Updated: Nov 5, 2018
WHAT IS INTUITIVE/ATTUNED EATING?
Hello! I am Sebastian and I am The Food and Body Coach. If you checked out my last post on the dangers of dieting then you might remember that I went pretty hard on dieting culture in general but without going too deep into the solutions.
Well in this post I’ll be talking about one powerful solution that I really enjoy and I hope it’s gonna help you too. It’s called Attuned or Intuitive Eating.
So if you haven’t checked out the Dangers of Dieting then I highly recommend you do so that the following will make more sense to you. In it I demonstrated how dieting is, for the majority of people, guaranteed to fail and also lead to worse health as a result of even trying.
Intuitive Eating is a counter to dieting culture and a book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It is I suppose a semi formulated way of presenting a concept that has long been around and you might even say is just a natural way of eating but these two ladies have, through their experience in the field, put together a manual so to speak on how they recommend following it to get the most out of it.
I couldn’t possibly do justice to it in this one video but this book is a game changer and I would really recommend it to anyone who is sick of dieting and the skinny obsessed culture.
WHAT IS INTUITIVE EATING?
But what is it exactly?
It is an alternative to dieting which focuses on using internal signals to gauge levels of hunger, what foods your body truly craves and when you’re full. It champions the ethos that you know what is best for your body at any given moment but due to our current dieting, skinny focused culture, we have lost a relationship with these internal cues for something superficial and unfulfilling.
DIETING CULTURE MAKES INTUITIVE EATING A CHALLENGE
Dieting is so engrained within our day to day living that we are unaware of its hold over us and how it dictates our behaviours around food and exercise.
There is also a spiritual disconnect with our true emotions and food is often being used to self-medicate deeper problems. We can be overeating not for a physical hunger, but an emotional hunger and the food cannot possibly fill the gap.
Breaking from your old habits takes time and practice to develop these tools that have always been with you but you’ve forgotten how to use. It is a craft to begin to learn pinpoint what dieting culture actually is and all of it’s subtleties that keep you hooked and yet another skill learning to listen and distinguish between your real hunger and your emotional hunger and how to honour both.
There are 10 key principles of Intuitive Eating that I’d like to share with you to see if it’s something that might sound appealing to you. They are:
THE 10 PRINCIPLES OF INTUITIVE EATING
1. REJECT THE DIET MENTALITY- Chuck out your diet books and scales. Give up dieting for good. It’s a big step and it’s scary for many. It might seem on paper like an instant process but it’s actually a huge shift in mentality to give up all systems of measuring yourself, be they fitting into a pair of jeans, not buying new clothes for the hope of fitting into your old ones, counting calories, doing exercise you don’t enjoy at all, or just losing a little bit of extra weight for a wedding or the beach, as common examples.
2. HONOUR YOUR HUNGER- Don’t ignore your hunger signals. Give yourself permission to eat whenever you’re hungry and to eat enough. Sounds simple but many ignore hunger thinking they don’t deserve to eat yet. Not what you think is enough to stay a certain weight. Not what others think is enough. Just what you feel is enough to feel satisfied.
Perhaps you ate a big breakfast and you’re hungry in just a few hours. You might feel that you shouldn’t eat again so soon but there are countless reasons why your body might need food like maybe you exercised more that week, which will naturally increase your appetite.
3. MAKE PEACE WITH FOOD- Give yourself permission to eat whatever you like. Any food. Your favourite food. When you deprive yourself you inevitably strain your energy/willpower and often that ends in a binge which then leaves you wanting to restrict foods again and so the cycle continues. Restriction also creates a sense of scarcity and we as humans tend to overconsume what we think is in short supply. It’s a survival mechanism but if you keep telling yourself that you can’t eat certain foods then you’ll probably eat more for the fear that you can’t have them again. It’s a very dangerous cycle to be trapped in and the solution of an abundance mentality may not strike you initially as sensible but it does work.
4. CHALLENGE THE FOOD POLICE- This is a really cool concept that I love. It makes a personification of the critical voice in your head and in society. In other words, it’s that little voice or maybe it’s a big voice, inside you that always judges your eating experience and gives you rules and guilt and shame for not complying with those rules and also the voice of the society around you who definitely judge eating habits.
But how do you fight against that critical voice? How do you fight the food police? Well it takes a practice of a compassionate and non-judgemental inner dialogue with yourself and an equally brave voice to challenge the external messages and influences we are bombarded with on a daily routine of achieving the skinny ‘ideal’.
5. FEEL YOUR FULLNESS- This is learning how to actually gauge if you’re still hungry or full. This is a big challenge for many as wondering where stomach hunger ends and emotional hunger begins can take some real practice.
It inevitably means that taking your time to eat will help to receive those fullness signals. It is also permission to decide how full you like to feel. If you like to feel stuffed then it’s your prerogative to feel that way and if you prefer to feel like you could still eat more but you’d rather wait a few hours then it’s all up to you. Your comfort levels are your own. It also requires the trust that there will be more of the same food and any other that you want at anytime you want.
6. DISCOVER THE SATISFACTION FACTOR- Pleasure is inextricably linked to good eating health. Eating foods from so called healthy diets often exclude satisfying foods. Another reason restriction often fails. It’s no fun.
Indulging in pleasurable foods is neither gluttonous nor reckless as our bodies and appetites are self-regulating with internal feedback systems that influence appetite and satiation if the freedom and permission are granted.
I mean if you think about it, pleasure is the crucial ingredient to feeling satisfied. I’m sure from your own dieting experience you can confirm that if you’d just eaten the thing you wanted in the first place you probably would’ve eaten a lot less than you did trying to avoid it, and felt significantly more satisfied? The more you become accustomed to feeling satisfied, the more you begin trust that you can come back to that feeling at any time and so you stop episodes of binging and dieting. You stop worrying that there is a scarcity of food or taboo around certain food groups and instead, through permission, learn to successfully neutralise food and learn balance.
Guilt, that unwelcome residue that comes with dieting could be called the enemy of pleasure and in a study done with women eating chocolate cake, the research found that those who felt guilt attached to eating the cake gained weight, where as those who saw it as a celebration were more likely to maintain their weight. Food for thought!
7. COPE WITH YOUR EMOTIONS WITHOUT USING FOOD- Difficult to deal with emotions may be part of the reason you overeat and that will mean eventually facing up to them which again can be very scary.
8. RESPECT YOUR BODY- This principle encourages you to respect your body and not be critical of it. It goes against our culture to think anything other than skinny is healthy. For many it can be a wake up call to what their actual body size is and that in of itself can bring on a mourning period. To accept that your body with all of its beautiful curves, dimples, muscles, cellulite, and all, is you, and that regardless of whether your weight goes up or down you are not defined by you weight or how you look.
Essentially, you can’t stop dieting behaviour if you still attack your body because when we think we can change our body by weight manipulation, we start to do things that are unhealthy to achieve it. You don’t necessarily need to be enraptured by your body every waking second. We are obviously human and we have critical eyes and nobody is perfect. We see flaws in ourselves but respecting our bodies is to accept what we have and I believe that means to be grateful for it.
It means treating yourself with dignity. Dignity in the way you treat yourself but also how you talk to yourself, talk about others and also how you talk to others about yourself.
9. EXERCISE-FEEL THE DIFFERENCE- This principle is about ditching the concept that exercise is for burning calories and instead taking up an enjoyable form of exercise that energizes you rather than feeling like you’re atoning for your sins. I like to use the example of playtime. When we were kids we played games constantly. Now as adults, many can’t remember the last time they moved in a fun way. Why should it be any less important?
10. HONOUR YOUR HEALTH-GENTLE NUTRITION- This one is stated as gentle because it’s an art form for many. To master the practice of eating foods ‘that honour your health and taste buds while making you feel good.’ Nutrition of all of this list is put last but not because food choices are not important because they are. For one thing they are crucial in helping prevent against chronic disease, but the trend of modern culture means that food choices are all too often of conflicting nutritional information and food gets put on a moral pedestal, becoming a matter of ‘good’ food vs. ‘bad’ food. This creates a society of guilty eaters where everyone is preoccupied with every morsel they consume believing that one ‘bad’ food could kill them.
This principle of gentle nutrition therefore offers nutritional info that doesn’t overwhelm you with the usual numbers and charts and encourages variety of all food groups to find balance so you can nourish yourself with foods, self-tailored to your own specific nutritional needs, that energise you without the guilt that accompanies diet mentality.
So! They were the 10 principles of intuitive eating. Again, this was an incredibly brief summary. Each principle is HUGE! Absolutely massive and more detailed than I can fit into a video as of course they aim to help people detach from dieting culture and also recover from long term problems. Much of my work will be related to these issues so stay tuned for more in-depth stuff.
BUT IF IT’S SO EASY THEN WHY AM I NOT ALREADY EATING ACCORDING TO MY HUNGER SIGNALS?
Of course I understand that if the concept of just eating according to your own hunger signals were that easy you’d be doing it already. Remember that dieting culture is pervasive and restriction is one of the particularly big obstacles that stands in most people’s way. It’s counter-intuitive to think but often those who try to restrict what they eat and follow someone else’s template of ‘healthy eating’, attempting to be ‘good’, end up eating the most because they ignore their hunger signals and what their bodies are really crying out for. The body ends up fighting back and overcompensating which looks like you panicking around food, dieting, feeling anxious, and trying to control your food intake which just leads your body to feeling more and more deprived and so it rebels more and more by eating exactly what you’re trying to avoid only now you feel guilt, shame, and you can insert the other emotions that might be plaguing your eating experience.
SO WHAT HAPPENS IF I EAT EXACTLY WHAT I WANT?
The opposite however is typical of those who allow their bodies to guide at least most of their eating experience. They trust what they put in their bodies and so are rewarded by feeling a level of satisfaction and pleasure and weight is inevitably stabilised through this consistency unlike the chronic dieter who is often fluctuating or yo-yoing through extreme weight variations.
It is the norm by the way in our culture to dismiss and distrust your own perfectly functioning hunger signals for that of the latest craze diet and so I’m obliged to inform you that daring to go against the grain and listen to your own internal wisdom of hunger and satiety cues and choosing to eat whatever the hell you please will automatically make you something of a pariah. A social outlaw.
To lose weight and fit into a certain mould, be it the erroneous practice of the BMI scale or the physiques of celebs and models, is defined by our current standards as health and if heaven forbid you should decide to begin to decide your own rules on health, you will find a backlash of people who will be angry with your beliefs.
DON’T MAKE ME ANGRY!!!
You may even be feeling angry yourself about what I’m saying now. You might be saying to yourself that this is impossible. That this can’t be true. That this is reckless and that we need rules otherwise we’ll be out of control and like goldfish, eat ourselves to bursting point and certain death.
Can you sit with that feeling? I’m going to be challenging some long held believes and while I too used to think in the same way, I invite you to continue on this journey with me and see for yourself if there isn’t more to it than meets the eye.
ARE YOU DOING THIS ALL ALONE?
You may not initially find many allies if you choose to pursue this approach to health, (which as these 10 principles exemplify isn’t based on your appearance) but even still there are many allies out there. They are in communities across the internet and in-person support groups, therapists, dieticians, and more, all trying to un-learn dieting, share, teach, and support others like yourself who may have finally come to the realisation that you’ve been pursuing health with dangerous practices that leave your body and mental condition in ruins.
As an introduction, I recommend podcasts. They’re free and easy to download and you can listen on your way to work, out in the garden or wherever.
One of my absolute favourites is ‘The Love Food’ podcast. It’s a series by a dietician and it’s really helped a lot of my clients to hear others are in exactly the same position as they are. The more community you can build around yourself the easier and more enjoyable you’ll find this journey.
As well, overeating and eating disorders are often linked to deeper emotional happenings and can be just the tip of the iceberg, so if your financial situation allows it and you feel as though you could use a little more structure, or support then the help of a therapist for example could be pivotal in unlocking some of that deeper stuff.
FREQUENT QUESTIONS & CONCERNS
Also, some frequent questions and concerns that my clients voice are the following:
1. IF I STOP DIETING THEN AREN'T I GIVING UP ON MY HEALTH? What if I gain weight? There’s nothing passive about stopping dieting. To do so is to get back into a healthy relationship with food. I find that when many claim to have given up dieting they’ve only half done it. Perhaps they’ll still restrict how much of a food they can eat or they’ll restrict a certain food. If you’re not following all of the principles then you’re probably still holding on to dieting.
2. AM I AGAINST WEIGHT LOSS?- Some clients also think I’m against weight loss. On the contrary. I don't believe it's terrible at all to want to lose weight. I just firmly believe that when you are enjoying food and movement and body positivity, and you have a general understanding of nutrition, your weight will settle naturally around your appropriate weight. That might not however be the thin look you think you should be and coming to terms with your natural weight is again another concept I’ll touch on in future posts.
3. CAN I LOSE WEIGHT BEFORE I BEGIN?- Some of my clients really like the idea of intuitive eating but still want to diet before they begin it to give themselves a head start. Remember that if you’re dieting, you’re probably engaging in disordered eating and disordered eating can’t bring about order.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
If any of this sounds interesting to you or you’ve already begun your intuitive eating journey then it can be helpful to know that the road to recovery and stopping dieting is rarely, if ever, linear.
It often feels more like 3 steps forward, 1 step back. 6 steps forward, 9 steps back. That can be demoralising if you’re not aware that failure is part of the process and that no matter how many steps you feel you’re going backwards, you’re only ever going forwards. You will be tempted to diet again. It’s the process. You may diet again. And again, it’s the process. And as dieting culture is, as we know all around us, it’s gonna be a tough job, but you will make it.
As I explore more areas of this concept, I try to add my own flavour to it. I belief that is much of its beauty. That is has guidelines but within them there is a lot of room for individual preference because after all, then it would just be another diet with rules of cans and cant’s.
THE PROBLEM WITH INTUITIVE EATING?
My only real apprehension of intuitive eating so far is that I can’t hail one approach as the be all and all and end all for every person.
We are all different. Some decide it’s not for them and others swear by it.
I personally adopt this intuitive eating in my own practice with my clients but my real recommendation is if you read the book then to stay critical. How does it challenge your programming? Do you disagree? Or like me will you be swept away with its enchanting message that you are in control but equally daunting that you now have all the responsibility?
At the end of the day, nobody has a monopoly on how you should eat. That is what I hope intuitive eating will continue to be. Training wheels. A helping hand for those in a pickle without any shackles of commitment or allegiance. Autonomy is king and I hope that in the end you will have the confidence to just call what you do, eating, and not give it as much space as it currently takes up so you can get on with enjoying life.
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