It’s time to ditch restrictive diets and get in control of your body with intuitive eating. Stephanie Dodier is a Clinical Nutritionist who specializes in helping women change their mindset towards food and learn how to eat intuitively. Intuitive eating focuses on rejecting the diet culture, and instead getting attuned to your own body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. Read on to learn more about the benefits of intuitive eating and how to start developing a healthy relationship towards food.
What does it mean to eat intuitively?
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to eating that empowers you to be in control of and the expert of your own body. Intuitive eating teaches you to have a healthy relationship with food. It empowers you to trust your ability to meet your own needs, distinguish between physical and emotional hunger, and ultimately develop body wisdom. And that’s why over 100 research studies prove that that eating intuitively is sustainable and results in improved health.
What are the Benefits of Intuitive Eating?
Anyone can benefit from intuitive eating, including those with health challenges. It can also help prevent certain health conditions. Let’s look at the specific benefits intuitive eating has to offer:
Improved Cholesterol Levels
Intuitive eaters have been found to have lower triglyceride levels, higher levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and lower cardiovascular risk. One of the possible reasons for the improved cardiovascular health of intuitive eaters is the improvement in the inflammation marker, C-reactive protein (CRP).
Lower Stress Levels
In my opinion, this is the most important benefit of eating intuitively. One of the most notable transformations demonstrated in studies that look into intuitive eating is with the psychological health indicators such as better body image and lower incidence of depression and anxiety.
Ditching the diet mentality and breaking free from the cycle of “getting on and off the wagon” will tremendously reduce your stress around food.
Intuitive eating increases your energy by creating a lot of mental space for you. By worrying less about eating, you have more head space to focus on other priorities in your life. Research also links intuitive eating with increased motivation to engage in regular physical activity. Women who say that they are internally motivated to eat are more likely to participate in physical activity for pleasure and to see themselves as physically active. In other words, when you eat intuitively, you’ll have more energy and you’ll want to move more. That leads to better health and greater productivity.
Improved Mental Health
One of the reasons why diets often fail is that they make you feel bad. Food restriction is associated with negative mood, decreased cognitive functioning, eating disorders, weight obsession, and body dissatisfaction. On the other hand, a study published on the Cambridge University Press website reveals that there is a substantial and consistent relationship between intuitive eating and improved mental health. If dieting has made you feel bad about yourself, eating intuitively will make you feel better and help you get into a better mental state.
Lower Eating Disorder Occurrence
Those who suffer from eating disorders either restrict food or overindulge. Intuitive eating resets and balances your eating habits. Researchers analyzed the eating habits of 2,287 young adults and found that the participants who followed their hunger and fullness cues were less likely to have eating disorder behaviors than those who didn’t. Your body instinctively knows what, when, and how much you should eat. When you eat intuitively, you trust your body’s wisdom to guide you. You can’t go wrong with that.
Improved Body Awareness
Your body has a way of giving subtle signals that are meant to guide you in making the best choices for your health. It also lets you know when you have a health problem coming up through the symptoms that you experience so you can take the appropriate steps to deal with the problem before it becomes a crisis.
Intuitive eating is based on interoception–the ability to feel the small sensations in the body such as hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues. Researchers have found that those who follow their internal eating cues are more sensitive to interoceptive signals.
This means that when you eat intuitively, you get more attuned to those body signals. This will help you with relationship to food and will enable you to make the right decisions for your overall health.
The diet culture promotes the “thin ideal.” It assumes that if you’re not thin enough and you don’t look a certain way, you’re broken and you need to be fixed. It also equates food restriction with moral virtue. It’s oppressive and can damage your self-esteem. In contrast, intuitive eating results in positive body image, better body satisfaction, and improved self-esteem. A positive body image and high self-esteem motivates you to make better choices concerning your health lead while relying less on willpower.
Increased Level of Happiness
As you can see, intuitive eating can benefit your mental and physical health, and scientific studies prove this. When you become both physically and mentally healthier, your quality of life improves. This translates to an increased level of happiness and contentment.
What Does an Intuitive Eater Eat in a Day?
There are no food restrictions in intuitive eating. In fact, intuitive eaters don’t label food as good or bad. They enjoy food and the experience of eating. They simply allow their body’s wisdom to guide them what and how much they should eat.
Can You Lose Weight By Eating Intuitively?
Intuitive eating may lead to weight loss or not. Your body’s response depends on a wide variety of factors including genetics and past dieting experiences. That said, a number of intuitive eating studies show that eating intuitively is associated with lower body mass index (BMI). Intuitive eaters are also generally more physically active. The main goal of intuitive eating isn’t really weight loss, but having a better relationship with food, which leads to better eating habits and improved health.
How to Start Eating Intuitively
So how do you stop dieting and start becoming an intuitive eater? Here are the five steps to beginning your intuitive eating journey and building a healthier relationship with food:
Step 1: Understand the diet culture and your power to choose.
What is the diet culture that I mentioned above? It’s defined as the worship of thinness and equating being thin to good health and moral virtue. If you’ve been part of this culture, you might have spent your whole life thinking that you’re broken just because you don’t look like the “thin ideal.”
Diet culture promotes weight loss as a means of attaining what it perceives to be a higher status—the thin ideal. It oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed pictures of health and attractiveness. It compels you to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though intuitive eating research clearly shows that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
Step 2: Reject the diet culture.
The good news is, you have the power to make the choice to be free from this oppressive culture and just say no.
Reclaim your power! When you decide to reject the diet culture, the first thing you need to do is to change your environment. Throw out the books, the magazines, the cookbooks, and the programs that support the diet culture.
Unfollow social media accounts that uphold dieting myths as well as those that promote food restriction and over-exercising. Ditto for those that use weight-loss lingo.
Follow new people. Read intuitive eating books. You can get started with these awesome reads: Intuitive Eating, by my mentor, Evelyn Triboli; Body Respect and Health at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon.
Step 3: Be present with your food.
Just before you eat, before you get into the act of putting food in your mouth, get rid of all the distractions. Turn off your phone or at least put it on silent mode. Turn off the TV. Don’t read. Give yourself at least 15 minutes to be fully present when you eat your meal.
Use your five senses to fully enjoy your food. Feast your eyes on the colors and shapes of your food. Take pleasure in the aroma and the texture. Savor the nuances of flavor. Enjoy the sounds of eating, especially when you’re eating something crispy or crunchy!
The outcome of being present with your food is satisfaction. One of the principles of intuitive eating is finding and seeking satisfaction and contentment with your food. When you feel satisfied and content, you’re not going to seek any more satisfaction from food until you’re truly physically hungry.
We did an entire podcast on mindful eating. I recommend that you listen to this episode that best describes how to eat mindfully. It’s super-helpful for those who want to learn to be more present when they eat.
Step 4: Shift from external eating cues to your body’s internal cues of hunger and fullness.
Honoring your hunger and respecting your fullness are two important tenets of intuitive eating. You have to get to know your body. You must be able to recognize the cues that your body sends to tell you that you need to eat as well as the cues that tell you that you’ve had enough food.
Dieting disconnects us with these cues because it says, “Don’t listen to your hunger and fullness. Follow these rules.” Those who have counted calories and macros know how this feels.
Now, intuitive eating is not simply eating when you’re hungry and then stopping when you’re full. That’s not all there is to it. It’s about reconnecting with your body so you can follow your internal cues.
Step 5: Seek satisfaction from food.
As I said earlier, when you are present with your food, one of the things that happens is that you start being content. You start to find joy in the experience of eating. To find that joy, you have to eat food that you like.
That means you shouldn’t categorize food as good or bad, because if the food you like to eat happens to be “bad,” that means you can’t have it and you’ll never feel content.
Now, here’s a little footnote on this: Whenever I talk about seeking satisfaction from food, I usually hear people say, “Well, if I eat whatever I want, I’m going to eat sugar all day,” or “I’m going to eat carbs all day,” or “I’m going to eat McDonald’s all day.” But that’s not the goal here.
With regard to intuitive eating, seeking satisfaction from food is not just about eating anything we want. It’s more about noticing how certain foods make us feel. If you’re attuned with your body, I guarantee you that you’re not going to feel good after eating sugar or fast food all day.
Being attuned to your body will help you make the right food choices. Your body has an inherent wisdom; it knows what’s good for you.
Ready to Get Started with Intuitive Eating?
If you want more information, tools, and guidance on intuitive eating, go to my website and listen to my intuitive eating podcast. I am also offering a free 5 day introductory intuitive eating course which includes short videos, and a guide. You can learn more here
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