Intuitive Eating sounds a lot like, “Yay, I can eat what I want when I want it!” And while that’s true, it’s about way more than that. It’s about getting in touch with your own internal cues instead of relying on the latest fads.
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Intuitive eating sounds like an excuse to eat and eat and eat everything you want whenever you want it. But in reality, it’s really the key to finally being at peace with food.
Although it’s an ancient concept rooted in our biology, its modern interpretation was developed by co-authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Tribole and Resch wrote the original book in 1995 and it is now in its third edition.
The basic premise of intuitive eating is that you eat according to what your body needs at any given time. Which of course includes NOT eating when you’re not hungry.
And technically, you DO eat what you want when you want it. But in relearning intuitive eating that won’t mean stuffing yourself endlessly with junk food.
No, you’ll regain the natural way to keep your body healthy and fit.
What are the principles?
Reject The Diet Mentality
Although many researchers–and serial dieters–like to say “diets don’t work,” the truth is that virtually any diet DOES work. If you follow them, you will lose weight.
The problem is following them. If only it were as simple as realizing and eating the healthiest food for your own body, your ideal weight, and robust health, we would all be at our ideal weight.
But we don’t. It’s not that simple. Our biology gets in the way, and when mixed with social signals that have bombarded us all our lives, it can feel impossible to ever be in control.
It’s not that diets don’t work, it’s that our minds rebel against them. They don’t work within the context of our every day lives, our emotions, or the social situations we find ourselves in.
And most importantly, they make us feel guilty. And when you feel guilty about falling off the wagon yet again, it perpetuates a cycle of doom.
Start diet →cheat a little →continue diet →get tired →cheat some more →give up →start again another day.
Each time feeling like a little bit more of you is lost.
But the diet mentality is persistent. It’s the idea that the next new diet will be the one! This is the one you WILL follow, and you WILL be successful!
If only that were true. Trust me, it’s not, and it will only set you up for failure yet again.
Let’s ditch the diet mentality once and for all.
Principle No. 2
Honor Your Hunger
A common way we have attempted to control our weight over the decades is by just staying hungry on whatever diet of the moment we happen to be on.
People don’t like feeling hungry. We have a survival instinct within that rebels mightily against feeling hungry.
Your iron will may win out against this instinct at times, or for a while, but instinct will win in the end.
Maybe you can keep it together long enough to lose some set amount of weight for a while. But you’ll probably be miserable.
There’s nothing wrong with learning to live with some mild hunger for a while. You don’t need to immediately grab whatever food is near the minute you feel a little twinge of hunger.
It would do most of us good to learn that feeling hungry for a while is not the end of the world.
Be that as it may, we do need to recognize our hunger levels and eat accordingly.
That means eating when you are not so hungry that you wolf down whatever is handy, then stopping when you are satisfied.
This takes some mindful eating, and that is a learned skill.
Principle No. 3
Make Peace With Food
This one is difficult for most of us who have been dieting on and off all of our lives. You need to quit seeing some foods as eternally off limits.
You need to just allow yourself to eat without attaching magic qualities to any food.
This is so scary, I know. It still scares me! But then in all seriousness it makes me mad. Mad that I’ve lived for decades thinking some foods are good and some are bad.
Of course I know we can group foods according to how nourishing they may be to a human body. There’s no question that fruits and vegetables are inherently more healthful than cookies or a chocolate bar.
You may worry that if no foods are bad, and you can eat them when you want, you will definitely gain weight. You’ll overeat your favorite foods and never stop.
Fortunately this is highly unlikely. It’s because of something called Habituation.
Studies show that the more you eat something you love or crave, the less you will eventually want to eat it.
Daniel Gilbert, social psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Harvard says,
“Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.”Daniel Gilbert, 2006
Can you see why allowing yourself unfettered access to a food you love and have forbidden yourself to eat can habituate you to it such that it will no longer have a mystical hold on you?
You may even find after you know you can have it whenever you want, you don’t even really crave it anymore.
In order to tap in to your body’s natural intuition about your food intake, you have got to stop considering any foods bad or forbidden.
It’s just that crucial.
Principle No. 4
Challenge The Food Police
The one is similar to the 3rd principle, but isn’t limited to seeing a single food or type of food as good or bad.
Instead, it has to do with rules. Either rules you have set for yourself, or those of whatever diet of “eating plan” you happen to be following.
For example, I have found myself at night before falling asleep trying to remember each and every morsel I put into my mouth to figure out if I was good or bad.
I even try to estimate the number of calories. And why can I even do that? Because I’ve counted calories for so long that I pretty much know most of them by heart!
Or, you might be victim to the common thought that you were “good” at breakfast, so you can splurge with some ice cream tonight. Or you were “bad” at lunch, so you have to skip dessert.
And so on! It’s horrible and destructive and it needs to stop. One meal or food, or DAY of eating with more or less abandon is not going to make or break your health or life.
Principle No. 5
Feel Your Fullness
I remember when my children were young and we would visit the grandparents for a meal after church on Sunday.
My mother-in-law made a delicious goulash dish from her native Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). She made gooey mashed potatoes with…get this…Cheez Whiz! They were delicious.
And they had gravy, too. Kind of crazy, but whatever. Anyway, my youngest son would say, before anyone even sat down at the table, “are there extra mashed potatoes?”
He was worried before he even had one bite whether or not there would be more after he had his first helping.
I know that sometimes when I’m eating something that I consider bad, I think I should just go ahead and eat it all so I won’t eat some tomorrow. Honestly, when I write it, it sounds so stupid. Not to mention embarrassing.
And the crazy thing is, I’m not even thinking about whether or not I’m still hungry. Doesn’t even enter my mind!
Principle No. 6
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Often times when we want, no crave a certain food, we may elect because of various “food police” rules, to eat something else instead.
For example, let’s say you want french fries. Really bad. But you know they aren’t on your diet, so you decide on a substitute that you think may satisfy your longing.
Maybe it’s a baked potato skin with diet stuff on it, or some air-fried fries. You eat the substitute, but find you are STILL craving the fries!
I mean, you want the Mickey D’s fries, dang it! And let’s face it, if you want those, nothing else is going to satisfy.
So just go ahead and eat the fries. It’s much better in the long run. If you eat a substitute, you’re going to still want the fries, and you’ll likely end up bingeing on other things as well.
Note that eating the food that will actually satisfy is NOT the same thing as bingeing on that food! Bingeing is something we are working to eliminate with intuitive eating.
Principle No. 7
Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food
We deal with our emotions all day long. They can be good, bad, happy or sad, but there’s no getting rid of them.
Too many women, including a lot of us over fifty, use food as comfort when we feel guilty (about eating!), sad, lonely, bored or angry.
But in the end, of course, the food only makes us feel better for a short time, if at all. Then more guilt usually slips in. And there goes the cycle again!
No matter what, you’ll eventually need to deal with the emotional issue and find out what the root problem is.
Then you can find other more appropriate ways to deal with your emotions and begin using food to fuel and nourish your body, instead of perpetuating the cycle of overeating and guilt.
Principle No. 8
Respect Your Body
Look, if you’re reading this post, you’re most likely a woman over 50. And we have “over 50” bodies. There’s just no getting around that.
True, we can look fabulous. We can look sexy, strong, and toned. But we probably can’t look 25 without enormous amounts of exercise along with a focus on looks that may borderline on obsession.
And some surgery.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to look awesome and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But awesome over 50 (or 60) probably won’t look like awesome at 20 or 30.
And that’s okay. It truly is, and we shouldn’t be trying to look like someone 30 years younger. We can be the best versions of ourselves.
Just stop comparing yourself with other women, no matter their age. Be YOUR best and be ecstatically happy with that.
Principle No. 9
Exercise–Feel The Difference
I’ll admit this one is a little tougher for me. I exercise a lot, or at least I try to. It’s one of the ways I stay or get into shape. It’s also crucial for those of us over 50.
But if you use exercise alone to lose weight, you’re playing a losing game. If you punish yourself with exercise because you’ve cheated (yet again) on your latest diet, you’re making yourself miserable.
Just using exercise to lose weight is not a big enough motivating factor to continue and make exercise a natural part of your life.
And you NEED to be exercising. It’s so crucial to your continued mobility and health throughout the rest of your life.
What you need to do is focus on how you feel when you’re exercising as a regular part of living. How it gives you move energy, more flexibility, more stamina.
Sure, you can celebrate and enjoy that it tones you and perhaps makes your clothes fit more loosely.
That’s fine, and it’s a great perk. But it can’t be your sole reason to exercise.
You need to find something you enjoy, and can engage in regularly. I believe walking is just about perfect for this. Nearly anyone can do it anytime anywhere.
You don’t have to stop there, and can and should add some strength training to your week. But again, do it for your overall health and not to lose weight. Make it enjoyable and focus on how it makes you feel.
Principle No. 10
Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition
By this, I mean don’t be a slave to some–or any kind of regimen that includes calorie counting, carb or macro counting, staying completely away from gluten, fat, white flour, meat, oil, insert-some-other-substance here.
(Of course if you need to do any of the above for a medical reason, by all means continue to do so. You should always check with your doctor about anything you should or should not be eating).
Eat for your health, your tastes, and eat what makes YOU feel good. According to the authors of Intuitive Eating, even using nutritional information to “keep yourself in check” is a form of diet restriction and can keep you in the cycle.
If you think of some foods as “safe” and others as “unsafe” you are not eating intuitively and still have the diet mindset.
It takes practice, so don’t expect overnight miracles.
I’ve talked previously about the kinds of foods I usually eat and recommend, and some of them may seem to contradict what I’m saying here.
Yes, and no. I do recommend focusing more on plant foods and less what we consider junk food. I believe it’s just plain healthier overall and the nutrition experts of the world no doubt mostly agree.
But that’s different from believing your whole nutrition and body health will go out the window if you indulge in some (or a lot of) nachos while kicking back a few margaritas one Friday after work.
The key to intuitive eating isn’t brainwashing yourself to never want “bad” stuff and only like “good” stuff. Remember, with intuitive eating, there is no good or bad food.
It’s about listening to your body and what it needs without judgment or guilt. It’s a learning process.
Allowing yourself to eat what you want unconditionally before focusing on what foods are actually more or less healthful is what will lead you to finally stop the trap of endlessly dieting/falling off the wagon/feeling guilty/dieting again.
Want to remember this? Post this “10 Principles of Intuitive Eating for Women over 50” article to your favorite Pinterest board!