisfied, and provide you with good nutrition at the same time. It can take a long time to become an intuitive eater, as most Americans have been stuck in the diet mentality for many years. However, if you work hard, intuitive eating will allow you to have freedom with food and more brain space for other important things and people in your life.
Step 2: Break extreme restrictive behaviors
Living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In fact, overly restrictive eating almost always leads to bingeing. When we live with strict food rules and deny ourselves the foods we crave, we end up wanting them even more. When we finally break, we tend to have less self-control than we would if we allowed ourselves to have these foods any time. This typically leads to a vicious cycle of restriction, followed by a binge, followed by guilt.
Allowing yourself to have the snacks and sweets you crave on a more regular basis can help you feel more in control around them. You’ll feel more satisfied by a small amount when you give yourself permission to enjoy these types of foods in a way that doesn’t derail your health goals. In fact, simply acknowledging that you can have these foods often makes them feel less “tempting.”
Step 3: Find your balance
Intuitive eating is about making nutritious foods an enjoyable part of your everyday lifestyle. While it’s important to eat a wide variety of healthy, whole foods, the key is to learn how to incorporate and prepare these foods in ways that excite your individual taste. That’s why you won’t see a set-in-stone meal plan for intuitive eating. At its core, intuitive eating is personal. It’s a way to develop a positive relationship with nutritious foods while still enjoying your favorite snacks and sweets when it feels right to you.
Intuitive eating is more about focusing on the overall quality of your diet rather than the number on the scale or calories consumed. You don’t have to eat perfectly healthy 100% of the time to achieve better health. Gradual, lasting changes can yield big results! Here are some tips for getting started with eating healthier:
- Look for creative ways to make your favorite meals healthier (i.e. substitute lean meat, add extra veggies)s.
- Eat more colorful fruits and veggies.
- Try to eat more whole foods instead of processed, pre-packaged foods.
- Cook at home more often.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains.
- Fuel your body often and avoid skipping meals.
- Eat a wide variety of foods for better nutrition and satisfaction.
- Avoid restrictive diets that harm your relationship with food and require you to completely eliminate any foods/food groups.
- Notice how you feel when you eat nutrient-rich foods (energetic, satisfied).
Food should be fun, flavorful, and flexible! Eating healthy doesn’t have to be rigid or bland. You can also check out the following nutrition resources from AdventHealth: