February 02, 2023
Guest post written by Amélie Charron, 4th year Dietetics Student at the University of Ottawa
The term Intuitive Eating is becoming more popular these days. In fact, the two dietitians who first coined the phrase in 1995, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resh, were recently featured in the New York Times, talking about the history of Intuitive Eating, how it came to be and where it is now. While you may have heard the phrase before, do you actually know what it means? No? Well neither did I until I started my practicum placement with Jennifer at Nutrition IQ. If you’ve never heard the term Intuitive Eating before, or you have but you aren’t quite sure what it means, keep reading and let me walk you through what I've found out.
Intuitive eating is a pattern of eating where nourishing your body is considered a form of self-care and all bodies (yes, even yours) are treated with compassion, dignity, and respect. The goal of Intuitive Eating is to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body by rediscovering the pleasure and satisfaction of eating. Intuitive Eating uses your body’s innate wisdom to decide when it’s hungry and what it wants to eat, and then honours that wisdom. If that sounds crazy to you, I want you to consider how infants and children eat.
Most kids are born intuitive eaters. If you’ve ever seen an infant eat, you know that this is true. Infants cry when they’re hungry, eat as much as they want and then stop eating. The result? They eat freely, which benefits their growth, health and appetite! Before we are influenced by outside forces telling us that our bodies are wrong, most of us are intuitive eaters. We don’t care about the specific make up of our food, we don’t fear certain food groups, we don’t really care about how we look (although self-image issues pop up way earlier than what you’d think, you can read more on that here), we just eat until we’re full and then go back to playing.
Unfortunately, by the time we reach adulthood, the social challenges that arise from diet culture and body image disrupt how well we listen to our bodies. That is, we let outside factors decide what and when we should eat rather than our own internal wisdom. Think about the last time you ate, how did you decide what to eat? How did you decide how much you should eat? Did you enjoy what you ate? Did you feel full and satisfied afterwards?
Unfortunately, many of our food choices as adults are based on the beauty industry, the media, and diet trends. Factors like these change the way we listen (or don't listen) to our bodies. We often care more about what we feel we “should” eat in order to fit a beauty standard rather than what we actually want to eat and what foods feel good in our bodies…so what can we do? We have to bring pleasure back to eating and start listening to what our body is telling us.
Yes, one of the basic principles is eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. But it’s more than that. Here’s why:
Intuitive eating honours both your hunger and fullness and teaches you to tune into your body's signals rather than ignoring them. However, it also recognizes that we eat for many reasons beyond simple fueling and sometimes, when we look at our day and when it makes the most sense to eat, we can't wait until we feel hungry every time that we eat. Every eating opportunity is seen as an opportunity to learn and find what feels good to you.
You might, but probably not for long. Have you ever spent all day every day eating just ice cream and chips? Sure, it would taste good, but how do you think your body would actually feel? Tired, sluggish, maybe a little constipated? When you tell yourself that certain foods are off limits, it actually heightens their appeal. When you let yourself freely eat all foods, whether they provide pleasure and/or nutrients, food loses its appeal over time. It’s no longer as enticing as when it was “forbidden” and therefore it loses its power.
Think back to the last time you went on vacation. You’re away from home and eating out more frequently than normal. By the end of the trip were you craving some home cooking? Some fresh fruits and vegetables? I’m guessing the answer is yes. While eating out all the time is fun at first, the more you do it, the more the novelty wears off. This is called habituation, and the same thing will happen if you only eat chips and ice cream.
The more you eat foods that have been deemed “off-limits”, the more normal it becomes, and the less guilty you’ll start to feel. This in turn helps you to actually feel in control around those previously forbidden foods. Those foods don’t have the same compulsive draw they once did. So, yes, you are free to enjoy ice cream and chips whenever you feel like it, and you might feel like eating these very frequently, especially at first, but when you truly tune into your body and become an intuitive eater, eating things that used to make you feel guilty will become less novel and more normal. When we remove the appeal of eating foods that are "off-limits" all you are left with is how the food actually feels in your body.
Whether Intuitive Eating is “giving up” depends on what your definition of giving up is. You’re giving up the weight of other people's expectations. You're giving up saying no to dessert because you feel like you don’t deserve to eat something delicious. You're giving up watching the clock and waiting for when you can eat your next meal because your last one was small and unsatisfying. So in that sense, yeah, it is giving up.
BUT by becoming an Intuitive Eater, you gain so much. By allowing yourself to enjoy eating and appreciate what your food does for your body, you gain some control. You’re no longer a slave to your diet. You also gain brain space. When you are free from micromanaging every calorie you eat, you allow your brain the freedom it deserves to pursue a fulfilling life! By letting go of the pressure to constantly change your body size you finally get to enjoy yourself and actually go out and do the things that you want to do.
Becoming an intuitive eater comes with many benefits. You will feel a sense of freedom that comes with eating foods without having to micromanage or tally up how many calories you're consuming. You get to rediscover the pleasure of eating. It’s a great way to develop a balanced lifestyle that makes you feel good inside and out! Studies have found several benefits to Intuitive Eating, such as improved emotional and physical health, improved body image, self-esteem, and wellbeing, reduction in the frequency of emotional eating, as well as reduced risk of disordered eating.
If you want to start tapping into your intuition when it comes to food and your body, here are 6 simple ways to get started.
Want to learn more on how you can become an intuitive eater, but aren’t really sure where to start? If you’re in Ontario, you can book a free discovery call with Jennifer Neale, Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. She’s happy to chat with you to see if she’s a good fit to help you on your journey towards food freedom.
Babbott, K. M., Cavadino, A., Brenton-Peters, J., Consedine, N. S. & Roberts, M. (2022). Outcomes of intuitive eating interventions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eating Disorders, 31(1), 33-63. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2022.203012
Bruce, L. J. & Ricciardelli, L. A. (2016). A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite, 96, 454-472. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.012
Jackson, A., Sano, Y., Parker, L,, Cox, A. E. & Lanigan, J. (2022). Intuitive eating and dietary intake. Eating Behaviors, 45, 101606. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2022.101606
Linardon, J., Tylka, T. L. & Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M. (2021). Intuitive eating and its psychological correlates: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 54(7), 1073-1098. doi: 10.1002/eat.23509
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Essentials.
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In my practice, I often work with people who are managing a chronic disease (diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc.) and while weight loss is never a focus, there is a common misconception that when individuals start making dietary changes to manage their chronic disease, weight loss will follow. After all, we're always taught that if we eat the "right" foods and move in the "right" ways, our bodies will get smaller.