As a registered dietitian, many people ask me about the foods I eat and if I follow a specific diet. I don’t follow diets, and luckily my healthy immune system doesn’t require me to eat a special diet for a medical or digestive reason. I do, however, call myself an intuitive eater. Over the years, I’ve practiced becoming more in tune with my body and listening to my body’s hunger and satiety signals, as well as the ways that different foods affect me mentally and physically.
One of my nutrition mentors is Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD. I had the pleasure of meeting Evelyn a few years ago hearing her speak about intuitive eating, a nutrition philosophy she invented with registered dietitian Elyse Resch, MS, RD. Intuitive eating is based on the premise that becoming more attuned to your body’s natural hunger signals is more effective at attaining a healthy weight than calorie counting or dieting. Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body.
Intuitive eating is based on 10 principles. If this eating approach interests you, I recommend practicing these principles—one at a time—until each one becomes more natural for you.
1. Reject the diet mentality.
Throw out the diet books that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
2. Honor your hunger.
Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.
3. Make peace with food.
Call a truce and stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally give in to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in “Last Supper” overeating and overwhelming guilt.
4. Challenge the food police.
Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in becoming an Intuitive Eater.
5. Respect your fullness.
Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or snack and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?
6. Discover the satisfaction factor.
The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough.”
7. Honor your feelings without using food.
Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.
8. Respect your body.
Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
9. Exercise—feel the difference.
Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out (such as more energized), it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.
10. Honor your health.
Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters—progress, not perfection, is what counts.