Intuitive eating is an approach to food and eating that encourages individuals to trust their internal cues such as hunger and fullness signals to guide their eating behaviours rather than relying on external factors like diet plans, calorie counting or food rules. In a world full of diets and restrictions, intuitive eating offers something kinder, gentler, and more sustainable. It emphasizes self-care, body acceptance and a positive relationship with food as well as a deeper awareness of one’s body and the emotional and environmental factors that may impact eating habits.
10 principles of intuitive eating
Intuitive eating is a philosophy and its 10 principles are guidelines rather than strict guidelines to support individuals in developing more positive and fulfilling relationships with food and their bodies.
Principle 1: Reject the diet mentality
We are inundated with messages about food and dieting from every angle. There’s just no escaping it. The first step towards intuitive eating is rejecting and letting go of everything related to dieting. Recognize that diet culture is harmful to you, your mind, and your body.
Principle 2: Honor your hunger
This means eating when you’re hungry. Diet culture often teaches us to ignore our hunger cues. Honouring your hunger means trusting your body and giving yourself permission to eat when it lets you know you’re hungry. Don’t ignore the hunger pangs until they overwhelm you because that can lead you to overeat. Hunger is not your enemy or something to be avoided. Intuitive eating is about listening to your body and responding to what it needs.
Principle 3: Make peace with food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Break the many rules you have internalized about what foods are acceptable to eat and which ones are not. As you begin intuitive eating, get rid of ideas about what you should or shouldn’t eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t eat certain foods, all it does is lead to intense feelings of deprivation and cravings and sometimes bingeing.
Principle 4: Challenge the food police
Food is not good or bad and you’re not good or bad for what you eat or don’t eat. Fight that voice in your head that criticizes and judges you for what you eat. Identify the source of the voice. Is it you? Is it the things you’re watching, reading and listening to? Is it a parent who makes critical comments about your size? Find out who it is and silence them, even if it’s you.
Principle 5: Discover the satisfaction factor
For the Japanese, pleasure is one of the goals of healthy living. Following diet culture demands we overlook the pleasure and satisfaction of eating. When you eat what you want, in an inviting environment, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force that leads to feelings of satisfaction and contentment. Intuitive eating reminds us that eating should be an enjoyable experience. So eat what you want, what you enjoy and what satisfies you.
Principle 6: Feel your fullness
Just as your body will let you know when it’s hungry, it’ll let you know when it’s full. Listen for the signs of comfortable fullness. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
Principle 7: Cope with your emotions with kindness
Intuitive eating recognizes that we often respond to certain emotions by eating. Anger, boredom, loneliness, stress, and anxiety can trigger emotional eating which does not solve the problem and more often than not triggers feelings of guilt and shame. If you notice you are an emotional eater, find other ways to nurture, distract, comfort and cope with your feelings. When you’re stressed and find yourself reaching for sweets, stop. Recognize that what you need is a way to relax or calm down, not those sweets. Learn to identify how you’re feeling and come up with a list of ways to respond to those triggering emotions in advance e.g. going for a walk.
Principle 8: Respect your body
Diet and exercise play a big role in the size and shape of your body, but they are not the whole story. Genetics has a role to play. Everybody is different. Intuitive eating is about recognizing and respecting the diversity of bodies and that all bodies are valuable and worthy of respect regardless of size, shape and other differences. Begin with something small like accepting your body as it is, appreciating what it does for you, and how it helps you.
Principle 9: Movement – feel the difference
Diet culture emphasizes movement purely in service to weight loss. Intuitive eating encourages us to forget militant eating and move just to get active. It encourages us to feel the difference. You will notice that it feels good to move. Shift your focus to how you feel while and after moving or exercising not the calorie-burning. Part of this is finding physical activities that you enjoy, activities that make you feel good from walking your dog to dancing and everything in between. Running does burn more calories, but if it makes you miserable while walking makes you happy, go for walks.
Principle 10: Honor your health with gentle nutrition
Intuitive eating is not about ignoring everything we know about nutrition. Choose foods that honour your health and taste buds while making you feel good. The key thing to remember is you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. Snacking from time to time will not compromise your health and make you nutrient deficient. Be gentle with yourself. And you only live once.
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