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Breaking Down Intuitive Eating

Breaking Down Intuitive Eating

Article by: Sarah Remmer, Registered Dietician

With diet fads and social media weight loss supplements popping up on your feed daily, Intuitive Eating is a great reminder that it’s possible to change how we view our eating habits in a more healthy and sustainable way. As a dietitian and devout Intuitive Eater myself, I’m thrilled that this eating philosophy is becoming more commonplace. With a keen focus on what your body needs, and enjoying the foods you love, there’s no need to deprive and restrict yourself! Interest piqued? Read on! 

I love this approach to eating because, well, it’s intuitive! Intuitive Eating is a weight-neutral approach to eating, backed by dieticians, to help promote body awareness. This philosophy teaches us to listen and honour our physical hunger cues. Hungry? Eat! It’s not a diet or a food plan (cue sigh of relief!). Truth is, there is not a single long-term study that shows that weight-loss dieting is sustainable. In fact, study after study shows that dieting and food restriction for the purpose of weight loss leads to more weight gain.

You might have a couple questions at this point. Is this philosophy a fit for my lifestyle and goals, and where do I begin?  First, put down the ultra-processed “diet food”, restrictive food groups, and the macro counters; this approach gives you permission to eat the foods that you love in amounts that feel right for you. Although I love this approach to eating and encourage everyone to become more intuitive, I’m also not here to shame anyone for dieting or trying a different approach. Becoming an intuitive eater takes time and reflection, and it also entails throwing any weight loss goal out the window (which will be freeing for some, and uncomfortable for others). If a diet or eating plan works really well for you, and it provides all of the nutrients that you need, and you can consistently follow it without feeling deprived or restricted, hey—have at ‘er! If that doesn’t sound like you, let’s continue!

Three simple ways to start Intuitive Eating:

These strategies come from the ten principles of Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, RD and Elyse Resch, RD

1) Honour Your Hunger:  The thing is, hunger is a normal, biological process, and one in which we need to honour and listen to. Your body needs to know, and to trust, that it consistently will have access to nourishment when needed. If you try to override feelings of hunger and don’t eat enough calories and carbohydrates, your body reacts with intense cravings and even binging. It’s imperative to become familiar with your hunger scale (I use one from 1-5 – see below). This simple scale helps me keep track of my hunger during the day so that I don’t let myself get too hungry, or too full. The goal is to eat when you reach a 2 and stop when you reach a 4. If you can stay within a 2-4 throughout the day, it will help prevent getting too hungry at a 1 (which almost always leads to getting too full at a 5!).

Another tip to help you honour your hunger? Always make sure you have nutritious snacks on hand for those super busy days. I like a homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds and dried fruit, or my fave—Made With Local’s Real Food Bars.

2) Challenge the Food Police:

You know that voice inside your head that tells you that you’re “good” if you limit your calories and only eat vegetables for lunch, and “bad” if you eat a homemade cookie or two? Yah…that’s the food police. The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created—they set up shop in your psyche, label foods as good or bad, and wag a guilt-provoking finger at you when you’ve “broken the rules”. Ditching the food police is a critical step in allowing yourself to become an intuitive eater. All foods can fit, regardless if they’re nutritious or not. Allowing yourself to indulge in foods that you love – without guilt – will help to moderate the amount that you eat. Eventually, you won’t feel the need to over-do it or binge. You’ll also be more choosy with your indulgences and eat more mindfully.

3) Respect Your Fullness:

Check out that hunger scale above again, now focus on #4. In order to honor your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you want to eat.  Next, listen for signs from your body that you’re no longer hungry. Maybe that feels like your stomach is comfortably full (but not over-full) and that you could keep eating, but you know that you’ll likely feel too full if you do. Practice stopping then. If you feel like you’re getting close, sit back and put your utensils down. Have a sip of water. Get up and go to the bathroom. If you give yourself a few minutes and just observe, you might decide that you’re done.

Have any questions, or eager to learn more? To order the Intuitive Eating Book, and you can visit intuitiveeating.org for more information.