Intuitive eating is all about listening to and understanding your hunger cues. I’ve always had trouble with that. I grew up in a family that didn’t have a great relationship with food.
My mother was a first-generation Canadian and my grandparents fled a war-torn country where famine was all too familiar. It was common to go hungry for days or weeks and then pick crops from the farm that were grown under unhygienic conditions. It’s safe to say that once my grandparents were safely situated in Canada, they quickly grew fond of collecting things and buying excess amounts of food and clothing. Once they found success opening up a chain of Chinese Food restaurants, they knew they had made it. The one thing they kept from their long arduous journey was the mentality that you never know when something will be taken away from you. To put it more succinctly, they became hoarders, and as generations pick up on values, morals, and habits, we all developed some type of binge eating or binge buying mindset.
Am I blaming my disordered eating on my grandparents?!
I believe that we all do what we need to do to feel some sort of normalcy. They did what they needed to do to survive and provide the best for their children. I am grateful for that. I’m also grateful that I have the wherewithal to recognize that I am eating more than I need to. This is where dieting came into play for me.
The reason I know this is not only a hereditary issue is my brother is the complete opposite of me. He does not use food as comfort, nor does he overeat or ban certain foods from his diet.
I’m now 30 years old and have been through many diets in my life, and this is due to me not having a great understanding of the difference between what my body craves versus what it needs. Rather than dictate where, when, how, and why I eat certain foods, I’ve decided to try something different. In the past, diets have worked short-term, but have never made a lasting impact on my life. I’d lose weight and gain it back. I’d feel better mentally, then “cheat” and feel awful, like I had failed and there was no going back. Then I’d restrict for weeks or months, then give in to all my desires in the span of a few days.
That’s when I learned about Intuitive Eating…
To be 100% honest, I thought the idea of intuitive eating was stupid. You’re telling me that I can eat what I want when I want, and I can feel good about it, but also have a great relationship with my body and mind? I can literally have my cake and eat it too?
Intuitive eating is sometimes interchangeable with unapologetic eating. It’s a non-diet approach to health and wellness. Intuitive eating teaches you how to get in touch with your body cues like hunger, fullness, and satisfaction while learning to trust your body around food again. It’s a great way to listen to your body’s signals, break the diet cycle, and develop a healthier relationship with food.
Created by two registered dieticians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, there was a need for more behavior-focused nutrition interventions rather than restrictive or rule-focused.
I started eating this way without any warning. I wasn’t initially trying to eat any specific way. It just happened and I kept going with it. This is just the beginning of my journey. I plan to follow my intuition when it comes to food for the foreseeable future!
Before going any further, I’d like to preface this by saying that intuitive eating does not and will not work for everyone. There is no “right” way of eating, just as there is no “wrong” way of eating. As usual, I will refrain from recommending any products or diets to the NutraChamps family. Your diet and lifestyle are completely in your hands. If you need medical advice, it’s important to speak to a professional, whether that be a family physician, dietician, naturopath, or other.
What are the benefits of Intuitive Eating?
There are numerous benefits to this way of eating. What I truly respect is that this lifestyle suits many different cultures, backgrounds, genders, and more. Many of the studies posted on the Intuitive Eating website are done around the globe, which shows that this can be one of the best ways to connect with your food and with your community. When all communities can partake in a non-diet, it’s worth giving it a try!
Here are some of the great benefits of intuitive eating that over 100 research studies have written about:
- You can detect and honor hunger cues
- Less guilty thoughts around food
- Food tastes better
- You become more aware of how foods make you feel
- Increased energy
- Fewer cravings
- Your relationships with friends and family improve <3
- You’re more flexible (rather than all-or-nothing thinking)
- You can learn to leave leftovers on your plate
- You are able to keep “trigger” foods around your house
- More headspace – less thinking about food
- Your mood improves
- Your digestion improves
- You’re more mindful when you eat (and this can sometimes mean you’re more mindful in other areas of life)
- You are more satisfied with life!
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
I will give you a brief idea of the 10 principles but will refer you out to the original, more detailed list here. I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel here. However, I do want to let you know that this has changed my life in a very positive way at an extremely vulnerable time for me: during a year-long pandemic “lockdown” and after moving into a new place on my own. This change came at the perfect time for me.
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
The diet mentality may have followed you this far, but this is where you can finally cut the chord. Have you been trying to lose weight for years and keep finding yourself on a rollercoaster or weight loss and weight gain? It’s not about your lack of willpower or about you being a failure. Dieting is the real problem.
Ditch the diet. If you don’t know if what you’re following is a diet, figure out the following: Is it telling you what to eat or how much to eat? If so, it’s a diet! It’s so liberating to not have to think of food rules all day long!
2. Honor Your Hunger
Don’t ignore your hunger cues. It is a normal, biological process. One thing that always confused me was the rule: Eat until you’re 80% full. I’m not great at quantifying that, especially because most of the time I don’t realize I’m full until it’s too late! Try to use this hunger-fullness scale to understand on a scale of 1-10 how hungry or full you are. Rather than intuitive eating, this is more on the side of mindful eating.
On the other hand, if you are simply not hungry, but you know that you should eat something because you have somewhere to go where you won’t be able to access healthy food or you are simply stressed and don’t feel like eating anything, you still need to make sure you are eating enough throughout the day. Staying adequately nourished will help you to avoid the evening binge of junk food.
While I’m trying intuitive eating, I’m foregoing intermittent fasting. I don’t feel hungry when I have my coffee with Macadamia milk in the morning, but if I don’t eat until 1pm, I’m ravenous and very irritable. Eating something small for breakfast has helped a lot in curbing my cravings and keeping me satiated with my 3 meals and 2 snacks a day.
3. Make Peace with Food
Every time you deprive yourself, you risk going through the Deprivation-Binge Pendulum. This is where you go from restriction and deprivation to binging and out-of-control eating. In between, there is a short amount of time where you feel like you may be listening to your body’s cues and actually honoring them. Get off that ride.
The goal for intuitive eating is to allow yourself all foods and to give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want. That doesn’t mean you’re going to eat as much of it as you want, but it does mean that you can indulge in a slice of cake at a birthday party, or 2 glasses of wine with your dinner.
Telling yourself you can’t or shouldn’t have a certain food will lead you to feel deprived, eventually turning into uncontrollable cravings and overeating.
I’ve had trouble with this for over a decade now. It became a part of my identity; my friends would always ask what diet I’m on now, what I couldn’t eat (so that they could include me), and I didn’t even realize I was doing more harm than good to my mental health and my ever-fluctuating body.
4. Challenge the Food Police
Diet culture has made it so that we automatically label food as “good” or “bad”. Why are there green light foods and red light foods? Why can’t we simply trust our instinct and eat what our body is asking for? It’s because we are not taught to do so; we are not taught to read the signs and we do not know what our bodies are depleted of that makes us crave certain foods.
When you eat a food you consider “bad” note how you feel. These are the foods you should eat one-mindfully, meaning you want to only focus on eating that food (doing one thing at a time). For me, it’s Nutella on white bread. This is a binge-inducing food for me. The next time I try to eat this, I will turn off all the social media, my TV, and make sure I just focus on the experience of eating something I enjoy.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
What’s the difference between being Full and being Satisfied? It’s easy to find ways to fill yourself up. You could eat 10 hard-boiled eggs. Does this satisfy you, though? If you are not satisfied with your snacks or meals, you’re likely to keep looking for more. Aim to eat something that is satisfying and satiating.
I’ve found that I can’t do this without prepping meals. I used to just eat vegetables and protein. I avoided making carbs like baked potatoes or rice because I wanted to save my carbs for “fun” food. It’s upsetting how much time I spent avoiding eating a cup of brown rice to feel satisfied at dinner just so I could eat half a cheesecake. It simply doesn’t make sense, but I kept trying to justify my decision!
When you eat what you really want and also what your body craves (not your mind when you deprive it), the feelings of satisfaction and pleasure will alert you when you’re done with your meal. As Registered Dietitian Rachel Hartley says, “Fullness is the physical sensation of satiety, while satisfaction is the mental sensation of satiety.”
6. Feel Your Fullness
This is a tough one and doesn’t happen immediately! It is totally normal to feel “out of control” around eating or to frequently eat until you are uncomfortably full when you first start your intuitive eating journey and even for a significant time after. When you’re used to restricting yourself and then binging, you can sometimes slip back into that habit.
Do not force yourself to finish a meal. Keep containers around the kitchen so you can pack away leftovers. Pause halfway through a meal or a snack. Count your chews; you could likely chew that bite 10 more times before swallowing. How does your food taste? Ask yourself these questions and become a bit more curious about why you eat the way you do.
7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Do you eat uncontrollably because of unpleasant feelings and emotions? Do you feel any better after a binge? It’s normal to eat when stressed or feeling unhappy if this is how you’ve coped through difficult situations. You’ve found a coping mechanism, and that’s exactly what you needed back when the habit began. How can we now change this?
To find sustainable ways to navigate uncomfortable emotions, you may find it helpful to be attentive to how you are feeling and practice a variety of coping skills. The list is too long to include here, but you may want to consider seeing a therapist, a dietician, practicing meditation or yoga, or even go on a hike with a friend. These are all healthier distractions and great ways to work toward changing your mindset for intuitive eating. I’ve used all of the above and it has helped tremendously! Find what works for you.
8. Respect Your Body
Listen to your body, care for it physically and mentally, appreciate your body as it is in this moment.
Don’t start this when you feel your body looks its best. Do it right now. Realize your worth as a person, without the looks. You only have one body! Shift your focus from physical “imperfections” to thinking of how your body can perform all these incredible tasks as long as you fuel it well. Even with everything we put it through, it pushes on.
This won’t always be easy. Have compassion and be kind to yourself. You will need to unlearn a lot and relearn that you are worth taking care of.
9. Movement—Feel the Difference
Exercise is the other part of the intuitive eating equation. Nourishing your body does not end with food. Movement can help you lose weight, feel energized, sleep better, and feel more content.
The goal here is to find a style of movement that suits you and feels good for your body. I personally love dancing, resistance training with kettlebells, yoga, long walks through the city with my camera, and practicing handstands against the wall. What are your favorite ways to move?
10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
Gentle nutrition can be thought of as using food from a place of self-care rather than a place of control and restriction. Rather than thinking about nutrition in terms of what foods you should cut back on or eliminate, can you think of nutrition in terms of what foods you can add in?
How do you like to prepare your food? I hated boiled broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and carrots until I was 28 years old. I always wondered why I didn’t enjoy vegetables. Then I decided to bake them instead, topping them with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and sometimes a bit of Parmesan cheese. Now I can’t get enough veggies. I was making food the way I was shown but never took the time to prepare it in a different way. I also tried at least 10 different kinds of nut milk until I found the right one for my coffee. It’s a tough job, but someone has to make sure I’m satisfied with my meals!
I’m not going to lie to you and say I did a bunch of research before I started on this intuitive eating journey. I had become fed up with feeling bad for myself whenever I indulged in something nice. To top it all off, we’re all feeling the effects of COVID-19’s strict lockdowns and the constant waves and variants that are circulating. This past year has brought up a lot of talk in the realm of self-care, and I think this was one of the things that my body has been craving for decades now.
Although Tribole and Resch have written books on Intuitive Eating, this is not a new concept, and these basic principles can be practiced without reading the book or searching for answers online.
Knowing that this is a long-term goal, go into it at your own pace. These changes will not necessarily come easily, nor will they feel natural at first. All habits take practice, and that requires resilience – when you fall off the wagon, dust yourself off and pick yourself up again.
Have you struggled with your eating habits? Tell us what you’ve tried in the past and if you’d be willing to try something new like intuitive eating. If you have tried this method in the past and it didn’t work, what do you think you could change from the list of intuitive eating steps above? Tag a friend who you feel could benefit from learning more about this topic! We’d love to hear your stories.
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as rock climbing, hiking, listening to podcasts, or playing Board Games with friends. She is constantly working towards Finding natural solutions to live as long as possible, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.