Welcome! If you’ve completed the Intuitive Eating Self-Assessment and you’ve identified the areas that need the most work, you’re probably wondering what your results mean. If you haven’t completed the self-assessment yet, you’ll want to go back to your emails, do that first, and then come back.
This page is designed to walk you through the different sections of the Intuitive Eating Assessment and provide some quick tips to help you get started on your Intuitive Eating journey. Feel free to read each section or skip to the section where you need the most help and start there.
You’ll notice that this section is all about avoiding certain foods and the feelings of guilt and shame that come up when we eat certain foods. Allowing yourself to eat any food you desire without feeling guilty or ashamed is a big part of becoming an Intuitive Eater. While we know that there is a nutritional difference between eating an apple and eating apple crisp, there shouldn’t be a moral difference. We are not “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods.
Why is this important?
The foundation of developing a healthy relationship with food that is based on satisfaction and pleasure. When people attach morality to foods and restrict certain foods or feel guilty for indulging, it can have the opposite effect of what we intended. Many people will restrict certain foods only to end up eating more of those foods if they allow themselves any wiggle room simply because they’ve deemed them to be “off limits.” If you’ve ever thought to yourself “well, the diet starts tomorrow so I may as well get my fill now” and then ended up eating more than you would normally, you know what this feels like. If the food was never “forbidden” in the first place, you wouldn’t feel a compulsive need to eat it while you can or eat it until it’s gone.
In order to become an Intuitive Eater, it’s important to give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods and start trusting your body to know what it needs.
If you’ve been restricting your intake for a long time, it may feel really strange and possibly uncomfortable to give yourself permission to eat. I often recommend starting with one food and then working slowly through the process until you feel comfortable enough to add a new food into the mix.
To get started, make a list of all your ‘forbidden foods.’ This may include foods like bread, chocolate, ice cream, bananas, pizza, etc. Your list may be long or short. It’s easy to be critical of yourself if you have a long list of forbidden foods but go easy on yourself. This is a time for curiosity and exploration, not judgement.
Once you have your list, pick one food to try. You may want to start with a food that’s not so scary to start building your skills. Once you’ve determined the food you want to start with, you will want to go out and buy that food. Try to be really specific and stick to one brand and one flavour. Also, try to buy more than you think you’ll need, the goal is to be able to eat this food when you want it without running out. It’s easier to stop eating when you feel satisfied if you know that you can have more later if you want it.
When you feel like eating whatever food you’ve chosen, set yourself up for success by sitting quietly and savouring that food. So often when we have foods that are “forbidden” we try to eat them as quickly as possible before our brain realizes what we’re doing. Here we want to do the opposite. Pay attention to the taste, texture, smell. Take note of whether you actually like the food as much as you thought you would. Once you feel satisfied, put it away. You can go back for more as many times as you want if those feelings of satisfaction wear off.
Repeat this process as many times as you want. Start to notice if your desire for these foods decreases over time. Do you start feeling satisfied earlier? The goal is not to eat this so much that you never want to again, but rather to normalize eating what you’re craving so you can move on with your day.
Once you feel ready to move on, repeat with another food on the list. The ones that you enjoy, continue to eat every week as desired. Remember that certain “off limits” foods may take more time before you feel ready to move on. This is normal.
Emotional eating is a term used to describe eating that is prompted by emotional states, rather than physical hunger. This characteristic is all about understanding the difference between eating to satisfy physical hunger versus using food to cope with emotional issues like stress, boredom, or anxiety.
It’s important to note that we eat for a wide variety of reasons. Emotional eating is often demonized when it's related to negative emotions but celebrated when related to positive ones. Every time we celebrate a birthday with a delicious cake, or we come together over a big holiday meal, we are celebrating with food. Generally, people aren't berating themselves for eating out of celebration and happiness. However, when we eat due to what we perceive as negative emotions (stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, boredom, etc.) we consider it a problem that needs to be solved.
In reality, emotional eating is not a big deal. It’s totally normal and healthy to get pleasure and comfort from eating! Food often represents love and comfort and so it acts as emotional nourishment, just as much as physical nourishment. However, it can become an issue if food is the only way you deal with your emotions or if you’re constantly feeling guilt and shame as a result of emotional eating. If this is an area you struggle with, tuning into your emotional needs can help you diversify your coping strategies so that you don’t always feel the need to turn to food in a crisis.
It’s easy to forget that food has intimate emotional associations that begin at birth. Often, our earliest experiences with food are tied to our basic need for comfort and safety which is why it’s important to come from a place of self-compassion when unpacking your relationship with emotional eating. What’s more, emotional eating exists on a spectrum from positive associations (ex: gaining pleasure from eating birthday cake), to negative (ex: eating to numb negative emotions).
Improving this dimension of Intuitive Eating involves recognizing the ways in which emotional eating both serves and harms you. If you appreciate that you were actually trying to use food to take care of yourself in the absence of other coping strategies, it will help you move forward.
Start by making a list of the recent times you’ve used food as a coping mechanism. Remember that this is eating for reasons not associated with biological hunger (either by eating too much or too little). This will help you begin to explore how you use eating as a coping mechanism.
Next, see if you can identify what emotions you were feeling in those moments. Can you identify any common patterns? As you reflect, ask yourself:
If there were other things that could have helped (for example: taking a break, reading a book, journaling, calling a friend, going for a walk, etc.) can you make a list of those and try them the next time you find yourself reaching for food for comfort. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use, food, it just gives you other options to try should you want to.
If you’re a chronic dieter then chances are that you’re used to tuning out your body's natural hunger and fullness cues. Biological hunger can manifest in a variety of different sensations- both positive and negative. For instance, mild hunger can often feel pleasant, while intense hunger is accompanied by negative physical sensations (ex. abdominal discomfort, general weakness/lethargy, light-headedness, nausea) and/or negative feelings and behaviours (ie. feeling out of control when we do eat).
Unfortunately, diet culture encourages us to ignore our biological hunger cues and encourages us to punish ourselves for satisfying our hunger. When we diet, we often find ourselves wearing hunger as a badge of honour. If you’re feeling hungry a lot while dieting, it means that you’re doing the “right” things. Becoming attuned to our biological needs and learning to trust our hunger and fullness can be challenging, especially after years of being taught to suppress these instincts.
This Intuitive Eating characteristic encourages us to move away from external rules and guidelines and tap into our body’s innate wisdom about what foods (and how much) it needs to feel nourished. When you start actually listening to your body, you’ll finally be able to break out of the exhausting diet cycle.
First and foremost if you want to start listening to your body, you need to start eating consistently. If you’ve spent many years ignoring hunger, your internal signals are likely not that strong so expecting them to guide your eating right away is not realistic. Eating consistent meals teaches your body that it can expect nourishment on a regular basis rather than constantly swinging between feast and famine. Once your body recognizes that you will feed it when asked, your hunger signals will slowly start to return.
Once that happens, in order to strengthen your huger-body-mind connection, it can be helpful to keep a Hunger Journal. Rather than focusing on the nutritional content of everything you eat, focus on how you feel before and after each eating experience. Keep a notebook (or notes app) handy where you can jot down the following information before each meal or snack:
This will help you identify patterns and trends in your hunger level between meals so that you can begin to shift your eating pattern in a way that is more attuned to your biological needs.
It’s important to remember that there is no “right” number when it comes to hunger. You don’t have to wait until you’re “hungry enough” in order to eat. Sometimes we have to eat in the absence of hunger if we know we have things that will prevent us from eating when we are likely to get hungry, this is perfectly fine. If you find yourself only eating when you’re really hungry (you feel shaky, nauseous, maybe you have a headache), you may want to ask yourself why you’re waiting so long.
This last section deals with the alignment between your food choices and your individual preferences, needs, values, and goals.
This characteristic reflects the principles of gentle nutrition and involves choosing foods that make you feel good and support your overall well-being, rather than following rigid diet rules or restrictions. It encourages interoceptive awareness which is the process of becoming aware of inner sensations, that is, how different foods make us feel. This practice sets the stage for self-care through nutrition where food choices are guided by pleasure as well as body functioning.
This is probably the part of Intuitive Eating that takes the longest to achieve, so if you’re not there yet, that’s ok. Learning to make choices that are compatible with your body, your health, and overall wellbeing allows you to develop a sustainable and satisfying approach to eating.
Here is a reflection exercise to help you begin to develop body and food congruence. When you are mildly hungry and evaluating various food options available to you, ask yourself the following questions:
Considering how different foods make you feel physically will help guide you to make food choices that taste and feel good. Looking ahead allows you to make decisions that support your daily activities and make informed decisions based on what you do (or don’t) have to accomplish.