Go with your gut: what is intuitive eating?

Published 3:15 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Intuition is defined as the ability to understand something without the need for further thought or more simply put — your “gut feeling.” Your intuition or “gut feeling” is what tells you that a dark alley may not be the safest path or it may be the voice that helped you ace a test in school. This inner voice is with us every day, but how often are we listening to the voice when it comes to our actual gut?
Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that allows healthy relationships to form between food, mind, and body. This approach helps to remove good and bad feelings associated with food and heightens awareness to allow the inner voice to better guide in food choices and satisfaction. Eating with intuition eliminates the need for dieting or restrictive eating practices that affect physical and emotional health.  Intuitive eating is not a new practice but one that is gaining momentum. Two registered dietitians specializing in eating disorders, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND, are the originators of the intuitive movement.
Humans are born intuitive eaters. Babies cry and their mothers feed them — cry, feed, and repeat. This intuition stays with the baby through most of childhood. Things begin to change as a child ages and nature wages its first battle against nurture. Nature allows a child to eat just the right amount for their activity level and growth stage. Nurture comes to play when a parent encourages a child to “clean the plate” which turns down the volume on the voice of intuition. Rules and regulations pertaining to food and health abound during adolescence and adulthood. These restrictions and beliefs, if not corrected by a nutrition professional such as dietitian, can lead to disordered eating and the complete muting of the intuitive eating voice.
Dietitians Tribole and Resch developed 10 principles to return individuals to intuitive eaters with a loud inner voice. These principles, unlike authoritative rules, can be used to guide personal behavior.
• Reject the diet mentality. Look back on all the diets, cleanses, detoxes, or eating plans attempted in the past. How did you feel on these diets? Did you lose weight and keep it off? Studies have shown dieting does not produce lasting weight loss and can lead to disordered eating because of the restrictive nature of dieting.
• Honor your hunger. Keep your body fed with lean proteins, non-starchy vegetables, and whole grains.  Avoid skipping meals as this can trigger a primal drive to overeat — “I didn’t eat lunch so let me have that double cheeseburger …” Learn to eat in response to physical hunger instead of because the clock says lunchtime.
• Make peace with food. Rip up the “good/bad” food list. Allow all foods and choose which would best nourish your body. Removing food stigmas will also help manage uncontrollable urges to overeat or binge. Restrictive diets leave the dieter wanting nothing more than what they are to “avoid.”
• Challenge the food police. The food police work round-the-clock enforcing unrealistic rules associated with food. The headquarters is located deep within your psyche and the loud sirens often block out the intuitive voice. To get back to your intuitive eater, you need to fire these guys. Reach out to a registered dietitian to recreate a food list backed by science and research.
• Respect your fullness. For every hunger reaction, there is an equal and opposite fullness reaction.  Learn the feeling of being full before the need to unbutton the pants. Put the fork down between bites to reflect on the taste of the meal and current fullness level. If in doubt, allow 15-20 minutes between extra servings to allow the gut to communicate satisfaction with the brain.
• Discover the satisfaction factor. Intuitive eaters acknowledge that food gives a sense of satisfaction and there isn’t time for guilt when all foods are allowed. Many find it takes less to be content if the space is inviting and distractions are limited.
• Honor feelings without using food. No dinner invitations for anxiety, loneliness, anger, or boredom.  Eating out of emotional hunger will have little to no lasting benefits and could stir up more guilt. Find non-food ways to relieve stress, anxiety, or boredom.
• Respect your body. Be willing to accept that bodies are like snowflakes — no two are the same, but there is beauty and function within each. Comparing body sizes creates frustration and blurs gratitude.  Knowing health markers (blood pressure, glucose) can help guide in how to be healthy at any size.
• Exercise — feel the difference. Whether it’s called exercise or activity, it all takes movement! Moving increases the chemicals in the brain that relay happiness and pleasure. Focusing on how walking promotes a sense of well-being will motivate more than obsessing over how many calories were burned. Just move and health will follow.
• Honor your health. Pay attention to how food tastes and how it improves or lessens satisfaction. The goal is not to eat “perfect” every day but to honor the taste buds and nourish the body.

The 10 principles gently nudge individuals on an awareness journey that over time will allow the mind, body, and soul to connect. Once the mind acknowledges the abilities of the body, the soul will turn the volume up on the intuitive eater and the health benefits will abound.

Kimberly K. Hicks is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center .