Forty-five million Americans try to improve their diet each year, yet only 5% of us are able to keep unhealthy weight gain at bay long-term. That means most of us are left dealing with frustration, anxiety or guilt around food, and that can make eating healthy a challenge.
“The diet industry capitalizes on people’s desire to be thin,” says Reena Panjwani, registered dietitian-nutritionist at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “But weight-loss diets are unsustainable for most people, and often they result in unhealthy relationships with food.”
People who go on weight loss diets can sometimes face food-related hurdles that could make it hard to see or feel progress. Those challenges include:
- Strict feelings about “good” and “bad” foods
- Periods of rigid dieting followed by binge eating
- Feelings of not “deserving” food
- Social withdrawal from situations where food can’t be controlled
- An inability to trust themselves around food
That’s where intuitive eating comes in.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is an approach to nutrition that aims to help people change the way they think about and interact with food. Its goal is to break a pattern of dieting and deprivation by giving people the tools they need to listen to and respect their bodies.
“We are born intuitive eaters, but somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our connection to hunger and fullness cues,” says Panjwani. “Intuitive eating is a helpful tool to reduce the stress around food for people who are looking to improve their relationship with food and their bodies.”
Here is a summary of the 10 principles of intuitive eating as outlined by intuitiveeating.org.
1. Reject the diet mentality
- Try not to focus on losing weight quickly, easily or permanently
- Allow yourself to feel angry over the fact that diets have always failed you
- Avoid looking for a new, better diet
2. Honor your hunger
- Keep your body running on nutritious energy from less-processed foods
- Learn to respect the biological signals your body gives you that you’re hungry
- Avoid triggers that lead to impulsive overeating
Know that when you let yourself become extremely hungry, you set yourself up for failure. Every dieter knows the moment when the intentions of moderate, conscious eating lose out to impulses and cravings. Try to prevent those moments by keeping your body well-fed.
3. Make peace with food
- Give yourself unconditional permission to eat
- Remove the intensity of cravings by not making any foods “off-limits”
If you deny yourself a certain food for a long time, your feelings of deprivation will build. Eventually you’ll indulge — likely with more intensity than you would have if you’d just eaten some of that food all along. Overwhelming guilt follows, and a pattern begins.
4. Challenge the “food police”
- Stop labeling yourself as “good” for eating fewer calories and “bad” for indulging
- Realize that the rules dieting creates are unreasonable and unsustainable
- Know that these rules are deeply embedded in your mind, and it will take time to stop yourself from automatically applying them
5. Respect fullness
- Pay attention to the signs your body gives you that you’re no longer hungry
- Pause mid-meal and ask yourself if the food still tastes good
- Gauge your fullness and learn to recognize and appreciate the feeling of being comfortably full
6. Discover satisfaction
- Rediscover pleasure as a goal of healthy living
- Notice how, when you eat what you really want, you empower yourself to use pleasure as a tool to help you decide when you’re satisfied
7. Honor feelings without food
- Accept that anxiety, sadness, boredom or rage are emotions we all experiencethroughout life, and food probably won’t fix any of them
- Recognize the fact that once your emotional eating is over, your emotions will remain
Know that overindulging is, at best, a short-term distraction and, at worst, a source of further guilt and anxiety.
8. Respect your body
- Accept your genetic blueprint the same way you accept your shoe size
- Respect your body
- Give yourself permission to feel good about who you are
9. Feel a difference through exercise
- Stop worrying about “serious” exercise and insteadtry to be physically active
- Focus on how it feels to move your body rather than how many calories you’re burning
Appreciate the extra energy or better sleep you get on days you work out, and make that your motivation — not the scale.
10. Honor your health
- Choose foods that taste good while still honoring your health
- Know that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy — no snack, meal, or day defines your life
- Focus instead on what you eat consistently over time
In all of these steps, remember that progress is what counts — not perfection.
To learn more about what your weight can and can’t tell you about your health, click here. Also, BlueCross members can take a personal health assessment at this link to get an idea of where they stand and how they can improve their health.