Have you heard of Intuitive Eating? 

A new fad or a drastically different approach to health?

It’s been popping up more and more on the online space, social media, and starting to take the wellness world by storm. It sounds simple enough, right? It’s easy enough to get the general idea but truly is a complex system that requires plenty of patience and self-compassion to put into practice. 

Intuitive Eating is a refreshing and modern approach to holistic health that centers on self-love, empowerment and internal motivation. It’s not a diet or meal plan. It’s not a structured system of rules. 

The cornerstone “principles” of Intuitive Eating come from Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s book of the same title. As Registered Dietitians (fellow RD here!) passionate about helping people establish a healthy relationship with food they were frustrated with a health system that often sets us up for failure and disappointment. Our society promotes a toxic “diet culture” that thrives on fear based marketing, impossible body standards, degrading our self-worth and promoting the next trendy fad diet. 

What’s the remedy for such a challenging set up? In short, empowering and trusting ourselves. Taking our power back into our own hands and recognizing that only WE know what’s going to work best for our bodies. Re-learning to tap into our internal wisdom and listen to the signals our bodies are sending us constantly. Something we do naturally as children but gradually lose touch with in adulthood as societal norms take over. 

This movement has a bit of a rebellious feel to it because “diet culture” and negative self-image are so second nature. It takes a great deal of conscious awareness to call out these limiting beliefs and re-create a healthy relationship with food and our bodies. 

With the current state of poor health and chronic disease in our world, it’s becoming clearer that maybe we need a new, more compassionate approach. This is where the concept of fostering internal motivation and control comes in. The traditional approach is to have an “expert” tell you what you should and shouldn’t do to better your health, only to feel pressure or resentment because that decision came from an outside source. The Intuitive Eating approach prioritizes making changes and habits that align with personal values first and foremost. 

The truth is most people recognize what a “healthy lifestyle” looks like, but when it comes to translating it into a daily routine, many get stuck or self-sabotage their efforts. It’s not that we’re all lazy or unmotivated; it’s that we’re all longing to feel more empowered in our decisions. 

The ability to strengthen our intuition and our trust our body’s innate wisdom is key. Learning to tune back in to subtle physical, mental and emotional cues is a process. As adults, we often fall into patterns of mindless eating and allow distractions to take over. 

There’s a big piece of diet culture that involves bonding over “dieting”. Especially for women. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve overheard centered on women discussing their latest cleanse, supplement, or trendy diet plan. 

There is hard science available now that proves dieting doesn’t actually work in the long term. In fact, a big driver of weight gain is previous diet attempts. Yo-yo dieting with weight fluctuation actually increases our “set point weight” over time. Set point weight is where our body will naturally fall when we are in a state of balance. Eating intuitively, moving our bodies, not restricting ourselves, enjoying life! (Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, Nutrition Journal, 2011, 10(9))

As a wellness professional, when I visualize this approach spreading I know without a doubt that this is exactly what so many people crave and need. We all want to feel empowered on our journey towards thriving health. We all want to feel confident, balanced, joyful, and be able to experience all of the pleasures of food without any guilt or shame. 

Want to know how to get started?

Here are 5 simple tips to start integrating an Intuitive Eating approach into your life today:

  1. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues. Not just when you’re starving or stuffed, but throughout an entire day! What sensation do you feel in your body when you’re starting to get hungry? What are the signs that you’re verging on feeling uncomfortably full? Just becoming more aware will give you an enormous amount of insight!
  2. Identify when and how you’re using food for reasons other than physical hunger. Emotional eating is part of being human, but it can take over if we don’t address the underlying issues. Start to notice the situations or emotions that trigger you to reach for your favorite comfort foods. Can you identify one alternative coping tool other than food that might help you move through these emotions? 
  3. Give yourself food freedom. Easier said than done, I know! However, when we restrict certain foods completely or label them as “bad”, we change the way our brain thinks about and reacts towards them. They become more desirable or indulgent as a result, making us more likely to develop unhealthy habits such as eating them in secret or binging when we gain access. Opening up permission to enjoy all foods provides a sense of liberation and internal control. 
  4. Enjoy your food mindfully. Mindful eating increases satisfaction on a physical and emotional level. Allow yourself to slow down a bit so you can begin to notice all of the scents, textures, and flavors of your foods and meals. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much this practice can increase your overall feeling of satisfaction after a meal. Not to mention, mindful eating also has proven benefits on our body’s ability to digest food properly!
  5. Embrace Flexibility. Rigid rules create higher rates of poor self-esteem. When we “fall off the wagon” or feel like we “failed”, we end up feeling really low and guilt takes over. We’re all human here! That means there will be ups and downs, continuous evolution, big life changes and events happening all the time. To expect perfection is to set ourselves up for disappointment. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Give yourself a break and give yourself adequate time to adapt to the habits and lifestyle that suit you best while making you feel like your badass, empowered, radiantly healthy self!