The idea of intuitive eating has been making the rounds for the past few years as more people look for healthier and sustainable alternatives to diet culture. What exactly does intuitive eating entail? This is a movement that encourages people to make peace with eating all kinds of food, which defies an unsustainable diet culture that encourages people to abstain or ban certain foods from their eating plan, like carbs. Intuitive eating promotes a culture that stops categorising food as either "good" or "bad", it's all about listening to your body's hunger cues.
Overall, this is an eating philosophy that motivates people to be more present and listen to their bodies for signs of hunger or fullness. Empowering the individual to make choices about their eating habits based on what signals their body gives out, essentially promoting a balanced and healthy relationship with food while changing how we treat our bodies. Research in this area is still ongoing, most of the studies have been focusing mostly on women’s attitudes to food.
So what do you need to know as a beginner to intuitive eating?
Firstly, it's important to know that intuitive eating is not a diet plan. Those who utilise the principles are encouraged to eat when they are feeling hungry and stop when they are full- you’d need to be mindful. To achieve this, you'd need to trust and better decode exactly what your body is communicating so you don’t confuse the message that is being sent. Keep in mind that some people are emotional eaters, meaning they’d eat when they are sad, happy or bored, not because their body needs to be replenished. Establishing a mutual understanding between mind and body could help you distinguish between physical and emotional hunger.
Intuitive eating seeks to break the unhealthy and guilt infused cycle that some people may have with food, especially when it's connected to body image issues influenced by traditional diet culture. It enables those who take on this philosophy to develop a new lifestyle that changes their long term behaviour with and around food, essentially also empowering participants to have a healthier attitude to mental and physical health. Thus in some cases, there is a connection between someone's emotional state and their unhealthy eating habits (1). Intuitive eating has also been proven to be sustainable in the long term because it goes away from eating plans that restrict some foods, and leads to eating disorders in some cases, so it's easier to maintain (2).
What are some of the benefits of intuitive eating?
- Challenging diet culture: the literature on intuitive eating has been focusing on promoting a healthy psychological attitude and behaviours to food and with body image
2. Encourages people to eat when they are hungry and stop when full: it comes down to honouring and being attentive to one’s body when it communicates with you.
3. Prioritise nutrition and good food: it's important to focus on eating tasty food that makes you feel good as well as being nutritious - focus on a pattern of eating well in the long term (one unhealthy meal once in a while is ok too). A reminder to be gentle with yourself.
4. Move away from a focus on weight loss to physical health: exercise is a big part of one’s holistic health. Make sure you move your body often while maintaining a balanced diet.
5. Respect your emotions without turning to food: this is for those who turn to be emotional eaters to avoid dealing with whatever they are going through. Find healthy strategies to deal with your emotions, like working or seeking professional help.
6. Be forgiving and treat your body kindly: our bodies go through a lot and they change over time, so treat it gently. Care for it more holistically without obsessing over weight loss. A reminder that your health, as opposed to physical aesthetics, is more important. Thus intuitive eating can encourage healthier self-esteem and a positive body image.
7. Make eating an enjoyable experience: the best way to know if your body has had enough or not is to eat without any external distractions. Make sure you sit down for a meal and pay attention to what and how much you're eating.
What should you take away from this?
The intuitive eating philosophy is a bigger part of a movement that encourages a more balanced and mindful lifestyle - it's all about a new form of self-care that empowers individuals to look inward instead of utilizing generic strategies that aren’t sustainable. This is part of a wider culture that seeks to promote holistic lifestyle changes and getting intimately connected to your mind, body and spirit in the long term pursuit of health and wellness.