What does Intuitive Eating mean to you? (July 2016)
As a Nutrition Therapist who is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor the topic of “what does intuitive eating mean to you?” has been a popular topic of discussion with many of my clients.
The premise of Intuitive Eating (IE) is centered on learning to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied. It is about choosing foods without guilt, shame or remorse. We encourage clients to eat with flexibility, variety, and adaptability depending on the circumstances in which they find themselves. In other words, as nutrition therapists we promote learning how to “go with the flow” regarding food intake habits.
A misunderstanding that has developed among a number of clients who are trying to embrace this dietary approach is that IE denotes a “free for all.” They erroneously believe that being permitted to choose whatever they want, including some foods that traditionally have been thought of as forbidden, gives them license to satisfy hunger by eating, for example, donuts for all meals during the day. I have discovered that such a choice might be made not only because they are afraid those foods will be taken away but also because they are the foods that are actually craved. Surprisingly enough, they also believe that energy they acquire from donuts and diet sodas is the same as that from chicken, zucchini and rice. (Such is actually not the case, but that would be a topic for another discussion.) When they learn how to legalize their perceived-forbidden foods it becomes a natural tendency to include “play foods” (a much less threatening term than “forbidden foods”) in their diets while slowly and effectively transforming some of those cravings into foods with nutritional benefits. Remember…it is not uncommon to crave pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Such a craving becomes stronger when the person believes s/he must be deprived of pizza and never eat it again. Intuitive Eating helps a person control that craving while s/he acclimates to being satisfied by other choices made for the personal eating experience.
Some clients are prone to fall into food jags or eating the same food over and over for many meals very close together. Jags can be characterized by eating pizza for a number of meals, then moving on to bagels all the time, then a period of time where protein foods are all that is consumed. Like cravings, jags can be brought one due to the fear that a specific food may not be available in a food plan.
Many of my clients focus so much on weight loss, that they lose the benefit of IE, which is to embrace patterns that lead to a feeling of well-being. What I underscore with them is that the focus should be on becoming satisfied with their eating experiences. When they combine being satisfied with their food, using fullness to signal the end of eating, and incorporating some of the “fun foods” in their eating habits, they are likely to reach the goal of feeling more energetic and healthier.
Discussions with my clients include learning how to be mindful and competent eaters. They are guided into learning how to honor their food choices without feeling that deprivation must occur. We look at how to create food-intake balance while constantly performing self-checks for moods, cravings, appetites, hunger and fullness and the impact these things have on food choices. The bottom line is that we all need the same thing: to learn how to be connected to ourselves and eat with our own best interests in mind.
The important part to remember is that it is ok to give yourself unconditional permission to eat what and when you want by using your body’s time clock, not that of your family or friends. Food should not be labelled as positive, negative, or forbidden. There is no question that this can be a long journey often requiring the support of an appropriately trained registered dietitian, but the benefits of Intuitive Eating can be very rewarding because not only does it lead to being freed from chronic dieting or being obsessed with food but it also is a wonderful way to get in touch with yourself.
Resch, Elyse and Evelyn Tribole. Intuitive Eating. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.