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What is intuitive eating – how to know when you are ready

Intuitive eating has become a bit of a buzz word in health and wellness community over the past few years. Many people believe that it is as simple as eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full, but this is only one piece of  more complex puzzle that makes up the practice of intuitive eating.

Coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, intuitive eating is a ten-principle mind-body self-care eating framework. It takes into consideration nutrition as well as the emotional and social aspects of eating to help people make peace with food and live a healthier, happier life. These principles include:

  • Reject the diet mentality

  • Honour 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

  • Movement – feel the difference

  • Honour your health with gentle nutrition

As a dietitian who specializes in Eating Disorders, Dina Skaff believes that many of the principles of intuitive eating can be very helpful for those in recovery. She sees it as an important framework for making peace with food and body. “It’s that framework that really allows us to become in tune with our body signals and cues in order to fill our biological and psychological needs,” she says. “It also helps us identify external obstacles from being able to nourish ourselves intuitively.”

For people in recovery these obstacles can be the Eating Disorder itself but also diet culture which is everywhere in our society. Dina says sometimes diet culture can event coopt intuitive eating into a new diet that solely focuses on hunger and fullness cues and doesn’t take into account all of the other aspects of the process. “True intuitive eating is a weight inclusive health at every size approach,” she says. “It’s really about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods in you’re here and now body. Not with the intention to change your body or your weight.”

One of the key principles of intuitive eating is not seeing any food as “good” or “bad.” Dina says that some people in recovery from an Eating Disorder they may find that they are craving the foods that they previously deemed off limits. This is a completely normal part of the process and it doesn’t need to be judged or scrutinized. Mental health plays a huge role in physical health and for many people eating a chocolate bar may be much healthier in the log run than another apple or handful of carrots. Following the rules of an Eating Disorder takes up a lot of mental energy which can in turn heighten anxiety and stress levels.  “When we start to remove these [rules] and recognize that these obstacles are there, then we can start to remove the walls and the kind of rigidity that can happen with either following a diet or the rules of an Eating Disorder and allow that unconditional permission to eat,” she says. “Foods don’t hold a moral value. It may temporarily increase anxiety; but it actually opens up that mental space for more peace around food.”

Dina says it is important to note that for many people in recovery the “feeling your fullness” aspect of intuitive eating can be quite difficult, and it can be important to rely on a more structured way of eating at the beginning to get hunger and fullness cues on track. “It is self care to be incorporating that type of a structure when you need it,” she says. That doesn’t mean however, that you can’t implement other aspects of intuitive eating into your life like “rejecting the diet mentality” or “challenging the food police”. “There may be bits and pieces throughout the journey where you would be incorporating bits of intuitive eating without even really noticing it,” she says.

Dina is adamant that if someone with an Eating Disorder is thinking about experimenting with intuitive eating, they should always consult with a professional to make sure they are medically stable and getting the nutrition their body needs. Intuitive eating is an extremely personal journey and really diving into it requires a lot of self awareness in terms of bodily cues and the Eating Disorder voice. She stresses that some people with Eating Disorders may always need some sort of structured plan to safeguard their recovery. “Some people may be able to eventually move completely away from a meal plan and tap into their internal cues, but if there are others who can’t that’s OK,” she says. “I think there might be a lot of pressure in the Eating Disorder community in hearing about intuitive eating that it is the end goal of recovery and it is important to note that it is really individual.”

If you want to learn more about intuitive eating there is more information at about each of the ten principles. Remember that everyone is on their own journey and it is important to take what will serve you and leave the rest. Intuitive eating can be a great way to make peace with food and your body; but nothing can replace the advice of a professional who knows your unique case. Check out the NEDIC website to find a service provider in your area.

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