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Intuitive Eating – What is it?

Updated: Feb 21

Have you heard of intuitive eating? The phrase gets thrown around a lot these days. It sometimes gets wrongly associated with the dieting industry as just another type of diet. This is not the case.

This article explores what intuitive eating actually is, and how you can get started on your journey to becoming an intuitive eater.

learning to eat intuitively

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based framework, which was developed in 1995 in the US by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

It’s a process which is based on 10 principles, with the overall goal of healing your relationship with food through ditching diet culture, re-tuning with your body signals, understanding your own hunger and fullness cues and respecting your body for whatever size it naturally is.

Tribole and Resch came up with the initial concept of intuitive eating after being unsatisfied in their own dietetic practices of sending their patients off with a weight loss plan. When the majority of these patients ‘failed’ with their weight loss plans and ended up in a worse place from where they started (mentally and physically) Tribole and Resch knew there had to be another way. They realised that it was the diet plans which were the problem, not the patients (as it commonly gets blamed on).

This realisation developed over time into the 10 principles of intuitive eating we know today, which are now solidly backed up with a wealth of scientific evidence, proving this framework as a valid method of helping people heal their relationships with food.

Is becoming an intuitive eater possible?

As a passionate believer of the intuitive eating process, I am used to being met with scepticism. This is understandable because in today’s society, diet culture and its message that we must all be a certain weight, is everywhere. It is near impossible to avoid and be unscathed. To be told that it’s possible to have zero dietary restrictions and have a completely healthy lifestyle based off your intuition can sound a bit ‘woo,’ I’ll admit that. But it is possible to live happily and free from the reins of diet culture.

Let’s consider babies - they are natural intuitive eaters. No one is born worrying about their weight or feeling the need to restrict certain foods. These things all get picked up (like anything else) as we grow up, from parents/caregivers, the school environment, media etc. Babies are fully tuned into their hunger and fullness signals. They cry when they are hungry, and they stop when they are full. Have you ever witnessed a toddler clamping their mouth shut and moving their head out the way of food which is being offered? They know they are full. Similarly, if babies are offered a plate with a variety of foods, they’ll tend to have a little bit of everything and leave it when they are done. This is essentially what intuitive eating brings adults back to – their own natural appetites.

So, who is intuitive eating for?

Anybody is capable of becoming an intuitive eater, they just have to be ready to fully succumb to the process.

So where do you start?

Intuitive Eating is not a linear journey which people can be set off onto. First, it’s necessary to unpack any damaging beliefs which have been caused by diet culture.

Think of it as rewinding a tape – you need to identify where you’ve picked up your beliefs/behaviours about diets/your body image/ weight and unravel the spiel which diet culture has been feeding you. This stage will look very different to different people, depending on where they are at. For some, it may be quite easy to stick two fingers up to diet culture and throw themselves into the principles of intuitive eating.

For others, it may take some time, as they may have a lot more to unravel. This is absolutely fine – there is no set timeline with this work.

Remember that if you’ve been following set diet rules for a long time, you’ve been ignoring your natural hunger signals for a long time and it’ll take a bit of patience to get that back.

In order to start this process, you may want to explore reading about ditching diets or Health At Every Size (see recommendations further down). It may also help to have a registered nutritionist who is certified in intuitive eating to guide and support you through this process (see below for how you can book a session).

A flavour of Intuitive Eating

The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating (once you feel ready to dive in!)

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

2. Honour your Hunger

3. Make Peace with Food (see previous article)

4. Challenge the Food Police

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

6. Feel Your Fullness

7. Cope with your Emotions with Kindness

8. Respect your Body

9. Joyful Movement

10. Gentle Nutrition

These principles can be worked through in any order, with the exception of the final principle, gentle nutrition. Intuitive eating does not mean ignoring the role in which nutrition plays with health, it just means putting it initially on the back burner, as looking at nutrition too early could trigger wanting to diet.

Are you ready?

Throughout this journey, you’ll come across concepts such as ‘all foods fit’ and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. You’ll learn how to reframe any negative thoughts in your head and different methods of coping with emotional eating. You’ll gain validation that eating foods purely for satisfaction is not just ok, it’s necessary(!), and learn about body signals you maybe didn’t realise were there! All of this on top of learning how to feel more at peace in your body and enjoying exercise – does this sound exciting to you?

Book recommendations to get started:

  • Just Eat It by Laura Thomas PhD

  • Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach (fourth edition) by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

  • The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

  • The No Need to Diet Book by Pixie Turner

  • Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon PhD

If you’re stuck in a cycle of yo-yo dieting or feel like you’re battling with your weight, contact us to find out more about intuitive eating and how it could help you heal your relationship with food!

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