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Trust Your Gut: Intuitive Eating

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

By: Kaitlyn Levine

Photo via Askar Abayev.

Content warning: This article contains themes of eating disorders.

"Self love is survival." -Lizzo, 2019

With diet culture dominating our social atmosphere, disordered eating has become a normal practice amongst many individuals. According to ANAD—the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders—9% of Americans will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime. Though disordered eating has grown common, it doesn’t make it healthy, and there are many other routes for substantive eating.

Why do people develop unhealthy relationships with food?

Unhealthy relationships with food can come from various causes. Eating disorders, trauma, and learned behavior from parents can heavily affect how one views food. An unhealthy relationship with food can be demonstrated by negative feelings towards food, including restricting, a fixation on weight and body image, and emotional eating (eating to feel better). Though unhealthy eating has grown normalized in recent years—through media glamorization and the rise of oversharing on platforms such as TikTok—the underlying themes of suffering remain the same.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is the practice of eating according to one's internal processes. The idea follows its name: eating when one is hungry, rather than following a diet or time schedule. The term "intuitive eating" was introduced in 1995 as the title of the first edition book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, which brought forth a "revolutionary" view on eating in the midst of harsh societal beauty standards. The book was heavily influenced by social norms at the time, specifically, the archetype of aesthetics.

The changing standard

The 1990s were the era of "Heroine Chic," which promoted eating disorders and heavy drug use. The era was defined by extreme thinness, pale faces, dark eye circles, prominent bone structures, and stringy hair: traits associated with heroin addiction. However, this is just one of many beauty standards that cycle. The body standard for women changes every decade, and the new generation grows accustomed to it. This is best represented by the transition of the 1990s “Heroin Chic" standard to the 2010s "Instagram Model" standard.

The largest factor for the development of eating disorders is body shaming and the idealization of thinness, followed by negative intaking (intentionally burning more calories than consumed) and negative internal body image. Though body standards differ for each region of the world, the common ideal body is skinny. During the three years following the introduction of western media to Fiji women, there was a 67.5% increase in concern with body image. Although beauty standards still affect women and men heavily, our ideas regarding beauty are slowly beginning to change.

Why choose intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating allows one to gradually learn to trust themselves whilst also listening to internal signals. This form of eating can help one to recognize when they are hungry, and eat until full without overeating. In doing this, one is listening to their body's signals, and trusting themselves to make good decisions about the foods they eat and the amount of them. While we are all born intuitive eaters, the ability to recognize one’s eating pattern can be skewed by surrounding conditions. Intuitive eating may seem easier said than done, but the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating act as a good guide. The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating include:

  1. Reject the diet mentality by recognizing the harmful effects long term dieting can have, and refusing to partake in the culture. This can look like examining how you think about food, how you eat, and whether or not it benefits you. Consider the following questions:

    1. Do I feel good about how I eat? Are my food choices nutritious and sustainable?

    2. How has dieting affected my life? Do I love myself, or the weight loss?

    3. Did I ever feel guilty after eating? Was I ever frustrated after "breaking the rules?"

    4. Was I ever jealous of other people for eating what I wanted to? Did I ever miss out on social events out of fear of eating?

  2. Honor your hunger by allowing yourself to eat without shame. Learn to hold no negative emotions about food by recognizing your humanity, and acknowledging that hunger is not a sin.

  3. Make peace with food by giving yourself permission to eat. See food as your friend, as it is essential to your body functions and health. Eating food, whether healthy or unhealthy, shouldn't cause guilt.

  4. Challenge the food police by not assigning moral values to food. There are no "good" or "bad" foods, and a maximum caloric limit is only harming you.

  5. Discover the satisfaction factor by enjoying your food and discovering food that makes you happy. This can look like making yourself your favorite meal, or even simply enjoying a snack you like.

  6. Feel your fullness by listening to yourself and your inner signals. Stop eating when you no longer feel hungry, and trust yourself.

  7. Respect your body by accepting and loving yourself regardless. Respect yourself enough to treat yourself with care.

  8. Cope with your emotions with kindness by allowing yourself to feel emotions and experiences without shame or guilt. There is no guilt or shame in experiencing negative emotions, and you are not contained to only positive feelings.

  9. Realize that movement is having fun while being active. It is not working out to lose weight or burn calories, but rather moving to feel good and enjoy yourself.

  10. Know that gentle nutrition is making food choices that will make you feel good and taste good.

The downsides of intuitive eating

Though intuitive eating has many positives, the technique has faults as well. Many people find intuitive eating difficult, as only eating when hungry isn't a black and white method. Furthermore, those in recovery from eating disorders may feel overwhelmed by the process, or the method may worsen their mentalities. While this technique has many highlights, it is not a one-size fits all solution, and may not work for everyone.

Establishing a healthy relationship with food can open many doors for growth. By establishing amiability with eating, one can learn to respect and accept themselves. Self love is essential to growth and acceptance, and practicing healthy eating is one of many forms of it. While intuitive eating isn't for everyone, self love is.

Written by writer Kaitlyn Levine.

Recommendations & Resources

National Eating Disorders Association, (800) 931-2237

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, (888)-375-7767

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