The 10 principles of intuitive eating, from intuitiveeating.org, as I see them:
1. Reject the Diet Mentality. Cliche, I know, but diets really don’t work. By diet, of course, I mean something temporary and uncomfortable that you can’t wait to go off and get back to your regular way of eating. I can see how you might want to use WW or something for a bit if your eating habits are so out of whack that you don’t know what or how much you should be eating. But in general, if you’re not developing some eating habits that you’ll be able to live with the rest of your life, your weight loss, just like your diet, will be temporary.
2. Honor Your Hunger. I’d say that most of my past binges and strange eating behaviors were from restricting myself too much. Forget thoughts of sugar addicton, emotional eating, psychological anything, I was just hungry! To this day, if I don’t plan well and spend hours getting famished, I will think about nothing but food, and when I get the chance, I will eat almost indiscriminately, quickly and way too much.
3. Make Peace with Food. I think we all have foods that are triggers for us, or for whatever reason, we are not always able to eat “in moderation”. This doesn’t tend to happen with carrots, but is usually something “bad” like ice cream, or potato chips. It’s potato chips for me, and when I first tried intuitive eating, I thought that meant I had to keep potato chips in the house until I was indifferent to them. About 5 pounds later, I decided that it would be more peaceful for me if I just ate a handful or two if I ran into them at a party, and didn’t have to live with them.
4. Challenge the Food Police. Food is not evil nor virtuous. At the same time, some foods are healthier than others, and should be eaten often. Others are not so healthy, and should be eaten sparingly. This doesn’t mean that you can never eat chocolate cake or french fries (or whatever), it just means that you should only eat them when you really want them, and not eat them mindlessly just because they’re available.
5. Respect Your Fullness. I used to eat huge meals. Sometimes three a day. I ate a huge breakfast this morning around 9 am, because I knew it would be at least 5 pm before I could eat again, unless I brought food with me, which I didn’t since I didn’t like the options. If that big breakfast that used to be breakfast now covers two meals and some snacks, it’s not surprising that I was fat. With the rare exception like this, and occasions such as Thanksgiving, I don’t like to stuff myself. It’s not comfortable-including this morning. I felt full for about 6 hours, and didn’t like it at all. I’ve actually seen reference to hunger scales, where 10 is Thanksgiving stuffed, and 1 is hungry enough to eat the furniture. It’s thought that intuitive eaters eat when they get to about 3, and stop around 6 or 7. Of course this will be different depending if you eat three meals a day, six meals a day, one meal a day plus snacks, or however you prefer to spread your food. The point is, you only have to eat until you’re satisfied, and you can get used to this. I had to learn this to become a normal eater at a stable weight, and then relearn it again to actually lose it.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. If you’re craving salty, carrots aren’t going to do it. Since I don’t keep potato chips, I can make air-popped popcorn with soy sauce and nutritional yeast (yeah, hippie I know), or eat some salted pistachios or cashews. I rarely have cravings for specific foods, especially now that I eat healthier overall. I think many cravings come from the body really needing something, and now that I eat a relatively balanced diet, it’s not common for me. I don’t think this principle is saying that you should always eat exactly what you want whenever you want, it’s just not practical. If it’s midnight and I feel like eating ice cream (never keep it home-see potato chips), I’m going to have to be satisfied with chocolate soy milk, because that’s what I have. As I eat more fruit, I like it much better, and most sweets are too sweet for me. I dislike candy, and while there are some sweets I still like (ice cream, chocolate cake), I don’t eat them too often, and these days I’m more likely to eat cherries or peaches for dessert. Taste buds can be adjusted, just like satiety levels.
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. I think it’s unrealistic that you’ll NEVER eat for reasons other than hunger, but if you want to lose weight, or at least stop gaining, better, more useful coping mechanisms need to be developed. Hell, even if you don’t want to lose weight, there are better ways to deal with emotions rather than food (or drugs, booze, sex, smoking, shopping, whatever). I’ve had to do a lot of uncomfortable emotional development to master this one, and I have far to go. Point is, I no longer use food to make myself feel better. I exercise a lot to help with depression and other emotions, which may not always be the most effective coping mechanism, but it helps control my chemicals (hormones, blood sugar, etc. etc.), and it’s a positive indicator for weight loss.
8. Respect Your Body. I’m 40. I’m not going to have a “bikini body”. I’ve accepted that, and am not working for it. I am working to be “normal weight”, wherever that ends up being. Since I’m not dieting, it’ll be whatever it is when I stop losing. Part of this “learning to eat like a normal person”** was also accepting that I can’t eat like my ex-boyfriend who weighs the same as he weighed in high school, my mom who eats junk food (I know, no foods are bad, but we can take junk food to mean calorie dense and low nutrition), or anybody who’s never been fat. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. **BTW, I think most Americans, not just dieters, don’t eat intuitively. Maybe this is why the French can eat what they eat, because they don’t eat when they’re not hungry, don’t snack all day, and don’t stuff themselves.
9. Exercise…Feel the Difference. Gary Taubes may not think exercise helps weight loss, but he’s absolutely a minority opinion. Exercise helps so much with my mood and general disposition, I don’t think I would function well at anything, let alone weight loss, without it. Even a short walk is better than nothing, but if you’re up for it, moderately intense cardio and strength training will really help your effort. Being unemployed, with a pre-paid gym membership, I exercise a lot, and likely burn 1000 extra kcals daily. If I ate an extra thousand calories, obviously I wouldn’t lose weight, but this enables me to eat more than most “dieters”. When I get a job, I’ll likely have to exercise a bit less, but I’ll also eat less. I trust that I’ll be able to adjust, and if I can’t tell, I still have the external validation of stepping on the scale every morning.
10. Honor Your Health. I’m not interested in giving up all white flour, sugar, butter, etc., but I can make food decisions with an eye towards health and weight loss, without giving up much satisfaction or eating pleasure. For example, instead of going out for a slice when I want pizza, I use half whole-wheat/white flatbread or pita, with sauce I make myself, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, garlic, roasted pepper, herbs, pepperoni. The whole pizza is probably less calories than a slice at the yummy pizzeria. Plus, those pizzas get really expensive if you start adding all those toppings. It’s true that it doesn’t taste as good, but I can live with that, because it’s better for my health and my weight. Sometimes I just gotta have real pizzeria pizza, but that’s rare, and I’m happy with one slice, rather than the two I used to eat.
Anyway, this is how I use intuitive eating. I know many think weight loss is incompatible with intuitive eating, but I really think it’s the only way to do it. I also think many can’t deal with this because they’ve dealt with such rigid food guidelines, or are rebelliing against guidelines, and try to make this into another diet, or use it as an excuse to eat poorly, or give into every craving, no matter how fleeting. Or since they can’t run to the store to drop $4 on a pineapple 24/7, or have to pack lunch thus plan their meal without knowing “exactly” what they might want they they get hungry, or they have to eat at noon whether they’re hungry or not, but that’s really just making excuses. Intuitive eating is flexible, forgiving, adaptable, not an all or nothing different set of rules. It really comes down to trusting your body, without ignoring common sense , while applying your knowledge of what’s healthy and right for you.