Intuitive Eating 101: How to Get Started

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Intuitive eating sure has been popular the last few years. Of course, I love this because it's one of my core philosophies, but I also know there's a lot of misunderstanding about 'listening to your body.' I was first introduced to the book Intuitive Eating from another dietitian I was learning from in college. I read it, and it made total sense - of course, this is how we should eat. Forget the rules, restrictions, and control.

Yet for me - and for many interested in intuitive eating - there was still a small voice in my head saying "Yes, eat intuitively...except you still have to eat healthy." I was half-committed because I didn't fully trust my body yet.

It hasn't been until the last few years that I've started to really understand intuitive eating and live it. Unlike a diet, it's meant to be explored as a journey. It doesn't come instantly - after all, it's a completely different way of looking at food.

Before we go forward, let's chat about what Intuitive Eating is.

We are born as natural intuitive eaters. Babies cry, they eat, they're done until they feel hungry again. Food isn't just fuel for them - they are soothed and comforted while breastfeeding and bond with their mamas.

Kids grow up as intuitive eaters and are innately able to balance out their food and energy intake throughout the week. Some weeks, kids may have a ravenous appetite while others they barely eat. They still experience pleasure and social connection through food - we all have memories of comfort foods from our childhood.

It isn't until rules and restrictions are set around food that we lose our inner intuitive eater. We learn to finish the entire plate. We learn that dessert has to be earned, or can be taken away if we misbehave. We learn that we have to eat our vegetables before eating cookies.

The funny thing is rules and restrictions - even as kids - usually backfire. Ellyn Satter - an expert on childhood feeding - says eating competent child "feel good about eating...and naturally eat as much as they need."

By thinking back to our rules and restrictions around food from childhood, we can learn about our thoughts and behaviors around food today.

Intuitive Eating 101: How to Get Started

The 10 principles from the book Intuitive Eating are:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality.
  2. Honor your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
  8. Respect your Body
  9. Exercise - Feel the Difference
  10. Honor your Health

The principles of Intuitive Eating are intentions you can use to guide your eating and heal your relationship with food. It takes the balance of connecting back to your body's cues - rather than our rational minds - as well as taking inspired action.

A great way to get started on this is my free email course - Make Peace with Food - full of 7 days of coaching tips and inspiration to start your intuitive eating journey.

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Reject the Diet Mentality

Rejecting the diet mentality is huge. You can look back on all the diets, detoxes, cleanses, or 'healthy eating' plans that you tried to use your willpower to force your body to lose weight. How did you feel on the diet? Did you actually lose weight and keep it off? Does dieting feel good to you?

You know that research doesn't support dieting, but the real motivation is noticing the crazy thoughts, fatigue, and food cravings that happen when you diet.

When you intuitively realize diets don't work, you can start to take a gentle approach to nutrition and your body.

Build Self-Trust with your Body

By honoring your hunger, making peace with food, and respecting your fullness, you're building self-trust with yourself. You're teaching yourself that you can eat what you want, when you want and not gain a million pounds.

You're allowing your body to naturally find its healthy and happy weight (which may be higher or lower than you are right now). Again, self-trust is essential here.

You'll learn to feel the sensation of anxiety in your body rather than stuffing it away with food. You'll learn that you can actually sit with sadness for a few minutes.

The Intuitive Eating Journey

The journey towards becoming an Intuitive Eater is not necessarily easy. I'm not going to tell you it's all easy, and by following these 10 steps, you'll lose weight and end up the happiest and healthiest you've ever been.

That's just like the empty promises diets tell you, right? :) Instead, I'll tell you change can be uncomfortable, but it's so incredibly worth it to find freedom around food. To enjoy and crave nourishing foods, yet not worry or stress about food 24/7.

You'll realize that food is fuel, yet it's also a wonderful source of pleasure, a way to connect socially, and delicious.

You'll find that nourishment is more than food. By exploring all your hungers - physical, emotional, spiritual - you'll find nourishment in unlikely places. I often feel more nourished and satisfied from a night out with girlfriends or cuddle session with my puppy than a big, nutrient-packed meal.

You'll be enjoying chocolate rather than seeking satisfaction from a low-calorie, "guilt-free" brownie mix - that you end up eating the whole pan of anyways.

My Intuitive Eating Journey

I consider myself an intuitive eater these days because it's become my natural state of being. With time, I've learned to connect back into my body to guide me around food. As a type-A, perfectionist growing up, this was not easy. I totally lived in my head and still can feel that perfectionist overwhelm at times. (I'm human)

Somedays, I don't eat lunch until late while others I seem to be hungry and snacking all day. I know what foods energize me the most - and do crave mainly whole foods - yet I allow myself to savor chocolate nearly everyday, without the guilt.

Finally, a note on mindful eating. I love savoring my food, so I do end up eating one meal or so without distractions and making it a pleasurable eating environment. Yet, I don't obsess about "eating mindfully," so I eat snacks in front of my computer at times as well.

That said, I'm not perfect. Some times, I feel anxious and head straight for the chocolate. Some days, I'm just not paying attention to my hunger - usually I'm so enthralled in writing or client work - that I end up ravenous and eat whatever's around quickly.

Progress, not Perfection

On your intuitive eating journey, remember it's all about Progress, not Perfection.

You have to find what works for you and your body. I'll be exploring these principles of Intuitive Eating in more detail in the next few months, but this is just an intro to intuitive eating and how I use it in my life.

Your Intuitive Journey

If you're brand-new to Intuitive Eating, start to clarify your dreams and desires. Grab a pen and a journal and jot down your ideas:

  • How would it feel to stop stressing about food all the time?
  • What would finding freedom with food feel like to you?
  • How would you spend your days, if you weren't obsessing about food?
  • What can you do today to commit to your journey toward intuitive eating? (Now, get started!)

PS: If you're ready to discover intuitive eating, get your free email course to Make Peace with Food!

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Additional Resources: Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole + Elyse Resch (amazon affiliate link)