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6 Common Questions about Intuitive Eating

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Ask and you shall receive! I put a call out on social media to answer your intuitive eating questions and here’s what you wanted to know. I think this format is super fun and it helps you get the content you’re looking for!

This is a pretty packed post — I felt like I could write a post for each question! Is there a particular topic you’d like more info on? Let me know and perhaps you’ll see an entire post about it soon.

What’s the first step to intuitive eating?

I totally understand how ditching diets and food rules seems daunting — it’s all we’ve known for most of our lives. It’s going against the grain and can feel alienating. I highly suggest people who are interested in intuitive eating work with a dietitian who specializes in it, or at the very least, read the book Intuitive Eating. This way you can get a good grasp on the principles and learn how to apply them. The Intuitive Eating Workbook is a great companion as well.

The first principle of intuitive eating is ditching the diet mentality which means letting go of all those concepts of good and bad, should and shouldn’t, etc. when it comes to food. Once you get rid of all that negativity, you can create space to be more aware of your own hunger and fullness cues and can begin exploring how food makes you feel.

A list of the 10 principles of intuitive eating

Can someone with an eating disorder practice intuitive eating?

If someone has an eating disorder, they should seek help from a professional healthcare team including a physician, therapist and dietitian (at a minimum). Many people with eating disorders need to get to a certain point in their recovery before they can fully implement intuitive eating. However, the “essence” of the intuitive eating principles can be applied all throughout recovery.

It’s best to work with your care team for an individualized approach that works best for you. If you don’t have an eating disorder team, you can search for providers here.

How do you deal with weight gain and body image issues after letting go of restriction and food rules?

Body acceptance is HARD. It doesn’t happen overnight and it’s definitely a lifelong journey. I won’t sugarcoat it: we live in a society that idealizes thin bodies and marginalizes pretty much every other body shape. The external reminders that our bodies are wrong or less than can feel constant and unrelenting.

My biggest piece of advice is to surround yourself with as much body diversity and body positivity as you can. This likely means going on a major social media overhaul. Unfollow all accounts that make you feel bad about your body or doubt your self-worth and then follow a bunch of accounts featuring diverse bodies doing lots of cool things. If you’re into podcasts, there are some anti-diet shows that you can listen to.

Buying clothes that fit your body and make you feel comfortable is important. Donate what doesn’t fit and set a budget for how you’re going to restock your wardrobe with intentional pieces that feel more comfortable (try secondhand first then research sustainable clothing brands that offer diverse sizes if you must buy new). Check out “fatshion” blogs and social media accounts for inspiration. Jes Baker has an incredible list of body-posi media to follow.

If friends or family members make remarks about your body, shut it down. Tell them you’d appreciate them not commenting on your body. Make it an off-limits topic much like religion or politics.

Practicing non-judgmental observation with your body also can be helpful. One way to do this would be to take a bath, paying attention to each body part as you wash it, and then afterward slathering every inch of your bod in lotion and sending a little love to every area you moisturize. Taking selfies can be really helpful for some people. Try different things to see what works for you.

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How do you handle “treat yo self” mentality?

Treating ourselves is great. Food certainly can be a part of this. However, I find that when people are still trapped in diet mentality, “treat yo self” is what happens after a period of restriction and may lead to a binge.

Intuitive eating is all about eating in a way that feels good and right for you. If you feel like eating a brownie, eat a brownie. No shame, no calorie counting, and no subsequent deprivation or extra exercise necessary.

When we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat all foods, “treats” are seen less as “treats” and more as just another food that helps us feel good. Some people like to call “treats” “pleasure food” because the word “treat” can send the message that it is something to be restricted, that must be earned.

Keeping pleasure foods in the house can help level the playing field when it comes to “treats” and lessen their luster. When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, you might find the need to “treat yo self” changes.

Also think about ways to “treat yo self” that don’t revolved around food. Food is great and all, but there are lots of other things that feel good. For me this is yoga, meditation, cuddling with my cat, reading, snuggling with my partner, writing snail mail to loved ones, writing this blog and spending time with family and friends.

How do you draw the line between gentle nutrition and becoming restrictive?

This definitely can feel like a tricky balance. Anti-diet doesn’t mean anti-nutrition. There’s a reason why gentle nutrition is the last principle of intuitive eating — it’s very important to fully detach from the diet mentality before considering nutrition, otherwise it can trigger restriction.

Consider this: If it makes you feel good, do it. If it makes you feel good right now but will make you feel terrible later, weigh the risks and benefits. If it doesn’t make you feel good, don’t do it.

Food should be pleasurable and fun. Sometimes it’s not super delicious and that’s OK. Not every meal is the best thing you’ve ever tasted or is exactly what you want to eat in that moment.

We know that veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are health-promoting foods. Turns out they also are tasty and our bodies tend to enjoy them and feel really good when we eat a lot of them. That doesn’t mean you need to force yourself to eat foods you don’t like. Explore a variety of foods, cuisines and cooking methods to find what you like.

When we clear away all the diet messaging and really tune into our bodies, more often than not, they prefer (and thrive on) a balance of nutrient-dense foods and pleasure foods. Nutrition science doesn’t say you have to eat ONLY whole foods and NO processed foods, added sugar or oil to maintain good health.

And on the other hand, nutrition is just one controllable risk factor for many diseases that are more greatly impacted by genetics and social, economical and environmental factors. Nutrition matters, but it doesn’t necessitate dieting, restriction or rules, even if good health is your goal.

If this is something you struggle with, I highly suggest working with an intuitive eating dietitian to help you find a healthful relationship with food.

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Is it possible to eat intuitively when you are on medication that impacts appetite and weight gain?

If there’s one thing intuitive eating is NOT about, it’s perfection. Not everyone has perfectly functioning hunger and fullness cues. And intuitive eating is about more than just hunger and fullness.

If you’re on meds that impact your appetite or cause weight gain, that doesn’t mean you can’t practice intuitive eating. Discuss how your medication might impact your appetite with your physician. If you’re starting a new med, ask your doctor about possible side effects — it’s their job to be up front with you about this.

Focus on eating in a way that satisfies your energy and nutrient needs that doesn’t leave you with intense cravings or binges. Incorporating joyful movement and other self-care behaviors and practicing body acceptance also are important.

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