Intuitive eating may seem like a simple concept, but it can be far more complex than people think. Simply using your intuition to determine when, how, and what you should eat is difficult when countless factors, from peer pressure to social stigmas and diet culture affect our behaviours.
People today make dietary decisions based on everything from the culture they grew up in to their health goals and beliefs about how their eating choices will be perceived. Your emotional or mental state can also significantly affect how you eat. When you’re sad, stressed, or even happy, you may eat more or less food than normal, as well as different kinds of meals such as intentional indulgence.
Embracing intuitive eating means thinking more carefully about how you get the nutrition you need without focusing on external influences. It’s about becoming a master of your own hunger signals and understanding exactly what your body wants from you.
What is Intuitive Eating? An Introduction
Intuitive eating is a style of managing your meals and nutrition, which promotes a healthy attitude towards the consumption of food, and your own body image. To an extent, it involves eating when you’re hungry, and recognizing when you’re full.
However, there’s also a lot more involved in eating intuitively than just listening to your hunger signals. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, embracing intuitive eating means learning how to understand your body, make the right food choices, and seek out good nutrition without worrying about judgement from your peers.
When you eat intuitively, you don’t follow a specific diet. Instead, you learn as much as you can about your body’s requirements, and make food choices based around those facts. For instance, you might use your genetic nutrition profile from your DNA test to eat intuitively, selecting foods with minerals and vitamins you lack due to genetic reasons.
Eating intuitively also means understanding the difference between emotional and physical hunger.
When you’re physically hungry, your body is telling you it needs you to replenish crucial nutrients and energy. However, When you eat emotionally, it’s often an attempt to fill a different kind of void that you feel, caused by sadness, loneliness, or even boredom.
Interest in the concept of intuitive eating is on the rise. According to the 2019 food survey, 60% of Americans said they were interested in learning more about intuitive, or mindful eating.
The Principles of Intuitive Eating
Let’s be clear that intuitive eating isn’t a dieting technique, or a method used to lose weight. Instead, it’s a strategy intended to promote good mental and physical health. As such, it involves letting go of a lot of the harmful beliefs which can lead to eating disorders.
Many of us have an unhealthy relationship with food. We may automatically label some foods as good, and others as bad based on the information we receive from the media, our peers, and past experiences. However, distinguishing food as good and bad can lead to restrictive eating habits, which can increase cravings and feelings of low self-esteem.
The concept of intuitive eating revolves around replacing your negative thoughts about food with a more positive mindset. Some of the core principles include:
· Avoid the diet mentality: Intuitive eating is essentially the opposite to a traditional diet. It involves ignoring the idea you should be eating specific foods in certain quantities to follow the guidelines of a book or fad. Instead, you eat what you believe you need when you need it.
· Honor your hunger: Hunger is a natural phenomenon, and something we all experience. Ignoring feelings of hunger because you want to lose weight or cut calories can lead to disordered eating behaviors, cravings, and fatigue. If you let yourself get too hungry, you’re more likely to binge eat, or overeat when you do have access to food.
· Stop labelling food as good or bad: While we all know some foods are healthier for us than others, labelling food as good or bad creates feelings of guilt and shame. Intuitive eating encourages you to eat what you want, without judgement.
· Don’t beat yourself up: Although in an ideal world, many of us would eat nothing but whole, healthy foods, the reality is we’re all going to want something a little more “unhealthy” at times. Stop shaming yourself for eating what you want.
· Respect fullness: Just as listening to your body will tell you when you need to eat, it can also help you understand when you’re full. Listen to the cues your body is giving you to determine whether you’re eating because you need to, or because your emotions are driving you.
· Enjoy eating: Intuitive eating encourages us to actually enjoy the foods we consume. Sit down and savor the bites you have. When you pay attention to the pleasurable signals you get from eating the right foods, you may find you’re less likely to overeat.
· Honor your feelings: We eat for many reasons other than hunger, including boredom and sadness. If you recognize a desire to eat coming from your emotional state, look for ways to respond to your emotions without food. Try meditating, journaling, or taking a walk.
· Love your body: One of the core principles of intuitive eating is that you should love and respect your body. Stop worrying about your clothing size, or the inches around your waste, and start loving yourself for who you are.
· Exercise for fun: When you eat intuitively, you stop looking at exercise as a strategy for losing weight, and start exploring the other benefits. Exercising can be fun, revitalizing, and even excellent for managing your emotions.
· Honor your health: While it’s important not to label too many foods as bad when you’re eating intuitively, you should understand your health and what your body needs. Respect any conditions you might have and respond accordingly with your diet.
The Benefits of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating is still a relatively new concept, but research in the field is growing. While this eating strategy might not help you to lose a lot of weight, it can have a number of excellent benefits. For instance, one study found intuitive eating leads to healthier attitudes towards foods and a healthier overall relationship with food.
The researchers also found that while the participants in the study didn’t necessarily lose weight, they were able to maintain their weight, and achieve a lower body mass index.
Other studies indicate intuitive eating has the power to significantly improve our mental health. Participants in these surveys found eating intuitively helped to improve their quality of life, body image and self-esteem, while reducing feelings of anxiety.
Additionally, people who start eating intuitively are more likely to stick to their new dietary strategies, which means they can maintain healthy practices more effectively than they would on a diet.
Intuitive eating may also lower your chances of disordered eating behaviors. According to one report, women who stuck to intuitive eating programs were less likely to encounter issues with their dietary strategy than those using other plans.
Intuitive Eating vs Mindful Eating: What’s the Difference?
Intuitive eating and mindful eating have some overlaps, but they are slightly different practices. Mindful eating involves harnessing your feelings and experiences in the moment while you eat, to govern your behaviors. When you eat mindfully, you focus on reducing distractions while you eat, so you can listen more carefully to your body’s signals.
Similar to intuitive eating, you’ll also savor your food more, and eat slowly to enjoy the experience. Plus, you’ll need to think about the cues your body sends you about hunger and fullness, and acknowledge the feelings you have about various foods without judgement.
Eating mindfully can provide a number of benefits, from helping you to enjoy your meals more, to reducing your risk of emotional and binge-eating behaviors.
Intuitive eating, on the other hand, is a slightly more focused approach. While you will apply mindfulness to your diet, you’ll focus more heavily on ignoring potential outside factors which might influence your eating behaviors. Through intuitive eating, you take a judgement-free approach to choosing when, how, and what to eat.
Intuitive eating does require you to be aware of your emotional hunger, and other factors which can alter your eating behaviors. However, it also requires you to embrace self-care and self-love on a more significant scale.
You don’t necessarily need to choose between mindful eating or intuitive eating. Many of the principles of both concepts overlap, so you can consider embracing both strategies at the same time. With both philosophies, you’ll consider how your mental state influences your food choices, and pay attention to the responses your body has to different meals.
Mindful eating can limit the distractions you have during meals, so you’re more likely to enjoy and savor whatever you eat. Intuitive eating will teach you to use mindfulness so you can reconnect with your mind and body during periods of eating. It also helps you to reduce feelings of stress or guilt you might have around food, based on past experiences or social cues.
Embracing Intuitive Eating
Leveraging the benefits of intuitive eating to manage your diet and nutrition strategy can be an excellent way to alter the relationship you have with food. Learning how to eat intuitively, based on your body’s cues, your nutritional needs, and your own preferences allows you to ignore the outside influences which could lead to disordered eating practices.
Eating both intuitively and mindfully will help you to get back in touch with your body, and the signals it sends you relating to hunger and fullness. You may also find you experience higher levels of self-esteem and fewer problems with depression and stress.
To get started, you’ll need to learn as much as you can about your body and its needs. Use your CircleDNA report to determine what kind of nutrition you should be prioritizing, then look for ways to embed delicious, nutritional foods into your diet. Let your intuition guide you when it comes to making the right food choices.
- National Eating Disorders: What Does Intuitive Eating Mean? https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/what-does-intuitive-eating-mean
- 2019 food survey: 2019 Food & Health Survey
- NCBI: Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review
- Science Direct: A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women