What is Intuitive Eating?
There is a lot of confusion in the world of nutrition around what Intuitive Eating really means. I see post after post attached to the hashtag #intuitiveeating with women parading their weight loss success or promoting the latest diet or ‘wellness program’ (aka diet in disguise) they’re a part of. The term ‘intuitive eating’ has been woefully skewed by the diet industry into a way for women to ‘explain away’ their restriction as simply ‘listening to their bodies’. Friends, I had NO idea what intuitive eating meant for the longest time- I was SO sure I was eating intuitively, listening to how my body felt- as long as I was fitting into the mold of ‘clean eating’, eating in a particular set of portions, or maintaining my weight to the tune of an acceptable 2-pound range. I didn’t truly come to learn what Intuitive Eating meant until I was faced with ‘reverse dieting’ post fitness competition, back in 2016. I was shocked and disturbed at the notion of more restriction post-competition, to avoid ‘rebound’ (I had just spent 12+ weeks in severe deprivation- who WOULDN’T rebound?!) and decided enough was enough. I was DONE with dieting. DONE with the idea of restriction masquerading as wellness and a painstakingly controlled physique as an outward sign of ‘health’. I was the fittest, most ‘cut’, I had ever been and I was THE unhealthiest I had ever been, outside of the depths of my eating disorder-- yes, the eating disorder I had overcome almost a decade prior that I still had not fully released the reigns of-- as revealed by my desire to severely restrict my food intake and run my body ragged in the hopes of proving something-- to someone-- but I didn’t even know who.
I started listening to podcasts on finding balance in my eating-- once and for all. I stumbled upon the Food Psych podcast and it was my first introduction to intuitive eating- true intuitive eating, the idea of health at every size (HAES) and I started working with my own intuitive eating counselor to release these ideas I held in my head around what I needed to do to be ‘healthy’. Through our first few sessions I began to release the hold dieting had on my life, little by little. I stopped believing the lies that society and the diet industry had fed me about how I needed to live to truly be healthy. I stopped counting my macros (twice)-- I slowly started giving myself permission to try new foods and release the countless rules I had placed around the foods that I ate and challenging the things I believed to be true about what being healthy meant. I smashed my scale.
And after the brief moment of panic that ensued a huge peace washed over me as I released one of the last pieces of my journey to food freedom: that my weight was, in part, related to my worth.
I bought the Intuitive Eating book. And I read it slowly. I highlighted it, underlined it and silently cried into it as I felt them speaking to me through the pages (imagine my excitement two years later when I ACTUALLY get to speak with Evelyn on the phone).
Intuitive Eating has NOTHING to do with losing weight. It has NOTHING to do with finding the perfect portions/macros/insert-dieting-measure for you. And it has EVERYTHING to do with releasing the rules. Releasing the hold and letting your body- your beautiful God-given body’s innate wisdom to take over as you make choices that serve YOU-- and only you.
Now listen, there is nothing wrong with weight loss, if it comes as a result of tuning into your body's needs. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and nourish your body! It's the pursuit of weight loss or the pursuit of restriction as a means to health where we lose touch with our body's true needs. That's not caring for our body-- it's putting rules and regulations around how we feel we 'should' treat our body.
A definition, for those of you who like those (it’s cool, I’m one of them). Intuitive eating is a non-diet nutrition framework that has been verified by over 90 studies and has stood the test of time for over 25 years. It is based on ten key principles, focusing on allowing unconditional permission to eat, tuning into hunger and satiety cues and eating for physical, rather than emotional reasons.
It’s not the ‘eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full’-diet. It’s also not the cookies-and-ice cream-diet (though it might be, some days). Intuitive eating is a self-care nutrition model that relies on your body’s innate wisdom- the wisdom we were all born with-- to determine what, when and how we choose to eat.
A common misconception, especially for those who have been in the diet world for decades or have committed themselves to a restricted definition of wellness is that, if they allow themselves to eat whatever they want, whatever they want, they will end up on Prime Time TV as the woman (or man) who couldn’t fit through their door, that they simply won’t be able to stop eating and they’ll lose all hope of living a healthy, whole life. This is simply untrue, friend.
Though many of us who have been captive to the diet industry’s illusive ways do go through a transition period, ‘intuitive’ implies what we know is true even beyond conscious reasoning. Our bodies know they won’t feel good if all they eat is cookies and ice cream. Eventually, the body’s desire to be nourished (and the habituation effect) will outweigh your desire for oreos. Does that mean we’ll all eat kale salad all day long, intuitively? No! We don’t all LIKE kale salad. Kale salad doesn’t WORK for all of us. But balance is found in allowing ourselves to tune into what TRULY feels good for OUR bodies-- and following those cues. Sometimes it’s kale salad. Sometimes it’s cake. Neither is better or worse-- we do not live in an infamous groundhog day. Our lives change, day to day, our preferences change, day to day. Our needs change, day to day, week to week, year to year- and it is in the HONORING of that-- our body’s hunger and fullness, choosing foods that are satisfying, mindful movement and yes-- gentle nutrition, BEYOND what the food police commissioned by the diet industry are berating in our minds.
Intuitive eating is SO MUCH MORE than eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. It’s even SO FAR beyond allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat and deleting that tracker app, it’s committing to a loving relationship with YOURSELF. Trusting the body God gave you to determine what foods fit YOU best, and EMBRACING your autonomy as someone who is FREE from food, FREE from diets and at PEACE with your body’s desire and ability to allow you to live healthy, happy and whole. And friend, it won’t happen overnight. It is a process- a process that starts with committing to learning about yourself, and finding what works- beyond diets. It’s a process that takes deep work and reflection and releasing some long-held and widely accepted societal beliefs. But I promise you: it is one of the most important journeys you will ever take.
For more on the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, check out the Healthy Balanced Mama Podcast, Episode 004.