If you’d like to stop dieting and start enjoy all foods without guilt, Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach that can help you.
I wrote a shorter version of this post for WebMD. Find me over there on the Food & Fitness Blog, where I post regularly.
Diets always sound doable on paper. But then come the rules. And the lists of off-limits foods. And the hunger pangs. And of course the internal struggle between wanting to perfectly stick to your plan and wanting to order dessert.
Go on enough diets, and food can eventually feel like the enemy. Wouldn’t it be nice to finally call a truce?
You can. In fact, a lot of people are. They’re rejecting traditional diets and making peace with food through an approach called Intuitive Eating. The approach was created more than 20 years ago by dietitians Eveyln Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. But it’s having a resurgence in popularity right now, and as a dietitian, I couldn’t be happier about that.
I respect people’s choices around food and their weight (read: Let’s Talk About Weight), and I’m by no means an expert on Intuitive Eating. Heck, making peace with food and my body is still firmly in the #goals category for me.
But Intuitive Eating promises a freedom–from punishing diets, from feelings of guilt around eating–that I wish for myself and for others. So when readers come to me with stories of endless dieting, I often point them to this approach.How Intuitive Eating can help you make peace with food
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is the practice of eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, and eating what you want.
Sounds simple enough, right? But if you’ve been dieting for most of your adult life (and possibly longer), you know that sounds downright radical – and incredibly freeing.
At the core of Intuitive Eating is trusting yourself to know what to eat and pay attention to your body, specifically, signals that you’re hungry and full.
It also requires a rejection of the diet mentality. No more thinking about foods as good and bad, no more avoiding foods you love because they’re “fattening”, and no more judging yourself for what (or how much) you eat.
Can you have whatever you want with Intuitive Eating?
Actually, yes. That’s the whole point: to eat what (and how much) your body wants.
But it’s not designed to be an unhealthy free-for-all. The practice encourages “gentle nutrition”, which involves making food choices that help your body feel good, while still allowing for foods that simply give you pleasure.
Do you lose weight with Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is NOT a weight loss plan. Everyone’s experiences are different, so it’s possible some people could lose weight. It’s also possible you may eat more at first when you finally allow yourself to have previously-banned foods.
But ultimately it’s meant to help you make peace with food and actually enjoy eating again without baggage.
In a study from Brigham Young University, people who scored high on an Intuitive Eating scale had less anxiety about food and got more enjoyment from eating (and interestingly, had lower BMIs) than those who scored lower.
Can kids do Intuitive Eating?
Kids are actually the original Intuitive Eaters! Think of a baby with a seemingly random feeding schedule, the toddler who plows through his breakfast one morning and picks at it the next, or the kid who begs for another cookie only to take one bite and declare that he’s done. That’s all Intuitive Eating.
But as parents, we interfere with this process when we require a certain number of bites, withhold dessert as a punishment, or pressure them to eat more.
Letting your kids eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full (without interference) can help foster a healthy relationship with food that can last a lifetime.
It’s never too late to steer the ship back toward Intuitive Eating. Here are a few things to do:
- Let your child decide how much they’re going to eat. No more “three more bites of chicken before you can leave the table”.
- Avoid bribing, rewarding, or punishing with food.
- Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad”. Kids can feel like they’re bad if they want “bad” foods.
I’m intrigued. Now what?
If you want to know more, I highly recommend the book Intuitive Eating by dietitians Eveyln Tribole and Elyse Resch (they also wrote a workbook, The Intuitive Eating Workbook). They’re the co-creators of Intuitive Eating and the authorities in this approach.
Looking for one-on-one help with Intuitive Eating? You can find dietitians who have a focus in Intuitive Eating or are certified in Intuitive Eating. Here are some to follow online:
You can also go deeper with an online course called How to Eat. It’s a 7-module e-course from dietitian Kylie Mitchell. I’ve gone through this course myself and it’s incredibly helpful at reframing your thoughts around food and your body.
How to eat intuitively
Here are a few ways to get started with eating more intuitively:
Pay attention to your hunger and fullness. Intuitive Eating uses a “hunger discovery scale” of 1-10 (1 is empty, 10 is overstuffed to the point of feeling sick, and 5 is neither hungry nor full).
- Are you feeling pangs of hunger? Is your stomach rumbling? Give yourself permission to eat.
- Are you higher on the scale and simply bored, sad, or angry? Look for a way to cope with that emotion, like calling a friend.
Enjoy your food. Put down the phone and focus on your food (and ideally, eat in a nice environment, not at a cluttered desk or in front of the TV). Does your food look, smell, and taste good? Allow yourself to really savor something delicious. Then occasionally pause to check in: Are you still hungry? If so, keep eating. If not, stop before you’re uncomfortably full.
Stop diet talk. Check yourself when you start thinking of certain foods as “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “prohibited”. If there’s a food you’ve banned because of fat or calories, allow yourself to have it without judgement. That can feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s possible that your fixation of that food as “forbidden” is what’s made it so appealing. (read more about this: How to Legalize Food And Fire the Food Police). Knowing you can have the food whenever you want just might weaken that pull.
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tera set yourself up for success, think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps rather than one big drastic change. If you approach the changes gradually and with commitment, you will have a saine diet sooner than you think.
Simplify. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories or measuring portion sizes, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. This way it should be easier to make saine choices. Focus on finding foods you love and easy recipes that incorporate a few fresh ingredients. Gradually, your diet will become healthier and more delicious
Start slow and make changes to your eating vêtements over time. Trying to make your diet saine overnight isn’t realistic or smart. Changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up on your new eating plan. Make small steps, like adding a salad ( full of different color vegetables ) to your diet once a day or switching from butter to olive oil when cooking. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices to your diet.
Small Changes Matter. Every change you make to improve your diet matters. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a saine diet. The long term goal is to feel good, have more energy, and reduce the risk of cancer and disease. Don’t let your missteps derail you—every saine food choice you make counts.
Drink Water. Consider water as one of the central components to your diet. Water helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins, yet many people go through life dehydrated—causing tiredness, low energy, and headaches. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger, so staying well hydrated will also help you make healthier food choices.
People often think of healthy eating as an all or nothing proposition, but a key foundation for any saine diet is moderation. Despite what certain fad diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body.
Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits. ” When you ban certain foods or food groups, it is natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. If you are drawn towards sweet, salty, or unhealthy foods, start by reducing portion sizes and not eating them as often. Later you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently, particularly in restaurants. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entrée, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, use smaller plates, think about serving sizes in realistic terms, and start small. Visual cues can help with portion sizes—your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards. A teaspoon of oil or salad is about the size of a matchbook and your slice of bread should be the size of a CD case.
Healthy eating is about more than the food on your plate—it is also about how you think about food. Healthy eating habits can be learned and it is important to slow down and think about food as nourishment rather than just something to gulp down in between meetings or on the way to pick up the kids.
Eat with others whenever possible. Eating with other people has numerous social and emotional benefits—particularly for children—and allows you to model saine eating habits. Eating in front of the TV or computer often leads to mindless overeating.
Chew slowly. Take time to chew your food and enjoy mealtimes, savoring every queue. We tend to rush though our meals, forgetting to actually taste the flavors and feel the textures of our food. Reconnect with the joy of eating.
Listen to your body. Ask yourself if you are really hungry, or have a glass of water to see if you are thirsty instead of hungry. During a meal, stop eating before you feel full. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly.
Eat breakfast, and eat smaller meals throughout the day. A saine breakfast can jumpstart your metabolism, and eating small, saine meals throughout the day ( rather than the standard three grande meals ) keeps your energy up and your metabolism going.
Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a saine diet. They are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Try to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day and with every meal—the brighter the better. Colorful, deeply colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—and different colors provide different benefits, so eat a variety. Aim for a minimum of five portions each day.
Greens. Branch out beyond bright and dark green lettuce. Kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are just a few of the options—all packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
Sweet vegetables. Naturally sweet vegetables—such as corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, and squash—add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for other sweets.
Fruit. Fruit is a tasty, satisfying way to fill up on fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.
The antioxidants and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables help protect against certain genres of cancer and other diseases. And while advertisements abound for supplements promising to deliver the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables in pill or powder form, research suggests that it’s just not the same.
A daily regimen of nutritional supplements is not going to have the same effet of eating right. That’s because the benefits of fruits and vegetables don’t come from a single vitamin or an isolated antioxidant.
The health benefits of fruits and vegetables come from numerous vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals sérieux together synergistically. They can’t be broken down into the sum of their parts or replicated in pill form.
Choose healthy carbohydrates and fiber sources, especially whole céréales, for long lasting energy. In addition to being delicious and satisfying, whole grains are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Studies have shown people who eat more whole grains tend to have a healthier heart.
Healthy carbs ( sometimes known as good carbs ) include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel full longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable.
Unhealthy carbs ( or bad carbs ) are foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. Unhealthy carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy.
Include a variety of whole grains in your healthy diet, including whole wheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and barley. Experiment with different grains to find your favorites.
Make sure you’re really getting whole céréales. Be aware that the words stone-ground, multi-grain, 100% wheat, or bran can be deceptive. Look for the words “whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” at the beginning of the ingredient list. In the U. S., check for the Whole Grain Stamps that distinguish between partial whole grain and cent pour cent whole grain.
Try mixing grains as a first step to switching to whole grains. If whole céréales like brown rice and whole wheat pasta don’t sound good at first, start by mixing what you normally use with the whole grains. You can gradually increase the whole grain to cent pour cent.
Avoid refined foods such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals that are not whole grain.
Good sources of healthy fat are needed to nourish your brain, heart, and cells, as well as your hair, skin, and nails. Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA are particularly important and can reduce cardiovascular disease, improve your mood, and help prevent dementia.
Monounsaturated fats, from plant oils like canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil, as well as avocados, nuts ( like almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans ), and seeds ( such as pumpkin, sesame ). Polyunsaturated fats, including Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and some cold water fish oil supplements. Other sources of polyunsaturated fats are unheated sunflower, corn, soybean, flaxseed oils, and walnuts.
Protein gives us the energy to get up and go—and keep going. Protein in food is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the body’s basic building blocks for growth and energy, and essential for maintaining cells, tissues, and organs. A lack of protein in our diet can slow growth, reduce force mass, lower immunity, and weaken the heart and respiratory system. Protein is particularly important for children, whose bodies are growing and changing daily.
Try different types of protein. Whether or not you are a vegetarian, trying different protein sources—such as beans, nuts, seeds, peas, tofu, and soy products—will open up new possibilités for saine mealtimes. Beans : Black beans, navy beans, garbanzos, and lentils are good options. Nuts : Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans are great choices. Soy products : Try tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and veggie burgers for a change.
Downsize your portions of protein. Many people in the West eat too much protein. Try to move away from protein being the center of your meal. Focus on equal servings of protein, whole céréales, and vegetables. Focus on quality sources of protein, like fresh fish, chicken or turkey, tofu, eggs, beans, or nuts. When you are having meat, chicken, or turkey, buy meat that is free of hormones and antibiotics.
Calcium is one of the key nutrients that your body needs in order to stay strong and saine. It is an essential building block for lifelong bone health in both men and women, as well as many other important functions. You and your bones will benefit from eating plenty of calcium-rich foods, limiting foods that deplete your body’s calcium stores, and getting your daily dose of magnesium and vitamins D and K—nutrients that help calcium do its travail. Recommended calcium levels are 1000 mg per day, 1200 mg if you are over 50 years old. Take a vitamin D and calcium supplement if you don’t get enough of these nutrients from your diet.
Dairy : Dairy products are rich in calcium in a form that is easily digested and absorbed by the body. Sources include milk, yogurt, and cheese. Vegetables and greens : Many vegetables, especially leafy green ones, are rich sources of calcium. Try turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, celery, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, summer squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and crimini mushrooms. Beans : For another rich source of calcium, try black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, white beans, black-eyed peas, or baked beans.
If you succeed in planning your diet around fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and good fats, you may find yourself naturally cutting back on foods that can get in the way of your saine diet—sugar and salt.
Sugar causes energy ups and downs and can add to health and weight problems. Unfortunately, reducing the amount of candy, cakes, and encas we eat is only part of the solution. Often you may not even be aware of the amount of sugar you’re consuming each day. Large amounts of added sugar can be hidden in foods such as bread, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, fast food, soy sauce, and ketchup. Here are some tips : Avoid sugary drinks. One 12-oz soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it, more than the daily recommended limit ! Try sparkling water with lemon or a splash of fruit juice. Eat naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or natural peanut butter to satisfy your sweet tooth.