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What is Intuitive Eating?

Written by Heather Bray, RD

Intuitive Eating is an evidence based approach to eating that focuses on self-care and was created by two Registered Dietitians in 1995. Its framework is guided by 10 Intuitive Eating Principles that work in sync with one another to help you meet your physiological and psychological needs. The purpose of Intuitive Eating is to get individuals to eat and move in a way that honours their physical needs and establish a healthy relationship with food.

"Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought and was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Intuitive Eating is a weight-inclusive, evidence-based model with a validated assessment scale and over 100 studies to date." - Evelyn Tribole, 2019

Long-term dieting can cause people to have negative, even toxic relationships with food and their body. Restrictive eating, dieting rules and the constant pursuit of weight loss, can cause a person to lose touch with their physical needs. This is because when you apply external rules to eating, you inherently learn to ignore the inner wisdom that your body is naturally equipped with. Individuals can also lose touch with what they actually enjoy eating and spend more time fixated on food or negative food/body thoughts. Food can consume the majority of your thoughts if you’re in this negative cycle. Intuitive eating is basically the antidote to dieting.

I often hear people say, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works” or “I’ve done so many diets, I don’t even know how to eat anymore!”. This is where Intuitive Eating comes in. It helps you relearn what hunger and fullness feels like, how to honour your body's needs with balanced nutrition and movement, how to retrain your brain from years of dieting rules and beliefs and how to positively cope with emotions instead of turning to food.

Every day we are bombarded with images and messages on different diets [for the purpose of weight loss] and the ever-perpetuated “thin ideal”. In the Western world that we live in, we’re taught that health = thinness and that if you are of a certain body type you are not “healthy”. What we do know is that health is multifaceted. There are so many factors that contribute to health and some of which have nothing to do with food or our bodies*. Your overall health has more to do with your behaviours and mental wellbeing than the way your body looks or how “clean” you have been eating (which by the way is a word I would NEVER recommend using to describe your diet, it’s elitist and not descriptive).

*See Social Determinant of Health for more info

Intuitive Eating has been associated with:

  • Improved diet quality [1]

  • Improved glycemic control in those with type 2 diabetes [2]

  • Higher fruit and vegetable intake [3]

  • Better psychological health and lower disordered eating behaviours [4]

  • Higher levels of Omega-3 intake [5]

  • Improved blood lipid and blood pressure levels [6] (although these findings haven’t been consistent across all studies)

Can I lose weight with Intuitive Eating?

There is no yes or no answer to this question. The purpose of intuitive eating has nothing to do with weight. It is a weight-neutral approach to eating that is designed to help you meet your physical and psychological needs without using weight as a success metric. It neither celebrates nor shames weight gain or loss, weight is viewed as neutral.

Some bodies change with intuitive eating. For example, if you have been over restrictive with food and over-exercising for years, your body will most likely change to get to a point that it more naturally wants to be at. The same holds true with those who have been over-eating and under exercising. Our bodies are designed with a genetic blueprint. One of the biggest jobs that the body has is to establish homeostasis (equilibrium) which means that it works to get itself back where it "belongs" according to this genetic blueprint.

The thing is, there’s no guarantee that your body will change in any particular way or at all with intuitive eating, and that’s the whole point. The point is to operate from a place of self-care and let your body and your mental health be your guide.


What does Intuitive Eating mean to me?

To me, learning to honour my body with food and eating practices that both nourish my body and satisfy my appetite was liberating. Now, I eat when I’m hungry, and I stop when I’m full. I understand that all foods fit and I use neutral words to describe food (instead of “junk”, “cheat” or “bad”). I no longer spending hours fixated on what the next “cheat meal” will be and have let go of the guilt and the rules that come from dieting.

Intuitive Eating has allowed me to truly honour my body, both physically and mentally

I work with clients who are trying to unlearn food rules from years of dieting and understand their physical and psychological needs with food and movement. This is hard work, but it is life-changing. Imagine how much more mental space you’d have for other things if food was not consuming most of your thoughts.

If we didn’t have a diet culture, intuitive eating wouldn’t have to exist. It would simply be eating. And that my friends, is what I’m here to help you with.

Questions? Let me know in the comments!

Want to work with me? Request a session now!

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