A Crash Course In Intuitive Eating


How old were you when you had your first negative thought about your body? When did the concept of dieting begin for you? If you think back, you can likely remember a time when you had little awareness of your body. As a child, you played with your friends, ate what was served to you, and cared very little about what your body looked like. Diet-culture is insidious in our society, and the deeper we fall into dieting and weight-loss oriented habits, the more difficult it is to leave them.

How has the pursuit of thinness shaped your life? Have you missed out on a night with friends because you needed to go to the gym? Have you elected to skip out on a piece of birthday cake for fear of weight gain? What values have you forgone in service of your desired figure? Everywhere you look – commercials on tv, ads in magazines, videos on TikTok – you can find reinforcements of the “thin ideal”. Are you tired of it? Have you ever wondered why you continue to diet, only to find yourself gaining more weight than you began with? This common phenomenon causes us to blame ourselves for our failure. We believe that we just don’t have the willpower needed to yield long-term results. The reality? Dieting is a form of short-term starvation (Tribole & Resch). Your body cannot detect that this starvation is self-induced, so it shifts into survival mode. In order to keep you alive, your metabolism slows, and your cravings for food increase. Have ever accidentally missed a meal and found yourself ravenous? That’s what happens when we diet. Cue the binges that follow your body’s perceived restriction.

How do we possibly unlearn the restriction/binge cycle that diet-culture has perpetuated? Enter Intuitive Eating – a philosophy that holds satisfaction at the center of eating, and asserts that movement should feel good, and weight loss cannot be our driving force. Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., C.E.D.R.D., created the following principles to make Intuitive Eating empowering and accessible for all people who have felt weighed down by diet-culture:

Principle 1: Reject The Diet Mentality

You are not a failure, the system of dieting is built for you to fail. It’s impossible to succeed, and you won’t accept this body that you are living in until you reject the diet mentality.

Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger

When we deny our biological need to eat, we aid in activating a primal instinct to eat everything in sight out of need to survive. When you are hungry, your body is sending you a signal that it needs food. Listen to your body by honoring what it asks for.

Principle 3: Make Peace With Food

Once you allow yourself to eat all of the foods that you once restricted, you will break the cycle of binging on “forbidden foods”. When you begin to recognize that you can have any food that you want, whenever you want, you will no longer feel the need to binge on “naughty foods” prior to dieting, insisting that it’s the last time you’ll be “bad”. Food does not have moral attachments. Eat the foods that you want.

Principle 4: Challenge The Food Police

Start talking back to the inner critic that tells you that certain foods are “good” or “bad”. This critic puts your mind and body at odds, and makes food the enemy. Just like we don’t have to act on every thought we have, we don’t need to follow whatever advice the food police gives.

Principle 5: Feel Your Fullness

Check in with yourself while eating, and ask yourself if you are still hungry. Work on detecting your hunger/fullness cues, and have compassion for yourself if this feels like a challenging task at first.

Principle 6: Discover The Satisfaction Factor

In American culture, we have become so obsessed with health and wellness that we have forgotten to simply enjoy food. Our guilt-related pleasure leads to feeling shame any time we enjoy a meal, which leads to restricting… which then leads to binging… And around and around we go!

Principle 7: Cope With Emotions Without Using Food

Sure, we can get pleasure from food! However, we cannot mask every intense emotion with food. We often seek comfort in food when we are feeling upset, angry, bored, overwhelmed, and distracted. Before reaching for something to mindlessly snack on, ask if your needs can be met in another way, such as getting rest, sharing your feelings with a loved one, breathing deeply, or letting yourself cry it out. Remember that using food to cope does not make the initial sensation go away.

Principle 8: Respect Your Body

It’s impossible to reject the diet mentality if you are constantly hoping your body will look different. When we constantly take in media images of models in thin bodies, we are conditioned to believe that larger bodies are wrong, and that thin is the norm. Consider introducing self-respecting thoughts by thinking:

My body needs nourishment

My body deserves to be treated with respect

My body deserved to be comfortable

Principle 9: Exercise – Feel the Difference

Replace judgments related to whether or not your workout was “good enough”. Move your body for the sake of joy rather than as a means to lose weight. Notice what it’s like to simply move for you!

Principle 10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

By excessively worrying about food intake, we cause more harm on our body than the food that we consume ever can. Our bodies deserve food that are nutritious, but also that satisfy our taste-preferences and leave us feeling satiated.

For more literature on Intuitive Eating and Anti-Diet Culture, check out the following:

Intuitive Eating

The F*** Diet by Caroline Dooner

ANTI-DIET: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating by Christy Harrison

Are you struggling with an eating disorder, or feeling overwhelmed by the desire to lose weight? We can help! Reach out to Amy Hrad, LCSW (amy@move-therapy.com), to inquire about Move Therapy and Wellness’ Eating Disorder Process Group, which takes place virtually every Tuesday at 5:00pm.

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