Have you heard about Intuitive Eating yet?

Written by Emily Leeming
June 18, 2019

The love of food is making a comeback. Fierce voices are defending the joys and pleasures of all things food from Ruby Tandoh’s ‘Eat Up!’ to the newly released ‘Just Eat It’ by nutritionist Laura Thomas PhD. It may not be a new heralding cry in the chef industry, but in the wellness space this renegade and anti-diet health movement called Intuitive Eating is setting clean-eating finally to flame and tingling your taste buds while it’s at it.

But what is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is a way of reconnecting with your inner body cues focusing on eating for satisfaction, fullness and with consideration for how food makes you truly feel. In Intuitive Eating there are no food rules, no inner thought police dictating what you ‘should’ eat or hating on yourself for indulging in something you felt you ‘shouldn’t’. It’s an approach that allows for all foods regardless of calories, sugar and fat content (yes, hello beautiful doughnuts). Intuitive Eating supports a positive relationship with food and your body as equally important as gentle nutrition. Sometimes the most healthiest thing you can do in that moment might just be savouring that freshly baked slice of Victoria sponge all the way to the last smudge of sweet icing and sticky strawberry jam. There’s no calorie counting and no cutting out sugar or gluten. 

They're just donuts after all. Photo by Elena Koycheva

Sound a bit woo? Or unhealthy? It’s not.

There are currently 91 research studies supporting the benefits of Intuitive Eating, and while more research needs to be done (as always) it’s an area that’s developing quickly. Benefits of Intuitive Eating include improved blood pressure and lipid levels, increased dietary variety, positive emotional functioning and improved body appreciation and satisfaction, amongst others. Once upon a time everyone was an Intuitive Eater. You were born an Intuitive Eater. As a toddler, you chose foods that you liked and you ate until you were full. It’s only when we grew up and continued to absorb the overwhelming amount of ‘do this’, ‘don’t do that’ that we lost our way and began to ignore our own biological wisdom.  We’ve been taught to distrust our hunger and to ignore urges for certain food types. From ‘I’ve already had lunch, I can’t be hungry’ to ‘I don’t eat sugar’ – there’s no quicker way to set yourself up to face-planting into a plate of cookies at the end of the day in an out-of-control frenzy. 

This guy gets it. Photo by Anton Darius

Why you won’t end up eating cookies all day

‘Oh, but if I ate intuitively I would live off chocolate and crisps all day!’ I hear you say. If you ate intuitively, it’s highly likely that you wouldn’t. Let’s think about this for a moment. You wake up for breakfast, and you have some chocolate and crisps. It probably tastes pretty great but you don’t feel that satisfied afterwards. Now imagine eating chocolate and crisps for lunch, snacks and dinner that day. That first exciting rush would dissipate pretty quickly, and you’d feel rubbish, tired and grumpy. One integral part of Intuitive Eating is interoceptive awareness, where you become more attuned to how your body feels. You tap into foods that make you feel great, energized and pretty darn happy. In Intuitive Eating choosing what to eat is really a three-pronged approach; what tastes good to you in that moment both physically and emotionally, what gives you that true post-meal deep satisfaction of fullness, and the ever important interoceptive awareness. It could be a fresh crunchy green salad one day and a cheeseburger the next.  The surprising truth is that for many it feels better to eat more nutrient-dense foods most of the time. 

Trust your body, eat intuitively. Photo by Joyce Romero

Let food be fun again

Allowing yourselves to eat all foods, whenever you want, stops you obsessing and lusting over for those that have previously been strictly off the menu. It’s the restriction of these foods that tags them as wildly exciting. Making them commonplace can neutralise your response - removing that forbidden-ness of certain foods usually means they’re no longer eaten in excess. Like a brand new car, the first drive is thrilling but if you keep driving it over time you start to only use it when you need and want to. 

Having some cheesecake does not mean you are one bite away from a health crisis. It’s what you eat in the big picture that counts over of the span of, say, a year rather than nit-picking on your day-to-day.  If you’re obsessing over that one bar of chocolate you had at 4pm, then my friend, you’re in too deep and you need to take a step back. We’re learning ever more about the impact of stress on our health, and the importance of supporting our emotional as well as our physiological well-being. Yes some foods are more nutrient dense than others, but all foods should be ‘morally’ equal. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. You are not ‘good’ for eating one type of food or ‘bad’ for eating another. Having a varied core diet is more important for disease prevention and longevity than not eating less nutritious foods. And who knows, shaking off your inner thought police and making peace with food and your body may be the best thing you ever do. It sure sounds more fun.

By Dietitian Nutritionist Emily Leeming.

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