I am often asked about ‘eating intuitively’ but as a Registered Associate Nutritionist, it is something I am continuing to research. I believe it to be a very powerful way of eating but with ongoing CPD courses under my belt, this is not something that I have studied enough, to give an expert opinion on. Therefore, I have invited the wonderful Kirsten Ackerman, MS, RD to collaborate with me and help break down what ‘eating intuitively’ really entails and whether or not it is for everyone….
Kirsten, could you talk us through the principles of IE?
There are ten principles of Intuitive Eating:
1. Reject the Diet Mentality – Essentially, diet mentality is rooted in external food rules that dictate our choices are food. For example, eliminating carbohydrate based foods (ahem, keto). There are rules that someone else set that we decide to blindly follow. They are not based on INTERNAL cues that we can physically experience ourselves.
2. Honor your Hunger – Pay attention to the sensory feedback of different levels of hunger in your body, For example, some people can very easily miss out on early signals of hunger in their body (irritability, dull headache,etc). For other people, subtle hunger is very apparent in the form of grumbling in their stomach or starting to daydream about lunch. But even so, many times in our hectic culture, it can still be easy to go hours before eventually eating. This can create so much chaos in our relationship to food. Learning to notice and honor your hunger when it shows up will help to foster a more peaceful relationship to food.
3. Make Peace with Food – There is no moral value to food choices. You are not good for eating a salad and you are not bad for having dessert. Learning to neutralize your perceptions of the morality of different food is so important. It is also important to start experimenting with unconditional permission to eat all foods. When we set restrictions for ourselves around food, it drives us to feeling more cravings for that food. It also increases the reward of having that food when we eventually give into the craving. By allowing for full permission to eat all foods, we will eventually find a balance that works for us. And, as scary as this principle can be, it is powerful when you experience it for yourself. P.S. You really won’t eat chocolate chip cookies 6 times per day for the rest of your life. Once the restriction dissipates, your body will ask for a return to balance.
4. Challenge the Food Police – Start questioning the diet mentality thoughts and rules that pop up in your mind. Examples: “I shouldn’t eat past 8pm” or “I shouldn’t eat any added sugar”.Call these thoughts out when you notice them and recognize them as food police thoughts.
5. Feel your Fullness – Similarly to honoring your hunger, to feel your fullness you have to start recognizing the sensory feedback of different levels of fullness in your body. Subtle fullness can be hard to detect. With practice, you’ll find a stopping point that feels best for you most of the time. Remember: if you do eat past fullness, this is not a moral shortcoming. It is simply an opportunity to ask yourself what this might suggest: did you go too long without eating and you were ravenous? Were you feeling emotional in some way and looking for comfort in food? Stay curious.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor – Allow yourself to find pleasure in your eating experiences. Choose foods that sound delicious and satisfying to you in the moment. Choose a comfortable eating environment without distractions. Of course, this won’t be every time you eat. But pay attention to how satisfied you are when you are truly paying attention and being mindful during your meal compared to when you rushing.
7. Honor your Feelings Without Using Food – Again, there is nothing morally wrong with emotion eating. However, there are ways to cope with emotions that will address what is going on for you in a more direct way and, ultimately, will leave you feeling better. Start tuning into and recognizing your emotions, particularly in moments when you find yourself reaching for food outside of physical hunger. Consider ways of addressing your emotions more directly. For example, after a long stressful day at work, maybe you could use some gentle joyful movement like exercise or a walk.
8. Respect your Body – Accept your genetic blueprint. Accept general body diversity. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Recognizing this is step one. The next step is finding ways to treat your here and now body with more respect. How can you provide it nourishment and energy in a way that feels good? How can you honor its cravings in a way that feels good? How can you move it in a way that feels good? How can you shift your negative thoughts about your body to something positive? How can you express gratitude towards your body?
9. Exercise – Feel the Difference – Rather than choosing movement for the purpose of its calorie-burning effect, choose movement that is enjoyable and feels good to you in the moment. It can be gentle, it can be a short period of time, it can be anything. Movement is so supportive of health regardless of the impact is has (or does not have) on your body size. You deserve enjoyable movement, whatever that is for you.
10. Gentle Nutrition – After exploring your relationship to food and working to heal it, consider how to nourish yourself based on basic nutrition principles can feel really good. This is not always a top priority for every person, and that is okay, too. But if it is, my recommendation is always to consider what you can add to your plate and your overall diet rather than what you can eliminate or avoid. All foods fit.
Can anyone eat intuitively?
The fact of the matter is that we were all born intuitive eaters. As children, we knew what and how much our bodies needed. Environmental and cultural influences often lead us away from this intuition. So, I really view the practice of intuitive eating as a returning back to something we already know how to do. That being said, there are always exceptions. A couple examples I can think of would be someone who is receiving treatment for a medical condition and on many medications may lose their appetite entirely and, if left entirely up to their intuitive, might not choose to eat at all. Another example is in the early stages of eating disorder recovery, hunger signals are usually entirely muted and fullness signals can be premature. In these cases, internal cues around hunger/fullness are not reliable. However, outside of these extreme cases, intuitive eating is really the most peaceful way we can relate to food.
How about if someone is suffering from an eating disorder how might they be able to benefit from IE?
Eating disorders occur along a spectrum. I consider this spectrum to start with dieting and progress towards a full blown eating disorder. I think everyone on this spectrum can benefit from the intuitive eating framework. However, those that are in early stages of recovery from a full blown eating disorder, as mentioned above, cannot rely fully on their hunger/fullness cues. Everyone can benefit from many of the other principles such as rejecting the diet mentality, learning to cope with emotions without using food, and making peace with food.
Please do let us know if this was helpful. You can find Kirsten on her instagram page @theintuitive_rd and informative podcast ‘Intuitive Bites’ available on iTunes and Spotify.