Home » Everything you need to know about intuitive eating and health at every size￼
Dieting can be harmful to our health, both physically and mentally.
Diet culture paints dieting as normal and encourages unhealthy and unrealistic body expectations. As a result, we lose touch with what we actually like to eat, what our body wants and needs, how to eat to for health and wellbeing, and also how to feel comfortable in our own skin.
In this article, we will explore intuitive eating and health at every size (HAES), two concepts which can help you to nourish and respect your body and enjoy what you eat, and as a result, lead to a happier and healthier lifestyle.
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based self-care eating framework that involves trusting the body, listening to and honouring its physical, emotional, mental and social needs. Intuitive eating is not a diet, it doesn’t impose rules about what to eat or not eat- it is about becoming embodied, fine-tuning your capacity to hear your body signals, acknowledge your emotional needs, moving with joy, and eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. In this way, intuitive eating encourages a healthy relationship with food and your body.
Although this way of eating is referred to as ‘intuitive’, for many people it’s not. Years of dieting or eating mechanically, having rules around food and depriving yourself of foods you enjoy, can send your hunger and fullness cues out of sync, making it hard to trust your body.
Intuitive eating is not a diet and is about embracing neutralising all foods in addition to eating for physical and emotional health and satisfaction, not weight loss.
You may not yet know what hunger feels like, or how to respond when you feel hungry if you have regularly dieted or eaten mechanically in the past. When you diet or restrict, your body may silence its hunger as a direct consequence of ignoring hunger signals for too long.
By learning how to respond to your hunger, you are less likely to overeat, and get stuck in a cycle of overeating and restricting.
Diet culture promotes rules and rigidity around food. In intuitive eating, no food is good or bad. Whilst there is a nutritional difference between an apple and an apple pie, there shouldn’t be an emotional difference.
Challenging the thoughts and external influences that tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat. Intuitive eating is about eating in a way that works for you, and no one else.
Your body will also tell you when it’s full, although this can be hard to detect when you’re used to dieting and eating strict portions. It may feel as though you are never full, and this could be due to being over hungry.
Check in with yourself throughout meals to see how food tastes and how hungry or full you are feeling.
When you have foods you enjoy regularly, and eating is a pleasurable experience, you may find it takes less food to satisfy you. Remember, you should eat foods to physically satisfy you, but to also satisfy your tastebuds!
Emotional eating is a common way of dealing with emotions. Explore other ways that you can cope with emotions and feelings you face, such as taking a walk, meditating or journaling. Identifying what physical hunger feels like is important when relearning to trust your body.
Physical hunger: This is the biological urge to eat in order to fuel and nourish your body. This comes on gradually and intensifies, from a rumbling stomach to fatigue and irritability. It is satisfied when you eat any food.
Emotional hunger: emotional hunger is driven by emotional needs. Stress, loneliness, boredom and sadness can create cravings for foods. Emotional hunger can be hard to satisfy, as it normally calls out for a specific food and cannot actually resolve the emotion being felt.
You may not love your body but getting to a stage where you stop criticising yourself for how you look and can accept and appreciate it for what it does, can improve your body image and self-worth, which will reduce your likeliness for wanting to diet and help you trust your body more.
Exercise for enjoyment and because you respect your body, not to burn calories or because diet culture makes you believe that you should.
It’s important to enjoy the food you eat, but also to eat food that nourishes your body. This will usually come last once you debunk all food rules, food choices can be made from an unbiased authentic place using knowledge and what the body feels as key indicators.
Intuitive eating is not about weight loss, it is about providing your body with what it needs. You could gain, maintain, or lose weight with intuitive eating. Eating intuitively is likely to bring you to your set point. If you are underweight at the moment and under nourishing, your body may show signs of physical hunger and when you honour this, this may lead to weight gain. Conversely, if you’re currently overeating or eating emotionally, becoming more attuned with your body, and eating in response to hunger and fullness signals could lead to weight loss.
Studies have linked intuitive eating to better body image and relationships with food, lower BMIs and weight maintenance (Dyke & Drinkwater, 2014). Research also shows that people who intuitively eat are less likely to develop eating disorders (Bruce & Ricciardelli, 2015).
HAES (pronounced HAY-S) is a weight-neutral approach to health, aiming to address weight-bias and stigma for those living in larger bodies, and emphasising that health is more than the number on the scale.
The HAES paradigm acknowledges that regardless of your body shape or size, if you engage in health promoting behaviours such as moving your body in ways you enjoy, nourishing your body in ways you can celebrate by honouring variety and moderation, and by engaging in self-care regimens – THIS is what promotes health and longevity, independent of your weight or ‘body mass index’.
Celebrating body diversity whilst encouraging health is achieved through:
The principles eating for wellbeing and enhancing movement are shared by both concepts of intuitive eating and HAES. As discussed above, intuitive eating is associated with better body image and weight maintenance, suggesting that doing things for ‘health’ as opposed to ‘weight loss’, as diet culture encourages, is more beneficial our long term mental and physical health.
Body shaming does not help people improve their health; it actually does the opposite. By removing weight-stigma and promoting healthy behaviours regardless of what shape or size you are, it is not only winning the war against diet culture but improving lives.
If you would like to learn more about how you can improve your body image, eat intuitively and step away from the diet cycle for good, reach out to us at [email protected].
Elle, BSc, MSc
EHL Team X
Embody Health London champions food freedom, positive body image, mental health and emotional wellbeing through a uniquely blended scientific and holistic approach. The EHL team specialises in treating chronic dieting and eating disorders by coaching clients to build confidence and reduce anxiety around their eating habits and food choices.
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