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On Your Health

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Intuitive Eating

The idea behind intuitive eating is this: eat what you want, as much as you want, whenever you want. No foods are restricted or off limits. That’s a heady plan. It’s kind of no plan, a sort of free-range approach to eating. According to its adherents, food becomes something to enjoy, not something to constantly measure, regulate and evaluate. 

The book "Intuitive Eating," co-authored by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, F.iaedp, FADA, FAND, is a mind-body, self-care eating framework, consisting of ten principles. There are some potential benefits to adopting the Intuitive Eating framework, however as with any eating plan or diet, it’s important to talk with your health care provider before you start. 

Intuitive eating is not for everyone. For example, people with health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure may be asked by their doctors to cut back on specific foods, for specific reasons. 

It’s also important to really understand what Intuitive Eating is – and is not. Do not expect to lose weight, this is not a diet. It’s a lifestyle shift whose goal is for us to lose our preoccupation with food and weight. 

Intuitive Eating works well for some people, but there is a fundamental problem.  It is impossible for us to intuitively eat highly processed food, the type food that is most accessible to us. This has to do with how foods are manufactured. Packaged foods like chips, cookies and processed cereals or fast foods like burgers, fries and chicken nuggets, are precisely and very intentionally formulated to work around our satiety signals, making us want more and more. Ultra-processed foods, while not inherently ‘bad’ or ‘good,’ are tricksters and eating a diet that is low in fiber and high in sugar, unhealthy fats and salt is one of the leading causes of chronic diseases and poor health. That said, here are the ten principles of Intuitive Eating.

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality.  Let go of the idea that if your most recent diet didn’t deliver as promised that there is a better one right around the corner. Let go of the idea that it’s all your fault.
  2. Honor your hunger. Be intentional about keeping your wonderful body well-fueled. It needs a constant supply of food energy to operate. Eat steadily throughout the day without allowing yourself to become ravenously hungry – that’s when the best intentions get blown out of the water. When you are very hungry, you can trigger a primal drive to overeat.
  3. Make peace with food. Every food. When we label particular foods as forbidden, we create all sorts of tension around those foods. If you’re told you cannot have pizza, for example, you may immediately feel deprived. Of pizza. A struggle ensues, and when pizza finally wins, the intensity of the experience, and the idea that if you’re going to ‘break the rules’ you might as well really break them and eat five slices instead of the two (or three) that would have satisfied you a week ago when pizza initially sounded good.
  4. Challenge the ‘food police.’ There is no such thing as a good food or a bad food. Food is food. Yes, different foods contain different nutrient content, but none is inherently bad. Also, you as a human being are not ‘bad’ on a day you ate a slice of pie a la mode, nor are you ‘good’ on a day when your calorie count was really low. Intuitive eating asks you to actively reject these ideas.
  5. Discover and embrace satisfaction. In our desire to bend to the ever-present diet culture, we often forget that pleasure and satisfaction are important parts of eating. Delicious food in a lovely location is a source of pleasure and should be actively sought. Enjoyment leads to satisfaction and contentedness. By allowing yourself to experience pleasure in your food, you open the door for your body to more easily tell you when you’ve had enough.
  6. Feel your fullness. Honor your fullness. Listen to your body – it will offer you signals when you are no longer hungry and are satisfied. Learn to recognize comfortable fullness, which feel different than feeling stuffed. Pause mid-meal, or every so often when eating, and just observe. Ask yourself how you feel and whether your hunger has been sated. Check in on how your food tastes.
  7. Treat your emotions with kindness. When you physically or mentally engage in food restriction, it may trigger loss of control. Loss of control can feel like, or lead to, emotional eating. We all experience emotions such as anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger and sadness; each of these has its own trigger and each has its own appeasement. Food isn’t going to fix any of them. Eating to mitigate your emotions may well leave you feeling worse, after the fact. You’ve got to deal with the source of the problem.
  8. Respect your body. Your body does a lot for you, and it deserves to be treated with love, compassion and dignity. All bodies are unique. None are exactly the same size or shape, nor should we expect them to be. Think of it this way: you wear a size nine shoe. But you are obsessed with wearing a size six shoe, and you continually berate yourself because you STILL don’t fit into a size six shoe. Makes no sense, right?
  9. Movement – feel the difference. This is a big shift. Add more movement to your life but focus on how it feels to move your body, not on how many calories you’ll burn. Do you feel energized? Stronger? More limber? Getting out of bed for a brisk walk or jog is much more pleasurable when the experience itself is the goal.
  10. Honor your health – gentle nutrition. Remember, you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not develop a sudden nutrient deficiency or gain 40 pounds from one snack, one meal or even a few days of eating. Make food choices that make you feel good and which add to your body’s overall health.

To learn more about healthy lifestyles and different health trends, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.

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