Intuitive eating lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from dieting. It is a positive and compassionate approach to eating that is gaining in popularity. While some may think that it’s nothing more than the latest health food craze, it is actually a simple, science-backed approach to healthy eating. In fact, a growing number of serious studies have demonstrated the benefits of intuitive eating.
But what is it?
As we said at the outset, intuitive eating is not a diet. Rather, it’s a holistic approach that involves, among other things, recognizing and respecting signals of hunger and fullness sent by the body. The aim is to establish a healthy relationship with food by honouring your hunger and respecting fullness. Another important feature is that it values the pleasure of eating. Unlike a diet with many restrictions, intuitive eating promotes eating what you want when you are hungry, and putting down the fork once you’ve had enough.
Although not a diet, intuitive eating is regularly associated with weight loss or weight maintenance. It’s clear, then, that listening to the signals the body sends out on a daily basis helps prevent both small and large excesses.
Many of us are bombarded by triggers all day long, even at mealtime. If we are involved in something, such as watching TV, flicking through social media, or finalizing a file to send out between bites, chances are that we will be too distracted to pay attention to the first signs of having eaten enough. Instead, we’re more likely to finish the plate, box or bag of whatever we were eating, no matter the portion size or if we were even hungry.
How do you begin?
Getting into the swing of intuitive eating is easy. Start small and gradually incorporate the principles of intuitive eating into your daily routine.
- To begin, it’s important to understand your relationship with food. Asking yourself the right questions, then answering them honestly, will help you get to know yourself better. Do I eat because I’m hungry? Or because I’m stressed? How did I feel after a meal? Did I eat as much as I would have liked? These are the kinds of questions that can help you to shift towards intuitive eating and feel good physically and emotionally.
- Eat when you feel moderately hungry. If you put off snacking or a meal for too long, you run the risk of becoming hungry, and are more likely to overindulge. The body is a powerful machine with extraordinary mechanisms: through various means, it informs us when it needs food (stomach growling, difficulty concentrating, headaches or stomach aches) and when it has had enough. But we must listen to these signals.
- Limit distractions. It’s best to avoid watching TV and keep away from any other type of screen that could easily divert your attention when you’re eating. Take advantage of mealtimes to sit down at the table and chat with family or colleagues.
- Focus on the food you are eating. Enjoy the flavours, aromas and textures, then appreciate the people with whom you are sharing them. Savour every mouthful with pleasure and without guilt (ideally). Listen to your body when it signals that you are full. This awakening of the senses and awareness allows you to stay connected to your body and your environment, and to enjoy the moment to the fullest.
Say goodbye to guilt
As we all know, some foods are more nutritious, sweeter or fattier than others. That said, intuitive eating avoids categorizing foods as good or bad. In the spirit of intuitive eating, attaching such labels is counterproductive. This is because the approach, which is intended to be positive, is all-encompassing. It not only promotes better physical well-being, but also a better mental state. From this perspective, the guilt that can be felt by those who feel they have eaten a dish or food perceived as “bad” is totally unnecessary. Contrary to what we’re looking for, this guilt induces a negative relationship with food.
So if a fast-food trio or piece of chocolate cake is calling your name, go for it! You can eat it without overindulging; enjoy every bite!
Some people just can’t get away from the idea of restrictions; it may take time and effort to adjust your eating to include what you may have excluded before. Draw up a list of food that you consider “off-limits,” then gradually integrate them into your diet, taking the time to enjoy them.
What are the benefits?
Since the publication of the first book on intuitive eating in 1995, scientific interest in the subject has grown steadily. The effects that this approach can have on physical and mental health are therefore increasingly documented:
- Better nutrition (more fruits, vegetables and whole-grain cereals, more variety, better-sized portions)
- Reduced risk of overweight and obesity
- Lower body mass index
- Increased pleasure in eating
- Improved relationship with food (reduced psychological distress and anxiety about food)
- More positive body image
- Improved self-esteem
- Better lifestyle habits, more physical activity
The principles of intuitive eating are varied. Not everyone will adhere to all of them from the outset, but rather choose those that suit them best. Of course, the more you integrate the approach into your daily life, even gradually, the more beneficial the effects are likely to be.
The reasons for choosing intuitive eating vary from one person to another. Whatever the motivation, it’s important to remember that it’s a positive, compassionate approach. Not all principles will be mastered from day one. Small or large excesses may occur from time to time. Guilt and judgment may not disappear as quickly as we’d like, but whatever happens, there’s no need to blame yourself, get discouraged or put yourself down. Remember… positive and compassionate.