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November 30, 2021

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is a method that trusts the body’s natural intuition to guide a person’s eating decisions. It is about eating mindfully and dismissing food rules that have been made from either childhood, family rules, diet culture, misinformation about food, or eating disorders. Intuitive eating is not a diet, but a way to work with your body to notice signs of either hunger or fullness. These are internal signs that allow the body to be the expert of its physical and psychological needs.

The intuitive eating approach relies on the body’s natural intuition. However, eating often feels far from intuitive for many people, as diet culture and disordered eating habits create distance from this natural intuition. A strong mind-body connection is needed with intuitive eating; without it, the mind can’t act as a manager for the body’s hunger and nutritional needs. An eating disorder can make it difficult to satisfy the body’s needs, relying instead on external rules. This blog aims to inform you of the principles of intuitive eating as well as what intuitive eating looks like.  

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Relearning how to identify and trust internal body cues can take time. It is a courageous step to take as Western culture is so focused on diets and unrealistic body standards.

An intuitive eating approach includes ten principles that honor the connection between the mind and body. These principles are designed to be used as tools rather than rules to follow. They are guidelines that will help examine your relationship with food. Even those who don’t have eating disorders may struggle with intuitive eating. These principles can help with challenging food rules and disordered eating habits.

1. Reject the diet mentality

As stated before, intuitive eating is not a diet, not a way to “save up” calories, and not a way to “make up” for eating previously. With intuitive eating, there aren’t any rules about the food or food groups eaten, there aren’t any calories to count, and there aren’t “appropriate” or “inappropriate” times for eating.

2. Honor your hunger

Diet culture wants us to believe that we should fear or fight our hunger. We shouldn’t ignore our hunger or attach any form of pride to it either. Hunger is a natural body cue, just as normal as a body cue to sleep, drink water, or go to the bathroom. Work with your hunger instead of fighting against it.

We must feed our bodies adequately so we can meet our nutritional needs, gain energy from the food, and find enjoyment in eating. The more consistently we eat, the more consistent the body cues will be. When we meet our nutritional needs, we decrease the likelihood of a binge after a period of restriction. By honoring our hunger cues, we can start to gain trust with our bodies and our bodies will trust that we will fuel them, nourish them, and meet their needs.

3. Make peace with food

Food is not the enemy. In many instances of disordered eating and eating disorders, food is not the problem; the problem is an unhealthy relationship with food. Making peace with our food requires work to remove the power it has.

It can be scary to challenge the idea that food isn’t dangerous or something to fear. But food is needed for the body to function. One could also find enjoyment in food and eating when we don’t allow it to have any power over us. Reconceptualizing that food is a source of energy or fuel needed for activities in our lives can be helpful as well. View it in a way that may be helpful to you. In the simplest terms: food is just food.

4. Challenge the food police

Food police, or food judgment, implies that food has a moral component to it — that food is either “good” or “bad.” This type of thinking shows up in labels and descriptions of specific foods. An example is saying a piece of desert is “sinful” or suggesting that someone is “good” because they ate a salad.

Often, food judgment allows for moral values to be attached to foods. In an intuitive eating space, there are no good or bad foods and all foods fit in this model.

5. Discover the satisfaction factor

Eating can be an enjoyable, satisfying experience. With intuitive eating, you can find meals that are tasty, nourishing, and interesting to your palate. Incorporating these pleasures into mealtimes will make them overall more enjoyable. Find ingredients that you like and incorporate them into your meals. You may discover the culture, joy, and fond memories within food or meals.

6. Feel your fullness

Along with recognizing our hunger, a part of intuitive eating asks us to feel our fullness. This helps keep us mindful of how we are feeling throughout the meal. By recognizing when we’re feeling full and the natural signs of fullness, we practice recognizing the cues our bodies give us.

7. Cope with your emotions with kindness

Emotional eating happens, and in many cases, it is a part of normal eating. It becomes a problem when eating is our only coping skill. Coping without using food can be difficult, but it allows us to tend to our emotions in a productive way. Learning to identify our emotions and be present with those feelings instead of turning to food to cope or ignore said feelings may help to develop better intuitive eating and coping skills in the long run.

8. Respect your body

You don’t need to have full body confidence or body positivity to have respect for yourself, though it can help. Simply ask yourself for respect by not being self-degrading and think of how you are thankful for your body for all it does for you. Nurture your body with kindness and compassion and attend to your physical and psychological needs.

9. Movement — feel the difference

Instead of “exercise,” most eating disorder professionals often use the word “movement.” Movement should not feel like a chore or a way to “burn off” food we have eaten. Any form of physical activity we enjoy can be considered movement. It can help your body feel good when it’s not excessive. When it is appropriate in eating disorder recovery, movement can be for pleasure, not self-punishment.

10. Honor your health — gentle nutrition

Intuitive eating brings an all-inclusive view of health, including physical, mental, and emotional aspects. Nutrition is much more than eating vegetables and health is more than food and fitness. The concept of general nutrition allows us to explore what makes us feel well and why it makes us feel that way. Make food choices that will enhance taste buds and bring us joy.

Intuitive Eating in a Recovery Space

Intuitive eating may not always be appropriate for everyone. When someone is suffering from an eating disorder, for example, they may not receive reliable signals of hunger and fullness, and therefore, they can’t rely on such signals. Those signals are often hijacked by the disorder and overpowered by rules and judgments many feel as the result of an eating disorder.

Until these natural signals return or are relearned, it is advised that a structured meal plan is offered and set in place. As recovery progresses, a professional recovery team can help oversee the transition to intuitive eating. It is important to refer to a specialist at this stage to be sure the person is ready for the more flexible style that is intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating plans are designed to identify and challenge external food rules that an eating disorder has created. Intuitive eating helps us focus on our inner cues of hunger and fullness. The principal idea of intuitive eating helps anyone looking to improve their relationship with food and allows their inner cues to recognize hunger and fullness.

If you are concerned about your own relationship with food or know someone who struggles, call Veritas Collaborative at 1-855-875-5812. We have care for children, adolescents, and adults. You don’t have to suffer alone.