Intuitive eating may help you build a better relationship with food — here’s how – Yahoo Lifestyle UK

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If your head is spinning trying to remember the endless rules and restrictions of the smorgasbord of fad diets — from Keto to Atkins to Mediterranean and Atlantic —you might be excited to learn that there’s an entirely different (and, dare we say, revolutionary) approach to food: intuitive eating. But what is intuitive eating, exactly, and how do you practice it?

First things first, intuitive eating is not a diet – although it’s occasionally falsely repackaged that way. Instead, it’s ‘a practice and a framework for helping people get back in touch with their bodies,’ says certified intuitive eating counsellor and registered dietitian Christy Harrison. The goal is to help you discover a peaceful, easy relationship with food — with no strict rules about what to eat and when – and there are 10 key principles to follow that can make the process easier (more on those soon).

If you’re tired of restrictive diets – cutting out food groups, measuring, tracking or fearing food – the intuitive eating framework might be a healthy alternative. ‘For many people, the traditional diet approach leads to nothing more than years and years of weight loss and weight gain and a negative relationship with food and their body image,’ says dietitian Keri Gans. The intention behind intuitive eating is to put a stop to all that. And, importantly, rebuilding trust with your body.

Here are the 10 principles of intuitive eating along with benefits, risks, and tips for trying the approach, according to dietitians.

Meet the experts: Christy Harrison is a registered dietitian, certified intuitive eating counsellor and author of Anti-Diet and The Wellness Trap. Alissa Rumsey is a registered dietitian, certified intuitive eating counsellor and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. Karen Ansel, RDN, is a New York-based nutrition consultant, speaker, journalist, and author. Keri Gans, RDN, is a New York City-based certified dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet.

What is intuitive eating?

The term was first coined in 1995 by Evelyn Tribole, registered dietitian, and Elyse Resch, registered dietitian nutritionist, in their book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. As the name suggests, intuitive eating is all about following your intuition to fuel your body.

Designed as an antidote to fad diets in the 90s (think: low fat and low carb), they say that intuitive eating is all about focusing on nurturing your body, not starving it.

The biggest difference between intuitive eating and diets is ‘the focus on internal signals and cues rather than external rules,’ says nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counsellor Alissa Rumsey. Whereas traditional diet plans might focus on calories and individual food groups, intuitive eating uses feelings of hunger, fullness, satisfaction, and body knowledge to dictate eating choices at the moment, she says.

However, tuning into your body’s needs can be easier said than done. ‘We’re all born knowing how to listen to our body’s hunger and satiety signals but, as we go through life, our natural intuition is blunted on many levels,’ says nutritionist Karen Ansel, RDN. For example, as a child, were you ever told to finish what’s on your plate even though you already felt full? In some cases, maybe you’ve even been ignoring your hunger cues (or they’ve been in overdrive). Intuitive eating helps you pause and reconnect with your body’s natural signals.

Another callout: Intuitive eating is not a weight loss method, Harrison says. ‘There are people who sell it as that and frame it as that, but that’s not true to the actual spirit of intuitive eating.’ While your weight could change when trying out this approach (whether it is gained or lost), intuitive eating is more about the relationship you have with food and empowering you to understand and honour your body’s needs.

In fact, over 90 studies have measured the positive results of intuitive editing – and it’s been hypothesized that your body will find its ideal weight for optimal function.

The bottom line: Intuitive eating has nothing to do with weight.

Benefits of intuitive eating

Intuitive eating can be particularly helpful for those suffering from diet culture, people recovering from eating disorders, or those with chronic conditions, Harrison says. Other benefits of intuitive eating include:

  • Being more aware of your hunger and fullness cues

  • Feeling empowered to eat foods you enjoy

  • You’re allowed to fully nourish your body, making you physically healthier

  • You’re less likely to get caught in the restrict-binge cycle because no foods are restricted

  • You become aware of the emotional relationship you have with food

  • Food takes up less mental real estate, opening you up to enjoy other parts of life

  • It’s a healthy antidote to diet culture (and the pressures, anxiety, and judgment it causes)

Risks of intuitive eating

Although intuitive eating doesn’t have many inherent risks, it’s important to make sure you have the right information and support as you practice it, Harrison says.

One potential consideration: People with diagnosed food allergies, celiac disease, or diabetes might have foods they have to restrict and will need to think more carefully about what they eat, Harrison says. Additionally, those recovering from eating disorders might also need more personalised guidance when it comes to eating intuitively. In all of these cases, work with a dietitian who specialises in intuitive eating if you can, Harrison recommends.

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

First, remember that the following principles are meant to be flexible and aren’t about following a set of strict rules. Instead, the goal is to help you listen to your body’s physical cues and tune out diet culture, says Harrison. Ready to try it for yourself? Here are the suggested guidelines to abide by, per the official website, to help build back trust with your body.

1. Reject the diet mentality

Diet culture ‘demonises certain foods and elevates others, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, worships thinness and equates it to moral virtue, and oppresses people who don’t match its supposed picture of health,’ says Harrison. It’s the lack of body diversity in your favourite TV shows, or influencers advertising detox tea, for example.

To fully embrace intuitive eating, you’re encouraged to let go of the mindset that a perfect diet is just around the corner. The first step is throwing out books and articles that ‘offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently,’ per the website.

Your body is not interested in diet culture, your body wants to survive – and in order to do so, you need to feed it.

2. Honour your hunger

Honouring your hunger means eating a snack when you’re hungry instead of holding out for the next meal. If you have a tough time with this (it’s not easy), try sticking to a regular eating schedule and having more snacks throughout the day, Harrison recommends. This element also encourages you to notice how you feel when you’re hungry (think: headaches, difficulty concentrating, feeling irritable or fatigued, or trouble focusing). All of these are signs (aka hanger) of hunger – and it’s important to honour that.

3. Make peace with food

This step is all about not demonising certain foods over others. Intuitive eaters don’t have any forbidden foods or guilty pleasures. Sometimes, restricting foods can lead to feelings of deprivation that lead to binging (and associated feelings of guilt) later on. Making peace with food is about giving yourself permission to eat the food you want (hello, chocolate) without that nagging voice in the back of your head telling you no.

4. Challenge the ‘food police’

Next, avoid labelling certain foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Silence that voice inside your head and remind yourself you have permission to eat what you want, when you want.

5. Discover the satisfaction factor

In other words, enjoy what you’re eating. Savour the smell, taste, and texture of your food. The crisp crunch of lettuce, the cold creaminess of ice cream, and the warm feeling of chicken noodle soup — they’re all yours to enjoy. Remember that food can bring you pleasure, too. So enjoy it!

6. Feel your fullness

In addition to paying attention to when you’re hungry, it’s also important to notice the signals that you’re not hungry anymore. Pausing in the middle of your meal, asking yourself how the food tastes, and noticing how hungry you are at that moment can help, per the official website.

Ask yourself, am I satisfied? Am I comfortably full?

7. Cope with your emotions with kindness

Food restriction can trigger loss of control and what feels like emotional eating, or looking to soothe emotions like anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger through food. The goal of intuitive eating is to help you identify your emotions and find ways to deal with them that don’t involve food.

8. Respect your body

When practising intuitive eating, you’re encouraged to respect and embrace your body no matter what your size. You do not need to shrink yourself to fit a certain size or bend yourself into a specific shape. Respecting yourself and practising body acceptance (or even body neutrality) can help you develop a healthier relationship with food long-term.

9. Movement—feel the difference

That’s right — movement matters, too. Being active is all about how you feel after moving your body instead of tracking how many calories you burn. Enjoy the energy your favourite Barre class gives you, or how a long walk allows your mind to wander.

10. Honour your health with gentle nutrition

Practicing gentle nutrition means you don’t have to eat perfectly all the time to be healthy and balanced. Make food choices that are good for your health — and taste great — while making you feel good. And if you have a less-healthy snack or meal every once in a while, don’t beat yourself up for it.

Top tips for practising intuitive eating

Read books and listen to podcasts about it

Learning about the principles of intuitive eating can help you jumpstart your journey from an informed perspective. ‘You have likely been absorbing years and years of diet culture messages, so surrounding yourself with alternative messaging will be helpful,’ says Rumsey.

Exploring podcasts, books, and blogs created by registered dietitians and therapists certified in intuitive eating can help, she adds. ‘These will help you weed through a lot of your long-held beliefs about food and your body to start developing a new relationship,’ she says. She recommends Food Psych, RD Real Talk, Nourishing Women, and the Love, Food podcast.

Reflect on your relationship with food, dieting, and weight

This one can be a lot easier said than done. ‘Question and push back against the rules and restrictions that we’ve internalised from diet culture,’ Harrison says. ‘That might mean rules about carbs, what you’re allowed to eat, what you’re supposed to weigh, and how your body is supposed to look.’

Ask for support along the way

Navigating food and diet culture can bring up mixed emotions, so make sure you have a strong support system to navigate your intuitive eating journey with. This might include consulting a dietitian (RD or RDN) who specialises in intuitive eating (we recommend visiting intuitiveeating.org to help find a certified intuitive eating counsellor to work with.

‘Each person is different and an intuitive eating registered dietitian can help you work through your unique challenges and questions,’ says Rumsey.

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