Sandra Thies, RD
Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
Guest writer and podcast guest
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating (IE) is “a self care eating framework which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought“. The concept and name was created by two dietitians, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole in 1995.
Intuitive Eating is a weight inclusive, evidence-based model with a valid assessment scale and over 100 studies to date. But what does this actually mean? IE is a mind-body approach, meaning that it integrates emotions, feelings, and physical sensations surrounding food, eating, hunger & fullness, and your body. It is a weight neutral approach, which means IE prioritizes mental and physical health over weight, and when we look at health from a weight neutral perspective, weight is not part of the equation.
IE helps to cultivate something called interoceptive awareness – the ability to be aware of and respond to internal signals. This is where the integration of emotions, feelings, hunger and fullness signals, and body sensations come into play. Another way of referring to this principle is simply saying listening and trusting your body. It’s much easier to say than to do, however, as diet culture pushes us to ignore the messages that our bodies send to us regarding hunger and fullness.
A big part of Intuitive Eating is the rejection of diet culture (the set of assumptions and beliefs that appearance and body shape are more important than physical, mental, and general wellbeing). We talk about diet culture so much in IE because it is inherently harmful to everyone’s wellbeing. Diet culture fuels feelings of guilt and shame, drives consequential habits in hopes of losing weight, and causes internalized judgment and self criticism – all at the expense of physical and mental health.
What are the Benefits of Pursuing Intuitive Eating?
Quit dieting once and for all, break out of the harmful diet cycle.
Build confidence in your body and feel comfortable in your own skin.
Feel connected to your body and have an ability to listen and respond to your body’s needs.
No longer have your brain space be taken up by thoughts of food, eating, and your body.
Participate in movement that genuinely feels good and leaves you feeling energized and positive.
Find nutrition practices that feel good, emotionally, and physically – find foods that leave your body feeling energized, while also incorporating foods that get you excited and taste great.
Develop a toolbox of self-care practices that will help you cope with emotions with kindness.
A sense of self respect and body trust, knowing that your body is enough, and it is good just as it is and if it changes.
Feel in control of your choices around food, your body, and movement.
What are some Misconceptions about Intuitive Eating?
IE is just eating whatever you want.
It is about learning how to listen to your body instead of listening to the messages of diet culture when it comes to making choices about your health. IE does encompass unconditional permission to enjoy foods, but it is truly about finding foods that make your body feel good, mentally, and physically. Intuitive eating is NOT impulsive eating.
IE is the same thing as mindful eating.
IE is differentiated from mindful eating. Mindful eating is a part of IE, but the IE framework is much broader and includes several principles that are not part of mindful eating. Mindful eating is often an exercise that we will use in the journey of IE.
I won’t be able to stop eating these forbidden foods once I start, and I’ll just keep gaining weight.
This is a scary one, because you are coming from a place where those forbidden foods have power over you, and we’re going to take that power back. This is where mindful eating can be helpful – IE is about finding foods that make your body feel good, and that you actually enjoy eating. Often, with forbidden foods, we tend to eat them in a frenzy because ‘we’re not supposed to’, so we try to finish them as fast as possible, not taking time to taste and enjoy them. When you give yourself a mindful eating experience with one of these foods, you’ll be able to pay attention to how they taste, how they feel in your body, and how your body feels after eating them. It is this information, then, that helps you make decisions about when and if you want to eat them later.
Once I become an intuitive eater, I’ll lose weight.
There are too many influencers out there and big social media accounts that promote the fact that they lost weight when they started Intuitive Eating. It is true that your body may change when you start to implement some of the IE practices, but what we don’t know, is how your body will change. Each person has what’s called a set point weight, which is a weight that your body is naturally comfortable at, and this can fluctuate +/- 10 pounds. It is almost impossible to truly immerse in IE if you still have a focus on weight loss being the end goal. With weight loss in mind, you won’t be able to honor what your body is telling you, and you may try to override those messages with things you feel you ‘should’ be doing – and this is where IE can turn into another diet.
Some Tips & Tricks for Starting on your Intuitive Eating Journey
Try out some mindful eating exercises – remove distractions, step away from your computer and phone, take more time to eat, follow a scripted mindful eating activity if that is helpful.
Identify and brainstorm your values – why are you going down this path? What motivates you?
Re-define health in a way that resonates with you and aligns with your values, not with the ones that diet culture has forced upon us.
Start to listen to your body, identify and reflect on feelings and emotions. What does hunger present as? How does fullness feel in your body? When do you feel content/excited/satisfied/pleased? What makes you feel anxious/worried/apprehensive/stressed out?
Shift your language & narrative. Stop using the words ‘should and shouldn’t’. Recognize when negative self talk takes over. Pay attention to the narratives you hold and the stories you tell yourself about your eating habits and your body.
Wanting more support? Interested in getting started on your Intuitive Eating journey or feeling stuck somewhere in the middle of dieting and IE? Sandra is here to be the support that you need.
To get some more IE content on your feed, check out her Instagram @embracingintuition.