Think about the last thing you ate. Then consider the mental gymnastics you may have done when choosing it: How many calories does it have? Is this a carb? Am I allowed to eat past 7 pm? Did I exercise long enough today to “earn” it?
For many of us, those kinds of questions dominate our thinking around food – instead of the two most basic ones: “Am I hungry?” and “What am I hungry for?”
Intuitive Eating is a practice around eating that brings you back to basics: eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, and eating what you want. Simple enough, but it feels radical if you’ve been dieting most of your life.
Intuitive Eating is trending right now, though it’s not a new concept. It was created by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch more than 20 years ago (their book, Intuitive Eating, remains the bible of the practice).
So if getting rid of your diet mentality (and its many rules) and coming to peace with food sounds like a nice change of pace, here are some ways to get started:
Tune into your hunger and fullness
We tend to use other measures – the time, a diet plan, the amount on our plate – to decide whether and how much to eat. With Intuitive Eating, you focus on your personal hunger level. The “Hunger Discovery Scale” has you rate your hunger from 1 (empty) to 10 (feeling sick) when making choices around eating.
Start to trust yourself around all foods
Many people say they can’t have certain foods because they worry they won’t feel in control around them. But deprivation often leads to craving those foods even more – and overeating them when given access. Eat formerly “forbidden” foods without any judgment. That may feel wrong at first, but chances are, those foods will lose their luster once you know you’re allowed to have them anytime.
Aim for satisfaction
Too many of us eat while looking at our phones, watching TV, or driving, so we don’t actually enjoy our food. When you’re satisfied by what you eat, you eat the amount that’s right for you in the moment. Start by picking one meal a day to savor your food in a pleasant environment. Sit at the table without distractions, eat slowly (putting down your fork periodically will help with this), and notice the aromas and flavor.
Practice “gentle nutrition”
No food is off-limits with Intuitive Eating, but achieving a healthy balance of different foods honors your health and helps you feel good. If you’ve ever craved salads and smoothies after a weekend of heavier holiday eating, you’ve experienced that healthy balance.
Be kind to yourself
Respecting your body is one of the principles of Intuitive Eating, and that means treating your body with dignity and meeting its needs. Feed yourself when you’re hungry, dress comfortably for the body you have now (not the one you think you should have), and replace negative self-talk with positive (instead of “my legs are fat”, tell yourself “my legs are strong”).
Explore more of Sally’s content on Uplevyl, where she speaks about clean eating, food labels, and body image baggage. Sally Kuzemchak is a registered dietitian and founder of Real Mom Nutrition, a no-judgment zone about feeding a family. You will find her wisdom and expertise on platforms like WebMD, Prevention, and Health and Family Circle.
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