If diets didn’t exist, intuitive eating would just be called ‘eating.’ God created our bodies to have the natural ability to thrive on its own.
But because diet culture does exist, we’ve normalized disordered eating behaviors. We allow external rules override our body’s natural ability. And so once we realize diet culture doesn’t serve us well, we have to unlearn it all.
What are the Signs of Disordered Eating?
First of all, it is important to understand what we’re really signing up for when we decide to go on a diet. Because disordered eating and chronic dieting have several signs and side-effects. According to a 2018 article from Cleveland Clinic, there are both emotional signs and physical signs. And those emotional signs sound a lot like what diet/lifestyle programs promote and encourage!
The emotional signs of disordered eating include:
- Preoccupation with food, calories, macros and/or Points.
- Focus on body image, body size/shape, a specific part of the body and/or weight. (Note the intentional phrasing here. It can equally be trying to noticeably lose weight and/or gain muscle.)
- Significant limitation of foods, restriction of whole categories of food, and only considering a small number of foods safe to eat. (e.g. removing dairy or gluten for fat loss; not medical reasons.)
- Performing specific food rituals (e.g. like weighing all food or intermittent fasting.)
- Withdrawing from social eating activities.
In other words, this can look like calorie counting, macro tracking, restricting “unhealthy” foods for intentional weight loss. Diet/lifestyle programs promote and encourage these behaviors. Our society has normalized them.
The physical signs of disordered eating include:
- Fluctuations in weight (e.g. gaining and losing the same 10-15 lbs over and over).
- Stomach complaints and pain.
- Changes in bowel habits.
- Changes in menstrual regularity.
- Mood swings and irritability.
- Feeling dizzy, weak and/or tired.
- Changes in skin and hair (such as being dry and brittle.)
It is worth noting that all diets typically result in fluctuations in weight. It is called “weight cycling” and can negatively impact our overall health. Additionally, when I was tracking my macros and carb cycling, I endured a lot of these side-effects as well. My mood swings were particularly harsh and I felt extremely tired on Wednesdays after back-to-back low carb days.
Intuitive Eating Helps You Heal from Diet Culture
Our bodies are amazing. They know how to self-regulate and protect us from harm. Including harm from famine, intentional food restriction (AKA diets), over-exercising and stress. The problem is that diet culture hijacks “health” and creates food rules than undermine our body’s biology and physiology. They have made health all about appearance and weight loss. That’s not what true health is though!
True health is a balance of all 6 facets of wellness. Including your mental health, emotional health, social health, environmental health, spiritual health and physical health.
One of the ways we can achieve balance in our wellness. And heal our relationship with food, fitness and body image, is by bringing awareness to our disordered eating behaviors. We can unlearn those behaviors by practicing the 10 principles of intuitive eating.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Eating intuitively is essentially restoring us to factory setting—how God intended our bodies to be. It’s a mind-body self-care eating framework for (re)learning how to be true to your own body’s nutritional needs (what foods feel good in your body) and mental appetite (what foods sound yummy) without any judgement or any influence from diet culture.
The world was first introduced to the concept of intuitive eating but registered dietitians and authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. They wrote an official book and coined the phrase “Intuitive Eating” in 1995. In these pages, they outline the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating to help you work through healing your relationship with food. I also use these principles as a framework for clients within my practice. It’s a solid starting point for healing your relationship with food.
Here are the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating. They do not have to be completed in this order. Everyone’s experience, starting point and journey as they work through these principles is different.
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Feel Your Fullness
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
- Respect Your Body
- Find the Joy in Movement
- Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
Why Intuitive Eating Works
Intuitive eating means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. I know that sounds scary! But after years of dieting and disordered eating, your body likely does trust that its next meal is going to fulfill its needs. As long as you a part of you is applying rules to limit your food choices, you’ll cycle between restriction and feeling out-of-control around food.
Once you stop the restriction though, your body starts trusting is going to meet its needs. Plus, once you turn off the noise from diet culture, you’re able to actually listen to your body’s needs!
After putting the 10 principles of intuitive eating into practice, you eventually level out. With additional mindset work to heal your inner dialogue, you begin to trust your body, and your body trusts you. You begin to lead an intuitively healthy life in all aspects; not just food!
Studies Prove Intuitive Eaters Enjoy Both Physical & Mental Benefits
Since 2005 there have been over 150 independent studies conducted on intuitive eating. The health-related outcomes of these studies continue to prove physical, psychological and behavioral benefits. Diets definitely cannot make the same claim! In fact, most diets exacerbate these issues as noted above with the signs of disordered eating.
Compared to dieters, intuitive eaters enjoy:
- More healthful nutrition choices
- Improved body image
- Consistent weight (remember: fluctuations in weight is a physical sign of disordered eating.)
- Positive effects on blood pressure and inflammation markers
- Improved cholesterol
- Decreased disordered eating (reduction in all the physical and emotional signs above)
- Decreased depression symptoms
- Protection against diet messaging
- Increased self-esteem
Source: Kara N. Denny, M.D.,a Katie Loth, M.P.H., R.D.,b Marla E. Eisenberg, Sc.D., M.P.H.,c and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.d
Next Steps to Become an Intuitive Eater
A couple of these principles are a bit easier to do independently. But as you get in what I call the “murky middle” of really healing your relationship with food, fitness and body image, I strongly recommend working with a certified professional. I encourage new clients to start with Gain Wellness Workbook to learn how to reject the diet mentality, but the hard work happens best during 1:1 sessions with me or through Diet-Free Academy. I offer free 15-minute phone calls to help you get started and determine your next steps for becoming an intuitive eater.