For decades, we’ve been trained to believe that following a strict diet and nutritional regimen is the best way to prolong and sustain health. But what if there were a better way? Instead of following a strict diet or meal regimen, intuitive eating focuses on listening to the signals your body sends and embracing hunger and cravings as a signal for what kind of nutrients your body needs.
Focusing too much on the nutritional content of the food you eat has been associated with higher binge eating and body image issues in both men and women. The goal of intuitive eating is to break the cycle of chronic dieting and improve your relationship with food.
Intuitive Eating Basics
Naturally, we are all intuitive eaters. For hundreds of thousands of years, our bodies have been adapting to a very specific diet, provided by nature.
You don’t have to feel guilty about not eating as many vegetables or generic food pyramid recommendations. Your body knows best.
The diets that our ancestors ate affect us today. They had limited options, based on where they were located. That’s why some people today need more fish or vegetables than others.
Without the education surrounding health and nutrition, our basic biology tells us that we get hungry, we eat what we want, and then that hunger goes away. Babies and children tend to innately monitor their food intake, eating what they want and then stopping when the hunger goes away and they feel full.
Intuitive Eating vs. Diets
As we grow older, health issues often necessitate stricter adherence to diets. Diet plays a critical role in preventing chronic diseases, combating certain ailments, and helping us maintain our overall health. But intuitive eating asks the question — outside of situations where a prescribed diet from a physician is required,
what if there were a better way to maintain your health and eat healthily?
Intuitive eating attempts to view eating and diet through another lens. It re-shapes the focus from what we should eat to what our body is telling us. With intuitive eating, you can eat what you want, when you want, without feeling guilty — so long as you pay attention to what your body is physically telling you.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t eat what would be considered a generic healthy diet (or paleo, gluten-free, etc.), so long as it is helping you to feel your best.
Intuitive eating is the anti-diet. But what it has in common with standard diets is the continued focus on health and how you feel. The end goals of both diets and intuitive eating are the same — to help those who embrace them live a healthier, happier, and longer life.
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
There are ten primary principles that the intuitive eating program is based on, according to the creators. These include:
- Reject the diet mentality. Don’t focus on the new, trendiest diet. In the end, it isn’t the diet but the overall lifestyle changes that accompany it that lead to healthy living.
- Honor your hunger. Keep your body nourished with proper carbohydrates and energy. Don’t be afraid to eat and eat well.
- Make peace with food. Embrace the foods you love, even if they aren’t considered “healthy.” Keeping ourselves away from the foods we enjoy will harm our relationship with food and cause us to overeat.
- Challenge the “food police.” The “food police” are the thoughts and feelings we’ve trained ourselves to have regarding certain types of foods.
- Respect your fullness. Learn to recognize when you feel full, and not to the point of overeating.
- Discover the satisfaction factor. Embrace eating as an experience that delivers joy and satisfaction.
- Honor your feelings without food. Learn how to cope with negative feelings without leaning on food as a crutch.
- Respect your body. Accept who you are and cast shame to the side.
- Exercise. Exercise is a part of any long-term health plan. Be active and note how that activity makes your body feel.
- Honor your health. Put your health first. Realize that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to eat healthily and feel great.
These ten principles of intuitive eating are great for outlining the overall philosophy. Truly embracing intuitive eating requires the internalization of these principles.
Types of Hunger in Intuitive Eating
Despite the “eat-anything-you-please” position that intuitive eating promotes, the practice is laser-focused on promoting a healthy attitude toward food and body image. Weight loss and maintenance are possible through intuitive eating by retraining yourself to listen to your body and be able to identify what true hunger (and fullness) feels like.
A big part of intuitive eating is being able to identify what type of hunger you are experiencing. In the intuitive eating approach, you are asked to be able to identify two different types of hunger:
- Physical hunger. The biological signs that your body needs nutrition. It builds over time, sending different signals such as mental urges to eat, growling stomach, fatigue, shakiness, or irritability.
- Emotional hunger. Hunger is driven by emotional needs. Sadness, depression, loneliness, nervousness, and boredom are all common emotional reasons why people experience emotional hunger.
Being able to distinguish between these two types of hunger is essential for effective intuitive eating. Eating whatever you want doesn’t work if you are going to consistently eat out of emotional hunger.
Identifying Hunger Types and Evaluating Nutritional Needs
Distinguishing between the two types of hunger can be difficult. Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to determine if the hunger you’re feeling is physical or emotional:
- Am I hungry? Remember, the question is not “could I eat?” Listen to your body. When you are truly hungry, your body will send you physical signs. If your stomach isn’t beginning to growl, you probably aren’t truly hungry yet.
- When did I last eat? Acknowledging when you last ate can help you to determine if the hunger you are experiencing is physical or emotional.
- How am I feeling emotionally? If you have been feeling down, anxious, lonely, or otherwise upset — you are prone to emotional hunger.
Being able to recognize physical hunger and emotional hunger is a core component of the intuitive eating methodology.