Use the principles of intuitive eating for better body image
If you’re looking for support to heal the relationship with food AND your body, learning about the principles of intuitive eating can help
In this post, I share:
- What drives the desire to diet;
- How diets damage your instinctive eating patterns;
- The ten principles of intuitive eating;
- How these principles allow you to have a peaceful relationship with food & your body.
- Resources from top experts so you can learn more about intuitive eating.
Listen or read below:
The intuitive eating series
This post is part of a three-part series where I explore intuitive eating and body image.
In Intuitive eating and it’s influence on body image, I explain what intuitive eating is and some indicators that your relationship with food isn’t as peaceful as it could be.
So, if you haven’t read that yet, you might want to check it out before diving into this post
In this post, I’m exploring intuitive eating in more detail. Specifically, I’m looking at the ten principles of intuitive eating.
Then, in the final post of the series, Intuitive eating & body image – 3 practical ways to feel better in your body, I share ways to use the principles of intuitive eating to feel at greater peace in your body.
Body dissatisfaction and dieting
If you’re dissatisfied with your body, there’s a high likelihood that you’re dieting or have dieted in the past.
When you’re dissatisfied with your body, there’s a motivation to be thinner, because that’s what we’ve all been conditioned to believe will make us happier and healthier.
But the reality is that diets seldom result in long-term weight loss (at most this happens about 3-5% of the time).
Instead, years of chronic dieting can leave you heavier and with a disordered relationship with food.
I talk more about how to tell if you have a disordered relationship with food in Intuitive eating and it’s influence on body image, so do check that out.
When people decide to stop dieting and accept their body, it can be hard to trust their body’s natural hunger and reconnect with a way of eating that they were naturally born with.
But intuitive eating offers a way to do this – to help you get back to your ‘default eating mode’. It does this through its ten guiding principles of intuitive eating.
Before I walk you through each of the principles, a little disclaimer:
I’m not an intuitive eating expert, nor do I specialise in disordered eating or eating disorders.
What I’m sharing is for educational purposes only and isn’t a substitute for therapy or a clinical diagnosis.
If you’re worried that you may have an eating disorder, please speak to your doctor, or get in touch with an eating disorder charity in your country who will be able to give you information and advice.
I’ve provided details of some eating disorder charities below:
Eating disorder charities
United Kingdom – BEAT
United States – NEDA
Australia – EDH
The Principles of Intuitive Eating
There are ten principles that underpin intuitive eating.
It’s worth reiterating that intuitive eating is NOT a diet, so these principles are not a list of rules, and shouldn’t be treated like they are.
Ten principles of intuitive eating:
- 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 – gentle nutrition
1. Reject the diet mentality
First, it’s worth pointing out what is meant by a diet.
It’s any style of eating aimed at changing your body weight or shape and/or trying to achieve some perfectionistic idea of health or wellness.
Diets can masquerade under different names like ‘lifestyle plans’, ‘resets’ or ‘protocols’ – but if they’re aimed at thinness, they’re diets!
You want to reject the diet mentality because it stops you from honouring your body’s natural internal cues, and because diets don’t achieve long term weight loss. In fact, they can actively cause harm through weight cycling and weight stigma.
2. Honour your hunger
Honouring hunger means making sure that you’re meeting your body’s needs for food and energy and being able to recognise your body’s hunger signals.
It’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t mean you ONLY eat when you’re hungry (that would just be a diet!).
You can also eat for pleasure (which is a perfectly natural part of a healthy relationship with food).
It can be tricky to honour your hunger after years of diets because you’re told to suppress or ignore hunger.
3. Make peace with food
This means allowing yourself to eat all foods. There are, therefore, no ‘forbidden’ foods, and you give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want, how much and when.
This can seem so alien when diets tell you exactly what to eat, how much and when.
Diet culture teaches us that this permission will result in bad health when in fact, it eventually leads to a decreased likelihood of bingeing on ‘off limit’ foods.
4. Challenge the food police
The food police can be your own inner critic or others who judge your food choices.
This principle means that you tune into a kinder, more self-compassionate voice and set boundaries around people who think it’s okay to comment on what you’re eating.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor
This is about taking pleasure in food – fully enjoying it – it’s flavours and textures and the shared connection that enjoying a meal can bring.
Diets demonise pleasure, leading you to see-saw between deprivation and guilt.
But eating foods that you find satisfying ultimately leads to greater balance in your eating. When you eat what you want in the first place, you’re less likely to feel out of control around that food.
6. Feel your fullness
If you’ve been dieting for a long time, you may not recognise your hunger or fullness.
Feeling your fullness is tuning into your body’s signals that it’s had enough.
This can be tricky. It’s difficult to fully sense your satiation levels until you’ve rejected diets and given yourself unconditional permission to eat.
If you’re still dieting, or behaving like you’re on a diet, that deprivation can override your body’s fullness signals.
Being able to work through principle #1 is therefore vital to feeling your fullness.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
This principle is NOT about demonising emotional eating. Eating for pleasure, according to principle #5, is a positive type of emotional eating.
It’s okay to eat for comfort or to distract yourself sometimes – this is part of a peaceful relationship with food.
If eating has become the only coping strategy you have for dealing with emotions this can be problematic.
BUT this doesn’t mean you take away eating. Rather you ADD in other ways to cope with difficult emotions.
8. Respect your body
This isn’t about loving your body, it’s more about body neutrality.
It’s about respecting your body’s size and shape, even as it changes, honouring its basic needs for sleep, food, and rest, and recognising its physical strengths and limitations.
9. Movement – feel the difference
Rather than feeling that you should move your body, this is about doing movement that feels good.
The primary aim of movement is not to sculpt or shape your body, but for pleasure and self-care. It’s also being attuned to your body’s natural desire for movement or rest.
10. Gentle nutrition
You need to approach this principle with care!
Gentle nutrition is about nutrition from a place of self-care, not about policing what you eat.
It involves using basic nutrition concepts to help you manage your energy levels and feel your best – being able to choose foods that you will find satisfying and sustaining.
For example, I know that if I want something to eat that will give me energy and keep me going through a long day, a breakfast with avocado works for me.
It’s not about perfection in what you eat, food fads, or following rules.
So, that’s a brief run through of the ten principles of intuitive eating.
I’ve only scratched the surface of these, so if you want to know more about the principles of intuitive eating, I encourage you to check out the following resources:
“Intuitive Eating – A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
“Anti-Diet” by Christy Harrison
Principles of intuitive eating & body image work
Many of these principles overlap with the work that I do with clients.
In particular, principle #1 reject diet mentality, principle #4 challenge the food police, principle #8 respect your body and principle #9 movement – feel the difference.
These are all topics that we cover in my coaching programme, The Body Confidence Journey.
I truly believe that healing the relationship with your body can help heal your relationship with food and vice-versa.
There are huge benefits, therefore, from doing body image work AND working with the principles of intuitive eating.
I’d like to finish this post with a few questions to help you reflect on what you’ve learnt:
How did you react to the 10 principles of intuitive eating?
What does your reaction tell you about how you relate to food and your body?
Which principle intuitively feels like a good place to start healing your relationship with food and your body?
I’d love to see your answers below in the comments.