So. How are you feeling after the last post? We chatted together about what diets had been like and why we might have been fooled into believing that the best way to ‘get over’ a bad diet, is simply to get a new one. But by the end, it became clear that quitting dieting all together is a far superior option, granting you freedom around food as well as freedom for your mental well being!
Intuitive eating isn’t a diet, and there are no buts. There are 10 principles, however, and I thought it would be useful to go through them together, having a slightly deeper look into what they mean and how you might use them.
- Reject diet mentality.
Rejecting diet mentality is an enormous task. It is number one on the list because if you continue to ‘diet’ whilst attempting to eat intuitively, you are setting yourself up to fail before you’ve even started. As we have discussed in previous posts, a diet gives you a set of rules to follow around food. Many people feel like they need these rules because without them they couldn’t be trusted not eat everything in sight, but in reality, diets often leave people feeling far more out of control, obsessed with food and fraught with stress and confusion. There is a great article by Everyday Femisim all about ditching diet culture that’s worth a read for some extra info on where to get started.
2. Honour your hunger.
Now, this may sound stupidly simple, but for many of us, this will be a huge struggle. In my own experiences of restriction, keeping calories as low as possible and following diets with such extreme rules meant that I was always putting off eating until I felt like I might actually pass out. Another drink, just another hour, it’s almost dinner time, eat an apple, essentially I did anything to avoid actually putting food in my mouth, and as a result, my ability to recognise hunger (or fullness) is seriously impaired. This part of intuitive eating was quite a challenge, but it’s also proved to be one of the most important elements of the journey. Having been ‘practicing’ eating intuitively for the last 3 months, in recent weeks there has been a noticeable change in my body’s ability to trust that I will eat when I am actually hungry. Regardless of what I ate earlier, or what I’m eating later, or how much exercise/moving around I’ve done, if my body tells me I am hungry, I will eat. Importantly, what I eat isn’t dictated by calories, macronutrients or rules I may have previously followed (like low carb or low fat etc) but what I crave, will enjoy or have access to.
3. Make peace with food.
We all know how I used to feel about chocolate digestives. They were my nemesis. If I ‘fell off the wagon’ I can assure you I fell into a packet of biscuits. And I’m not alone here, I’m sure MANY of you will have a food they ‘just can’t have in the house’ because once they pop, they just can’t stop. But it’s diets that have taught us we are untrustworthy around food and it’s restricting that has made us behave unpredictably around the things we love. Eating intuitively gives you a true freedom. What are you craving? Honour it. If you want a doughnut, eat one. Want another half an hour later? Have one. Listening to your body and learning to respond to it helps stop the binge/restriction cycles we’re trapped in. You will find that once you’ve had a couple of doughtnuts, and know that you truly have permission to eat the rest of the bag should you decide thats what you desire, you don’t crave them in the same way. I find that if I have a couple of chocolate heavy days, or a few meals out, all I want when I get home is a stir fry full of veggies or a home made soup. You truly have permission to eat whatever you desire!
4. Challenge the food police.
There is no right or wrong way to eat. I’ve been banging on about that for a while. Food doesn’t come with morals. This part of learning to be an intuitive eater may seem almost insignificant but actually, it’s another vital step. Part of the reason we’ve binged on forbidden foods is because we ruled them not good enough to be part of our diets in the first place. It is vital that you ditch the moral tags that come attached to foods. I used to make endless alterntives to cake and buiscits, low carb, low calorie, low fat, made from chick peas, brownies made from sweetpotatos, you name it I’ve tried it. Some how these suposedly ‘healthy’ altentives were meant to be better, but in reality a couple of digestives would have been far more satisfying. Instead, I usually ended up binging on an entire pan of ‘healthy’ treats that would have contained significantly more calories that the biscuit I craved in the first instence. You can eat anything. Absolutely anything. There are rules, no moral codes, no right or wrong choices.
5. Respect your ‘fullness’.
As a self-confessed emotional, over and binge eater, fullness was almost a new concept. I could eat through ‘happily full’ without even blinking, nose-diving straight into painfully stuffed and needing to sleep off the food baby I’d just conceived. Learning to monitor how you’re feeling while you eat is the equally important balance to eating when you’re hungry. This seems like another simple task, but in reality, just as difficult as it can be to start eating when you’re hungry it can be equally as tricky to stop when you’re full. As a restrictive eater, I often found that once I’d given myself permission to eat, I would continue to eat until it hurt. Once you can trust your self to eat when you’re hungry, it feels just as satisfying trusting your body to tell you when you’re full.
6. Discover the satisfaction of eating.
Food is a huge part of most relationships. Time with your friends or family, co-workers or partners, food is intergal. Food is interesting and amazing and fun and it shouldn’t be a punishment. Diets teach us that food is to be feared, that meals out are just weight gain waiting to happen and that ice creams at the seaside are to be punished with a 10k run. Accepting that there is much joy to be found in food will help you to learn what it is your body is really craving, when you’ve had enough of it and when to push the boat out a little more than usual.
7. Honour your feeling without using food.
I am the first to put my hands up to emotional eating. Happy? Pass the chocolate cake! Sad? Pass the fucking chocolate cake. Stressed, tired, overworked, anxious, lonely, bored, whatever it is you’re feeling, there can be a temptation to use food to help ease them. The helpful thing to remember about this step is it’s not used in isolation. Firstly being aware of these feelings will help you stay intuitive. Secondly, talking to people and using communication methods to open up about what’s happening is super important. And thirdly, keeping on top of the other steps we’ve talked about will really help – specifically honouring your hunger and respecting your fullness.
8. Respect your body.
Your body is fucking amazing. The things it does without you even realising is incredible. The things you’ve survived and then thrived in spite of are awesome. And through all of that, we’re desperate to make our bodies LOOK a specific way just because we THINK it’s better than what we have now. Isn’t that fucked up? While you start to learn to eat intuitively, you have to start to make peace with this incredible vessel you reside in and trust it to find it’s natural state without forcing it to be something other. For me, this is all about body confidence and body positivity so it’s worth reading my other blog posts!
9. Exercise – feel the difference.
When food is reduced to a number of calories, then exercise can become almost a punishment for everything you’ve eaten. You end up trapped in a cycle of working out to repay yourself for what you’ve eaten or flipping it and working out so that you’re ‘allowed’ to eat. Moving your body because you love it is joyous. Moving your body because you choose to is lush. Being an intuitive eater stretches to other areas of your body, including this, so use it as another chance to reconnect with what you truly love to do! Are you running because it actually brings you joy, or do you prefer to dance? Are you stuck at spin class because it burns the most calories when actually you’ve always wanted to try yoga? Sick of working out and want to take a walk? You may even spend a good few weeks sat on the sofa doing sweet FA, that’s fine too!
10. Honour your health.
Right. Before we get into this, let’s just be clear here, that this isn’t talking about the crappy health standard that you see all over the place used to shame fat people. When we talk about health in this instance, we just talking about overall wellness and that includes mental, physical and emotional. Often people know what foods their body tolerates best, I’ve never liked the taste of dairy and I know my body doesn’t love digesting it. This step is just another chance to listen to your body, what makes you feel good? What fuels your body in a way that satisfies you? My body not loving dairy doesn’t mean I don’t eat ice cream or chocolate, it means I choose foods when I really want them knowing fully how it will make me feel and being okay with that. Health isn’t a tangable thing that you have or don’t have, its a balancing act thats specific to you, finding your comfort zones is all that matters!
My journey into body positivity has been firmly rooted in intuitive eating and eating disorder recovery, alongside the rejection of diet culture and fat phobia. I feel like its almost impossible to do any one of these things without doing the others too. Giving the fingers up to everything you’ve been told about your body and the ways you ‘should’ treat it makes it so hard to truly move into a more positive space. I wouldn’t for a moment tell you this is an easy journey, but I can assure you it’s worth it.
I gave up weighing myself in January. I started eating foods that I loved, that made me feel good, that brought me JOY. I started eating out and learning to cook things I’d always wanted to try. I joined a pilates class and started visiting new cities so I could walk around them. I stopped counting calories and started to realign my body and mind, so much so that I still have Easter eggs in the cupboard that I’ve just not been in the mood to eat!!
This isn’t an over night change. These prisiples take time to sink in and to forful authentically. I said I was doing all of them from the start, but as the weeks and months have passed, I realise I’ve actually only just started to truly ease into them.
Up next, my top tips for starting to eat intuitivly!