Learn more about Intuitive Eating; the non-diet approach to food that encourages healthy living and positive body image.
You may have heard of intuitive eating – it's based on listening for the messages your body sends you in order to help guide food decisions. You may have also heard it referred to as gentle nutrition. Intuitive eating isn’t a new idea; it’s an age-old concept that people should listen to their body and eat what makes them feel good at the time, not what someone else says they should or shouldn't do or eat.
There’s a lot of talk about intuitive eating these days. Studies show that following your inner cues can enhance your mental and physical health. However, the process can be confusing if you’re unsure about where to begin. On the one hand, you want to trust your body to make the best decisions for you. On the other hand, there’s so much contradictory information out there and mixed messages.
Let’s separate fact from fiction when it comes to intuitive eating:
Avoid extremes. There's a big difference between eating what you want and feeling good about yourself versus living recklessly. When you give up strict diets, you’ll need to invent your own guidelines.
Clarify your goals. Is it simply to lose weight? Or do you want to feel energized and at peace? Intuitive eating teaches how to be mindful of these things so that the number on the scale isn't the only thing of concern.
Do some Research. Don’t fall prey to uneducated choices or misinformation that could derail you from achieving what you really want -- or worse yet -- turn you off from something healthy!
Recognize True Hunger
Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. This may seem hard if you’ve been on diets for a long time, but be gentle with yourself, and remember, this may take time. Ask yourself how hungry are you? Assign a number from one to ten for how much you are craving food -- a higher number indicates a stronger urge.
Fuel up. It’s easier to resist less than ideal food when you're feeling satisfied. Carry snacks with you that are high in protein, fiber, and nutrients.
Take your time. Eat slowly to allow time for your brain to keep up with your stomach. Listen to your body, and how you feel as you eat. Slowing down will improve digestion and reduce overeating.
Stay hydrated. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so keep a glass of water nearby. If plain water isn’t to your liking, try adding slices of fruit, cucumbers, or adding fresh mint. Have fun with it!
Examine your feelings. Emotions are powerful drivers of what we do with our bodies. What led up to this moment where you feel the urge to eat? Are there healthier ways of dealing with these emotions?
Other Important Truths About Intuitive Eating
Joyful movement. An active lifestyle will allow you to connect with your body and will do wonders for both your physical health and emotional state of mind. Try out different routines and invite family or friends who are willing to accompany you; they make exercise all the more fun!
Take up cooking. If you want to eat well for life, don't buy healthy food without learning what to do with it. Watching cooking shows and browsing for easy recipes online will make things easier.
Be patient. Changing your diet takes time, so try to stay encouraged and push past obstacles. Every step counts -- even if those steps are very small ones!
Respect your body. Recognize this journey is about honoring your abilities. Honor your body and its needs. Develop an attitude that values what food can do for you.
Think long-term. Think about your future, and how it might look different if you’re living healthily – without dieting or depriving yourself of food! Love yourself enough to take care of yourself now so you can lower your risk of chronic illness and disease later.
How to Get Started
Luckily, there are plenty of great resources for those who want to get started eating intuitively! You can purchase a copy of the Intuitive Eating book and accompanying workbook. There are online and in-person support groups. You could look for a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor in your area, or a nutritionist who specializes in intuitive eating.
The Bottom Line
You deserve to feel good about yourself. Eat the foods you love, without guilt, and give yourself permission to enjoy every delicious moment. Learning how to eat intuitively teaches you how to make mindful decisions about what your body needs at any given time. Embrace this lifestyle because it will lead you down the path to lifelong healthy habits!