How to get started with intuitive eating | The PNW Clinic
December 16, 2022
How To Get Started With Intuitive Eating
Are you on a journey to improve your relationship with food? Here is a dietitian clinic’s guide from our nutritionists in Australia on how to get started with intuitive eating.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating. It emphasises trusting your body to make food choices that feel good for you and honour your health, without the influence of diet culture.
There are 10 key principles of intuitive eating that will guide you on how to get started with intuitive eating (1). These are:
1. Reject the diet mentality: This step aims to help you overcome any diet culture messaging and distance yourself from the false hope of fast, easy weight loss.
2. Honour your hunger: Excessive hunger can override any intentions of mindful and conscious eating. Becoming in touch with your body’s natural hunger signals is fundamental to building trust in yourself and with food.
3. Make peace with food: Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. This means allowing yourself foods you may usually avoid, as restriction can lead to uncontrollable cravings and binging.
4: Challenge the food police: You may have developed food rules that dictate the way you see and eat certain foods. Challenging and overcoming these thoughts is an essential step in returning to intuitive eating.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor: Allow yourself to feel the satisfaction of eating. Eat the foods you really want, and become in tune with your body in deciding when you’ve had enough.
6. Feel your fullness: Check in with yourself as you eat and listen to your body’s fullness cues. Stop when you are comfortably full.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness: Using food as a mechanism to cope with difficult emotions will not address the root of the problem. Challenge yourself to seek more meaningful and kind ways to cope with emotions.
8. Respect your body: Rejecting the diet mentality is extremely difficult when you are overly critical or have unrealistic body ideals. Learning to accept and respect your body is an essential step of the intuitive eating journey.
9. Movement – feel the difference: Move your body in a way that feels good, rather than focusing on the calorie-burning effect of exercise.
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition: Eat foods that you enjoy, make you feel energised, honour your health and leave you feeling satisfied.
How do we become out of touch with intuitive eating?
We were all born intuitive eaters. We would cry when we were hungry, and stop eating or drinking when we had had enough.
As we get older, many external factors begin to impact the way we eat, as well as the foods we eat. These influences can include family and relationships, childhood or life events, cultural and societal expectations, and poor body image.
We are introduced to food rules that tell us to eat certain foods and avoid others. We are also told that the foods we eat influence the way our bodies look and that some bodies are more valued than others.
This pressure can lead to dieting and restriction, binging, disordered eating, and poor body image and self-esteem. Intuitive eating aims to override these rules and beliefs and rebuild trust in your body.
Who is intuitive eating for?
The principles of intuitive eating are useful for most people. However, there are some groups of people that may need additional considerations when it comes to intuitive eating. This may include people suffering from IBS, eating disorders, or athletes.
People With IBS
People with IBS may need to trial restrictive diets such as the low FODMAP diet to help manage uncomfortable gut symptoms. This is an example where it may be appropriate to cut out certain foods, even if they are a food you enjoy eating. However, this is only for a specific amount of time with supervision from a dietitian clinic and nutritionists in Australia to make sure it is trialled safely.
People With Eating Disorders
If you are facing an eating disorder, it is essential to work with an experienced team including your GP, psychologist and dietitian. While intuitive eating may be an end goal of eating disorder recovery, it may not be feasible during recovery.
Another instance where intuitive eating may not be suited is in people with specific nutritional requirements such as athletes. For example, an athlete may be required to eat when they are not hungry to ensure they are meeting their nutritional requirements to promote performance and recovery.
What are the science-backed benefits of intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating has been an area of extensive research, with many benefits found for both physical and mental health. Some of these benefits include:
- Lower rates of emotional eating (2)
- Lower rates of disordered eating and eating disorders (3)
- Higher self-esteem (3)
- Better body image and higher levels of body appreciation (3)
- Lower triglycerides (4)
- High HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol (4)
How do we start moving back towards intuitive eating?
Moving back to intuitive eating is a journey that takes time and practice. It means overcoming many societal pressures and food rules that have likely been ingrained for many years.
It also requires you to build a deeper understanding of your body to become in touch with your natural hunger and fullness cues.
Here are some strategies to guide you on how to get started with intuitive eating:
Eating regularly will help regulate your body’s hunger cues. By eating regularly and at similar times, you will find that your appetite begins to adapt and your hunger signals will become more clear.
We recommended aiming for 3 main meals and 2-3 snacks, eating every 2-3 hours. For many people, this looks like having breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and dessert.
Eat flexibly and give yourself permission to eat all foods
A key component of intuitive eating and breaking away from diet culture is giving yourself permission to eat all foods.
You may have developed rules around certain foods, which can lead to feelings of restriction and disordered eating. Learning to override these thoughts around food is essential in healing your relationship with food.
To start, make a list of foods you enjoy but don’t allow yourself to eat often. Once you have your list, pick one of these foods and allow yourself to have some of that food every day.
In the beginning, you may find that you eat too much of this food, or feel out of control around it. Over time, the appeal will wear off and you will begin to crave these foods less. This allows you to enjoy these foods mindfully and to satisfaction, without the fear of overeating or feelings of loss of control around these foods.
Set yourself goals around the 10 key principles of intuitive eating
When you are first learning how to get started with intuitive eating, having some practical and actionable steps can be a great place to start:
- Unfollow any social media accounts that encourage dieting and unrealistic body ideals
- Start to become conscious of any food rules you may have around food, so you can begin to unpack and overcome these. Working with a dietitian clinic in this step can be a great way to reduce overwhelm and access guidance and support!
- Eat mindfully to allow yourself to become more familiar with your fullness cues. Slow down and try focusing on your five senses – what does the food taste like, smell like, sound like, look like and feel like? Check in with yourself regularly to gauge how full and satisfied you are feeling, and stop once you have reached this point.
- Move your body in a way that you enjoy, rather than one that burns the most calories. Try taking a group fitness class, going for a walk in nature, or joining a social sporting team.
Examples of intuitive eating
Intuitive eating will look different for everyone, as it is largely focused on your own preferences and body cues. If you’re still unsure of what intuitive eating may look like in practice, here are some examples:
- You go out for lunch with your friends and order a burger meal as it’s what you feel like. You eat your meal mindfully, but realise halfway through you are beginning to feel full. You honour your body’s fullness cues and stop eating, leaving you feeling satisfied.
- You feel low on energy, so you prepare yourself a balanced and nourishing meal for dinner as you feel it’s just what your body needs.
- You make a bowl of granola, yoghurt and fruit for breakfast, but find that within the hour you are feeling hungry again. You pay attention to your hunger cues and make yourself a snack. You make a mental note to have a larger breakfast the next day.
Common myths about intuitive eating
With the popularity of intuitive eating on the rise, there has additionally been an increase in myths and misconceptions around intuitive eating. Here are some common myths debunked by nutritionists in Australia:
1. Intuitive eating means you can eat pizza and cake all day every day
While intuitive eating encourages allowing permission to eat all foods, this generally does not translate to eating pizza all day every day. At the start of your intuitive eating journey, you may find yourself eating previously restricted foods more. However, as these foods are no longer scarce, the novelty of these foods decreases and cravings begin to disappear.
2. Intuitive eating is just about hunger and fullness
While becoming more in touch with hunger and fullness is a fundamental skill in intuitive eating, there is much more to consider to truly understand intuitive eating. Intuitive eating also has a strong focus on overcoming diet culture and improving your relationship with food.
3. Intuitive eating is the same as mindful eating
You may have heard intuitive eating and mindful eating being used interchangeably, however, they are not the same. Mindful eating does play a part in intuitive eating as it focuses on the satisfaction of food. However, intuitive eating digs much deeper than this in also building awareness around hunger and fullness levels, while exploring and improving our relationship with food.
4. Intuitive eating results in weight loss
Intuitive eating is not a weight loss diet. It focuses on moving away from weight and body shape ideals. Instead, intuitive eating aims to improve your relationship with food and eat in a way that is both nourishing and satisfying.
Intuitive eating is a way of eating that aims to improve your relationship with food and your body. It focuses on breaking away from diet culture and restrictive eating patterns, and instead focusing on your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.
Intuitive eating has been shown in research to have many health benefits, such as higher self-esteem and lower rates of disordered eating and eating disorders.
While there are many health benefits of intuitive eating, there are some groups of people where this may not be the most effective or appropriate way of eating.
If you want to learn more about how to get started with intuitive eating, working 1:1 with a dietitian or nutritionist in Australia can give you the support and guidance you need. To find out more or see if we are a good fit for you, you can book a free 15-minute discovery call.
Article written by: PNW Clinic Dietitian Jade Wrigley