When it comes to our health, what we eat plays a significant role. Numerous modern diets have their ideas of when we should eat, how we should eat, and, most importantly, what we should eat. While having these rules can be beneficial, it does make you wonder if restricting what we eat so much can indeed be helpful to our health.
The concept of intuitive eating not only works to answer this question, but it also determines that strict regulations on what we eat through dieting can actually cause us harm. Instead, this approach to eating relies on our body's instincts to help determine what we should eat. Even so, it still has core principles for success. So what is "intuitive eating”?
To answer the question “what is intuitive eating?”, we need to look at its origins in the 1990s. Dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch laid a lot of the groundwork for understanding how our body reacts to food, and other research informs its understanding of physical hunger and emotional hunger. In the past few years, this non-diet dieting approach has grown in popularity.
Instead of paying attention to how many calories and nutrients you've eaten, intuitive eating encourages mindfulness by paying attention to the signals your body is given, rather than counting on external factors. Essentially, intuitive eating comes down to these basic practices:
This intuition operates from the moment we're born, and it helps guide when and what babies and young children want to eat. As we grow older, more structure gets in the way of these instincts, and binging can occur when our bodies think we won't be able to eat a particular food again. Intuitive eaters can better understand when they feel satisfied, letting them make stronger decisions and feel more self-confidence.
Since intuitive eating rejects the "acceptable foods" approach of other diets, there is no hard and fast guide to what you can and cannot eat. However, it does follow core principles, and those lay the foundation for success while answering the question of “what is intuitive eating?”
These are the main principles of intuitive eating:
The first principle is to step away from the mentality of diets and open yourself to positive attitudes about health and wellness. Instead of following eating approaches that make success about how well you can maintain set meal plans (and can result in negative feelings if you don't follow through), shift to a positive mindset about health and food, which is the first stage of learning how to eat intuitively,
Hunger is our body's natural way of helping us not only know when to eat but also what to eat. Unfortunately, dieting can make us attempt to reject these urges for the sake of meeting standards, but, instead, we open the way to binging because our bodies think we may not eat a particular food again. By eating when we're hungry, we can prevent these issues.
This principle builds on the last and encourages us to eat whatever we want, rather than treating certain ones as inherently good or bad. Again, by cutting things out, we ultimately have cravings, which lead to overeating, then feelings of guilt, finally ending on deprivation, which starts the whole cycle over again. By giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat whatever we want, we can prevent these cycles.
The term "food police" refers to all the rules inside our heads that indicate which foods fall into "good" and "bad" categories—and they can make us feel guilty for our eating decisions. Since intuitive eating is about enjoying eating and viewing it as natural, these restrictive thoughts can get in the way. You need to consciously challenge these thoughts to avoid cycles of deprivation and binging.
Dieting intakes are generally strict, not just in the foods they restrict, but also in that they can give you certain times to eat, which makes us feel like we need to eat everything on our plate. However, an intuitive diet provides us with permission to stop a meal whenever we start to feel full, trusting our body's instincts to guide us.
Much like paying attention to when we feel full is essential to intuitive eating, it's also critical to pay attention to how satisfied we feel when waiting. Generally, following feelings of what we want to eat can boost our happiness and help us feel content while eating less food, instead of overeating until we find the one thing that satisfies us, allowing for intuitive eating success.
Hunger comes in both physical and emotional forms. Intuitive eating encourages us to follow our physical desires while keeping it distinct from emotional eating. Food can provide a comfort factor in certain situations, but we should pay attention to how the comfort foods we pick impact us and balance them out with other forms of coping.
Diet culture and societal expectations can make it incredibly easy for us to be hard on ourselves and our bodies. Instead of focusing on some potentially unrealistic ideal, intuitive eating encourages us to respect our bodies as they are. Respecting your body is one of the most important intuitive eating tips.
When it comes to health and wellness, exercise is another essential factor in our overall health and wellbeing. Similarly to the way intuitive eating encourages us to pay attention to how foods make us feel, it does the same with exercising. Instead of choosing workout activities to help lose weight, focus on the ones that you enjoy doing.
The final principle is to honor your health through the concept of gentle nutrition. This concept involves areas such as staying flexible about when mealtimes are and giving ourselves a variety to keep satisfied over time. Intuitive eating helps us see the big picture and understand that it's our consistent actions, rather than the one time we ate something unhealthy, that have a lasting impact on our health.
At Teami, we’re all about honoring our bodies and staying true to principles of wellness over fad diets.
Explore our latest tips on fitness, living, and nutrition and discover some new and tasty recipes, featuring snacks, meals, smoothies, and desserts that support happy and healthy intuitive eating.
Teami Blends - Co-Founder + CEO
Certified Nutrition Health Coach