BLOG BY Sophie Bertrand MSc ANutr

What Is Intuitive Eating And Its Principles

There are so many misconceptions around intuitive eating (IE) and a lot of people think it is a very all or nothing approach (much like a diet), but hopefully after reading this you will have a much better understanding of this approach and you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you might find it beneficial. IE is a non-diet approach that helps individuals heal from chronic dieting. The majority of the clients I work with at the Rhitrition Clinic, come to me with a long history of yo-yo dieting and they are completely fed up with feeling ‘lost’, anxious and confused around food and what their body wants and needs… sound familiar? Keep reading!

All diets come with some kind of side effects that no one warns you about. These can include: disordered eating behaviours, feelings of shame and anxiety around food, binge eating, slowed metabolism and rebound weight gain. When you are constantly dieting and / or trying to lose weight, food choices come with a side of guilt and perhaps little enjoyment, due to the fact that you have likely made your decision in regards to what to eat, based on what you think you ‘should’ be eating. Let me give you an example of what might happen to those who are constantly battling with their internal cues (aka hunger and satiety signals) – You fancy a chocolate bar, you think ‘it is not healthy or has too much sugar’, so you opt for a ‘low calorie snack’ instead… You feel unsatisfied after eating it, so you search for something else, still feeling unsatisfied you might eat more, you feel full, you feel guilty. If you had just listened to your body and had the chocolate bar, you likely would have satisfied your stomach and not needed to overeat. There is difference between feeling ‘full’ and ‘satisfied’ and adopting the IE approach can help you reconnect with your internal cues, listen to your body, and focus on your health instead of your weight.

The approach is made up of 10 principles:

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

The first principle encourages you to address and fight your own food rules. These rules have likely been created over a number of years and encouraged by external factors (like going on diets and taking in what you see in the media). It is important to remember that this principle may take some time. If you have a long-standing history of disordered eating, it is going to take a while to undo that but don’t be discouraged – it can be done!

2. Honour your Hunger

Know that you are ‘allowed’ to be hungry. Feeling hunger means our body’s signals are working and it is letting us know that it is time to eat. So, honour that! Diets often require us to ignore hunger signals, and for some individuals starting to eat intuitively, it may take a while before they are able to identify the feeling of hunger. Hunger doesn’t have to be a rumbling in the stomach – you might feel light headed, irritable or low on energy. Learn to identify your cues.

3. Make Peace with Food

Once you have started to challenge irrational beliefs around food, you can begin to make peace with it. You need to give yourself ‘unconditional permission to eat’. And at this point, that might feel a little chaotic. But it will pass. This doesn’t mean you are going to binge on unhealthy foods all the time. Think of it like this – if I told you, you were only allowed to eat chocolate for a whole week, how do you think you would feel? Pretty sick of it right!? By legalising all foods, the ‘forbidden’ foods lose their appeal. This can be done on your own however, professional support often makes this step easier.

4. Challenge the Food Police

Start calling out that voice in your head that is trying to dictate your food choices based on calorie content. The ‘food police’ is the voice that tells you not to eat carbs past 6pm or that a salad is ‘good’ and pizza is ‘bad’ – it’s all just food! Sometimes you might enjoy a salad and other times you fancy a pizza. Learn to be more rational with your thoughts around food. Again, this voice might take a while to get rid of but you will get there.

5. Respect your Fullness

As mentioned before, there is a difference between feeling full and satisfied and you need to feel confident in the sense that you can satisfy your body with adequate amounts of food. Like you should honour your hunger, you can honour your fullness too. Check in with yourself as you are eating… how does the food taste? How do you feel eating it? Are getting full and feeling satisfied? Mindful eating might be particularly helpful here.

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Allow yourself to choose delicious foods that satisfy you. People are often surprised that if they choose foods they really want, they end up eating less and feeling more fulfilled. Try and prioritise a few meals a week where you have no distractions and can focus on a positive eating experience.

7. Honour your Feelings Without Using Food

There is nothing wrong with comfort eating. Everyone does it from time to time however, when it becomes your only coping mechanism, it can be problematic. Listen to your body and tune in to your emotions. Have you had a bad day? Are you feeling stressed or tired? Finding other ways to comfort yourself can make you feel really good (some ideas are: having a bath, reading a book, going on a walk, painting your nails, journaling). Make a list of things you can do to address your feelings when needed.

8. Respect your Body

Accept body diversity. We come in all different shapes and sizes are we should not be sacrificing our health to try and change our genetic blueprint. If you are struggling with your body image it may be worth seeking psychological support. 

9. Exercise - Feel the Difference

Diet mentality often encourages you to believe that exercise is a tool used to ‘burn fat’ or ‘work off’ what you have eaten. But that really does take the enjoyment out of exercising. We know that movement is can be really beneficial for both physical and mental health therefore it should make you feel good, not like you are punishing your body. Be kind to yourself and explore different forms of movement that make you feel energised. Try a class with a friend, dancing, swimming or even just going for a walk. There are endless ways you can get physical so find something you love.

10.  Gentle Nutrition

It is important to first explore your relationship with food and then consider the basics of nutrition. Health looks different on everyone and it is important to eat for wellbeing as well as enjoyment… they should go hand in hand.

IE helps you ditch ‘food rules’ and labels, respect your body and enables you to actually enjoy food again! The most important thing to remember is that this is not a race and there is no recommended time limit in which you should be able to call yourself an intuitive eater. This is an ongoing journey and you have time!

This post was written by Sophie Bertrand, who has a BSc degree in Psychology, an MSc in Nutrition and Eating Disorders. Sophie is registered with the Association for Nutrition as a Registered Associate Nutritionist and part of the clinic team at Rhitrition. Should you like to know more or feel like you need additional support, please email info@rhitrition.com and ask for Sophie Bertrand, the Intuitive Eating Nutritionist here at Rhitrition. You can also find more about Sophie on her website, Sophie's Healthy Kitchen and on Instagram at @sophieshealthykitchen.

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