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Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy

How to Start Intuitive Eating

The concept of intuitive eating was created by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. It is a practice that revolves around instinct, feelings, and emotions. The following 10 principles are meant to help you recognize hunger and fullness sensations, as well as remove any prior rules or beliefs you once had about healthy eating or dieting. Once I read the book and principles I needed to know how to start intuitive eating practices in my counseling sessions. It inspired me to learn more! Check out the intuitive eating website for great resources and if you are interested in furthering your education.

Going through intuitive eating counselor training was the best thing I have done for my professional career and personal relationship with food. I have learned how to be a better dietitian by understanding the traumas of dieting. I can now offer strategies to improve habits and behaviors but most importantly change diet culture and world all thanks to learning and studying the 10 principles of intuitive eating.

Highly recommend starting your journey with reading Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

How freeing would it be to not follow any food rules and to not stress about “clean” eating? Intuitive eating is most successful when you are not constantly worried about the next fad diet, quick fix or basing your “health” off of weight loss. How to start intuitive eating is to remove the influences of diet culture, which tend to promote ways to lose weight quickly and are rarely sustainable or long term. Unfollow social media accounts that promote dieting, cause negative feelings about your body and impact your mental health. This may also mean removing yourself from diet talk conversations with friends and family, it’s always helpful to have an exit strategy when needed.

2. Honor Your Hunger

I’m sure we have all been on a diet at one point in our lives that restricts our calories, making us hangry, moody, and tired. But isn’t it crazy to think that people undergo these diets even though hunger is one of the body’s most primal instincts? Honoring your hunger means providing your body with proper energy, which prevents overeating. Once you reach the point of excessive hunger, all intentional choices go out the window. SImply having foods available and on hand (I call them emergency snacks) can be very helpful to prevent overeating when hunger levels get too high. 

When you have to pee…you pee right? Start looking at hunger as a physical sign that your body needs nourishment. Maybe your last meal wasn’t satisfying enough, maybe you have expended more energy than usual, maybe you are just hungry! Allow yourself to eat.

Check out this hunger-fullness scale by Cara Harbstreet

3. Make Peace with Food

Depriving yourself of the foods you really want to eat can lead to harmful eating behaviors, overeating, or feelings of guilt. In order to avoid negative feelings towards food or binging patterns, it is so important not to label foods as “good” or “bad.” Don’t tell yourself you can’t or shouldn’t have that cookie because it’s “bad” or will keep you from your goals- if you want the dang cookie, eat it! What you eat does not define you as a person. Change the inner dialogue of phrases like “I was so bad today for eating that” and give yourself unconditional permission to enjoy any food you choose. I would encourage you to slow down, taste it, enjoy every bite. You may be satisfied with a smaller amount by eating it guilt free and knowing that you can have that food any time!

4. Challenge the Food Police

The food police are those little thoughts you have in the back of your mind about things you’ve learned from diet culture. It may include phrases such as “I was good today for avoiding that potluck at work” or “I shouldn’t have eaten that cupcake today.” Unless that cupcake was stale and old, there is no reason to tell yourself that! Telling the food police NO is an important part of intuitive eating. 

Sometimes the food police can be outside influences as well. A parent who didn’t allow seconds or snacks or a coworker who asks if you should be eating that donut. YOU are the only person who knows exactly what your body needs. 

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Creating a satisfying eating experience not only involves eating food that you enjoy, but also creating a positive eating environment. These factors will help you feel the satisfaction you receive from food as well as the simple pleasure you get from the eating experience. This principle is one of my favorites!

Make your food pretty and add color! See if you can describe the texture, smell and flavors. When a food tastes good it’s easy to chow down without getting full satisfaction out of every bite. Slow down and chew. If something is really good but you are starting to feel full, get excited about having the leftovers and enjoying it all over again! 

Oftentimes I have clients that struggle with taking a lunch break (myself included). Start by scheduling at least 10 minutes to have a little sacred lunch. To me finding a little table by a window to remove myself from the computer was so helpful in improving my meal satisfaction and mood! A little sunshine on my face and a nourishing eating experience goes a long way.

6. Feel Your Fullness

One of the most important things you can do while eating is to take your time. When eating foods you enjoy, it can be easy to eat them quickly because you like them so much. However, take your time and allow your brain to send the signal that you are full. Pay attention to how you feel while eating- your body will let you know when it is satisfied. It can be helpful to pause in the middle of the meal and reflect on how the food tastes and observe your hunger level. 

Being distracted by the computer, TV, driving, or other environmental factors can make it difficult to assess fullness. Try focusing on the atmosphere that makes eating a calm and enjoyable experience.

Tip: It’s okay if you eat more or less than what anyone else does or what you “think” should be a portion. Remember your needs are different and you don’t need to compare yourself to anyone else or some calculated number. 

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

If you’re an “emotional eater” or typically turn to food to cope with stress, it is important to find more positive ways to resolve issues. We are all human and we all experience a variety of emotions each day. However, food is only a temporary fix and ultimately will not solve any of our daily problems. Reflecting on the source of emotions or problems is the first step in finding a positive way to deal with them. 

For example, if evening mindless snacking is a habit due to boredom, I encourage you to assess your hunger and brainstorm activities you may enjoy! Try a craft, yoga, organizing or something to add satisfaction to your life. Having hobbies as an adult can be a really fun thing to explore!

8. Respect Your Body

As a result of diet culture, it is so common for us to dislike our bodies or our genetic makeup. Everyone’s body size and shape will be different, and that should be respected and celebrated. It is so important not to criticize or harm your body because you are displeased with the way it looks. Instead, recognize all of the great things it does for you each day and treat it with kindness. 

This sometimes can be easier said than done especially with social media being a huge driver of fake images that cause comparison. Instead of disliking parts of your body, reframe those thoughts into things like how can I take care of my body and appreciate the things it does for me. Let go of weight being your measure of health.

I challenge you to come up with three things about your body you love or appreciate. Remind yourself of these things often!

9. Joyful Movement, Feel the Difference

Instead of focusing on how many calories you will burn or fixing any “trouble areas” you think you may have, focus on the way your body feels during and after movement. Exercise has so many positive benefits other than burning calories, including increased energy, decreased risk for chronic diseases, and ease of performing everyday activities. 

I love the intensity of CrossFit but also love the restorative feeling I get after yoga. Everyone is different! Exercise does not have to be “all or nothing” and you can drop the “if I didn’t sweat it doesn’t count” attitude. The real workout or movement is the one you felt awesome doing, mentally and physically.

10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Eat foods that not only make you FEEL good, but also TASTE good. The whole purpose of intuitive eating is to make positive contributions to your health by making healthy choices for YOU. Consistency and progress is key, so don’t focus on perfection. 

If choosing a salad at a restaurant feels good to you, great. If picking the pizza you’ve been thinking about all day, also great. When exploring “how to start intuitive eating”, it may sound scary hearing that there are no “food rules” if you’ve been accustomed to dieting. It can be very foreign to start trusting your body and intuition. Just an example, your body will tell you if the pizza made you feel crummy with reflux, it’s a learning experience and you move on or maybe have a smaller portion next time! Or maybe the salad wasn’t satisfying enough and you would have enjoyed a slice of pizza!

Be flexible with food choices, work on your positive self talk and start honoring your body with intuitive eating and joyful movement. You can live a healthy wonderful life without dieting. It takes work and practice to change old beliefs and thoughts but it’s so worth it!

Other Resources on How to Start Intuitive Eating:

Intuitive Eating Podcasts:

Ten Percent Happier: The Anti-Diet

List of Podcasts for Intuitive Eating by Alissa Rumsey

Food Psych Christy Harrison

Intuitive Eating Articles:

Need some science before learning how to start intuitive eating? Check out the resource page for studies:

Co Author: Katelyn Schwartz B.S Dietetics and B.S Exercise Science

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