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How to Start Intuitive Eating

food & nutrition mind & body Nov 15, 2021

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When people think of healthy eating the image that likely comes to mind is an overly restrictive diet that takes tons of preparation and lots of willpower. However, with intuitive eating, there is no calorie counting or portion sizes because it is about letting go of food rules and learning how your body signals hunger and fullness. Further, intuitive eating can help reduce stress around food which can lead to health enhancement because individuals who do not feel guilty after meals tend to make healthier choices overall.

If you’re looking to support your patients and clients in improving their health without following another restrictive diet, this article outlines what it means to eat intuitively and how your patients and clients can get started with an intuitive eating approach.

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What is Intuitive Eating?

According to The Intuitive Eating Pros, Evelyn Tribole, and Elyse Resch, intuitive eating provides a way of eating that is about trusting your body and your signals. [1] Since reading their book, Intuitive Eating, and learning more about Health at Every Size (HAES), I’ve gained a much better understanding of the importance of eating intuitively rather than following arbitrary food rules.

This is especially important for health professionals who are working with patients and clients that have been dieting for most (if not all) of their lives. Due to dieting, our patients and clients may feel incapable of engaging in health-promoting behaviors without a list of rules that they have to follow.

For instance, someone who has been engaging in intermittent fasting may choose to ignore their hunger outside eating windows even if eating would be more beneficial to their health. Or, someone who follows the autoimmune protocol (AIP) may feel a sense of guilt for eating something that contains gluten even if they’re even sensitive to gluten. While there is a time and a place for fasting and AIP, the unintended consequence of eating in this way is that it can prevent people from trusting their internal hunger cues.

That’s why intuitive eating is a way to encourage your patients and clients to regain awareness of their body’s response to food and focus on making food choices that are based on what their body needs. [2] That might mean encouraging the faster not to ignore their internal hunger cues or the person who follows AIP to reintroduce foods they’ve previously eliminated back into their diet. In doing so, intuitive eating can provide our patients and clients with many health-promoting benefits, such as decreased disordered eating behaviors, increased physical activity, and improved quality of life. [3]

So, if you’re looking to assist your patients and clients in adopting an intuitive eating approach, I’m sharing three simple ways to help them get started with intuitive eating.

 

Three Ways to Help Your Patients and Clients Get Started with Intuitive Eating

#1. Encourage Them to Invest in the Intuitive Eating Book

There are a few things that I’m willing to be open about, but this one is non-negotiable. If you’re truly interested in adopting intuitive eating as a practice or teaching it to your patients and clients you need to invest in the book, Intuitive Eating. Learning about the science and the practical application of intuitive eating is essential for understanding how this approach works.

For one, there is a lot of misconceptions when it comes to intuitive eating. Even though people assume intuitive eating leads to indiscriminate eating, research has been shown that it can improve your nutrition and increase your consumption of whole foods. [3] Thus, reading this book is essential for understanding the truths about intuitive eating so that you know if it is or isn’t for you.

Secondly, intuitive eating has unfortunately been co-opted by diet culture who has tried to frame this as another “weight loss” diet. If you read the book, you will fully understand that intuitive eating is aligned with a HAES and NOT a weight-centric approach to health. By investing in this book, you’ll be able to ensure your patients and clients are truly able to make peace with food, free themselves from chronic dieting and rediscover the pleasure of eating.

 

#2. Help Them Commit to the Intuitive Eating Principles

Awakening the dormant intuitive eater takes not only practice but patience. Supporting your patients and clients in the practice of incorporating the intuitive eating principles is a great way to help them gain a better relationship with food and their body.

For instance, through the intuitive eating principles, you can help your patients and clients break free from the diet mentality. We know from the research that yo-yo dieting is associated with binge eating, thinness expectations, and low self-esteem. [4] By adopting intuitive eating, it can help them overcome the false belief that dieting is the only option for them to live a healthier life. Through intuitive eating, your patients and clients can learn how to honor their hunger and rebuild trust with food again.

Additionally, intuitive eating is a way for your patients and clients to become more realistic and less critical about their body shape or size. It’s very difficult for our patients and clients to be intuitive eaters if they’re focused on what they believe is “wrong” with their bodies. According to Bacon and Aphramor (2011), when fat is believed to be a negative identity it has the power to shame, but when it’s reframed as a descriptor it loses its shaming power. [5] Therefore, by helping our patients and clients recognize that it’s our society, not their bodies that is the problem we can help them gain a better respect for their bodies.

 

#3. Support Them in Finding the Right Guidance and Mentorship

At the end of the day, what’s going to make the most difference for our patients and clients is ensuring that they have the right mentorship and support on their journey. For the most part that mentorship and support are likely going to come from you. 

However, there are going to be some instances in which you aren’t the best person to guide or mentor them on some parts of their journey. Even as a health coach who wholeheartedly believes in HAES, being in a thin body means that I’m not always going to relate to my clients who are in larger bodies. This presents a great opportunity for us to collaborate with others who might be better able to support our patients and client in areas that we might not be as knowledgeable about.

Now, I want to be very clear that I’m not suggesting that you should only work with patients and clients that look like you. Your training, expertise, and experience qualify you to work with people of very diverse backgrounds. That said, we do not want to ever let our egos get in the way of serving our patients and clients. Even if you could provide guidance and mentorship in a particular area the question you really need to ask yourself is if you should?

 

So, There You Have It

Intuitive eating is a way to support your patients and clients in improving their health without following another restrictive diet. It’s about helping them listen to their bodies, honor their hunger, be present with their food choices, and give themselves unconditional permission to eat.

If that sounded appealing but overwhelming at first glance, I hope that this article provided you with three simple ways that you can help them get started on an intuitive eating approach.

Now that you're armed with the tools to help your patients and clients get started with an intuitive eating approach, let me know what your biggest takeaway was below?

Source

  1. Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. St. Martin’s Essentials.
  2. Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
  3. Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015). Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the “obesity problem.” Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(12), 678– 695. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12223
  4. Tylka, T.L., Annunziato, R.A., Burgard, D., Daníelsdóttir, S., Shuman, E., Davis, C., & Calogero, R.M. (2014). The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: Evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss. Journal of Obesity, 2014, 1-18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/983495
  5. Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9

MINDFUL MEAL PLANNING GUIDE

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