Most people feel frustrated with their weight and all the different diets and weight loss plans available. I know I am! Does an alternative exist? What about the program commonly referred to as the “anti-diet?” Dieticians and physicians — especially those that specialize in obesity medicine — are ditching keto, low-carb, Whole30, and calorie counting in favor of Intuitive Eating. What is it, and why is it gaining popularity?
My Many Failed Attempts
First, I have to confess my failures. I’ve tried Whole30, going vegan, ditching sugar and/or bread, only eating whole foods, and only eating healthy foods. Even with ample time invested and thousands of dollars spent, I either didn’t lose any weight, or the pounds returned.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating seeks to address that years of diet culture and internalized fatphobia have created disordered eating in many people regardless of their size. Losing weight and changing your body, rather than being healthy, is usually the goal. Meeting an arbitrary standard of beauty established by marketing firms has damaged our relationship with food. Even people who go to the gym every day, count their calories, run marathons, and do everything right often struggle with disordered eating and an obsession with food. Intuitive Eating, on the other hand, asks us to step back and recognize that food is morally neutral.
Because we carry shame about eating “unhealthy” food, we overcompensate and restrict ourselves to make up for when we “fail.” A negative cycle of restriction and overindulgence begins. What if we just enjoy our food, listen to our bodies, and stop eating when we meet our hunger cues? Intuitive Eating tries to help you reset your eating habits and relationship with food, first through forgiveness and acceptance of yourself, and then through developing respect for your body with a heightened ability to recognize its needs.
The Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating
- Reject the diet mentality. Diets lead to disordered eating and exist solely as a capitalist tool designed to make money. Research shows that 95% of people who lose weight while dieting will regain it within five years. That is called weight cycling, and it increases the risk of disease more than staying at a steady but heavy weight. Diets don’t work. They are unhealthy. They lead to a broken relationship with food. Give up the outdated idea that you have to be skinny to be healthy and ditch the diets.
- Honor your hunger. If you want to avoid overeating, it is crucial to listen to your body's hunger cues. If you ignore them or put them off, your primal biological need for food will overtake your ability to make healthy choices, leading to overeating.
- Make peace with food. If you feel guilty for eating a cinnamon roll, challenge that guilt. Remove shame from eating and you will be in a much better place to make healthy choices based on your actual cravings rather than what you feel is the right choice.
- Challenge the food police. Push back against thoughts and comments about certain foods being good or bad. Food is morally neutral. When you notice these thoughts, you can recognize your emotional triggers and shame around food. Call out others who make comments that create shame around food or body size.
- Discover the satisfaction factor. If you can learn to enjoy your food without guilt and feel pleasure in eating, your body will be in a better position to tell you when you’ve had enough. How many times have you ignored that feeling of being full because you felt you had to eat everything on your plate as your parents insisted? That ingrained conversation is dulling your ability to listen to your internal cues.
- Feel your fullness. Listen to your body. If you feel full or the food isn’t tasting as good anymore, stop and question why you are still eating. What emotional reaction is happening? Why do you feel the need to eat past fullness?
- Analyze your feelings. Start listening to the feelings leading you to eat certain foods or quantities. Are you feeling bored? Lonely? Ashamed? Frustrated? Honor the validity of those emotions. Consider other ways to cope, but forgive yourself if food is the answer that day.
- Respect your body. Take time to consider why you want to lose weight. Is it because it would make you happy? Why would it do that? Are you trying to fit a beauty standard? Are you afraid people will think you are unhealthy? Do you think you will have better luck at dating if you lose weight? What is the reason you feel shame around your body? Your body has helped you through every difficult experience you’ve lived through, and you made it. Maybe it’s time to love your body for what it has provided, rather than waiting for it to look a certain way to feel good about yourself.
- Focus on movement. Exercising on a treadmill or lifting weights to lose weight is a difficult challenge for many. However, you may enjoy going on hikes in nature, joining a dance group, or swimming. Focus on activities that feel good in your body as it currently exists rather than exercising to change the body you have. That way, being active becomes your lifestyle, not your chore.
- Make gentle nutrition choices. Rather than setting goals to be 100% perfect, listen to your body and consider what sounds good when you get those hunger cues. Think through all your options, and favor the healthier ones if they will fulfill you both emotionally and physically. You may find you are craving a bowl of steamed veggies with chicken and rice more often than you would think.
My Experience with Intuitive Eating
I am still working on repairing my relationship with food. Since I have started analyzing my emotions as I eat, I have found some answers. I can now recognize the first time I ate in shame and embarrassment because of how I looked. I can pinpoint when that feeling of guilt turned into an actual eating disorder. I can feel when I am triggered, honor those emotions, and forgive myself for having them. I am slowly letting go of the idea that I can’t be happy right now in the body I have. I am trying to let go of shame and enjoy the food that makes me happy. As I slowly unlearn these negative emotions and fatphobia, a world of self-acceptance and enjoyment is blossoming before my eyes, and it’s beautiful to see.