Intuitive eating - it’s a phrase that is getting a lot of attention on social media in the era of body positivity and the emerging anti-diet culture. It’s often recommended for developing a healthier relationship with food, but finding success can be somewhat elusive.
Intuitive eating is the process of harmonizing your mind, your body, and the food you eat, strengthening the relationship between all three parts and learning to use nutrition to meet your body’s needs without judgment or guilt. So, how do we put these abstract ideas into action in everyday life?
It's important to mention that this is a mindset, not a diet. Rather than a set of “eat this, not that” rules to follow, it’s a paradigm shift in the way you approach eating. By learning to recognize and respond to your body’s natural hunger cues, you can put aside societal pressures and eat the foods that nourish your body and mind, protect against chronic disease, and help you look and feel your best.
The key characteristics of intuitive eating are listening to your body’s hunger and satiety cues, eating for physical needs rather than emotional needs, and attaching no guilt or needless limitations to how much you eat. Put simply, it’s learning to eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and let go of the guilt you may carry about what or how much food you eat, keeping in mind that you’re eating because of those hunger cues, not in response to stress, anxiety, boredom, or other emotional triggers.
It’s not something that magically happens overnight, but it is something you can work on, one meal at a time. Over time, you’ll learn the rhythm of your body’s nutritional needs and feel more and more confident that you’re developing a strong mind-body connection and sustaining your body with food you eat.
We’ve compiled some simple tips to help you get started:
1. Listen to your body.
Before grabbing a snack or staring blankly at the fridge, ask yourself, “am I truly hungry, or is there another reason I’m looking for something to eat?” Likewise, if you’re hungry, don’t ignore that sensation just because you’re trying to hit a calorie goal or avoid overeating. Studies show that eating adequately when you’re hungry, rather than restricting yourself, makes you LESS likely to overeat! And if your body is telling you you’re full before you’ve cleared your plate, it’s okay to not finish your meal. Stop eating before you’re overly full and honor those signals.
2. Slow down and connect.
Sit down for your meals, and take time to express gratitude for the food in front of you and anyone who took part in growing, harvesting, or preparing it. Put electronic devices away and take time to enjoy every bite of your meal. Chew slowly and take in your food with all your senses - how does it taste and smell? How is the texture? Can you pick out the different seasonings and ingredients? This is a great exercise to do with children, or with anyone needing to mend their relationship with food. Slowing down will help you deeply enjoy your meal, and will give your body the time to send signals saying you’re full before you’ve overeaten.
3. Say goodbye to the dieting mindset.
Let go of the idea that foods are “good” or “bad”. Honor your body by refusing to restrict your calories or food intake significantly in order to fit in the box of what society considers “beautiful".” Instead, value your body for what it can do for you, and do things to support those efforts - mainly by fueling your body with nutritious foods that you enjoy, and finding ways to move and strengthen your body that bring you joy.
We’ll say it again - this isn’t an overnight transformation. But, by taking conscious steps to be more mindful of your eating habits, you can fuel your body and foster a healthier relationship with food that will serve you for years to come.
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