13 August 2019
An Introduction to Intuitive Eating
There’s a new kid on the healthy eating block, and it’s asking you to reject all diet culture and rely solely on your own intuition.
In the 80s, it was low-fat foods, then it was low-carb, and let’s not even get started on the much-critiqued rise of detox teas. More recently, plans such as keto, plant-based living and intermittent fasting have won legions of fans, with each movement having its own merits and pitfalls. Every time we blink it seems like there's a new food trend to keep up with, a new approach to eating that may be worth trying.
Now, there’s a new kid on the block, but it’s asking you to reject all of these and rely solely on your own intuition – fittingly, it’s called intuitive eating. As Pandora Paloma, an intuitive eating coach and Balance 2019 speaker puts it on her intuitive eating website, Rooted Living: “[It] allows you to become an expert of yourself, throwing away the rulebook and putting you in charge of your body and your food consumption.”
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating encourages the rejection of diet culture and structured eating, instead asking you to listen to your body’s hunger pangs and feelings of fullness, and to make peace with food, whether that's a sticky slice of carrot cake or a bowl of lentil soup. In doing so, it aims to provide a healthier, more holistic approach to nutrition and should naturally lead to consuming a more balanced diet.
Based in part on the idea that deprivation can lead to overeating and binging behaviours, intuitive eating also requires you to be conscious in your food choices, looking at what you're eating – or avoiding – and more importantly why you’re doing so at that particular moment, in a non-judgemental way. Breaking up with bad habits is crucial; not simply in a ‘don't give in to the 3pm snack drawer’ kind of way, but with regard to your thoughts too.
As Laura Thomas, a registered nutritionist and intuitive eating counsellor and author of Just Eat It explains: “So many of us feel guilt or anxiety about eating the ‘wrong’ things. We worry and beat ourselves up for that doughnut we had last week. Intuitive Eating helps break down arbitrary food rules and restrictions and external influences over what you can and can’t eat so you can focus on internal cues. It’s about relearning how to eat from the ground up!”
What are the benefits?
There's strong scientific evidence to suggest that intuitive eating can be beneficial for both body and mind. One review, published in the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which collated the results of numerous other studies, found that in general they had shown "positive results, demonstrating improvements in eating habits, lifestyle, and body image”, including helping individuals to “abandon unhealthy weight control behaviours, improve metabolic fitness, increase body satisfaction, and improve psychological distress” (1).
What are the pitfalls?
Although intuitive eating is undoubtedly a healthier and more nurturing approach to food than traditional diet culture allows, it can take a while to ‘unlearn’ previous behaviours, a shift that may be particularly challenging for individuals with a history of disordered eating or those who are used to feeling shame around eating certain foods.
In a similar way to body neutrality, which focuses on celebrating what the body can do rather than simply what it looks like, intuitive eating encourages us to eat according to our own bodies and our own lives, rather than what works for other people. And that’s got to be a good thing, right?
- Julie T. Schaefer, Amy B. Magnuson, A Review of Interventions that Promote Eating by Internal Cues, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Volume 114, Issue 5, 2014, Pages 734-760.