By Gaby Burt-D’Agnillo, BSc
Reviewed by Andrea Miller MHSc, RD
Life is far from normal right now. As we adapt to the changes that come with a global pandemic, we may not interact with food the same. Maybe we’re eating more or less than we usually do. Maybe we feel as though we’re falling off track. Maybe we just aren’t following the routines we used to. Can you relate? You are not alone!
Today, we’re talking about intuitive eating and how you can eat with intention, even during a pandemic. Let’s review the principles of intuitive eating and learn how to navigate hunger and fullness cues by actively listening to your body.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is about creating a healthy relationship between mind, body, and food. It is not a diet or a food plan! The process of intuitive eating is a self-care eating practice that honours the body and its hunger signals to meet both physical and psychological needs. Intuitive eating is a weight-neutral model supported by a validated and evidence-based assessment scale. Research suggests that intuitive eating is linked to better psychological health (including self-esteem and body image) and weight maintenance.
Paying attention to both physical and emotional hunger allows you to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Physical hunger is driven by your biological needs – your body gives you signals, such as a growling stomach or fatigue, to indicate that you need to replenish your energy stores. Emotional hunger is driven by emotions, such as loneliness or boredom, that create a desire to eat. With intuitive eating, you let your internal cues of hunger and fullness guide your eating, not your emotions. This intuitive approach to eating is more sustainable than a traditional diet and, in turn, can promote a healthier attitude toward food and self image.
What are the Principles of Intuitive Eating?
The following principles were created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in 1995. You can read more about intuitive eating on their website.
- Reject the Diet Mentality. Diet culture tends to promote quick weight-loss solutions that are often restrictive and unrealistic. This can sometimes lead to body dissatisfaction, weight stigma, and poor psychological health. Intuitive eating does not revolve around a diet plan – it is the anti-diet. So, throw out the diet books and listen to your body!
- Honour Your Hunger. Learn to understand your early hunger cues and respond to them by feeding your body. Nourish yourself with adequate energy from a variety of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
- Make Peace with Food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Try to get rid of ideas about what you should and shouldn’t consume.
- Challenge the Food Police. Diet culture “rules” might tell you that certain foods are inherently good or bad. Ignoring these “rules” is a critical step toward intuitive eating. You are not good or bad for what you eat or don’t eat.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor. Find pleasure in the eating experience and let yourself enjoy the foods you really want. You may find it easier to recognize and adhere to your fullness cues when you create an environment that brings you happiness.
- Feel Your Fullness. Fullness (or satiety) cues will tell your body that it’s had enough food. Be mindful of these cues while you eat, and observe the signs that show you you’re comfortably full.
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness. Emotional eating is a strategy that helps us cope with strong feelings. This can bring us comfort, but it can also trigger loss of control and overeating behaviours. Instead of using food as a source of comfort, find other ways to manage your emotions that also address the root cause of those feelings.
- Respect Your Body. Recognize what your body can do for you and what you are capable of. Try not to criticize yourself for the imperfections that you see or perceive. All bodies deserve dignity no matter the shape or size!
- Movement – Feel the Difference. Find ways to get active that you enjoy and focus on how it feels to move your body. Think less about losing weight and more about the benefits of physical activity, such as increased energy and strength.
- Honour Your Health – Gentle Nutrition. Make food choices that prioritize your health and make you feel good. It’s your overall eating patterns that matter, not one snack or meal or treat. You do not need to eat perfectly to be healthy!
How Can I Eat Intuitively During a Pandemic?
If you feel hungry, eat! Be sure to choose foods that make you feel good and stop eating when you are satisfied. Here are some tips you can follow to eat intuitively during these uncertain times:
- Forget diet culture and food rules.
- Distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. Eat when you are physically hungry.
- Create a pleasurable eating environment.
- Eat and chew slowly. Take breaks between bites.
- Make conscious choices. Assess how you feel before, during, and after a meal.
- Get enough sleep.
- Get enough physical activity.
- Treat your body with respect and dignity.
- All foods fit a healthy lifestyle. Eat what you want. Moderation is key!
Ultimately, you are the expert of your own body. Intuitive eating does not impose guidelines or restrictions about what to eat or when. It allows you to trust your body and understand your biological hunger and fullness cues. Following a practice of intuitive eating can help build or repair your relationship with food, and improve your overall mental health and wellbeing.
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