How to start Intuitive Eating: Your Expert Guide (Part 1)

Jun 7, 2021 | Intuitive Eating

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You’ve started hearing about Intuitive Eating and have done some research on it. You’re feeling ready to ditch dieting and go all-in on Intuitive Eating. Then you ask yourself, “Now what?”

Getting stuck, trying to figure out where to start something new can quickly ensure that you never actually start. Intuitive Eating’s 10 Principles may seem overwhelming when you’re trying to decide where to start. My clients often wonder, “Should I start with the first principle? Or, maybe number 3?”

After reading this article, you’ll know your perfect place to start.

Intuitive Eating Definition

Although Intuitive Eating sounds simple, it is far more than just “eat when you’re hungry” and “stop when you’re full.” Intuitive eating is a multifaceted approach that blends eating, self-care, and body respect.

Intuitive Eating is like yoga – you can work through a series of poses, and, as you continue to work the poses, you learn more about the pose, about yourself, and about your body. And some days, yoga can feel more fluid than others. With Intuitive Eating, you can work through the 10 Principles multiple times and go deeper, gaining more understanding each time.

The definition of Intuitive Eating from the IntuitiveEating.org website is:

“Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought and was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Intuitive Eating is a weight-inclusive, evidence-based model with a validated assessment scale and over 100 studies to date.”

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Before we launch into starting Intuitive Eating, you may enjoy a quick overview of what the 10 Principles are. This way you’ll have a framework as you think about your preferred starting point.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating help you focus on becoming attuned to your body so that physical, physiological, and biological needs can be met. All of this means that rather than relying on outside rules for what to eat and when to eat, you tune into your body and what it is asking for.

You also get to choose how you want to move your body and focus on ways that feel good vs. feeling like you have to do a grueling workout and beat yourself up every day – unless you want to (because let’s admit it – sometimes there is nothing like a good high-intensity workout to get the stress out).

The Principles also help you become aware of things outside of yourself that influence your eating and relationship with your body so that you can press the mute button on them and focus on becoming attuned to what is right for you and your body.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating are:

Reject the Diet Mentality

Diet mentality holds that there is an ideal way to look – thinner – and that those who do not meet this ideal are morally objectionable. There are two parts to diet mentality – what is in your head and what is in society (AKA Diet Culture).

The Diet Mentality and Diet Culture manifest when you:

  • Find yourself wanting to lose weight
  • Start looking for the next diet
  • Label foods “good” or “bad”
  • Label yourself “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods
  • Know your body is hungry and you decide to drink a glass of water instead of eating
  • Beat yourself up for “emotional eating”
  • See someone in a smaller body and thinking that that person must be a “good person”
  • See someone in a larger body and thinking that person must be a “bad person” who has no willpower

Rejecting the diet mentality means:

  1. Accepting that diets don’t work, and they never will
  2. Becoming aware of all of the ways that diet mentality and diet culture influences you and your thoughts and working to change those thoughts and behaviors

Honor Your Hunger

Dieting and Diet Culture have taught you that you can’t trust your body’s hunger signals. They’ve said that when you feel hungry, wait a bit and see if you are still hungry. Or, to drink a glass of water rather than eat because maybe you’re really thirsty (before I became a non-diet dietitian, I told clients this – cringe!).

Honoring your hunger is getting back in touch with your body’s hunger signals. What does it feel like to be slightly hungry? What about hungry? And, ravenous? It isn’t just about how the hunger feels in your stomach but also about how it feels in other parts of your body like your head. Once you learn what hunger feels like for you, you can then respond to it. Intuitive eating makes space for that small pause to connect with your body – and your hunger – before making a decision about what is best for you, in that particular moment.

Make Peace with Food

Making peace with food involves getting rid of all of the food rules you have, moral judgments about food, and food restrictions. Through dieting, we develop rules about foods – “carbs make me fat”, “I can’t eat after 6 PM.” The examples could go on and on.

Moral judgments about food are when you label foods as “good” or “bad.” Food restriction is when you don’t have a certain food in the house because you can’t “trust” yourself around it. Then, when you have the chance to eat it, you go overboard. The cycle of overeating is driven by restriction. Restrict -> overeat -> restrict -> overeat over, and over, and over.

Learning that food is just food seems simple, but it is a huge challenge for a lot of people, and it is something I’ve helped many clients work through.

Challenge the Food Police

Do you have that voice in your head that says, “DON’T EAT THAT!” when you reach for your favorite food? That is one example of the Food Police. The Food Police is the enforcer of the food rules. It is also the voice that dishes out the guilt.

You may also have some external Food Police – those people in your life who “try to be helpful” and tell you what to eat, what not to eat, what workouts to do, or even “You’d look so much better if you just lost some weight.” Sigh. These are the “concern trolls” or “frenemies” in your life.

Learning to challenge both the internal and external Food Police takes time, patience, and skill. One example of challenging the food police might be at a family gathering and your aunt, you know the one, starts to talk about the latest diet she is on. Instead of allowing that conversation to continue, you say “Good to know” and change the subject. If that doesn’t work, you always have the option of excusing yourself and leaving the discussion (nothing like a quick trip to the bathroom to take a few deep breaths).

Respect Your Fullness

Respecting your fullness seems easy – right? However, we can choose to get over-full by eating too much. Stopping eating can be so darn hard! Like honoring your hunger, respecting your fullness is about learning what full feels like for you. Then, making a choice when you eat about whether or not you want to go beyond fullness.

In our hectic modern life, we are often eating while distracted and doing other things. Intuitive eating allows for you to have the space to be fully present when you’re eating. This helps you to actually notice how the food tastes and whether you like it or not.

Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Dieting and Diet Culture tells us that food shouldn’t be enjoyed. Best example – rice cakes! Rice cakes are a cruel joke that dieting tells us we should enjoy. Really?!?!?

Then, the food industry comes out with all the pictures showing REAL cake, cookies, ice cream, ooey-gooey chocolate lava cake saying, “Come on. . . you deserve it!”

These opposing messages are confusing. They lead us down the restriction/over-eating path. Why not just relax and embrace the idea that it is ok for food to be enjoyable and satisfying? And, you get to choose what “satisfying” means to you.

Honor Your Feelings without Using Food

“Emotional Eating” is another development of dieting and Diet Culture. They created the label “emotional eating”. Again, when you eat “emotionally” you don’t feel good about it. There is usually regret, and shame involved as well as not feeling well physically a lot of times after eating for emotional reasons.

And, what foods do you go after when you’re engaging in “emotional eating”? For most of my clients, they go after foods they have restricted.

This principle works on learning to honor those feelings without using food. What does “honoring feelings” look like? Sometimes it just takes acknowledging the feeling. Sometimes the process is more complex.

Respect Your Body

You may not like your here-and-now body, but you can respect it. Respect means giving your body what it needs so that it can function well and is comfortable. For example, buying underwear that fits. Simple, right?

Having underwear and clothes that fit – that don’t pull, pinch, squeeze – helps you think about things other than the shape of your body. Your body can also move better and be more comfortable when the clothes you put on it fit.

This is the body you get to live in. Why not make a truce and stop trying to change it into something it may not be meant to be.

Movement – Feel the Difference

What would it be like to move in ways you enjoy? Notice – move vs. work out. You could go for a walk vs. a run (if you enjoy walking more than running). Maybe take up a new sport (pickleball anyone?).

You’re more likely to move in ways you enjoy vs. workouts that you don’t. And, you can work in moving through the day vs. a dedicated hour workout at the gym.

Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Finally, eat in ways that help your body function at its best. If you have a medical condition, eating to honor and improve that condition comes in with this Principle. If you don’t have a medical condition, then you can eat in ways that you know help you feel better and your body function at its best.

The ten Principles give you 10 choices of where to start. What surprised me when I learning about IE is that even though the principles have a numerical order, there isn’t a “right” order to work through them. You’re the navigator!

How to start Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating is a journey. Just like any other journey, it begins when you take the first step.

How do you decide where to take your first step? It can feel like a big decision and even a bit scary. And, that’s ok! You’re getting outside of your comfort zone and trying a new approach that offers you more peace and space in your head once you don’t have to think about food and eating all the time.

When you look through the 10 Principles ask yourself:

  • Is there one that you are drawn to?
  • Is there one (or more) that is scary?
  • Is there one that feels right?

There isn’t a “right” Principle to start with. My clients choose the one they feel the most drawn to start working on. Which one draws your attention the most? Start with that one. The others will always be there for you.

Here are ways to take small steps to start each Principle. You can choose one and start, or make one of your own up.

Reject the Diet Mentality

Why try this one? Seeing how many thoughts you have that are diet-related can help you understand how deeply ingrained it is in your psyche.

Try this: Start noticing all the places dieting and diet thoughts come into your mind. You can just stop and “mark” the thought by saying “that’s a diet-related thought.” Or, you could journal.

Honor Your Hunger

Why try this one? You’ll learn if what hunger feels like to you in your body.

Try this: Before you eat, do a body scan from your toes to the top of your head asking if you feel any hunger-related sensations in that part of your body.

Challenge the Food Police

Why try this one? You’ll learn about the food rules you have developed and may not be aware of.

Try This: When the Food Police make a statement in your head, stop and ask “is that really true?” If you keep a journal, you could make a note of the different Food Police statements that come up.

Respect Your Fullness

Why try this one? Just like learning how hunger feels in your body, learning how fullness feels allows you to be aware of how fullness feels in the future.

Try This: When you stop eating, ask yourself how full you are. Then, do a body scan asking how fullness feels in the body parts from your toes to the top of your head.

Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Why try this one? Once you know what a satisfying meal looks like for you, you can think about how to include more of those things in your eating experiences.

Try This: Ask yourself, “what makes a meal satisfying?” Think about how a satisfying meal would be, how it feels in your body, who you would be with, what would the ambiance be like (loud, quiet, bright, etc.) Satisfaction can include all of your senses.

Honor Your Feelings without Using Food

Why try this one? Pausing, breathing, then making a decision can help you choose to eat or not. If you decide to eat, don’t guilt or shame yourself about it later. You can think through what you’d do differently next time.

Try This: When you feel like you’re about to do some “emotional eating” stop and ask yourself what you’re feeling. Then, take a deep breath and decide what you want to do.

Respect Your Body

Why try this one? Having less clothing that doesn’t fit or isn’t comfortable is a small step on the path to respecting your body. With the bonus, your body will feel better.

Try This: Find one piece of clothing that doesn’t fit or is uncomfortable and get it out of your closet (store it, give it away, donate it). Bonus: get one piece of clothing (including underwear) that does fit.

Movement – Feel the Difference

Why try this one? By trying different ways of moving you’ll find ways to move your body that you enjoy and look forward to doing.

Try This: Try a way of moving that you have enjoyed in the past – just for the fun of it! Maybe go for a walk without any destination in mind. Or, think back to something you did and enjoyed as a kid. Or, maybe there has been something new you’ve been wanting to try. Now’s your chance to try it out.

Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Why try this one? Sometimes we forget what feeling good feels like after we eat. You’ll develop a list of go-to foods for when you want to really feel good. If you did the bonus, then you’ll also have a new way to cook it.

Try This: Make a list of foods that your mind and body feel good after eating them. Then add one or two to a meal. Bonus: Find a new recipe with one of those foods.

The next step to becoming an Intuitive Eater

Now that you’ve chosen a starting point, what’s next? If you want to work on your own, getting the workbook and working through the exercises.

If you are excited to have the support and guidance of an Intuitive Eating expert, I’d be honored to be a part of your journey.  Your next step is to Click Here to set up a call with me. Can’t wait to meet you!

Key takeaways: How to Start Intuitive Eating

  • Even though the Principles are numbered from one to 10, there isn’t a “right” place to start. Choose the Principle that feels right to you.
  • Get the Intuitive Eating Workbook and start working through the Principle you chose.
  • If you want help working through it, set up a call with me.

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