‘Intuitive eating’ is rising in popularity as more people realise that restriction and diets just don’t work. It can be tricky to know where to start when weight loss diets are promoted everywhere, restrictive eating patterns are common and there’s misinformation about what intuitive eating is. If you’re interested in finding a better balance with food, here are four tips to help you get started with intuitive eating.
1. Break up with diet culture
Breaking up with diets is key to getting started with intuitive eating. That means not focusing on weight loss, despite some people promoting intuitive eating as a method for weight loss.
Why not focus on weight? Because a focus on weight is associated with future weight gain and disordered eating as well as perpetuating weight stigma. A weight loss focus is the reason why many people have an unhealthy relationship with food and their body. We know our lifestyle habits are more important than weight when it comes to health. Dropping a focus on weight creates more space and energy to focus on self-care habits and other, more important, things in life.
Instead of a weight focus, learn to listen to your body cues and let your body settle at its most natural weight. This will happen when you’re practicing self-care and honouring your hunger/fullness cues. This weight may or may not be the same as you are today, but the main point is: weight isn’t the focus.
Breaking up with diet culture also means getting rid of scales and other ‘dieter’s tools’, which are external cues rather than internal cues to guide behaviour.
2. Honour your hunger and fullness cues
Hunger is our body’s way of letting us know we need to eat. While it’s normal to feel some level of hunger during the day before meals, ignoring it until we are overly hungry means we’re not nourishing our body when it needs it. Comfortable fullness, as opposed to feeling very full, is our body’s signal we’ve had enough.
Rather than counting calories or macros, your hunger and fullness cues are reliable internal cues that let you know when and how much to eat. Using a hunger/fullness scale as a guide can help you learn to eat an amount that keeps you feeling satisfied and nourished. After a while, this will become more intuitive and you’ll do it without noticing.
3. Make your meals satisfying
Creating meals that are enjoyable is a key part of sustainable healthy eating patterns. While it’s trendy to cut out certain food groups (I’m talking about you, carbs!) the reality is most people enjoy variety and there is room for all food in a healthy diet. Think about what would complement your meal to make it enjoyable.
4. Include food you love in your diet without guilt
Feel out of control around a packet of biscuits or a bag of chippies? Restriction, deprivation and guilt are some of the key drivers of overeating.
Allowing yourself to eat the foods you love when you really feel like them helps reduce the drive to eat past physical comfort when you do have them. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s documented in research that deprivation leads to overeating.
Making peace with food and learning to include the foods you love without feeling guilt and fear is a process that takes time and trust and can be challenging. Working with an intuitive eating nutritionist can help you put this concept into place.
Becoming an intuitive eater is a process that takes time but is very rewarding. If you’d like to know more about it, this post talks more about the 10 concepts in intuitive eating.
Nicola Jackson is a NZ-registered nutritionist with a passion for helping people to develop a healthier relationship with food. Nicola’s blog Eat Well NZ tells you why you don’t need to quit foods, follow rules, or go to the extreme to be healthy. Her blog showcases a balanced approach to eating well, with plenty of healthy recipes and other tips on nutrition, fitness and wellness. You can also find Nicola on Facebook and Instagram.