What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a psychological therapy or counselling approach which helps people develop a healthy relationship with eating, their weight and their body. It uses proven, psychological strategies to help people learn to identify and recognise signs of hunger and fullness, to use these to guide when to start and stop eating, to recognise common triggers for under-eating, over eating or comfort eating and develop other ways of managing these triggers, to take a gentle approach to nutrition, and to find movement or exercise that they enjoy, and which improve their overall health.
Intuitive eating is not a diet. There are no meal plans, no restrictions, and definitely no weighing of food or people. It is away to restore a healthy relationship with food and your body.
Is this the same as mindful eating?
The term Intuitive eating is used interchangeably with mindful eating, a non-diet or weight-neutral approach to eating and health, or Health At Every Size (HAES). While there are some differences between these approaches they are really just variations of the same fundamental ideas of using hunger and fullness to guide eating, eating what you want to eat, letting go of restrictive food rules, focusing on overall health and improving your relationship with your body. So, if you have read something or watched something about HAES or mindful eating it will be very similar to intuitive eating.
The sad truth about weight loss diets
Calorie restricting diets don’t lead to long term, sustainable weight loss. They just don’t. Time and time again research has show that 95% of people who start a diet don’t lose weight over the long term (ie over a year), and a significant proportion of people will regain more weight than they lost. There is so much evidence for this, and yet most people who have dieted without weight loss success blame themselves: they say they have ‘failed’, that they ‘lack willpower’ or that they ‘need to try harder’ or try a different diet. This just isn’t true, yet this myth really persists.
Why is a psychological approach needed?
Psychologists specialise in helping people understand how their thoughts, feelings and behaviours interact. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours play an enormous role in determining when and what we eat, how much we eat, and how we then feel.
If you have already tried dieting or restricting your food intake, or if you struggle with comfort or emotional eating or binge eating, ask yourself these two questions:
1) On a scale from 1% to 100%, how much of your distress around eating comes from the your thoughts about yourself (I’m lazy, I can’t do this, I have no willpower, what’s wrong with me) or your thoughts about food (I can’t eat bread, carbs are bad, I deserve a treat, I’ll start again tomorrow, it’s rude not to clean my plate) and your feeling about eating (guilt, shame, hopelessness, disappointment, fear). For most people this is a pretty HIGH number.
Then ask yourself 2): how much energy and effort have you put into changing these thoughts and feelings so far, compared to the effort and energy you have put into changing what you eat? For most people, this is a pretty LOW number.
Can you see now how addressing these psychological factors would help you to change your relationship with eating and your body?
Imagine how much mental and emotional energy you could regain if you no longer had to think about, and feel bad about, you eating, weight and shape.
Imagine how much time and money you could save over the rest of your life if you stopped paying for diet plans, diet books, diet ‘food’, diet groups etc, or if you stopped comfort eating or binge eating.
Intuitive eating for over eating, binge eating and comfort eating
If you sometimes struggle with over eating, comrfort eating or bingeing, you’re eating when you’re not physically hungry, or you eat past the point of being full. If you’re not eating due to hunger, then it’s not about the food. Intuitive eating can help you learn to distinguish physical hunger from other triggers to eat, such as emotional distress, boredom or tiredness, teach you to cope with these triggers in more healthy ways which don’t involve eating, teach you to stop eating when you’ve had enough, help you feel in control of yourself while enjoying eating, and find ways to move your body that you enjoy.
Intuitive eating for under eating or restrictive eating, dieting and yoyo dieting
If you sometimes struggle with dieting, under eating or restrictive eating, then intuitive eating can help you learn to pay attention to your body’s natural hunger cues, to learn to trust these cues as guide to when to eat, to gradually broaden your eating habits, to move your focus from your weight to your overall health and wellbeing, to improve your body image and self care, and to gradually develop a healthy view of exercise and movement.
Help with weight loss or weight management and overall health
The goal of intuitive eating is to help you improve your relationship with eating and your body, and to improve your overall health and wellbeing, rather than having a narrow focus on weight loss. This is why it is often called a non-diet or weight-neutral approach. As you implement the strategies your body will gradually come to its natural, healthy weight. This weight adjustment is a gradual, gentle process of improving health. It is common for people’s eight to go up and down a lot during this process, and each person’s experience is different.
Support after bariatric surgery
While bariatric surgery for weight loss forces you to change the amount of food you can eat at any one time, it of course doesn’t change the underlying thoughts and feelings which lead to over eating and weight gain in the first place. Learning intuitive eating strategies can give you a better chance of long term success following surgery, and can help you shift your focus from just weight loss to improved heath and wellbeing overall.