If you are tired of battling food and your body

For many people, the experience of battling with food and their bodies is an all too familiar experience.

Whilst for some, this may become a serious eating disorder, for others, it is an enduring and ongoing problem that impacts negatively on self-esteem, self-confidence, and their capacity to enjoy and get the most from their lives. Intuitive Eating is a fresh approach to this age-old problem.

If you would like to find out more about Intuitive Eating and whether it might be of help to you, please contact the author of this article: Lucy Fowler MA, MSc, MBACP at lucyfowler187@hotmail.com. Alternatively, go to www.intuitiveeating.org for a list of qualified practitioners.

Lucy is a BACP Registered Integrative Psychotherapist and a HAES (Health at Every Size)-aligned Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor.

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based, weight-inclusive approach to healing your relationship with food and body. It was founded by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995 and consists of ten principles designed to help regain body attunement to hunger and fullness and to identify and overcome obstacles which might be disrupting this.

The intuitive eating process honours both physical and mental health and emphasises body autonomy and body acceptance. It is aligned with the Health at Every Size® movement, a philosophy which separates health from weight, celebrates body diversity and promotes equal treatment of, and respect for, all bodies.

Intuitive eating gently encourages individuals to reject the diet mentality and the concept of intentional weight loss, a failed paradigm which creates, rather than solves, health problems through resulting weight cycling, disordered eating and eating disorders. Dieting also compounds weight stigma which is so detrimental to health. An intuitive eating approach focuses on cultivating a more peaceful relationship with food, nourishing yourself with satisfying food without rules or shame, enjoying joyful movement and accepting your body as it settles in its resulting natural weight range.

The 10 Principles

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality: research has found intentional weight loss has 95-97% failure rate. Up to 2/3 of people regain more weight than they lost. 35% of dieters will progress to disordered eating, and almost half of these will go on to develop eating disorders. There is no scientifically proven way to lose weight and keep it off and weight cycling is much more harmful to health than staying at a relatively consistent one (regardless of what that is)
  2. Honour Your Hunger: Hunger is a communication of your physiological need to eat through a set of natural biological sensations. Diets encourage you to ignore your hunger, causing your body to fight back. To stop bingeing or feeling out of control with food, you need to eat enough food (carbs, protein, and fats) so that your body doesn’t have to fight back. It does this with intense food cravings (often for high energy sugar), increased taste sensation (designed to get you to eat more) and slowed metabolism (to prepare you for the next famine). These are all instinctive and smart responses to deprivation designed to keep you alive when you eat too little.
  3. Make Peace with Food: Stop the battle. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat anything you want to eat. If you know you can eat what you want, whenever you want, food loses its power, and you are unlikely to binge or feel out of control. Deprivation can be physical (restricting the amount or type of food, compensatory behaviours) or psychological (rules, shame, guilt, “last supper” thinking). This might seem like a scary concept and can sometimes require a leap of faith, and a period of eating more than you feel comfortable with, especially of foods you have previously restricted. Allow time for the pendulum to swing back to the middle: it will.
  4. Challenge the Food Police: What rules, thoughts or beliefs do you have about food? Do you “moralise” food (good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, clean/dirty, naughty etc)? Intuitive eating helps you to cultivate a non-judgmental stance on food. Food is just food; all food has nutritional value and a place in a “healthy” diet.
  5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor: What foods do you enjoy eating? Explore which foods you like to eat and what feels good. When you eat what you really want, in a way that you want to eat (environment matters!), you increase the pleasure of eating and in turn increase the satisfaction you derive from your food.
  6. Feel Your Fullness: Attuning to the signals your body sends you when you are eating can help you identify your fullness. Eating slowly, mindfully and without distraction can help this process. Your body needs to trust that it will be given enough food. It is then much easier to identify when you feel comfortably full and decide to stop eating.
  7. Cope with Your Feelings with Kindness: Emotional eating is normal and is not a problem to be overcome. It is a legitimate coping mechanism. Intuitive eating is not just “eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full”. Sometimes it is intuitive to eat for comfort rather than hunger. However, it can also be helpful to identify other coping mechanisms for managing emotions. You can still choose to eat whatever you want, whenever you want.
  8. Respect Your Body: Your body has a natural set weight-range, just as your eyes and shoe size is decided by your genetic blueprint. Trying to battle against to make your body smaller is painful, exhausting, and futile. Your body is your home for life, enabling you to work, play, rest and heal. Intuitive eating helps you to work on accepting your body as it is right now, in this moment, and appreciating it as a vessel which carries you – not as a determinant of your health, worth or moral value.
  9. Movement – Feel the Difference: Movement is good for your physical and mental health. This principle is about exploring a new relationship with movement that is routed in self-care rather than punishment, calorie burning and weight loss. Intuitive movement means working with your body to discover what feels possible and enjoyable and knowing when to rest. For some, exploring movement needs to come later in the journey, particularly if your relationship with exercise has been obsessive or disordered.
  10. Honour Your Health – Gentle Nutrition: Nutrition matters in terms of what you eat over time (not about one meal, one day, one holiday). Your physical health is mostly determined by factors that have nothing to do with what you eat – viz genetics, socioeconomic status, environment, mental health, sleep, relationships etc. However, when you have healed your relationship with food, it is possible to make food choices based on what feels best for your body and to allow for nutritional variety. Sometimes you might want to eat a salad and that is fine if it comes from an intuitive place, rather than a diet mentality one. Ultimately, the best thing for your health is to have a healthy relationship with food, rather than a “healthy diet”.

The principles are not “steps” and can be done in any order. However, principle 10 is usually explored last. Making choices about nutrition needs to come from a place of freedom, when you have let go of the pursuit of weight loss and are able to really attune to what your body wants and needs.

Is Intuitive Eating right for you? See if you identify with any of the below statements:

  • You are tired of battling with food and your body
  • You have spent time, money and energy on diets, exercise or other means of trying to shrink your body
  • You are stuck in a cycle of dieting and regaining weight
  • You find yourself bingeing on food
  • You feel trapped in restriction
  • You feel guilt and shame about the way that you eat or exercise
  • You struggle to accept your body
  • You feel frightened of the power that food has over you/ do not trust yourself to eat certain foods or have them in the house
  • You feel that you are missing out on your life due to the thoughts about food and body
  • You feel that if you don’t consciously try to maintain your weight (or lose it) you will gain weight
  • You want your body and weight to matter less

How does it work in practice?

Dietitians, therapists, and coaches may all have training in Intuitive Eating. Look for professionals who state that they are also anti-diet and/or HAES-aligned (the phrase “intuitive eating” has been co-opted by the diet industry as a method of weight loss, which is NOT what Intuitive Eating is about). You might want to work with a therapist, dietitian, or both in your journey, depending on your needs. Speaking to a professional on the phone first can help to work out the best way forward, allow you to ask questions and establish if this is right path for you. You might only need a small number of sessions or you might decide to do longer term work to support and reinforce your new relationship with food and with your body.

Lucy Fowler

January 2021

" Those who arrive at the end of the journey are not those who began. "
T S Eliot