As women approach midlife, their bodies undergo significant changes that can impact their relationship with food and their overall health. It’s common for women to feel tempted to diet during this stage, especially as their metabolism and hormones shift. Yet, the thought of going down that restrictive path is likely unbearable.
As a registered dietitian, I’ve seen firsthand the harmful effects of diet culture and the “food police” mentality. By embracing intuitive eating and focusing on nourishing their bodies, women can improve their overall well-being and feel more confident as they age. Read on to find out how the 10 principles of intuitive eating may just be the guide you are looking for.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework created by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. This weight-inclusive, evidence-based model encourages individuals to listen to their body’s cues, honor hunger and fullness, and reject dieting mentality.
It involves cultivating a more compassionate and intuitive relationship with food, letting go of food rules and restrictions, and allowing yourself to eat in a way that honors your physical and emotional needs.
Intuitive eating is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it can look different for each person based on their unique circumstances and experiences.
Ultimately, intuitive eating is about empowering women to take ownership of their health and wellbeing, and to find joy and peace with food and their bodies.
But it is really important to recognize that the intuitive eating principles are meant to serve as a guide not be adopted as another new diet to follow.
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
The first principle of intuitive eating is to reject the diet mentality. This means letting go of the idea that there is a “perfect” diet or a “right” way to eat.
It encourages individuals to recognize the pervasive and often harmful influence of diet culture in our society. Diet culture promotes the idea that a certain body size or shape is ideal and that restrictive diets are the solution to achieving it. It perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards and fosters a negative relationship with food and body image.
Laura had spent the majority of her adult life dieting and trying to conform to society’s ideals of beauty and thinness. As she turned 50, she began to realize that this constant cycle of dieting was not only exhausting but also detrimental to her overall well-being. She decided it was time for a change.
Laura started by reading books and articles that delved into the harmful effects of diet culture. These resources highlighted the negative impact of dieting on mental health, self-esteem, and physical health. This really resonated with Laura.
One weekend, Laura went through her kitchen, discarding weight loss supplements, diet books, and any diet foods that had taken up space in her pantry. It was a symbolic act, clearing out the physical reminders of her dieting past.
Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
The second principle of intuitive eating is to honor your hunger. This means listening to your body’s hunger signals and eating when you are physically hungry, rather than ignoring or suppressing your hunger. When you let yourself get too hungry, you are more likely to overeat or make unhealthy food choices.
Annette, a woman in her 40s, had spent years denying her body’s hunger cues. She had always been conscious of her weight and had tried various diets, each one dictating when and what she should eat. The result was a constant battle against her own appetite.
Annette began by paying closer attention to her hunger cues. She realized that her body often sent signals at specific times during the day. Instead of pushing through her morning hunger until lunchtime as she used to, she started having a satisfying breakfast when her body genuinely craved it.
Over time Annette realized that embracing her hunger was a form of self-care, a way to nourish and respect her body, rather than something to fear or ignore.
Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
The third principle of intuitive eating is to make peace with food. This means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you enjoy, without guilt or shame. Restricting certain foods often leads to cravings and binge eating behaviors, so it’s important to allow yourself to enjoy all foods.
Samantha, a woman in her late 50s, had battled with food guilt for as long as she could remember. She had classified foods into strict categories of “good” and “bad,” and this mindset had made her relationship with food a constant source of anxiety and frustration. At one point she even thought that she was addicted to certain foods.
Samantha slowly started to reintroduce foods she had previously deemed “off-limits.” She realized that by making peace with food, she was taking control of her choices rather than letting food control her.
Samantha tried a dessert that she had avoided for years. As she took that first bite, she allowed herself to fully enjoy the taste and the experience. She had to work with her thoughts not to feel guilt or shame; and instead, savor every mouthful without judgment.
Principle 4: Challenge Food Police
The fourth principle of intuitive eating is to challenge the “food police”- the thoughts and beliefs that tell you what you “should” and “shouldn’t” eat. ” All foods can fit into a healthy diet, and there is no need to categorize foods as “clean” or “dirty, “good” or “bad.” Learning to view food neutrally can help you make more balanced and sustainable food choices.
Linda, a woman in her early 60s, had always felt like she had a strict “food police” residing in her mind. These critical thoughts would relentlessly scrutinize every food choice she made, filling her with guilt and anxiety.
One sunny afternoon, Linda found herself at a family picnic. There was a beautiful spread of food, including her favorite, homemade potato salad. As she reached for a serving, her inner food police started to chime in, telling her that indulging in this dish was a dietary disaster.
Instead of succumbing to the familiar guilt, Linda decided to challenge her inner critic. She reminded herself that the food police’s judgments were based on dieting rules that hadn’t served her well in the past. She took a portion of the potato salad, fully enjoying the flavors, the creaminess, and the memories it brought of family gatherings over the years.
Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
This principle focuses on finding pleasure and satisfaction in the eating experience, a crucial aspect often overlooked in diet culture. In our compulsion to conform to diets, we tend to ignore one of life’s simplest joys—the sheer delight in savoring a meal.
This principle encourages you to eat what you truly desire; it involves paying attention to your cravings and preferences. When you allow yourself to eat foods you genuinely want, in a welcoming and relaxed environment, the experience becomes fulfilling and pleasurable.
Maria had spent most of her life adhering to one eating plan or another. Meals were seen as calorie-counting exercises rather than enjoyable experiences. Her journey toward intuitive eating and embracing Principle 5 began during a trip to Italy.
While visiting a small Tuscan village, Maria dined at a charming local trattoria. Instead of worrying about the calorie content of each dish, she decided to embrace the flavors and culture of the region. She started with a fresh Caprese salad, savoring the ripe tomatoes, fragrant basil, and creamy mozzarella, all drizzled with the finest olive oil.
Maria then chose a traditional pasta dish, homemade by the restaurant owner’s nonna. She twirled the pasta around her fork, appreciating the perfect al dente texture and the rich tomato sauce. The taste was unlike anything she’d ever experienced.
As she enjoyed a glass of local red wine and shared stories with the friendly patrons, Maria felt a profound sense of contentment. She didn’t obsess over portion sizes or worry about her waistline, but simply reveled in the pleasure of each bite and the conviviality of the moment.
By the time she finished her meal, Maria realized she was comfortably satisfied. She didn’t feel the need to overindulge; the joy of the meal itself had guided her to a point of contentment.
Principle 6: Feel Your Fullness
The sixth principle of intuitive eating is to respect your fullness. This means tuning in to your body’s signals and stopping eating when you are comfortably full, rather than overeating or ignoring your body’s signals. Eating slowly and mindfully can help you better recognize your fullness cues and when you are satisfied.
Joan had always been a fast eater. She’d often clean her plate without paying much attention to her body’s fullness signals.
One evening, Joan sat down to a home-cooked dinner of grilled salmon, roasted vegetables, and a side of quinoa. She decided to eat mindfully, savoring each bite and pausing between mouthfuls to check in with her body.
About three quarters through the meal, Joan realized something she hadn’t in years: she was comfortably full. Her body signaled contentment, and instead of the usual habit of finishing everything on her plate, she put down his fork. It was a novel experience for her, as she was so used to eating past the point of fullness.
Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
It’s time to find alternate, kind ways to console, care for, engage, and address your emotions. Feelings of anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are universal emotions that touch our lives. Each emotion stems from its own cause and requires its unique remedy.
It’s essential to recognize that food alone can’t heal these emotions. While it might temporarily provide comfort, serve as a distraction, or offer a numbing effect, it cannot resolve the underlying issues.
Emily had always turned to food when she felt overwhelmed by stress or loneliness. She knew it was time to change this pattern.
After a particularly tough day at work, Emily felt the familiar urge to dive into a pint of ice cream to ease her stress. But this time, she decided to try a different approach. She took a deep breath, acknowledged her emotions, and paused to think about other ways to cope.
Instead of reaching for the ice cream, Emily decided to go for a walk in a nearby park. The fresh air and the gentle exercise helped clear her mind, and the beauty of nature provided a sense of peace. She also started a journal to jot down her feelings and thoughts, which gave her a healthy outlet to express her emotions.
As she continued to work on this principle, Emily discovered the value of engaging in hobbies she enjoyed, like painting and listening to soothing music. She also reached out to a close friend when she felt lonely, seeking connection rather than turning to food to fill the void.
Over time, Emily learned that there were numerous alternatives to emotional eating. While the temptation to use food sometimes remained, she became better equipped to address her emotions directly. This change not only helped her avoid unhealthy binges but also led to a more authentic and fulfilling way of dealing with life’s ups and downs.
Principle 8: Respect Your Body
The eighth principle of intuitive eating is to respect your body. This means accepting your body as it is and treating it with kindness and care. Focusing on what your body can do, rather than its size or shape, can help you develop a more positive body image and improve your overall well-being.
Lisa had spent most of her life battling with body image issues and striving for a certain appearance. For years, Lisa had measured her self-worth based on the number on her bathroom scale and the reflection in the mirror. She had subjected herself to various diets and exercise routines in pursuit of an idealized appearance.
However, one day, while scrolling through old photographs, she stumbled upon a picture of her younger self. This image stirred a powerful realization. Even when she was younger and slimmer she hadn’t liked herself.
Lisa purposefully began to appreciate the functions and capabilities of her body as it had aged. She marveled at the fact that her legs had carried her through countless adventures, her arms had embraced loved ones, and her heart was still beating strong, providing the life force that allowed her to experience the world.
Lisa decided to channel her energy into activities that celebrated her body’s capabilities. She joined a dance class, not to lose weight, but to revel in the joy of movement and expression. She started cooking nourishing meals, not as part of a restrictive diet, but as an act of self-care and an exploration of flavors.
This change in perspective allowed Lisa to prioritize function over form. As she came to recognize that her body’s value wasn’t determined by appearance alone, she found a deeper sense of self-acceptance and contentment.
Principle 9: Movement- Feel the Difference
Find physical activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good, rather than forcing yourself to follow a strict exercise regimen. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. Moving your body regularly can improve your mood, energy levels, and physical health.
Rebecca had always considered exercise a chore. She associated it with weight loss and body control, making it a source of frustration rather than joy.
Rather than hitting the gym to shed pounds, Rebecca decided to approach movement in a new way. She explored various activities to find what genuinely brought her pleasure. Soon, she discovered her passion for hiking. The serene trails, the sound of nature, and the gentle challenge of each climb resonated with her.
Rebecca started going on hikes regularly, not as a means to burn calories, but as an opportunity to connect with nature and enjoy the serenity it offered. She found herself feeling invigorated, and more importantly, she felt the difference in how her body responded to this enjoyable form of exercise.
Rebecca’s newfound perspective on movement was transformative. It allowed her to approach exercise as a form of self-care, an opportunity to feel the difference in her body’s strength, flexibility, and overall well-being. She learned that moving for the joy of it, rather than external goals, was a sustainable and fulfilling way to engage with physical activity.
Principle 10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
The final principle of intuitive eating is to honor your health with gentle nutrition. This means making food choices that honor both your taste buds and your body’s needs, without obsessing over every nutrient or calorie. Eating a variety of nutritious foods can help you feel your best and improve your overall health.
After years of dieting and food restrictions, Sarah had decided to focus on her well-being rather than chasing after a number on the scale. She understood that her body deserved to be nourished in a way that promoted health, energy, and vitality.
Sarah started by incorporating more nutrient-dense foods into her meals. She didn’t obsess over counting calories or strict dietary rules but made choices that felt right for her body. This included enjoying a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.
To further explore this principle, Sarah consulted with a registered dietitian who specialized in intuitive eating. The dietitian provided personalized guidance, helping her understand her nutritional needs and offering insights into making balanced choices that supported her health.
Sarah also learned to pay attention to her body’s cues during meals. She recognized that her body had its unique preferences and requirements, and she became more attuned to how different foods made her feel. She embraced the pleasure of eating in a way that was both satisfying and health-conscious.
This journey of gentle nutrition allowed Sarah to find a balanced approach to eating. She felt more energetic, nourished, and content, without the burden of rigid dietary restrictions. The focus had shifted from weight loss to overall well-being, and Sarah had discovered a path that promoted health while also enjoying her meals.
How do I get started with Intuitive Eating?
For someone who has been on diets their whole life and is ready to make a shift towards intuitive eating, embarking on this journey can be both liberating and challenging. Here’s some ways to take the first step:
1. Self-Reflection and Mindset Shift:
Begin by reflecting on your dieting history. Acknowledge how it has affected your relationship with food, body image, and overall well-being.
Cultivate a mindset shift. Understand that diets often lead to short-term results followed by weight regain, and that they don’t provide lasting solutions to health and happiness.
2. Educate Yourself:
Invest time in learning about intuitive eating. Read books, articles, and research papers on the subject. Inuitiveeating.org has some great free resources to start.
3. Seek Support:
Consider seeking guidance from a registered dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating. They can provide personalized support and help you navigate the challenges of this new approach.
4. Practice Mindfulness:
Start incorporating mindfulness into your eating habits. This means paying full attention to your meals without distractions. Focus on the taste, texture, and enjoyment of each bite.
5. Embrace Intuitive Eating Gradually:
Begin by working on one principle at a time. For example, you could start with “Reject the Diet Mentality” and gradually move to the others as you become more comfortable.
6. Keep a Journal:
Consider keeping a journal to track your thoughts and emotions related to food. This can help you become more aware of your eating habits and the triggers that lead to emotional eating.
7. Be Patient and Kind to Yourself:
Understand that this is a process, and it’s normal to face challenges along the way. Be patient and practice self-compassion. It’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them.
8. Set Realistic Goals:
As you begin your intuitive eating journey, set realistic goals that are unrelated to weight loss. Focus on health and well-being, such as feeling more energetic, sleeping better, or enjoying a variety of nourishing foods.
Remember that breaking free from a lifetime of dieting can be a profound and empowering shift. It’s not just about changing your eating habits; it’s about transforming your relationship with food, your body, and ultimately, your approach to life. Be open to this process, and you may discover a newfound sense of freedom and contentment.
Q: What’s the difference between mindful eating and intuitive eating?
Mindful eating focuses on being fully present in the moment while eating, savoring each bite, and paying attention to physical and emotional cues. Intuitive eating, on the other hand, is a broader philosophy that goes beyond mindfulness, incorporating self-care, weight-inclusivity, and encompassing not only mindful eating but also principles related to exercise and body respect.
Q: Can intuitive eating help with weight loss?
A: Intuitive eating is not a weight loss program. The focus of intuitive eating is on improving your relationship with food and your body, rather than on changing your weight. In my experience some people may lose weight, some have no weight change and others may gain. Your ‘healthy weight’ will be where your weight settles when you have learned to trust your body, are attuned to your body’s hunger and fullness cues and have an enjoyable movement practice, not some number on a chart.
Q: Is intuitive eating right for everyone?
A: Intuitive eating can be a helpful approach for most people, but it may not be appropriate for those with certain medical conditions or eating disorders. It may be important to consult with a healthcare professional before you embrace al the principles.
Q: Is intuitive eating just another diet?
A: No, intuitive eating is the farthest thing from another diet. It is a compassionate, flexible self-care eating framework that encourages women to become attuned to and trust their individual needs.
Q: How long does it take to become an intuitive eater?
A: Becoming an intuitive eater is a process that takes time and practice. It may take weeks, months, or even years to fully embrace all the principles of intuitive eating. The most important thing is to be patient and kind to yourself throughout the journey, and trust that over time you will develop a healthier and more sustainable relationship with food and your body.
Intuitive eating is a powerful tool for breaking free from the damaging and unrealistic beauty standards perpetuated by diet culture. It can help you focus on overall health and well-being by providing a compassionate self-care framework. Be patient with yourself. Seek support from a registered dietitian or healthcare professional with experience in intuitive eating. With time and practice, you can develop a healthier and happier relationship with food and your body.
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