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Intuitive Eating Basics for Health Coaches

intuitive eating Apr 18, 2022

As a health coach, you're probably familiar with the basics of intuitive eating. But even if you're an expert on the subject, it's always helpful to revisit the basics and remind yourself of what they are.

In this article, we'll go over the essentials of intuitive eating and provide some tips for incorporating them into your coaching practice. So whether you're just starting out in intuitive eating or looking for ways to improve your skills, this article is for you!


What is Intuitive Eating (IE)?

IE might feel like a hot “new” trend, but you might be wondering what is it exactly? The simplest answer is that it's a return to the way humans have eaten for most of history. It means tuning into your hunger and fullness signals and eating in response to them, rather than in response to external cues like time, emotions, or the availability of food.

Through IE, your clients are able to ditch diets in favor of listening to their body's cues and enjoying all kinds of food without guilt or restriction. This allows them to honor their body by giving it the foods it wants and needs, rather than restrictive diets that tell them what they "should" or "should not" eat.

When they eat intuitively, they not only improve their physical health but also boost their emotional well-being. So next time they’re feeling hungry, they’re better able to listen to their body and let it guide them to the meal that’s right for them.


The History of IE

IE is a philosophy that was developed in the early 1990s by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The premise of IE is simple: eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. This may seem like common sense, but for many of us, it’s easier said than done.

We live in a world where we’re bombarded with diet culture messages telling us that we should be eating less, exercising more, and constantly striving for perfection. IE is a rebellion against all of that because, unlike dieting, it focuses on: 

  1. Helping you ditch the diet mentality. Anyone who's ever been on a diet knows that they're all basically the same. Diets encourage our clients to eat less and work out more which leaves them feeling terrible until they finally give up and go back to their old ways. It's a never-ending cycle of deprivation and guilt. The benefit of IE is that it helps our clients ditch the fad diets in favor of listening to their bodies' own hunger cues. That means no more depriving themselves of their favorite foods or punishing themselves for "cheating."
  2. Helping our clients listen to their bodies. Dieting is all about deprivation. With IE, we focus on listening to our body's cues. This means that we eat when we're hungry, and we stop when we're full. No counting calories or restrictions is required. This can be a liberating experience for our clients who have been trapped in the cycle of dieting and food insecurity. With IE, they can finally start to enjoy food again without guilt or shame. And that is a truly revolutionary act.
  3. Helping our clients eat without restriction. We all know the feeling: you're at a party, surrounded by delicious food, and you desperately want to indulge. But you can't, because you're on a diet. You feel guilty and restricted like you're missing out on all the fun. IE tells our clients that they don't have to deprive themselves in order to be healthy. Unlike dieting, IE focuses on enjoying all kinds of food without guilt or restriction. That means our clients learn to listen to their bodies and eat what they really crave. As a result, they not only feel happier but also more satisfied.

Thus, IE offers a kinder, gentler approach that honors our bodies and our need for nourishment. Today, IE is more popular than ever, with books, blogs, and even apps dedicated to helping people learn how to listen to their bodies and make peace with food. So if your clients feel conflicted about their relationship with food and their body, IE can be a great place to help them make peace with food and their body.


The 10 Principles of IE

As IE is not a diet, but a way of life there are no foods that are "off-limits" or strict rules to follow. Instead, intuitive eaters rely on their internal hunger cues to guide their food choices. This can be a difficult concept for many people to grasp, but it's actually very simple: eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full, and enjoy your food without guilt or judgment.

This can be achieved through following the ten principles of IE which are designed to help people break free from the diet mentality and make peace with food. The 10 principles are:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality. The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that offers false hope to clients. The problem with this system, though it might seem tempting at first glance or sound good in theory (lose weight quickly!), ultimately leads people down an unhealthy path. Instead, IE offers clients the ability to find true health and wellness regardless if weight loss is achieved.
  2. Honor Your Hunger. Your clients are not alone in wanting to feel satisfied and full, even if the latest diet fad says otherwise! IE is about showing them that their body has an internal GPS system that will guide them back toward healthy living. Thus, we can help our clients get on track with IE so they know their own unique nutritional needs.
  3. Make Peace with Food. While healthy eating can feel hard for our clients, IE can help them see that it’s worth the effort. IE helps clients creates a sense of peace with one's body. By doing so, their cravings become less intense and they’re better able to focus on what their bodies need rather than denying themselves everything all the time.
  4. Challenge the Food Police. In a world where the food police are regulating what we eat and drink, it can be difficult for our clients not to let this impact their nutritional choices. IE helps our clients recognize these rules as soon as they pop up - then reject them with ease! In doing so our clients can finally say goodbye to those pesky thoughts in their heads that declare what they should or shouldn’t eat.
  5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. Our clients often get caught up in the diet culture trap of thinking that eating is only about calories. IE helps them discover that when they take away all these numbers and just focus on their appetite's intuition it becomes easier to feel full and satisfied.
  6. Feel Your Fullness. While we all want to feel full, it is not just a physical sensation. It's also an emotional one when clients learn how their bodies respond and change over time because of the food choices made every day. Therefore, IE allows them to pause during meals for self-reflection which can help lead to healthier lifestyles overall.
  7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness. You may be familiar with the idea that restriction of any kind can trigger our clients to emotionally eat. Through IE, clients learn to recognize when their bodies need nourishment from other sources, such as meditation, yoga, or journaling to manage stress more effectively.
  8. Respect Your Body. IE is a way for our clients to respect their bodies so they can feel better about who they are. It’s hard, sometimes even impossible in the face of society's pressure and unrealistic expectations from ourselves or others. IE helps remind our clients that all shapes deserve dignity as well - which will allow them to make more healthy choices.
  9. Movement - Feel the Difference. With IE our clients can get back in touch with their bodies. This helps them shift from focusing on the calorie-burning effects of exercise to how they FEEL when working out, such as energized!
  10. Honor Your Health - Gentle Nutrition. Our clients want to feel good and look great. But, when they are constantly dieting or severely restricting their food intake it can be hard on both their body and mind. That’s why IE can help our clients remove the guilt and shame for making “less than perfect" food choices.


How to Help Your Clients Practice IE in Their Everyday Life

When it comes to health and wellness, we all know that making small changes in our daily routine can have a big impact on our overall well-being. While learning about the principles of intuitive eating is essential, learning doesn't always guarantee implementation.

For that reason, you might notice that many of your clients who want to eat intuitive struggle to do so in their everyday life. That's why we must ensure that we support our clients in implementing what they're learning. Here are three simple steps to help your clients get started with practicing IE in their everyday lives:

  1. Take a Flexible Approach with Nutrition and Physical Activity. As a health coach, you know that the first place that every client wants to start with is nutrition, but nutrition is of little use if your client doesn't have the right mindset. That's why IE Principles 1, 3, 4, and 7 are key when it comes to taking a more flexible approach when it comes to nutritional and physical activity. When they do your clients will be better able to eat and move in a way that is best for the lifestyle they want to live. 
  2. Recognize That Food is For Fuel and Fulfilment. Don't get me wrong. While my certifications are in nutrition, I don't ever want to deny the importance of ensuring our clients actually like what they eat. This is where IE Principles 2, 5, and 6 come in. The reason many are able to stick to IE in comparison to diets is that it removes guilt and shame that are often associated with food. By doing that our clients learn that they can eat healthy meals that leave them not only feeling full, but satisfied.  
  3. Value and Appreciate What Their Body Can Do Today. There's so much to be said about the importance of setting goals for the future. It's important that our clients don't let those goals prevent them from seeing what is possible for them now. Therefore, IE Principles 8, 9, and 10 serve as friendly reminders that they don't need to wait until their bodies reach some arbitrary number on the scale to fully live their lives. Instead, valuing and appreciating where they are today can help them see that their ultimate goals are much easier to reach. 


How to Help Your Clients with Troubleshooting IE

As a health coach, you know that one size does not fit all when it comes to nutrition and wellness. Each client brings their own unique set of circumstances, goals, and challenges to the table. However, IE is a practice that can help virtually anyone who is struggling with their relationship with food.

IE can be a tough road for some, but the benefits are worth it! When clients adopt IE practices, they often see improvements in their body image, eating habits, and love of exercise. Here are a few tips on how you can help your clients who are struggling to make the transition to intuitive eating:

1. Educate your clients on what intuitive eating is and why it’s beneficial: Explain to them that intuitive eating isn’t about eating whatever they want when they want it. Instead, intuitive eating is all about listening to their body's hunger cues and honoring their individual preferences.

2. Teach them to listen to their bodies. Help them learn to identify hunger cues and respond accordingly. This may mean eating more frequently throughout the day or planning ahead with ready-to-go snacks.

3. Encourage them to honor their food preferences. If they're craving pizza, help them recognize that they don’t need to find a “healthier” version. Instead, they can eat in a way that satisfies their cravings, while providing them with the nourishment they need.


Tips for Eating Intuitively Yourself

Health coaches are always helping others to eat intuitively, but sometimes we need a reminder to do the same for ourselves. If you’re just getting started with implementing IE into your practice, I’d highly recommend that you start with yourself.

This way you’re able to not only implement what works but help your clients troubleshoot along the way. Here are a few tips to get you started on the right foot.

1. Listen to your body. As health coaches, we often learn about calorie counting, macronutrient tracking, and portion control. While all those strategies can serve a purpose, nothing beats tuning into your internal hunger cues. By adopting intuitive eating into your own life, you’ll learn not only what your body needs but when it needs it. That is essential for not only properly nourishing yourself but also for being more flexible with your eating choices.

2. Avoid labeling foods as "good" or "bad." One of the things we know as health coaches is that one size does not fit all. For that reason, it’s important that we don’t take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to eating as what works well for someone else’s body might not work well for ours. IE helps us better understand that many of the foods that are often “demonized’ can actually be part of a healthy diet.

3. Be present while you're eating. We know as health coaches that the key to recognizing when we’re hungry and when we’re full is being more present when we’re eating. While we might encourage our clients to do so, we may forget to do this ourselves. Therefore, an important aspect of IE is bringing your full self to the table. This means paying attention to the flavors, textures, and smells of your food. This way you’re able to be more present when you’re eating.

4. Slow down and savor your meal. Whether you’re running a private practice or you’re working with a team of health coaches, it’s a good chance that you’re often eating on the go. We know that distracting eating can lead us to eat more than we intend. Thus, eating intuitively can help you to feel more full and satisfied after your meals.

5. Trust yourself. At the end of the day, IE reminds us that we know what's best for our bodies. That means that you can indulge in a slice of cake and savor every single bit without feeling any guilt or shame. Conversely, that also means you know intuitively that eating the cake won't leave you feeling like your best self. So, you make the choice not to consume it from a place of knowing what works for your body and what doesn't. 


What’s Next?

As this article has shown, intuitive eating is a powerful tool for helping your clients make peace with food and their bodies. By understanding and applying the basics of intuitive eating, you can help your clients develop a healthy relationship with food and themselves.

Remember, it's always important to tailor intuitive eating principles to fit each client's unique needs and preferences. So experiment until you find what works best for them. Feel free to DM me on Instagram at @tomeshacampbell to let me know how you will start incorporating intuitive eating into your coaching practice? Or, email me at [email protected] if you have any questions. I’m always happy to help!

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