Amid all of the talk about health and wellness, you may have come upon the term “intuitive eating.” Instead of restricting particular food groups, intuitive eating rejects the notion of diets altogether. Its goal is to help people build a better relationship with food and, in the process, with themselves.
“Intuitive eating is about being in tune with your physical hunger and nourishing yourself,” says Sayde Beeler, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Henry Ford Health. “Food is not good or bad. You shouldn’t have to make decisions about what to eat based upon popular vote or the trend of the moment. Instead, notice how different foods make you feel, and eat the foods that make you—personally—feel energized, nourished, and happy. Intuitive eating is giving yourself permission to eat without the negative thoughts or belief that you might have learned in diet culture.”
If you’re on a specific diet as prescribed by your doctor for health reasons, you should continue to follow it. Every individual is different, and intuitive eating acknowledges that. It allows everyone to adopt an eating style that best fits his or her needs. “Many people have negative associations with food that stem from childhood,” says Beeler. “It may take time to dismantle that way of thinking, shift your mindset and retrain your brain.”
Here, Beeler shares the tenants of intuitive eating:
- Eat what your body is telling you to eat. If you’re craving fresh veggies, slice them up and make a delicious salad. If you’re craving something more substantial, go for a grilled chicken sandwich. If you want a cookie after dinner, have a cookie. If you’re craving sweet fruit, cut up a watermelon. Start listening to your body—it will tell you what it needs.
- Know that food isn’t a reward or a punishment. Having negative associations with food can promote unhealthy eating habits. “Stop categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘forbidden,’” Beeler says. “If you know you can eat something at any time, you probably won’t feel the need to overindulge. When people are on calorie-restrictive diets, they often gain weight, but by adapting an intuitive eating mindset, they might lose a few pounds.”
- Acknowledge hunger cues. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Sounds easy enough, but oftentimes, we try to ignore feelings of hunger, or, on the flip side, we keep eating when our stomachs are full. “Let your body tell you what it needs, when it needs it,” Beeler says. “We’re hungrier some days than others. It’s okay.”
- Enjoy your food. The first few bites of any food provides the most pleasure. Slow down and pay attention to the texture, scent, and flavor of what you’re eating, as it will feel more satisfying and you’ll probably eat less of it, too. “If you eat it from a restrictive mindset, you might not even notice the pleasure you get from it,” says Beeler. “It’s about eating mindfully.”
- Use exercise to understand and appreciate your body. “Instead of merely exercising to burn calories, or as a punishment for eating, notice how your body feels when you engage in different movements,” Beeler says. “Don’t try to whittle your body into a different shape, but respect it and be proud of what it can do for you.”
- Understand what makes you prone to overeating or under eating. “Sometimes people use food as a coping mechanism for an underlying emotional problem,” says Beeler. Talk to a therapist, write in a journal, open up to a friend—these are all helpful, constructive ways to deal with and process difficult emotions. “Focusing on self-care and tending to your physical and mental health is really what intuitive eating is about,” Beeler says.
To find a doctor or registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Sayde Beeler, MSW, RDN, specializes in nutrition counseling and health coaching at Henry Ford Health's Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.