Intuitive Eating Blog

6 Mar, 2024
Jennifer Low
Blog post on Intuitive Eating and how to reject diet mentality and tune into your body

Listening to your body – how to reject diet mentality and tune into your needs

There is so much on social media, and in the media about weight loss – it feels never ending so far this year.  And some of it is “disguised” as health and wellbeing, but it is still targeting people who want to lose weight.

This is the “diet culture” that we currently live in.  Our society is obsessed with losing weight and the notion that ‘thin is best’, even when a person does not have a medical reason to need to lose weight.

What if you don’t need to lose half a stone to become the best version of yourself?  What if we could be kind to our bodies and appreciate them for what they are, as opposed to what they look like? What if we could be anti diets and tune into our bodies instead?

We know from studies that around 80% of people who go on a diet end up putting the weight back on, and often end up weighing heavier than when they started.  And yet, instead of looking at dieting as the issue, people will blame themselves for having “no willpower”.

In fact dieting can slow your metabolism, so that when you come off a diet you have to eat a lot less to be able to maintain that new lower weight for a period of time afterwards, so in a sense you are set up to fail.

What is intuitive eating?

The Intuitive Eating Principals were developed by two registered Dietitians in America, who were disillusioned with giving clients meal plans, only for them to lose weight and then regain again once they stopped the plan.  

It is based on ten principals, which aim to shun dieting, promote body acceptance, whilst also allowing you to eat healthfully and move joyfully. 

They found that teaching people how to tune into their own internal cues of hunger, fullness and satisfaction, meant that they reached a weight that was healthy for them, and also helped to improve their relationship with food and their body image. 

The principals of intuitive eating:

  • Reject diet mentality: stop thinking that you need to be, or are on, a “diet”. Stop following people on social media who make you feel as though you should be dieting.  Realise that 80% of diets do not work.  Have a read of the Intuitive Eating book (below) to find out more about this. 
  • Honour your hunger: start to tune into your hunger signals. This does not mean eating only when you feel physical hunger pangs, but also acknowledging that you may sometimes eat for reasons other than hunger, and this is ok!
  • Make peace with food: allow all foods to be part of your life – eating a chocolate bar should feel the same emotionally as eating a piece of fruit. If you don’t allow yourself a food, and then eat it (because you are human!), you are likely to feel guilty
  • Challenge the “food police” inside your head: stop listening to the rules you have made yourself around food e.g you should exercise to earn your food, don’t eat after 7pm, you mustn’t eat carbs…and the list continues…
  • Feel your fullness: observe your body and stop eating when you feel comfortably full. 
  • Discover the satisfaction factor: try to choose foods you feel like eating, rather than choosing based on what you think is more healthy (this requires you to have given up the diet mentality and challenged the “food police” first!)
  • Cope with your emotions without using food: find ways to comfort and look after yourself without using food – either restrictively or for comfort. Eating/not eating does not fix or suppress your feelings for any length of time, and normally adds to feelings of failure and guilt.
  • Respect your body: treat your body kindly and meet your basic physiological needs. Your body deserves to be fed and deserves to be dressed comfortably
  • Exercise: focus on joyful movement and how it feels to move your body. Focus on the positives of exercise away from calorie burning
  • Honour your health with gentle nutrition: by relaxing the rules around food, and the associated guilt, people will generally choose a balanced healthy food intake, as it physically feels good. Allow yourself to eat healthfully (including all foods!) and look after your body.

The pros of intuitive eating:

  • It allows you to relax rules around eating and join in with social events
  • Encourages you to feel your feelings rather than using food to supress feelings, meaning you are likely to live a more authentic and whole-hearted life
  • Food is longer “good” or “bad”
  • Food no longer has the capacity to make you feel guilty or ashamed
  • Food and body shape is no longer a preoccupation, meaning you have more time and energy to give to the rest of life
  • For many, this is the first time they have enjoyed eating and exercise
  • Food and exercise are not supposed to be punishments – they can be, and should be, a joyful part of life.

The cons of intuitive eating:

  • It’s a very hard switch to make
  • Often we have learnt not to trust our bodies and minds, which means we’re very out of touch of listening to them
  • For some people, for example with eating disorders, this is not an appropriate first line treatment. People with eating disorders have often spent years ignoring their body’s signals, which means those signals cannot always be relied upon to begin with.  Also, feeling fullness is often very triggering for a person with an eating disorder and may actually make someone more ill.  However, in recovery, with help from health professionals, it may be a useful way to stay well.  Additionally some people are just unable to feel sensations in their body, for many different reasons, and so cannot tune into hunger and fullness signals.  
  • You won’t necessarily lose weight. That’s not to say you won’t.  But weight loss will no longer be your focus.  For many that is a very difficult part of intuitive eating to accept

At the end of the day, you really do know what you need to do to be the most healthy version of yourself – mentally, physically and emotionally – and it certainly does not involve fad diets and detoxes, and is much more likely to involve the principals of intuitive eating.   Be kind to yourself.

For more information on Intuitive Eating see “Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.  Or “Just Eat It” by Laura Thomas.

Jen Owner of JL Nutrition Clinic

Jennifer Low, Registered Dietitian, PgDip, MSc Nutrition, BSc Psychology