As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, I am asked about this process quite often. I thought I would take this opportunity to share more about intuitive eating and some of my experiences with it. The concept of intuitive eating was originally developed Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND. You can find the latest workbook they produced under the resources section of my website. I do recommend any of their books! The latest workbook provides exercises designed to help you to find inner peace and satisfaction with eating, your weight and body. Additionally, this approach allows you to stay attuned with what your body needs and settle at its natural weight while realizing this is different for everyone.
We come into this world with the natural ability to eat intuitively. Think about it— babies eat when hungry, stop when full, and feeding is rather simple. This changes for many reasons and intuitive eating becomes more challenging.
- Instead of being encouraged to listen to and honor our bodies, we are bombarded with diets
- Food Rules, and restrictions about food
- Busy, hectic lives cause us to eat on the run or when we catch a breath
- Schedules often dictate the times we eat rather than internal hunger cues
- School schedules are a great example of this. My children start school at 7:30 am. My son eats lunch before 11:00 am while my daughter eats close to 1:00pm. By the time they reached elementary school they were told when to eat, when snacks were allowed, and how long they had to eat. While this format is necessary to keep the ship sailing smoothly, it does make responding to hunger cues difficult.
By practicing the 10 principles of intuitive eating, you can find peace and trust again with food and your body.
- Reject the Diet Mentality
The first principle of intuitive eating is to ditch the diets and stop believing the messages society sends out with “easy” solutions. There is no quick fix, yet Americans spend more than $60 Billion dollars per year on weight loss programs. If a program really worked, we would not see programs developed year after year! Research does not support dieting because it forces you to ignore and deny signals that your body naturally sends you. It is not a sustainable practice, so scrap anything that is trying to dictate the way you should eat. Additionally, diets have a 95% failure rate. Why put yourself through something that has such little success. Would you do anything else in life with such a high failure rate?
- Intuitive Eating- Honor Your Hunger
What happens when you ignore something that you want? Do you stop thinking about it? More often than not, you probably think about it more. I see a lot of clients that are on this dieting continuum where one minute they are counting calories, monitoring their intake until their bodies cannot take it anymore. Ultimately, cravings kick in, overeating or binge eating may occur. The weight that may have been lost comes back and often brings more with it. Hunger cues are a biological signal that we need energy (which comes in the form of calories).
If you go too long without eating, your body will:
- Reach a hunger point where you can no longer decipher when you are full, often resulting in overeating and/or
- You reach a point where you cannot recognize hunger cues and may eat for emotional reasons
- The diet is no longer sustainable
- Make Peace with Food
I hear that this is one of the hardest parts about intuitive eating. “You want me to eat that!”. People often place labels on food or their eating habits. I hear things like “I did so good this week” or “I ate something that was bad”. When we remove labels from food we can begin to allow ourselves permission to eat. Give yourself permission to eat anything that your body wants. When foods are “off-limits”, feelings of deprivation can lead to uncontrollable cravings. Allow yourself to eat all foods, and you may be surprised how much less often you actually want those ‘forbidden’ foods. This may be one of the more challenging steps. I hear things like if I really let myself eat that, I will not be able to stop. Truthfully, the more you allow yourself a balanced diet and remove the labels, you will be less likely to overeat or reach a point where you cannot stop from eating something. This can be a scary phase, but it is fun to realize that there are many foods you may like but have avoided due to your fears.
- Challenge the Food Police
Intuitive eating calls you to challenge the voice that tells you some foods are good while others are bad. The voices in your head trying to make you feel “good” or “bad” for your actions around food are guilt-provoking lies that don’t belong. Chase away the food police so that you can learn to eat intuitively again. When you start to hear that negative voice creep in and tell you that a certain food is off-limits, immediately catch that thought and reframe it with the truth- that by allowing yourself to eat formerly forbidden foods, you will continue to eat in moderation and you will reach peace with your body, food, and be satisfied with your eating habits. Be aware of where the food police is coming from. Are you hearing the negative comments from social media, friends, family, work? Tune out the places that are not supporting your journey to health.
- Respect Your Fullness
If you are trying to learn intuitive eating, you most likely do not really know what being full feels like. You may be used to the diet circle or may have a history of using food to soothe your emotions. Food has a lot of meaning to us all. Practice eating a meal and stopping at different points. What does it feel like? Can you tell a difference at the points you stop and stay attuned with your body’s signals? Being comfortably full often occurs when you do not really taste the food anymore. Have you ever eaten something and realize you are not tasting the last few bites? This is a time to pause, reflect on your feelings, and how your body feels.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Do you really know what you like to eat? Guess what! Intuitive Eating lets you discover what you like and also what you may not enjoy. I am not referring to the foods you think you should eat, but foods you enjoy. It is not uncommon for me to ask a client what he/she likes to eat and receive a blank look. When you have been dieting; or limiting yourself to certain foods for a long time, it can be difficult to really know what you enjoy. Taste preferences also change over the course of your life. Try new foods without judgement. See what you like.
If it is easier to do this in the presence of supportive friends or your therapist/dietitian, then do so. I eat with my clients quite frequently. The eating experience—eating the food that you want, appreciating the taste and texture, and being in a pleasing environment—should bring pleasure. Understanding what feels good and what doesn’t is the key to feeling satisfied and being able to move on after a meal.
- Honor Your Feelings without Food with Intuitive Eating
One challenge in restoring a healthy relationship with food/mind and body is that food does soothe emotions; however, it is not a healthy way to do so. It ultimately will cause distress, health consequences, and can lead to an eating disorder. Food is not a lasting solution to fix the way you are feeling, to reduce stress or anxiety, or alleviate loneliness. It is important to realize that it is ok and perfectly normal to experience feelings, despite what you may have been told in the past. By attempting to numb your feelings, you are dealing with your emotions and acknowledging them for what they are. The first step is to realize that it is ok to experience feelings. After you have done this, be prepared with healthy coping skills when the urge to use food strikes. I encourage clients to write them down and carry the list around. Use skills early and not when you are already turning to food.
- Respect Your Body
We were made to be different. When working with adolescents, I may show an enlarged growth chart to demonstrate realistic expectations. If a teenager has always been on the 75% that is most likely where he/she is meant to be; however, another teen in the same peer group may have always fallen on the 10%. Each is healthy and where their bodies function optimally. The same holds true for adults. Our natural weight is where we feel good, have less anxiety and thoughts about food, and fewer thoughts about dieting. Feeling good in the body you were genetically meant to have will enable you to reject the diet mentality. Do you need to get rid of clothes that fit when you were dieting; and it is not realistic to wear now or what about those college clothes from twenty years ago? Who are you comparing yourself to? One good way to respect your body is to focus on all that your body allows you to accomplish. Create a gratitude list for your body. Thank your body for getting you where you are today. Practicing these steps will take you one step forward in being confident about yourself. is required to be able to reject the diet mentality. Accept what you’ve been given and feel confident about who you are.
Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, but the focus needs to be on the difference you feel in your body rather than the calorie burning effect. Moving your body on a regular basis in a way that is sustainable and enjoyable will allow you to experience the benefits of exercise such as a better mood and a strengthened cardiovascular system while leading to greater success with intuitive eating. If you are hitting the gym to see the calorie burn on your watch or to burn calories so that you can eat; you are missing the purpose of exercise. It should be fun, sustainable, and something that is not going to risk an injury. If you struggle with over-exercising or even if you have yet to begin this process, think about activities you enjoy. What did you do as a kid? You can do something as simple as finding a neighbor to walk with. It’s about movement an being comfortable in your body—not the calories.
- Honor Your Health
Although intuitive eating promotes somewhat of an “eat what you want” mentality, it’s still important to care about good nutrition and make choices that will make you feel best. Use “gentle nutrition” to make choices that are both good for your health and satisfying for your taste buds. Balance is still important. Eat foods that promote health and wellness while saying NO to the diets.
Working with a dietitian can help guide you back to successfully identifying hunger and fullness cues, break free from the cycle of dieting, and learn to eat mindfully without feeling guilt. The journey to food freedom can be frustrating, so it’s important to focus on progress and not perfection. Look for a dietitian that is also a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and practices within the HAES philosophy.
Contact me for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am available for in-person appointments in Columbia, SC and Virtual Sessions.
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. IntuitiveEating.org. http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/. Accessed August 18, 2018.
Amy Helms, LMSW, MS, RD, LD, CLT
Hi! I’m Amy, the founder of New Hope Counseling and Wellness Center, LLC. I’m an experienced therapist and dietitian and I believe in the power of human connection and self-compassion to foster growth and powerful transformation. I have dedicated my career to counseling, supervising, and teaching in the field of nutrition, body image, intuitive eating, eating disorders, and food allergies. Please reach out if I can support you on your journey.