What Is Intuitive Eating, Anyway?

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a sweet tooth; and for the first 20 years of my life, I shamed myself for it. Growing up, my parents were pretty concerned about “healthy eating” and rarely kept desserts in the house. My mom also often touted the many benefits of things like broccoli, almonds and green tea. As a kid, the scarcity of sweets in my life made my cravings for them all the more intense — any time I was at a party, I’d eat cookies until I was stuffed silly. If I baked cookies with my sister at home, we’d eat the whole batch. Halloween was like a dream come true, as I had unlimited access to my favorite things for more than just one day. (My candy-dream rarely lasted more than a week or two, however.)

As a teenager, I became a little more concerned about the size and shape of my body, and I started looking to food as a way to stay trim. I started avoiding sweets on my own accord, as they didn’t fit into my “healthy lifestyle.” I lost weight doing this for a while, but eventually the cravings started fighting back. My avoidance of desserts turned into binge eating them, along with a heft side dish of guilt. It was a lose-lose situation: if I avoided my favorite foods, I was miserable. If I ate them, I’d take on a “screw it” attitude and overeat them until I was miserable. Dieting made me miserable, and left me feeling completely out of control around food.

Finally, I made the decision to surrender my obsession with being thinner, my strict rules about “good and bad foods” and start eating like a normal person. I wanted to freedom I saw in my friends, who could eat pizza without thinking twice, and leave food on their plates — even dessert! My own relationship with food was completely dysfunctional, and in order to heal, I needed to give up dieting.

Intuitive eating is the antithesis of dieting.

  • While diets create numerous rules about food, intuitive eating has only one: there are no rules.
  • What to eat on a diet is determined by a schedule, and often involves counting something (calories, WW points, carbs.) Intuitive eating allows us to decide what, when, and how much to eat based off what our bodies are telling us.
  • Diets ignore hunger, satisfaction, and enjoyment of food. Intuitive eating embraces all of those things.
  • Diets create preoccupations with how we look, how much we weigh, and how much we exercise. Intuitive eating throws all that out the window and grants us freedom.

I personally discovered the process of intuitive eating on my own, and became an intuitive eater by the grace of God. Other professionals have also observed that the freedom of eating intuitively helps women find balance in their lives, emotionally as well as physically, and set out to define a systematic approach to cultivating a diet-free life, and two of them wrote a book about it. It’s called Intuitive Eating, and it’s a resource I highly recommend.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

So, what does this look like in practice? For me, it means…

  1. Surrendering the hope that a diet will make my life better. It means choosing not to pursue weight loss, cut entire food groups out of my diet, read diet magazines, or participate in extremist communities on Instagram (you know, those that glorify “Buddha bowls” as the ultimate of satisfaction, but which actually taste like grass…)
  2. Eating when I’m hungry for food, and not eating when I’m hungry for something else. It means not skipping a meal if I feel like I’ve eaten too much that day but have a rumbling tummy at night. It means choosing to eat breakfast even though I know I’ll still be hungry at lunch. It means being proactive about snacks so I don’t overeat at meals. It also means not stuffing away my feelings with a bag of chips (or chocolate chips.)
  3. Getting rid of my “good” and “bad” labels for food. Intuitive eating for me means seeing all carbs as equal, all proteins as important, and weighing cookies and kale as of equal importance in my life, even though they’re not of equal nutrition. It means enjoying an ice cream cone because it’s delicious and fun, and eating salad sometimes because it keeps my body feeling amazing.
  4. Ignoring the people who say otherwise. It means unfollowing Instagram “influencers” who post diet talk on their pages, and asking friends not to talk about their food rules. It means telling my brain to “knock it off” when I find myself fantasizing about being Paleo or Vegan or something else that’s unsustainable and unnecessary.
  5. Putting my fork down when I’m satisfied. The beautiful thing about intuitive eating is that I can eat the pizza again tomorrow if I want to. I don’t need to eat it all now because now is my only chance.
  6. Enjoying all the delicious things about my food. I hate cauliflower, so I don’t eat it. But broccoli done right is one of my favorite things! So, when I’m eating broccoli, or buttered toast, or breaded chicken, I’m full there — eyes, ears, mouth, and all. I turn off the TV, put down my phone, and bring my whole self to the table.
  7. Crying when I need to cry. Sometimes boredom feels like cravings, and sometimes sadness feels like the worst, so I open and close the pantry doors until I realize that food isn’t going to entertain me for more than 5 minutes, and I’ll still have an hour of work to do, and my friend still moved to Indiana. (Cookies won’t bring her back.)
  8. Buying jeans that jive with my genes. Instead of drooling over the “goal pants” that are two sizes too small or the thigh gap of whichever super model, I thank my sturdy legs for carrying me through life and buy clothes that make them look fabulous. Then, I throw away the fashion magazines.
  9. Moving my body in a way that feels good. Instead of counting miles or minutes or reps, I take long walks that leave me feeling rejuvenated, or run to feel alive. I do yoga to keep the aches and pains away and stay out of the weight room because frankly, I hate it in there. (If that’s your thing, keep it up. But I’m personally not a fan.)
  10. Eating a variety of foods. I feel crappy when I eat only kale, and I feel crappy when I eat only cookies. So, I try to fill my plate with lots of colorful, fresh favorites, and choose things that I know taste good, too. I pair carbs with protein to keep my blood sugar from dropping at 2 pm, and I include veggies in most of my meals because they make my tummy feel good. But I always say yes to the cookie if they will make my taste buds happy, except when I don’t because sometimes they won’t; and that’s cool, too.

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