Intuitive eating can be a difficult concept to grasp because it is so different from the diets that our culture is used to. It is often over-simplified to "eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full", but being an intuitive eater is so much more than that! There are actually 10 principles of intuitive eating and, with this series, we'll cover one each week with tips to help you put each principle into practice. Our summer dietetic intern, Jessica, is starting us off today with the first principle. Enjoy!
With diet culture all around us, many of us have lost touch with ourselves when it comes to eating and our bodies, and whether we realize it or not we tend to live by a set of food and diet rules. We receive messages day after day from the media that tell us to try ____ diet or cleanse for weight loss, eat ____ superfood, or whatever else it may be. It can feel impossible to tune out diet culture and the promises of quick results and just listen to our bodies.
That’s where intuitive eating comes in. Intuitive eating focuses on internal wisdom to tell you when to eat, what to eat, and in what quantities. It helps you to detach from diet culture and get back to what we were all born to be - intuitive eaters. When you were a baby, you ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were full. You did not rely on external cues to decide when you should or shouldn’t eat. Intuitive eating doesn't focus on weight but on how you can learn to trust yourself and your body again. By getting back to the basics and getting in touch with yourself, you will be able to start better honoring yourself and your health.
Becoming an intuitive eater doesn't happen overnight. It takes time and commitment. Over the course of this series, we'll dive into each principle a little deeper and give you some ways to work these principles into your everyday life. The first principle is rejecting the diet mentality.
What is the diet mentality and why is it harmful?
Research has shown that diets simply don't work. Many individuals who have taken part in chronic dieting might have seen the promised, quick results of weight loss to begin with, only to then gain it all back and then some. This usually leads to a new diet and the cycle repeats. The first step in starting on an intuitive eating journey is to reject the belief that dieting will work. It means saying goodbye to dieting and anything to do with diets once and for all. When you accept that dieting will never work, you can begin cultivating a relationship of trust and respect with your body.
Here are some tips that may be helpful as you begin working to reject the diet mentality.
Clean up your social media and the materials you read.
Start by cleaning up your social media, the magazines and books you choose to read, and any other materials that promote dieting! If you follow individuals who promote dieting in any form, unfollow them and replace those people with individuals who have values that align with your new anti-diet mindset. If your friends are the ones posting diet-focused content and you don't feel comfortable unfollowing them, you could create a new account just for positive, non-diet content.
Check out this post for some great non-diet books, podcasts, and social media accounts. If you begin filling your mind with more positive material instead of diet-centered messages, it will become so much easier to let go of dieting for good.
Break up with the scale and other tools that promote body checking. When you’re stuck in the diet mentality, you often rely on external forces and numbers to determine your self-worth, such as the number on the scale or the amount of calories in a meal. If you are weighing yourself often and seeing the number pop up causes you to feel negatively about yourself, this is a sign it may be time to get rid of your scale. The number on the scale should not determine how you feel at any given time.
Similar to this, if you often find yourself constantly checking mirrors, especially full-length mirrors, it may be a good idea to possibly rid yourself of mirrors as well! They are an obvious tool for body checking and body bashing. If you aren’t ready to get rid of mirrors for good, try posting positive affirmations on them that resonate with you. This way, when you look in your mirror, you have a constant reminder of something kind you can say to yourself in place of something negative. It also may be helpful just to become aware of how often you judge your body based on how you look or what the scale says so you can do your best to redirect.
Notice when you are having diet mentality thoughts and learn to reframe them. Diets are full of rules to follow, and when you’ve been on many diets, there is a good chance you’ve internalized a lot of those rules. These rules can show up every time you make food choices or engage in eating so, when rejecting the diet mentality, it is important to recognize these diet mentality thoughts so you can begin trying to reframe them into more positive thoughts.
For example, instead of "I can only eat X number of calories today", you might say "I can eat whenever I'm hungry, regardless of the calories in the food, because my body tells me when it's hungry and needs more fuel and it's my job to honor that hunger."
Or, instead of "My workout didn't count today because I didn't burn enough calories. I didn't even sweat!", you might say "Exercise makes me feel energized and less stressed, so it doesn't matter how many calories I used during my workout because that isn't the point."
Think about situations where living in the diet mentality has caused you to miss out. Diets are all about restriction and sometimes restriction from food can lead to restriction from other things as well. Have you ever ditched out on a social event because you knew there would only be foods there that you weren’t “allowed” to eat, or because you would have to miss your workout to go? These are examples of ways you are more than likely missing out on fun aspects of your life due to the diet mentality. Some other examples of things the diet mentality may be causing you to miss out on could be:
-Simply not eating foods that satisfy you and give you pleasure. -Feeling distracted in social situations rather than connected because you’re worried about the food you just ate or are going to eat. -Not thoroughly enjoying travel because you’re anxious about not having access to “healthy” foods. -Not enjoying or experiencing the positive effects of exercise because you choose activities you don't enjoy in an effort to burn more calories or lose more weight.
There are many experiences that the diet mentality could potentially be robbing you of. If any of these seem relateable to you, then use that as fuel to begin rejecting the diet mentality.
Training your brain to get out of the diet mentality is a lot easier said than done but, to
truly become an intuitive eater, it is an important step! Just like with anything, it takes practice, and it’s important to give yourself a lot of self-compassion along the way.