When You Know, You Know

By Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN

There are countless forces thwarting your ability to make healthy choices. Two big ones are lack of knowledge and absolute confusion about what and how to eat. They both stem from a plethora of mixed messages from industry, healthcare, media, and the government, as well as your own learned behaviors, illnesses, and possibly even trauma. Despite all of this, as human beings, we all have a “knowing.”

Another term for that “knowing” is intuition—the ability to understand something without conscious reasoning. The old saying “trust your gut” refers to intuition. It is this concept that paved the way for Intuitive Eating.

What is Intuitive Eating?

The term Intuitive Eating was coined in 1995 by Registered Dietitians, researchers, and authors, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Their anti-diet approach to nourishment aims to “help people create a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body and can be summed up as: eating for physical rather than emotional reasons; a reliance on internal hunger and satiety cues; and unconditional permission to eat.” In other words, tuning in.

Principles of Intuitive Eating

If this all sounds a bit enigmatic, we offer these 10 principles adapted from Tribole and Resch to guide you:

1. Quit comparing Compare leads to despair. What’s right for someone else is not necessarily right for you.

2. Reject diet mentality Statistically speaking, strict rules such as entire food group removals do not promote long-term results. Let go of unreasonable dos and don’ts; eat and enjoy real food. Deprivation can lead to uncontrollable cravings; 95 percent of dieters end up regaining the weight in two years.

3. Make peace with food Reframe your inner dialogue about food. Nutrition analysis leads to edible paralysis. Balance your food choices between healthy options and those that satisfy you. There is no such thing as “eating perfectly.”

4. Find your satisfaction factor Eating is not only about the foods you choose, but also about your actual environment and overall experience. If needed, create a safe space to nourish and find satisfaction in the eating experience.

5. Honor hunger We all know hunger pangs. Don’t wait until they overwhelm you. If you feel them, give yourself permission to eat, choosing from a variety of whole healthy foods.

Strive to be aware of, and respect your body and mind’s innate understanding of food’s ability to nurture and nourish.

6. Pay attention to fullness Assess your level of fullness as you are eating. Try to avoid making harried picks and plowing through a meal as if it is your last. This requires you to pause and check in with yourself. When you feel satisfied, you’ve had enough.

7. Respect your emotions If you are feeling anxious, sad, angry, lonely, or bored, honor your emotions by talking to someone safe and comfortable. Eating or not eating will not fix the problem, but can perhaps lead to others.

8. Respect your body Any way you slice it, we all have a genetic blueprint. Try to accept yours as there is nothing you can do naturally to change that.

9. Invite movement into your life Say goodbye to obsessive exercising and just get active. Focus on simply moving your body and connecting with how that feels versus counting burning calories. Try connecting with nature like walking or biking outdoors, hiking, or swimming in the sea if nearby.

10. Practice honoring your health Following your intuition, especially if you are new to it, takes practice. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and know that repetition will lead to changes in your behavior.

Give yourself more credit; you know what will make you feel good.

While more research needs to be conducted on intuitive eating to understand the scope of its health benefits, preliminary findings point to the fact that those who intuitively eat tend to have improved mental health and reduced disordered eating behaviors namely binge eating.

Mindful Eating vs. Intuitive Eating

Have you ever sat down at the dinner table, and before diving in, asked your family to share their best and worst part of their day as well as what they are grateful for? This mindful eating activity allows for time to pause after a long day forcing us to connect our inner worlds with our outer.

Mindful Eating is the act of paying attention with purpose to yourself and what is on your plate; It eliminates multitasking and invites staying present during your meal, which inevitably leads to a greater appreciation of it.

To sum up, Mindful Eating is more about slowing down in the moment, grounding and connecting to your nourishment, while Intuitive Eating is a broader philosophy that encompasses attunement of mind, body, and food.

At their core, both of these food ideologies are about knowing. Strive to be aware of, and respect your body and mind’s innate understanding of food’s ability to nurture and nourish. Give yourself more credit; you know what will make you feel good. Eat foods that are pleasing, yet beneficial to the body by enlisting all of your senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. When deciding what to eat, consider how what you select will make you feel after. And if you still are not sure, make a concerted effort to pay attention afterwards. Get in touch with yourself, your circumstances, your emotions, and your food so you can “know” better.

If these concepts feel very foreign to you, check out these books on Intuitive Eating. And trust that transformation is a process and takes time. Be kind and gentle with yourself.

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