Sick of dieting? You might not be the only one. Gaining rapidly in popularity, many people have turned to intuitive eating (IE) after recognizing the toxicity of diet culture. Yet, navigating a new approach to eating can be challenging and disorienting. Additionally, some diets may hide behind the title Intuitive Eating, but may actually just be another form of restriction. Don’t worry – we’re here to help! To better understand how intuitive eating can serve our body, we first need to identify the differences between what it is, and what it’s not.
What intuitive eating IS
“Intuitive eating is the body’s default mode. It’s the way we were born to eat. It’s our birthright – regardless of body size, race, ethnicity, gender identity, or nationality” (5)
Contrary to some belief, intuitive eating is not just some new diet or “trend”, but a complex framework based on scientific evidence (incorporates psychology of eating) and clinical expertise. IE was developed in the late 90s by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resh (4). IE has been shown to decrease disordered eating, obsessive-compulsive eating and depressive symptoms, as well as to improve self-esteem, self-compassion and positive body image (1,2,5)
In a nutshell, IE is an organized approach to develop healthy eating behaviors by tuning into one’s body signals and shifting away from restricting and dieting (5). Ultimately, the goal is to normalize one’s relationship with food.
The 10 principles
IE suggested a framework of normalizing eating behaviors by working through 10 principles. There is no specific order in which it needs to be followed. Rather, try to look at these principles as practices you can embrace everyday (7).
- Reject your diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Feel your fullness
- Cope with your emotions with kindness
- Respect your body
- Movement – feel the difference
- Honor your health – Gentle nutrition
The 4 pillars
1. Ditching diets
“ By going on a diet, you’ve put someone else in control of your body – someone who tells you what and how much to eat” (5).
We’ve previously discussed what diet culture is and its ways to demonize certain ways of eating. Intuitive eating rejects diet mentality and pseudo-dieting, which is the way diet mentality influences our behaviors. If you think of food as numerical units (calories, grams), believe that a healthy body is exclusively a thin one, or see weight gain as a sign of doing something wrong, chances are that you engage in pseudo-dieting behaviors (5).
If you’ve read this far – you probably know that diets don’t work. Diets value thinness at best and dictate the “right” amount to eat, when in fact, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to food.
Use this as an opportunity to explore your dieting history. How have diets previously served you? Which of your behaviors seem to be rooted from diet culture? Ditch the scale, diet books and unfollow social media accounts that make you feel bad about your body.
2. Turning into our internal cues
Instead of counting calories or grams of food, learn how to recognize your body’s signs of hunger. This is the first step to help rebuilding trust with your body after restriction. Try paying attention to your sensations of hunger and fullness before, during, and after your meals. Do you finish your plate despite feeling uncomfortably full, just because you’ve always been wired to do so? Use these signs as a way to explore the barriers to respecting your cues.
Having a hard time getting in touch with your hunger and fullness cues ? Click here to watch part 1 of our videos on hunger and fullness.
3. Making peace with food: unconditional permission to eat
Intuitive eating highlights the unconditional permission to eat any food, in the quantity desired (4). With IE, no food is forbidden nor praised. Foods are neither good nor bad, but are perceived to serve different functions and present with different nutritional profiles. You do not need to avoid foods high in fat, carbs, or calories. If you are craving a certain food, you can trust your body’s signals, allow yourself to have it and continue with your day, without feeling guilty.
If you do feel some type of guilt or shame – try to challenge your thoughts with facts. For instance, if you ate an entire bag of chips, consider what you had to eat prior to it and if your body was truly satisfied. Be kind to yourself and think of this as an opportunity to understand your body and your behaviors.
4. Gentle nutrition (10)
IE works hand in hand with gentle nutrition, which considers the impact that our eating behaviors can have on our physical well-being and health (5). Gentle nutrition is about flexibility, self care, and looks different for everyone (Hartley, p69). It integrates evidenced-based nutrition and knowledge to meet the body’s needs, in a way to achieve a balanced diet for health or for specific conditions. This can mean adding nutritious food to your meals and avoiding the removal of other foods. Notice how your body feels after eating different foods and try to find a balance that feels good for you.
IE is a process and is about practice (a bit like mindfulness!). Intuitive Eating doesn’t require you to do it “right“ or to be “perfect“ at it. It’s about giving yourself the chance to turn towards your body for guidance and build trust with the signals it’s sending you. Now that we’ve reviewed what IE is, stay tuned for our next blog post highlighting what IE is NOT. If you’re interested in incorporating Intuitive Eating into your life and don’t know where to start, contact us so that we can help! You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 514-437-4260.
By: Nesrine Aboulhamid, McGill Dietetics Intern
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Sööma is a bilingual company that operates in both English and in French. We will provide blog posts, recipes and articles from various sources that are sometimes written in English and sometimes in French. If you feel unable to access a specific article or topic due to a language barrier, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to translate the content for you.
- Begin, C., Carbonneau, E., Gagnon-Girouard, M. P., Mongeau, L., Paquette, M. C., Turcotte, M., & Provencher, V. (201 8). Eating-Related and Psychological Outcomes of Health at Every Size Intervention in Health and Social Services Cent ers Across the Province of Quebec. Am J Health Promot, 890117118786326. doi:10.1177/0890117118786326
- Bruce, L. J., & Ricciardelli, L. A. (2016). A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among ad ult women. Appetite, 96, 454-472.
- Epstein, L. H., Temple, J. L., Roemmich, J. N., & Bouton, M. E. (2009). Habituation as a determinant of human food intake. Psychological Review, 116(2), 384–407. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015074
- Harrison, C. (2019). Anti-diet : reclaim your time, money, well-being, and happiness through intuitive eating (First ed). Little, Brown Spark, p203, 209, 223, 250.
- Hartley, R. (2021). Gentle Nutrition: (A Non-Diet Approach to Healthy Eating). Victory Belt Publishing, p30-35, 39
- Hazzard, V. M., Telke, S. E., Simone, M., Anderson, L. M., Larson, N. I., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2020). Intuitive eating longitudinally predicts better psychological health and lower use of disordered eating behaviors: findings from EAT 2010–20 18. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 1-8.
- The Original Intuitive Eating Pros. 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/