Intuitive Eating

So, its Day 35 of South Africa’s lockdown.
You have spent half your time exercising and eating right and the other half saying “give me ALL the food!”

You spend hours, scrutinising your body and punishing yourself for what you ate yesterday. Your wedding is going to happen one day, and you have to stick to your “wedding diet” otherwise you are going to be a “fat” bride. (your inner thoughts, not ours!)

Girl, aren’t you tired of all of this? Don’t you want to start loving your body and the amazing things it can do for you?
Don’t you want to stop counting calories consumed and calories burnt and just enjoy living your life? Eating the cake when you feel like it, yet still choosing to nourish your body with healthy food cause it deserves it? 

If this sounds like you, then you may want to read on to find out more about Intuitive Eating.

Our resident dietician, Aimee Robson from Bloom Bride shares more with us today on this amazing, yet somehow still controversial, topic. Take it away, Aims:

There’s a whole new way of eating that is gaining popularity; it revolves around quitting diets and making peace with food. It’s called Intuitive Eating (IE), and it encourages people to nurture their body’s, rather than putting them in a state of calorie deficit. The result is happiness, and finding the weight you are meant to be. 

What is Intuitive Eating?

IE can be described as a philosophy of eating, that puts you in control of your body and its hunger cues. It’s basically the opposite of a conventional diet. It doesn’t tell you what to eat, or when to eat, it instead teaches you to listen to your body; after all, you are the best (and only) person to do this for yourself. 

The concept of eating when you are hungry, and stopping when you are full, is an intuitive process for some, but not for all. Following diet after diet is often the behaviour causing you to mistrust your body’s own internal mechanisms for hunger. Excessive restrictive eating also affects your emotional connections to food, again misleading you. IE aims to throw all the diet BS out the window and draw you back to your own hunger cues, trusting your body again, and nourishing your body. 

So how do we start listening to our hunger cues? First, we need to understand the different types of hunger. 

Physical Hunger:
This is a biological cue telling you to replenish nutrients. It generally starts slowly and gradually builds. It is satisfied when you eat any food. People often think the only cue is a grumbling stomach, but it can also be in the form of fatigue and/or irritability. 

Emotional Hunger:
This is not physical hunger, but more cues driven from an emotional stimulus, such as boredom, sadness or loneliness. Unlike physical hunger, this is often not satisfied with food, it generally requires a specific food (comfort food), but even after consuming that, the craving is not satisfied, and feelings of guilt and self-hatred now emerge. 

So if we look at both of these types of hunger, what we should aim for with eating, is that eating should satisfy physical hunger, without the emergence of feelings of guilt. So how do we achieve this? Its a journey, it is not achieved overnight, but two of the original IE pioneers, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (who by the way, originally coined the term all the way back in 1995), have outlined 10 basic principles of the philosophy which we now explore. 

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
    Ditch any principles of a diet, or what I call ‘leftovers’ from previous diets (basically, the bits of previous diets you hang onto after stopping a diet. For example, the mentality that carbs are bad after following a keto diet). Let it all go, and start from scratch. If you find yourself feeling angered by all the fad diets you have followed in the past, that have left you feeling like a failure when it stopped working, that’s okay, let it, Tribole views that as an important step. Allowing hope to linger that a new better diet may be around the corner, will only prevent you from truly discovering Intuitive Eating.
  1. Honour Your Hunger
    Make sure to keep your body adequately fuelled with sufficient nutritious food. If you allow yourself to enter into a state of extreme hunger, your primal drive to overeat will override any intentions of controlled, conscious eating. Learning to honour your physical hunger cues is the first step to rebuilding your trust with yourself and food.
  1. Make Peace with Food
    It’s a no brainer; if you restrict a certain food intensely, you will crave it intensely. Resulting in most probably binge eating that certain food, and a wave of emotions related to guilt and self-hatred. Tribole instead advises to call a truce and stop the food fight. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat.
  1. Challenge the Food Police
    The food police are not the media, your friends, or work colleagues. The food police are your thoughts, telling you certain foods or behaviours are good or bad. This generally stems from the unreasonable rules that dieting has created, and its time to challenge these thoughts and not allow them into your head.
  1. Respect Your Fullness
    So not only is observing and honouring your hunger extremely important, so is observing your fullness. In the beginning, this may be a difficult step, but with time it does get easier. It is important to eat until you are comfortably full, not uncomfortably full. Start listening to the body cues telling you you are no longer hungry. You may need to take a short pause in the middle of your meal, observe what you are eating, the tastes in the meal, and check-in with your hunger level, to see how much more you need to eat (you don’t always have to finish what’s on your plate).
  1. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
    The Japanese, as well as the Italians, are really good at this; the simple art of promoting pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our efforts to be thin and healthy, we tend to overlook the element of pleasure and satisfaction in eating. When you begin to eat what you want (and not what you have been told to eat), in a pleasing environment, you will derive such pleasure, that is a driving force to feeling content and happier. By creating this conducive environment, you will find that it takes a lot less food to satisfy you.
  1. Honour your Feelings Without Using Food
    It is important to start disconnecting food and emotions. Sadness, boredom, loneliness, anxiety and anger are all normal emotions that we experience in life. Each have their own triggers, as well as their own appeasements, but it’s important to note that food won’t fix these feelings. It may offer short term relief, almost like a numbing effect, but it won’t last, and it definitely won’t solve the problem, if anything, it makes you feel worse. Start finding ways to comfort, nurture, distract and resolve your issues without using food. This can range from taking a walk, meditating, journaling, reading or calling a friend.
  1. Respect Your Body
    You know how it goes, if you don’t respect or love your body, how can you expect others to? The same applies with how can you expect yourself to make proactive choices to nourish and look after your body, if you don’t respect it. Everybody is different, our genetic makeup is different, our bodies don’t look the same, no one set way is ideal, and the sooner you start to accept your body, and respect it, the sooner you will be able to achieve a healthier physical and mental state. Instead of criticizing your body for how it looks, and what you may think is wrong with it, view it as capable, strong and beautiful just as it is.
  1. Exercise – Feel the Difference
    Quit thinking about exercise as a calorie-burning tool for weight loss, and instead begin to look at it by how it makes you feel. Do you feel more energized, more content, more positive? If you only view it as a weight-loss tool, it simply will not be a consistent motivator for you. Also, do exercises that you enjoy doing!
  1. Honour Your Health – Gentle Nutrition
    This step focuses on making food choices that honour your health and taste buds, while also making you feel good. It aims to stop the mentality that you have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy and instead focuses on food patterns and consistency. One bad snack, meal, or day won’t affect your overall health, consistent regular patterns will. ‘It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts’.

So if all of this resonates with you, and you want to take control of your health and relationship with food by implementing IE, then what’s the first step to getting started? First of all, it’s important to note, that this doesn’t take away from specialized diets that are very much needed for people with chronic diseases or conditions. This is for otherwise healthy individuals, wanting to improve their relationship with food, weight and health. If this is you, and you want to start implementing IE principles, start with addressing your hunger, and increasing your awareness of physical hunger and emotional hunger. Ditch any previous diet mentalities, and figure out what your main ‘food police’ snags are, that need addressing. Start small, and one step at a time. Keep learning from the professionals, there are many dietitians who apply this approach to their practice, and other experts in the field you can follow.

Here are my top recommendations for Insta accounts to follow: @evelyntribole (one of the originals), @no.more.guilt, and @dylanmurphy.rd. Should you be interested in online counselling, Bloom Bride can walk you through this, and help you on your journey to food freedom and health. 

Aimee, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on IE with us today.
We are big advocates for loving your body and are so keen to learn more about how we can implement IE in our every day lives. 

If you would like to get in touch with Aimee, click here. 

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