Before reading on, please check out this *fantastic* short video by neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt:
This post is a supplement to Dr. Aamodt’s message about the futility of dieting, from a dietitian’s perspective. I am going to take it one step further by discussing the 10 basic principles of intuitive eating, so that you can start implementing them in your own life!
*These principles have been adapted from the book Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD.
1. Reject the Diet Mentality. Hopefully the TED talk already convinced you why you should.
2. Honor Your Hunger. So often we berate ourselves for failing to “control” our hunger, when the reality is: hunger is not something that needs to be controlled. Hunger is like a signal; it’s our body’s way of communicating our nutritional needs to our brain. To best honor your hunger, consistently keep your body nourished by eating every 3-5 hours (a normal amount of time to start feeling hunger again between eating episodes). Suppressing your hunger cues or ignoring them only predisposes you overeat later on.
3. Make Peace with Food. Contrary to popular belief, every food offers some type of nutritional values (yes, even cupcakes – carbohydrates are a much needed energy source!). It is essential to accept this fact before we can make peace with food. This is not an endorsement for eating an unbalanced diet, and of course, anything in excess will generally leave your body feeling not-so-great afterwards. But if you recognize that (what you may currently be labeling as) a “bad” or “forbidden” food can fit in to a healthy diet, then you won’t have to feel guilty or “out of control” when you have it.
4. Challenge the Food Police. The Food Police represent any rules you might have internalized about healthy eating or weight control. For example:
- “I am only allowed to eat [insert random # of calories here], or
- “I will get fat if I eat past [insert random time here],” or
- “I should have a salad for lunch even though I’m really in the mood for [insert higher-calorie entrée here] right now.”
These are EXTERNAL and ARBITRARY rules that have nothing to do with what your body is asking for. Start noticing how your personal food police have been holding you hostage from a balanced approach to eating, and see if you can challenge them! Don’t worry, the only ticket you’ll get for doing this is a ticket to a healthier relationship with food :-).
5. Respect Your Fullness. This is probably one of the hardest skills to master, because fullness is not always a clear-cut sensation. The goal is to get to a place where you are comfortably full. That is, somewhere between “I definitely still need more” and “Woah, I’ve had enough.” Mindfulness is key here. You can do this by paying attention to the physical sensations in your stomach, how the food tastes and feels in your mouth, and your overall feeling of nourishment.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. We might be physically very full but completely unsatisfied. Or, we might be just at the border of physically full, but highly satisfied. The point: deciding when to stop eating at a meal is not solely determined by physical fullness. Typically, when a meal is very satisfying, we need less food to honor our fullness. So, how do we make my meals more satisfying? By preparing or choosing food that is compatible with our tastes preferences, appealing visually, and set at an ideal temperature. Also, we can enhance satisfaction by making it a point to eat in (or create) a pleasurable ambience, and when possible, dining with a person (or people) whose company you enjoy.
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. So often, we use food to soothe, express, cope or repress feelings. While this is normal and somewhat inevitable from time to time, it’s no surprise that consistently using food to fill emotional needs can take a toll on health, and can also lead to feeling worse in the long run. Your best bet is to find more effective, non-food related ways of dealing with your feelings. If you find that you have trouble doing this on your own, there is no shame in reaching out for additional help from a trained professional.
8. Respect Your Body. Everyone is born with a naturally different body shape and size. As Dr. Aamodt points out, these traits are governed by genetics and your pre-determined set-range (aka your body weight thermostat). Very unfortunately, we live in a society that glorifies certain body types and imposes unrealistic expectations of beauty. Acknowledging this sad truth, while simultaneously accepting, respecting and appreciating your body, is a crucial element of intuitive eating. It’s nearly impossible to honor your body’s hunger and fullness cues if your mind is pre-occupied with fitting into some “ideal” size.
9. Exercise. But first, be honest with yourself about your motivation for exercising. Just like food, everyone’s tastes are different. Try to focus on the internal experience (i.e., how certain types of movement make you feel in your body, which types you genuinely enjoy, how they impact your energy levels, etc). Do something that appeals to you! Sign up for an Irish Jig class. Take a walk with your head phones and a playlist. Go for a long, sweaty run. Kick butt in a Turbo Kickboxing class (better yet, one of Brit’s!). Zen out in yoga. Join an organized sports team. Or, come up with your own creative form of movement! The options are endless.
10. Honor Your Health. Consistently eating a balanced diet that contains a mixture of *mostly* whole grains, lean protein, whole fruits and veggies, and essential fats. Again, it’s your consistent intake that counts. Healthy eating and a healthy relationship with food are inherently fluid, flexible, and imperfect!
If you have questions about any of these principles, or how to apply them to you, feel free to comment below or email Lindsay directly through the contact page of her website, Lknutrition.com.
For more posts by Lindsay (aka FalafeLover), follow her new personal blog, Falafelover in Brooklyn.