A Dietitian’s Prescription for Health, Wellness, and Improving your Relationship with Food
By Tianna Smith, MS, RD
“I had two cookies... I was really bad today.”
“Today is the last time I’m going to eat this fattening food.”
“If only I didn’t have to watch my weight, I could eat what I want.”
These are common statements I hear from clients, friends, family members, and even strangers on a regular basis. In our diet-obsessed, food abundant, fast-paced culture, eating can become a mindless, and often guilt-inducing experience rather than a time for enjoyment, nourishing our bodies, and connecting with others socially around consuming delicious food in moderation. Intuitive eating and mindfulness are concepts that I focus on with my clients to help them nutritionally and mentally by helping them develop a healthy relationship with food and their own bodies. In this post, I will explain the main takeaways of these important concepts in order to help you work towards living a life free from dieting, body obsession, and negative food beliefs and behaviors.
What is Intuitive Eating?
There are 10 principles of intuitive eating:
1. Reject the Diet Mentality – Ditch the diets that only end up making you feel hungry, deprived, and ultimately slow your metabolism resulting in even more weight gain over time. Intuitive eating encourages listening to your body’s wants and needs and truly providing it with foods that you actually enjoy. Food is meant to be ENJOYED, and what better way to enjoy food than to eat what actually sounds appetizing!
2. Honor Your Hunger – Listen and honor your hunger cues. Our bodies have these cues for an important reason..to tell us when to eat! I always encourage my clients to eat when they feel like they’re at about a 3 or 4 out of 10 on the hunger scale, meaning they are feeling somewhat hungry rather than ravenous and starving.
3. Make Peace with Food – Allow yourself to enjoy the foods that you love! Giving yourself unconditional permission to mindfully eat the foods you enjoy will actually decrease the desire to overeat those delicious foods later. I always say its better to eat 1-2 cookies a day rather than 5+ cookies in one sitting at the end of the week!
4. Challenge the Food Police – Learn to stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad”. Rather than demonizing certain foods, it’s important to focus more on eating until you’re satisfied and getting balance overall with your eating behaviors and patterns.
5. Respect Your Fullness – This principle goes hand-in-hand with principle #2. From my experience as a dietitian, very few people are actually in tune with their satiety (or fullness) cues and struggle to stop eating when they feel comfortably full. Most often it is best to stop eating when feeling satisfied to slightly or pleasantly full. If you are feeling very uncomfortable and sick after eating a meal then that is a good sign that you ate more than what your body physically needs in that moment.
6. Discover The Satisfaction Factor – Mindfulness is a major factor when feeling satisfied during the eating experience. Are you distracted while eating or sitting down and connecting with your body and the food you’re trying to enjoy during mealtime? Are you savoring the bite you’re consuming in the moment, or already looking forward to the next bite? Are you eating just to eat to satisfy our physical needs, or are you truly tasting the different flavors, textures, a temperature of the food you’re eating? Mealtime mindfulness is all about staying in the moment and being present during the eating experience and truly allowing yourself to enjoy every bite. When you do this, it is likely you will find that you may feel satisfied after eating half or three-quarters of your meal rather than cleaning your plate.
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food – Food is meant for nourishing your body and providing enjoyment, rather than something you turn to anytime you feel sad, stressed, uncomfortable, angry, bored, lonely, or anxious. Using other healthy coping skills when struggling emotionally is important. Food won’t fix the problem. Eating occasionally when you feel these emotions is normal, however, it shouldn’t always be your go-to to try to band-aid them.
8. Respect Your Body – Not every person who is 5’5” is going to weight 125 pounds! There are many different shapes and sizes in the world. One of my favorite quotes is by @nourishandeat: “If you have to restrict, purge, over-exercise, or punish yourself in order to stay there (or get there), your body is not meant to be at that weight.” It is important to learn to love and respect our bodies. I believe that being healthy involves listening to our bodies’ nutritional needs and consuming what sounds good in balance and moderation with ALL foods as well as engaging in enjoyable exercises or activities that allow us to move our bodies to feel good. If someone is doing these things, they will achieve health and their weight will settle at a point that is appropriate for them as an individual. Acceptance of living in a body that is appropriate for you as an individual is key when it comes to respecting your body.
9. Exercise – Feel the Difference – It is important that exercise doesn’t feel like a chore or something you HAVE to do. I often use the terms exercise and activities simultaneously because exercise doesn’t have to necessarily be going to the gym or running if that’s not what you enjoy. Hiking, rock climbing, dancing, and walks on the beach are other wonderful forms of activity that may be enjoyable and make you feel healthy and energized. Exercise should be something to look forward to in order to feel good, rather than just a means to burn more calories.
10. Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition – How you consistently eat over time is what is most important for our health. Eating a cupcake at a birthday party or having a slice of pizza or two on a Friday night does not mean you’ve “blown it” or are “bad”. It is healthy to use some moderate constraint on your food choices to ensure variety and balance, however, it should not be so restrictive that eating is no longer a pleasurable experience.
Intuitive eating is an exploratory process that expands with time and practice. It may take time to learn how to consciously gauge your hunger and satiety cues if being mindful of your body hasn’t been a part of your daily life. Learning to view foods at neutral may also take practice if your brain is used to always judging foods as “good” or “bad”. Similarly to beginning to practice yoga for the first time, you may feel awkward and “not good at” intuitive eating; however, by practicing these 10 principles daily, your intuitive eater will awaken over time. From my own personal experiences, being an intuitive eater has allowed me to develop the healthiest relationship with food and my body imaginable! Intuitive eating = Freedom!!!
If you’re interested in learning more about intuitive eating, I encourage you to check out the book “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works” by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A.