Intuitive eating and it’s influence on body image

If you’re struggling with the way you feel about your body, AND your relationship with food isn’t peaceful or easy, learning about intuitive eating can help!

In this post, I’m exploring what intuitive eating is, specifically:

  • The signs that your relationship with food has become disordered;
  • What it means to eat intuitively;
  • Why eating inuitively is NOT a diet!
  • The physical and mental health benefits.
  • Resources from top experts so you can learn more.

Listen or read below:

Body image and how you relate to food

So often when I work with a client, she’s got a difficult relationship with food.

After years of dieting, she’s not in touch with her own hunger, and feels that she can’t trust herself around food.

In some cases, the motivation to diet is triggered by dissatisfaction with body weight or shape, but not always.

Other times, controlling and restricting food can start as a coping strategy for dealing with difficult circumstances or emotions, and then turns into an obsession with your body weight or shape.

Either way, there’s a relationship between how you perceive your body (body image) and the way you relate to food – it’s often difficult to separate one from the other.

What’s your relationship with food like?

If you’re struggling with how you feel about your body and your relationship with food isn’t peaceful or easy, how might intuitive eating help?

Well, if you find yourself doing any of the following, it can help:

  • Demonising and avoiding certain foods or food groups
  • Feeling the need to ‘earn’ or ‘burn’ food
  • Denying hunger
  • Fear of eating out because you don’t know what foods will be available
  • Not eating in front of other people for fear of judgment
  • Being unable to notice when you’re hungry or full
  • Not trusting yourself around food
  • Tendency to binge on ‘forbidden’ foods
  • Never eating without weighing or measuring foods
  • Focusing on being thin rather than healthy
  • Being judgmental of other peoples’ food choices

If any or all of those resonate, you’ll benefit from learning more about intuitive eating.

What is intuitive eating?

I think of intuitive eating as the natural way of eating we were all born with.

It’s the default setting if you like.

It means listening to your body’s internal cues and trusting it to regulate your nutritional needs.

Specifically, it means:

  • Responding to your hunger (eating when hungry) and fullness cues (stopping when satisfied).
  • Eating for pleasure as well as satisfying hunger.
  • Unconditional permission to eat, with no food restriction.

Intuitive eating is NOT a diet

It’s important to emphasise that it’s NOT a diet.

In fact, if diets didn’t exist, I don’t believe we’d be talking about intuitive eating, because we’d automatically be eating in this way – the default way we were all born with.

But intuitive eating flies in the face of everything that diet culture has taught us – that we need to fear and control our hunger and restrict foods that are considered ‘bad’.

And it’s this restriction and control that fuels disordered eating and eating disorders. Intuitive eating offers a route to greater peace and ease around food, and in our bodies.

Benefits of intuitive eating

There are many benefits!

Research looking at the difference between dieters and intuitive eaters has found that intuitive eaters have:

  • Lower rates of disordered eating and eating disorders
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Less food related anxiety
  • Less likelihood of feeling out of control around food
  • Lower levels of body dissatisfaction and shame.

So, intuitive eating clearly has benefits for your physical and mental health, including the way you feel about your body.

In my next post, Use the principles of intuitive eating for better body image, I take a closer look at the ten principles of intuitive eating.

In the meantime, if you want to take a deeper dive into this topic, I’ve got a few resources to recommend to you:

“Intuitive Eating- A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

“Anti-Diet” by Christy Harrison

Christy Harrison also has an amazing podcast and an ‘Introduction to Intuitive Eating’ course.

A disclaimer

I’m not an expert in intuitive eating, nor am I qualified to help people with a clinically diagnosed eating disorder.

What I’m sharing here is purely for educational purposes and isn’t a substitute for therapy or a clinical diagnosis.

If you suspect that you may have an eating disorder, I’d recommend speaking to your doctor or getting in touch with an eating disorder charity in your country.

I’ve included links to some charities in the UK, US and Australia below:

Eating Disorder Charities

United Kingdom – BEAT

United States – NEDA

Australia – EDH

Coaching questions

To help you reflect on what I’ve covered in this post, I’ve got a few questions for you.

Take a few minutes to think about the following:

How would you describe your relationship with food?
What impact, if any, do you think this has on the way you feel about your body?
What’s your next step towards healing your relationship with food and/or your body?

I’d love to see your answers to these, so please drop your answers in the comments below.

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