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Intuitive Eating: The Basics

Mindfulness, ModerationAly HaebigComment

Diets do not work. In fact, they do more harm than good, despite their short-lived results.

That is the premise of Intuitive Eating, a practice that emphasizes why we eat over what we eat.

When I first heard about Intuitive Eating, I approached it with skepticism. I had been conditioned to combat weight loss with realistic calorie allotments, developing meal plans that fit a client's lifestyle, and heralding the benefits of fruits and vegetables. I knew that diets did not work. Diets are overly restrictive and are built on faulty, cherry-picked science. I foresaw that my job as a dietitian was to advocate for lifestyle change and setting realistic, individualized goals for clients steeped in sound science.

So the prospect of putting all the nutrition knowledge in my head on the back-burner in lieu of eating what you want when you want to...it took be aback. But as I got into the meat of the book on Intuitive Eating, I realized that the authors, dietitians themselves, were on to something. Allow me to explain...

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What is Intuitive Eating? 

It is incredibly difficult, nigh impossible, to put a single, simple definition to the practice of Intuitive Eating (IE). The following is how the authors of "The Intuitive Eating Workbook" describe IE in the Introduction:

Intuitive Eating is a dynamic mind-body integration of instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It is a personal process of honoring your health by paying attention to the messages of your body and meeting your physical and emotional needs. It is an inner journey of discovery that puts you front and center; you are the expert of your own body.
— Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN & Elyse Resch, MS, RDN

Furthermore, IE is based on the following ten principles:

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Feel your fullness
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor
  7. Cope with your feelings without using food
  8. Respect your body
  9. Exercise: Feel the difference
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition

The book (find it here) uses chapters to deep dive into each principle with the overarching theme being: listen to your body. (Aside: The cover of the book does it no favors, resembling the typical 90s genre diet-book promising life-altering results. Do not let this deter you! But, I digress.

Is Intuitive Eating Right for Me? 

Do you eat? Then yes, IE is for you! All kidding aside, Intuitive Eating is for everyone. If you have ever struggled with your relationship with food, view food as the enemy in a battle against weight gain, or are just tired of trying diets that do not work, IE is especially for you. 

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Does this cycle ring true for you? I know it did for me. If I felt I was struggling with my weight or body image, I would be tempted to restrict my eating in some way. However, as the hours or days went on, as I continued to be "good," my feelings of deprivation and cravings for my favorite foods would increase. What would inevitably follow would be a well-intended "treat myself" moment followed by a period of eating way more than I intended. This would give way to immense feelings of guilt and a promise to restrict my eating the next day. 

When I read up on Intuitive Eating and recognized this pattern in my own life, I could only think "Why have I been doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result?" (There's some Einstein failure quote in there I think...) 

The answer: Because society constantly feeds us new diets and eating protocols that promise that THIS TIME it will work! 

But I've got a better idea: Why not heal your relationship with food and lay this dreadful cycle to rest? Why not learn that you can enjoy all of the foods with zero guilt and no feelings of deprivation? Instead of putting a band-aid over the problem and hoping it will go away, why not address the root cause? 

If you are nodding along right now, I have got good news - you are not alone

Where Do I Start? 

Below, I am posting common Intuitive Eating resources, including the book and workbook links on Amazon. Both are reasonably priced and definitely worth purchasing!

But if you are not in the market to read or purchase the books at this moment, no need to fear! In the coming weeks, I will be breaking down the principles of Intuitive Eating, showing examples of what IE could look like, answering FAQs, and more! Stay tuned!

Intuitive Eating resources: