You’ve probably heard the concept being used very often in the past year and closely related to diet-opposers and groups such as HAES (Health At Every Size) that’s a trademark of an hypothesis started within the Fat Acceptance movement and promoted by the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
What is intuitive eating?
The term refers to taking back control of your own hunger signals, allowing you to get back in touch with your satiety cues and decide for yourself when to eat and when to stop eating, using your intuition.
This translates into intuitive eating being exactly the opposite of what we know as dieting, naming you the expert regarding your food, nutrient intake and wellbeing which is often associated with a more free approach towards body image and health attitudes – which in many cases can be dangerous, as obesity keeps spiking.
The intuitive eating mindset pulls people away from trusting a dietitian, nutritionist or any other expert and rather places the emphasis in trusting your own gut and learning how to make a difference between physical and emotional hunger (many times extremely hard).
The term was coined in 1995 by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, while early similar ideas were pioneered by the feminist Susie Orbach (a British Jewish psychotherapist) and Geneen Roth (an American Jewish author on different eating habits). The overall idea of using intuition rather than guidelines when eating was popularized by the thought that diets do not work.
wHAT do we understand by intuition
The way intuition is explained via eating habits has to do a lot with the self-awareness you have of your own body, your health and the way you see yourself not only in the mirror but also how you understand your own feelings how you translate them into needs. Hence intuition, it’s not something you observe, it’s something you must feel within yourself – you cannot explain it, you can only feel it.
You can practice finding your intuition by trying to connect more with your mind and relating your thoughts to your body, understand the way you perceive yourself from an inner perspective. While this is extremely positive for healthy people, in their healthy weight, this approach has been used by the HAES community as a path into fat-acceptance:
HAES encourages people to build activity into their day-to-day routines and focuses on helping people find enjoyable ways of being active. The goal is to promote well-being and self-care rather than advising individuals to meet set guidelines for frequency and intensity of exercise.Bacon, L., Aphramor, L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutr J 10, 9 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
When we think about the health benefits of intuitive eating we can name the following: improved self-esteem, improvement of one’s self-image, reducing anxiety and depression that comes from the stress placed on the action of eating and acceptance.
However, it is a dietitian/therapist’s responsibility to whether recommend this approach to their clients taking into consideration their overall needs – examples can range from overweight otherwise healthy individuals to obese individuals with high-risk conditions that must adhere to an advisor’s more rigorous ways into lowering body fat and upping nutrients. It has been nonetheless proved that more people prefer staying on this type of eating habit than on other diets (1).
THE 10 PRINCIPLES OF INTUITIVE EATING
These can be found on the official website for intuitive eating (2) but here we will talk about them in easier words. Let’s add some commentary in brackets and think twice about what each principle tells us.
- Reject the diet mentality: this principle suggests to simply lose all hope in losing weight. According to Intuitive Eating founders, you should not think about losing weight but about teaching yourself how to eat (amazingly enough, this is promoted for people all sizes, including morbidly obese).
- Honor your hunger: telling you to eat when you’re hungry and stop avoiding the hunger cues because it’s only going to make it worse and you will end up on binge eating (let’s remember not everyone knows the difference between hunger and thirst – which can feel quite much the same, and not to mention the fact that if someone is used to eating extreme quantities of food, by adhering to this principle, they will end up overeating).
- Make peace with food: you’re being told to accept cravings and stop deprivation because you will end up craving even more and with a guilt feeling (but what about those individuals that have certain food restriction due to their conditions? – we’re thinking here about a hypertensive and salt craving chips)
- Challenge the Food Police: talks about how deep inside you know you should not eat something, but that actually is better to give in and realize it’s only a bad voice telling you to derive from a healthier diet – tells you to go back to eating what you want and how much you want.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor: relates the Japanese culture of experiencing food (which are never abundant but rather in small quantities as on the contrary in the West) and how you should start enjoying food as an experience – ”When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content.” (3)
- Feel your Fullness: teaches you to stop eating when you feel full enough – not as according to a portion control but rather to your satiety cues.
- Cope with your emotions with Kindness: ”First, recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues. 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. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger may only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion.”
- Respect your body: this principle basically tells you to accept your ”genetic blueprint” without the need of making changes to your physique nor health for the purpose of agreeing with the ”diet culture” (so no one should have thoughts about self-improvement but rather just accept their poor physical state, if that’s their situation).
- Movement – Feel the difference: advises you to stop thinking about calorie-burning exercises and see exercise as a different way of relaxing, enjoying yourself.
- Honor your Health – Gentle Nutrition: one meal or snack won’t shape your general nutritional intake but it can be seen as a one time reward. It aims at making you feel like you are taking small steps towards progress by focusing on kind ways to treat yourself when comes to your eating habits.
Is intuitive eating for you?
Intuitive Eating is for you if you’ve gone through all sorts of dieting and still found no peace with any, it is for those that want to reconnect with their own patterns and ways, finding themselves beyond restrictions and dictates, but nonetheless, it is for those that have a higher sense of belief than the average.
The idea is that not everyone should adhere to all 10 principles, but apply some of them in their every day and soothe wounds that were left after dieting and having an overall bad experience with food and eating. The individual recommendations can vary but it is no surprise that intuitive eating can be a tool to help individuals that have had issues with anorexia, orthorexia and bulimia as well as other eating disorders.