In the midst of the wellness extravaganza that’s taken over modern society it’s nearly impossible to navigate the plethora of diet trends and health fads that seemingly pop up daily. Between ketogenic eating and paleo diets, there’s apparently a healthy (albeit restrictive) meal plan that promises to deliver the best mind and body of your life. But juggling all these fads can do quite a number on you mentally and physically — not to mention warp how you view food. The latest wellness trend, Intuitive Eating, features principles and guidelines that aim to get you off the hamster wheel that is dieting … for good.
Now, to be clear, some of these elimination diets can be quite effective in battling serious health issues or allergies. But, if your motives mainly revolve around living a healthy and happy lifestyle, consider going the mindful route and trusting your gut (literally). “The main premise of Intuitive Eating is that our body instinctively knows how to nourish itself and maintain a healthy weight,” says Dr. Jamie Long, Licensed Clinical Psychologist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale. “That becoming more connected to our biological hunger and fullness cues is a far more effective way to attain health, rather than follow a strict diet.”
Long goes on to explain that the concept of Intuitive Eating, as simplistic and natural as it may seem, was pioneered by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who authored the 1995 best-selling book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. “[In the book] they outline 10 principles of intuitive eating, such as rejecting the diet mentality and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.” For reference, the other principles include: make peace with food, challenge the food police, feel your fullness, discover the satisfaction factor, cope with your emotions without using food, respect your body, joyful movement, and honor your health with gentle nutrition.
Now, like most health trends and eating plans, the concept of Intuitive Eating is not without its flaws and criticisms. There are definitely those who rightfully challenge the notion and who it caters to. In a recent Bustle article on the topic, Katie Nunziato, a case manager at the nonprofit Community Access brought up the disconnect from a socio-economic perspective, saying, “The first thing that comes to mind is for people who live in lower-income households. Because when you’re living with food insecurity, how can I tell you that you can eat whatever you want if you can’t even afford to eat whatever you want?”
Another argument raised claims that Intuitive Eating isn’t as inclusive as it may appear. Caroline Dooner author of The F*ck It Diet, explained to Bustle in the aforementioned article: “Intuitive Eating IS EASIER emotionally for naturally smaller people, because they do not have to go up against cultural body ideals the same way. We all have to re-examine the way we relate to our bodies, but people who are naturally thin or even medium-sized — people with thin privilege — don't have to deal with weight stigma the same way.”
While these arguments are absolutely valid and should be taken into account when analyzing Intuitive Eating as a movement, the principle of loving and honoring your body is certainly a noble one. For the sake of argument, let’s say you chose to jump on the bandwagon and give it a whirl. What exactly does this approach to food look like? Is it an indulgent free-for-all?
In addition to the 10 principles outlined in Tribole and Resch's book, nutritionists and health pros sound off on things to keep in mind when adopting Intuitive Eating habits. Consider the tips ahead a crash course, if you will, on the mindful method. (Oh, and always consult a doctor about any diet and eating changes to make sure you’re giving your body what it needs to be healthy and functional.)
Tip #1: Reject Food Labels
"Part of becoming an intuitive eater is challenging diet thoughts and rules, which would include labeling foods or [viewing] eating as indulgent," says Nicole Mareno, PhD, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and owner of Nurture Consulting, LLC. "Learning to make peace with food involves allowing yourself to eat foods that you once considered forbidden without guilt. True food peace is possible when you allow yourself to eat what you want in an amount that satisfies you. When foods are considered indulgent or forbidden the risk of overeating or binge eating increases."
Tip #2: Listen To Your Body
"At its core, [Intuitive Eating] is reestablishing the hunger and fullness signals you were born with, but that gradually faded once you began eating for other reasons (schedule, celebrations, emotions etc.)," says Kimberly Arnold, Registered Dietitian and owner of Enlitened Nutrition, LLC. "The first step is to learn to listen without judgement. This often requires a level of acceptance of where you are now. Identifying the food rules you have been living with is also key as they can make you second guess your body’s signals. Mindful eating is also important in the process as it allows you to connect with the experience, acknowledging how it tastes and whether or not you truly enjoyed it."
Tip #3: Stay Off The Scale
According to Joanna Foley, registered dietician and nutritionist, one of the common misconceptions about Intuitive Eating is that it's designed for weight loss. "While it is associated with a number of health benefits including a healthy weight, weight loss is not the primary focus," says Foley. "People who begin to eat intuitively may lose weight, or they may not. Yet the mental freedom that they will experience as a result of the mindset shift and the newfound respect and knowledge they will gain about their body is unmatched."
Tip #4 Don't Limit Yourself
The beauty of Intuitive Eating is that there are no off-limits foods. "The principles of Intuitive Eating include the idea that all food can fit," says Arnold. "Unless you have a medical reason or just do not like a particular food, avoidance is based on a ‘food rule’ or the idea that certain foods are ‘good’ or ‘bad. In Intuitive Eating, we don’t label food or eating as ‘good/bad’, ‘should/shouldn’t’, ‘can/can’t’ etc."
Tip #5: But, Don't Overdo It
While Intuitive Eating allows for indulgence and treats sans guilt or stress, Long insists it's not a pass to overload on unhealthy habits. "A common myth is that Intuitive Eating paves the way for indulgent eating," says Long. "Intuitive Eating isn’t about stuffing yourself with any and everything. It’s about respecting your body with gentle nutrition and trusting your hunger and fullness cues. Intuitive eaters give themselves permission to eat a wide variety of food — some packed with nutrients, others packed with flavor."
Krista King, functional and integrative dietitian, says avoiding overindulging is just as aligned with the Intuitive Eating mission as rejecting the diet mentality. "It's about feeling good in your body and you wouldn't feel good if you ate that way all of the time," says King. "So it's a balancing of learning nutrition basics of what foods support my body and make me feel good while giving myself full permission to eat any food without rules or restrictions. You learn how to eat in a way that satisfies you, with the principles of honoring your hunger, feeling your fullness, and discovering the satisfaction factor." As complex as this new lifestyle may seem, King insists it isn't a new skill. "It's a coming home to what has always been within. We are born intuitive eaters and we learn to disconnect from that voice within."