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How intuitive eating can improve your relationship with food

January 26, 2022 • read

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How intuitive eating can improve your relationship with food

You’re bombarded with diet advice every day. From the media to grocery store labels to your family and friends, everyone seemingly has ideas about what your diet should be. All of this can leave you worrying more about what you “should” be eating rather than what you’d actually like to eat.

Intuitive eating aims to challenge the effects of diet culture. Its simple premise is that you are the one who’s best equipped to know what you should be eating. Here’s an intro to everything you need to know about intuitive eating.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is a lifestyle shift, not a diet. It’s based on the idea that you’re born knowing how to follow your body’s cues around food. As a child, you likely listened to your hunger cues and stopped eating when you were full. Over time, however, this intuitive eating is replaced through the influences of family and society.

Parents, for example, often worry that their little ones aren’t consuming enough vegetables, protein, or food in general. This comes from a place of love, but regularly pushing a child to finish what’s on their plate or to eat “two more bites” can disrupt their ability to feel their physical cues.

Intuitive eating encourages you to reject societal pressures surrounding food and reestablish the link between your brain and your body so you can relearn how to eat naturally. It’s based on the following 10 principles of intuitive eating that are designed to change your relationship with food.


1. Reject diet mentality

This step is arguably the most difficult one to master for many people. It’s letting go of the idea that being thin will make you happier and healthier and that if you could only find the right diet, you’d finally get the body you want. Intuitive eating isn’t about weight loss. It’s about trusting your body to eat for enjoyment and health benefits.

2. Honour your hunger

Despite what crash diets and intermittent fasting may have you believe, hunger isn’t a sign of success. Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that it needs fuel. Ignore your feelings of hunger for too long and you run the risk of losing control and binge eating. Intuitive eating encourages you to pay attention to your body’s hunger cues — once you feel hungry, you should eat.

3. Make peace with food

Years of dieting can make it feel like food is your enemy, tempting you to eat it, just so you can feel guilty later. Intuitive eating challenges you to stop making value judgements about food. Chocolate isn’t “bad,” and kale isn’t “good,” they’re both just foods and one day of eating something isn’t going to change your body. This principle is about learning to eat all foods without guilt, shame, or the compulsion to exercise afterwards.

3. Challenge the “food police”

When it comes to lifestyle choices, dieting, and eating in general, many people find that their negative inner monologue is always on. For intuitive eating to be successful, you have to silence the inner voice that shames or praises you for eating certain foods. You’ll only be able to eat unselfconsciously once you divorce value judgments from your food.

4. Discover the satisfaction factor

Deriving satisfaction from your food may seem easy, but you don’t often do it. Think about scarfing down a bag of chips in front of the TV, or choosing the side salad when you really want the fries. This principle encourages you to start by thinking about what you really want to eat.

Next, sit down and eat slowly, resisting the urge to multitask during your meal. As you eat, engage your senses. Tune into the look, smell, taste, and feel of your food, and check-in with yourself. Become aware of your reaction to the food. Is it as delicious as you had imagined? If so, great. If you’re not actually enjoying it, don’t feel the need to finish it. While it’s not always possible to eat with a singular focus, you can try to make this habitual by choosing to eat what’s most appealing to you.

5. Feel your fullness

If you grew up having to clean your plate, knowing when you’re full can be a challenge. To regain this sense, start by tuning into your body while you eat. Limit distractions and slow down to give yourself the opportunity to approach fullness consciously.

And once you get to a place of satiety, stop, even if there’s still food left. Only you know when you’ve eaten enough.

6. Cope with your emotions with kindness

Food and feelings are often wrapped up with each other, also known as emotional eating. Food can be a way to cope with emotions — everything from hurt and loneliness to boredom. This can trigger guilt and shame, which often perpetuate more eating.

While it’s important to find support, know that comforting yourself through food doesn’t make you a bad person. If food is the only coping method in your toolbox for feelings, it can become destructive.

As you eat, ask yourself if you’re actually hungry, or if you’re eating as a way to distract or numb yourself. If you’re doing it to cover up big, difficult feelings, ask yourself what you need to feel better. Would therapy, journaling, or speaking with a loved one be more helpful? Until you address the root causes of your feelings, eating intuitively is out of reach.

7. Respect your body

Your body is a remarkable instrument — all you have to do is think of an action, and it’ll do it. Despite this, many people spend a huge amount of their lives wishing their body was different in certain ways. Societal messages about body image have an impact, leaving many longing to be taller, shorter, thinner, curvier, or any number of other things. This is an extremely unhealthy way of thinking and can even lead to eating disorders.

Part of intuitive eating is about realizing the impact of living in a culture that fetishizes thinness. This principle is about rejecting critical and impossible beauty standards to live happily in your own skin. You’re worthy of respect no matter what size or shape you are.

8. Exercise and feel the difference

Exercise is a crucial part of taking care of your health. With intuitive eating, the focus of exercise isn’t about weight loss, however. Instead, it’s about finding ways to move your body that feel good. Research shows that exercising increases cardiovascular health, strengthens your bones and muscles, promotes brain health, and can even improve your mood.

9. Honour your health with gentle nutrition

This last principle isn’t a sneaky way of incorporating dieting into intuitive eating. It’s a way to make you think about the patterns of food that you consume. Honouring your health with gentle nutrition means trying to eat a variety of foods and listening to your body’s hunger and satiety cues. Food should taste good, but it should also make you feel good.

10. Hunger and fullness cues – how to eat intuitively

If you’ve spent a long time on restrictive diets, you may have ignored your hunger for so long that you’ve forgotten what it feels like. Conversely, you may be so used to snacking that you rarely allow yourself to actually feel hungry. You may need some time to relearn what hunger and fullness feel like.

A good place to start is by eating without distractions. First, begin by putting away all electronics. Look at your food, smell it, give yourself an opportunity to imagine its taste and even crave it before taking a bite.

Chew each bite well, and slow down as you eat. Tuning into your body as you eat gives you the opportunity to really enjoy your food and notice when you’re starting to get full.

Is intuitive eating the same as mindful eating?

Mindful eating encourages you to be as present as possible while you eat. The idea is to focus your attention on the sensory experience of eating to better receive the signals your body is sending you. This will increase your physical enjoyment of the meal and keep you from overeating.

Intuitive eating incorporates aspects of mindful eating, but it’s about more than just the act of eating. Intuitive eating also asks you to think differently about the judgments you attach to food as well as your body.

Ways to create a healthy relationship with food

The circumstances in which you eat matter just as much as what you eat. Aim to have set meals with others — either by having family dinners or sharing lunch with a friend. If you’re eating alone, don’t do it in front of the TV or while you’re doing something else. Give yourself the opportunity to focus on the meal, and no matter what you choose to eat, enjoy it.

Intuitive eating aims to strip judgment away to help you reestablish a healthy relationship with food. Reject the value judgments attached to food and stop labelling it as good or bad.

If this all seems overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, help is available. A registered dietitian can help you navigate the limitless dietary choices out there. With your input, they can develop a nutrition plan based on your preferences and goals. Get in touch to book an appointment with one on Maple today.

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