What is intuitive eating? Before we can answer that question, we have to first answer the question, “What is diet culture?”
What is Diet Culture?
We all know diet culture. You realize you want to lose a few pounds, so you start cutting back and exercising. That sounds sustainable, right? Maybe. But after two, three or four weeks, you start to miss big pints of beer, chocolate, dessert, potato chips, pizza and whatever other foods you love that you’ve been depriving yourself of in an effort to lose weight.
So, what happens then? You decide to have a “cheat day” where you eat all the foods you’ve been missing. What inevitably happens? You overeat. You eat likes it’s the last time you’ll have these foods. Then the guilt sets in. You start over.
How do you get out of this cycle of feeling the need to lose weight, restricting, overeating and starting all over?
What if you could eat whatever you want, when you want, have no guilt and eliminate the need for cheat days entirely? Our diet culture has led us to believe that this is impossible, that certain goods are “good” and certain foods are “bad” and we’re being good if we eat kale and we’re being bad if we have a donut.
Intuitive eating completely rejects the rules of diet culture. Intuitive eating means eating what you want and what sounds good as soon as you realize you want it, without guilt. Intuitive eaters honor hunger and fullness and take pleasure in eating. Here are the core principles of intuitive eating.
Reject the Diet Mentality.
Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight.
Honor Your Hunger.
Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant.
Make Peace with Food.
Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.
Challenge the Food Police.
Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created .
Respect Your Fullness.
Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor.
When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content.
Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food.
Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Food won’t fix any of these feelings.
Respect Your Body.
Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size.
Exercise–Feel the Difference.
Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise.
Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition.
Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy.
You can read more about the principles, along with some background info, on the Intuitive Eating website.
Does Intuitive Eating Really Work?
Yes. I was a chronic dieter to the point where I developed an eating disorder. I blamed myself for my failure to lose the weight I wanted, instead of blaming the diet culture. Years and years of cycling through restricting, over-exercising, and binge eating landed me in a therapists office, finally realizing my life had becoming unmanageable, and binge eating and purging multiple times per day.
This book changed my life, and I think it’s a reasonable solution for most people. It’s a sensible, easy solution that is 100% sustainable. It takes a while to learn, and I’m nowhere near perfect. Sometimes, I still occasionally overeat, worry about weight gain, wish I weighed less, or feel fleeting guilt for eating foods I like.
But I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I was six months ago when I tried to visualize what my life would look like as an eating disorder-free intuitive eater.
If you’re stuck in the diet culture mindset and dieting cycle, please stop. Please realize the problem is not you, it’s the “diet.”
If you’re living with disordered eating behaviors, please know that your brain is lying to you. Losing weight will not make you happy. Losing weight will not turn off those awful thoughts in your head that tell you to restrict, starve, binge eat or purge.
You can buy the book for just a few bucks, and it’s a great read. Be advised that this is not a “quick fix.” This is a difficult and sometimes upsetting process that will take months or years, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to you have your life back, get rid of the diet mentality, enjoy everything you love without guilt and find your natural weight. If you’re dealing with an eating disorder, you likely won’t be able to ease into intuitive eating without some professional help.
This book has changed my entire life. I eat dessert as often as I want without guilt, I no longer binge eat and purge and my appetite and weight are beginning to level out. Thoughts of food and weight loss no longer monopolize my every waking moment. Dieting, calorie counting and restricting no longer have a place in my life. And it feels so good.
Here are some additional resources to get you started.