What Is Intuitive Eating?

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Like a lot of people, I can mark the start of a new year by the amount of diet chatter I’m subjected to around the holidays. From the inevitable “diet tomorrow!” comments from a well-meaning cousin at Christmas dinner to the shelves of women’s magazines filled with the old “new year, new you” weight loss tips, guilt and restriction after holiday excesses can seem like the default option.

Yet according to a new diet (or rather, anti-diet) trend, it doesn’t have to be this way. Intuitive Eating is a holistic, evidence-based approach to eating developed by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Unlike weight-loss focused approaches to nutrition and fitness, Intuitive Eating asks its followers to forget about counting calories or cutting out entire food groups and listen to their own bodies for cues on satiety, satisfaction, and overall wellness. In return, the plan promises to help break a cycle that many nutritionists believe encourages disordered eating.

The plan is laid out in 10 easy-to-understand principles:

Reject the Diet Mentality

Reject the guilt and shame built into restrictive or unrealistic diet plans that promise immediate results at the expense of your mental well-being and long-term health.

Honor Your Hunger

Eating when you’re hungry might sound simple, but years of dieting can disengage the mind from the body’s natural hunger cues. Learning to recognize those cues and eating a wide variety of nutritious foods at the right time can help control cravings, binging, and other shame-inducing food behaviors.

Make Peace with Food

Let go of whatever negative or positive associations you have with food and give yourself permission to eat what you want when you want. By eliminating those good or bad feelings, you’re also eliminating the temptation associated with “forbidden foods” and the intense, binge-inducing cravings created when you force yourself not to eat something you like. In other words, have a cookie (or whatever food you’re craving), enjoy it, and know that you don’t have to eat like it’s your last because it’s not!

Challenge the Food Police

Create a dialogue with the little voice in your head that judges you for what you do or don’t eat. Remember that you’ve internalized a lifetime of dubious dieting advice, and challenge yourself to eat without someone else’s standards hanging over you.

Respect Your Fullness

Eat mindfully, paying close attention to how you feel while you’re eating. Just like you may have to re-learn your hunger cues, you should also reacquaint yourself with signals of fullness. Don’t feel burdened to finish everything on your plate, or to eat just because something is “there.”

Discover the Satisfaction Factor

It’s hard to feel satisfied when you’ve been conditioned to feel good or bad based on the diet you’re following or which foods you’re eating. Fully embrace the pleasure that comes with eating the foods you really want, and do everything you can to heighten that experience by creating a pleasant, inviting environment in which to enjoy them.

Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

Food isn’t a punishment, and it isn’t a reward. Find ways of dealing with negative emotions that don’t involve food to support creating a healthier mentality overall.

Respect Your Body

Whenever I complain about some perceived flaw, my mother likes to remind me that I came by it honestly. In other words, hard as I try, I’m never going to be 5’10” and a size 2. And that’s….fine. Once you let go of your own unrealistic expectations, it’s easier to appreciate everything that’s great about you.

Exercise

Put on a pair of rollerblades, play with your dog, do some restorative yoga, work up to a 5K, or just take a walk. No matter what you do, do it mindfully and focus on the pleasure it brings you. Take weight out of the equation, and let those good feelings motivate you to move instead.

Honor Your Health

Be gentle with yourself. Choose foods and activities that make you feel good in the long term, arm yourself with knowledge, and remember that progress is perfection. Eating intuitively doesn’t mean you’ll never overeat again, but it might help you break the cycle of guilt that seems to be built into our society's conception of how you should behave when it comes to food.

Here’s to your health. Happy 2019!