getting started with intuitive eating and the non-diet approach
  • July 3, 2024

Getting Started with Intuitive Eating And The Non-Diet Approach

Understanding Intuitive Eating and the Non-Diet Approach Getting started with intuitive eating and the non-diet approach can be a transformative […]

Understanding Intuitive Eating and the Non-Diet Approach

Getting started with intuitive eating and the non-diet approach can be a transformative journey. It’s about listening to your body, honoring your hunger and fullness cues, and fostering a positive relationship with food and exercise.

 

 

The Issues with Dieting

Dieting is highly prevalent in our culture, particularly in Western cultures. Social media only amplifies this, creating a global emphasis on achieving an “ideal” weight through dieting.

The problem is that dieting behaviors, like food restriction, energy restriction, and excessive exercise, often don’t lead to sustainable weight loss. Many people regain the weight within five years. 

It’s important to note that there’s nothing inherently wrong with pursuing weight loss. At the heart of the “Health at Every Size” (HAES) movement is body autonomy—having the right to make decisions about your own body, including the choice to diet.

It’s important to acknowledge the pressures people face, whether from medical professionals, social influences, or personal comments from friends and family. Many are taught through weight-centric health education that weight loss is the solution to various health issues.

It’s also important to acknowledge the physical and emotional discomfort that can come with living in a larger body, including challenges with mobility and experiencing weight stigma or discrimination.

The non-diet approach acknowledges and aims to relieve some of these pressures, and focuses on improving health – irrespective of body weight and shape. 

 

woman in a larger body stretching on a yoga mat at home and smiling

 

The Non-Diet Approach

The non-diet approach is a clinical application of the Health at Every Size principles. It shifts the focus away from weight and removes the pressure to eat or exercise in a certain way solely for the purpose of losing weight. Instead, it emphasises developing healthy habits.

By concentrating on habits rather than the number on the scale, we can foster a more sustainable and compassionate approach to health and well-being.

There is plenty of research backing up the idea that health behaviors are much stronger predictors of health compared to the number on the scale. You can have people who are very metabolically healthy living in larger bodies, and people who are not metabolically healthy or have difficulties with their health who are in thinner bodies.

The non-diet approach focuses on the fact that our body has a lot of wisdom when it comes to food, eating, nutrition, rest, and weight. It looks at health from a much more holistic and balanced lens, considering the full picture rather than focusing on the pursuit of a single metric.

It helps heal our relationship with food and our body, and it focuses on accepting our body and practicing body neutrality.

 

Benefits of Following a Non-Diet Approach vs. Traditional Weight Loss-Based Approach

There’s several benefits that you may experience by following a non-diet approach compared to traditional weight loss-based approaches.

 

Reconnecting With Body Cues

One of these benefits is the ability to reconnect with your body’s internal cues of hunger, fullness, and satiety. 

Just like our body gives us an urge when we need to use the restroom, our body, when functioning as it should, gives us signals that it’s time to eat or to stop eating. 

Unfortunately, dieting essentially acts in the opposite direction of this.

 

Encourages Abundance Rather Than Restriction

A non-diet approach encourages us to eat a wide variety of foods and challenges any feelings of guilt and anxiety that we may experience when eating certain types of foods.

 

Supports Life-Enhancing Movement

A non-diet approach supports us in finding a type of movement that we find enjoyable and sustainable, rather than focusing on burning calories or changing body weight, shape, or size

This means less time spent on the dreaded elliptical machine, and more time spent doing activities you actually enjoy!

 

Improved Relationship With Body

The non-diet approach focuses on feeling more comfortable living in your body. It supports us to respect the body we have right now, and might increase our willingness to care for it regardless of whether there’s weight loss happening or not.

In diet culture, it’s often about changing your body, but here, we acknowledge that you might still want to change your body, while also working on being comfortable living in your body as it is.

 

Sustainability

The non-diet approach also helps to ditch weight cycling—going on a diet, losing weight, gaining it back—and as a result, improves different markers of health such as blood pressure, sugar levels, and cholesterol levels.

 

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Where Does Intuitive Eating Fit Into The Non-Diet Approach?

Intuitive eating is part of the non-diet approach. The non-diet approach acts as an umbrella term, with intuitive eating being a practical application of the nutrition and exercise aspects found under the non-diet approach.

Intuitive eating was founded by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who are based in the United States. 

It’s a weight-neutral, evidence-based approach that integrates both body and mind.

There are over 90 studies to date supporting intuitive eating – so it is an evidence-based approach.

 Intuitive eating comprises 10 principles that help us shift from external cues—such as restrictive diets, calorie counting, weighing, and societal body standards—towards reconnecting with our own body wisdom and cues, like hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.

Here is a quick overview of the 10 principles, with some practical tips on how you can get started with intuitive eating:

 

1. Reject the diet mentality

This might involve throwing out diet books and magazines, or unfollowing people on social media who promote unsustainable diets and diet culture.

The reason this is important is that these sources often promise quick and easy weight loss, claiming it’s permanent, which we know isn’t true. 

To reject this mentality, we need to remove ourselves from these sources of information. 

Additionally, we recommend getting angry at diet culture. This includes the books, magazines, and diets that made you feel like a failure when they stopped working.

It’s important to remember that you didn’t fail; the diet set you up to fail because it was ultimately unsustainable. 

Letting go of the diet mentality can be similar to the grief process. You might experience denial, shock, bargaining, anger, and ultimately acceptance as you adapt to this new way of relating to food and your body.

A practical tip for rejecting the diet mentality is to go through your social media and unfollow anyone promoting these messages. If you have any diet books at home, consider throwing them out as well.

You could also pick up any of the books by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch on intuitive eating. They’ve written several on the topic, providing great insights and guidance around getting started with intuitive eating. 

hands of a woman holding an iphone scrolling on instagram

 

2. Honour your hunger

A big part of this is making sure we’re eating enough food energy across the day.

This is really important because we know that not eating enough can trigger that excessive hunger and drive to overeat. 

It’s very difficult to be mindful, conscious, and practice mindful eating when we are eating our meals when we are absolutely starving.

If we regularly ignore hunger cues, our body can adapt to this and stop giving us these signals. This is when regular eating is really important in helping regulate these signals.

Another way to practice this principle is to check in with your hunger signals throughout the day. Using a tool like a hunger/fullness scale can be really useful here. 

 

3. Make peace with food

This approach eliminates the idea of “good” foods and “bad” foods. For instance, eating a cookie should be as neutral as eating broccoli. Not allowing yourself to have specific foods can drive up cravings, so making peace with food is essential to feeling more at ease with the eating experience and various types of food.

Categorising foods as “good” or “bad” can create a “last supper” mentality. For example, if you consider chocolate a “bad” food and then have access to it—say your partner brings some home—you might feel compelled to eat all of it at once because you believe it’s not part of your diet. This mindset leads to negative emotions like guilt and shame.

You may want to start with identifying what sort of negative thoughts you may be experiencing around eating. Once you have noticed these thoughts, you may want to challenge any negative thoughts around food and eating. 

Identifying “fear foods” or foods you currently restrict and gently challenging those limits is crucial. You can check out Episode 3: Overcoming Fear Foods of the Imbodi Health Podcast to learn some practical strategies on this topic. 

 

4. Challenge the food police

Challenging the food police involves noticing and rejecting thoughts that label you as “good” or “bad” based on what you eat. 

The food police enforce the rules created by diet culture. We encounter the food police both internally and externally. Internally, it’s the voice in our head judging our food choices. Externally, it can be other people making comments about what we eat.

We want to challenge these judgments. A useful mindset to adopt is “my plate, my business.” 

Building a positive narrative in your head is the first step. This internal work helps build armor against the food police in daily life. Once you’re confident, you can start challenging external judgments more directly.

 

5. Discover the satisfaction factor

Diet culture often makes us overlook one of the most basic joys of life: the pleasure and satisfaction we can find in eating. 

This principle is about finding that pleasure. Enjoying our eating experience, including the environment and the food itself, can help us recognise when we are satisfied and have eaten the right amount for our bodies at that moment.

 This shift allows us to feel content and ready to move on after a meal.

To improve the satisfaction factor, we need to consider both the food itself and our eating environment.

From a food perspective, diet culture often strips away elements that provide satisfaction. For instance, it may discourage adding carbs, sauces, or dressings to meals. Instead, we should feel comfortable enhancing our meals with ingredients that bring joy and flavor, like adding pasta or dressings to a salad.

From an environmental perspective, we can create a more enjoyable eating experience by changing our surroundings. For example, instead of eating breakfast on the go, we could sit outside, enjoy the sunshine, drink water, and make a nice coffee, thus making the meal more inviting and reducing distractions like TV and phones.

 

6. Feel your fullness

Feeling your fullness is about building body trust and listening to your body’s signals when it tells you that you’re no longer hungry. A significant part of this is giving yourself permission to eat all foods, which helps with the satisfaction factor. It’s essential to recognise both physical fullness and mental satisfaction.

A helpful tip for this principle is using a tool such as the the hunger-fullness scale. 

Additionally, reducing distractions while eating is important. Being engaged in work, watching TV, or walking around makes it hard to tune into your body’s signals.

Another part of this is pausing in the middle of your meal to assess how you feel. Are you still enjoying it? If not, that could be a sign you’re full. 

Incorporating mindful eating techniques can help, even if it’s just focusing on the first five to ten minutes of the meal. Concentrating on your meal and your fullness levels for a short period can be a simple way to start.

 

7. Cope with your emotions with kindness

Emotional eating is normal human behavior. While food might help in the short term, it doesn’t necessarily address the underlying emotions. For instance, if you’re sad, food might give you a dopamine boost, but it won’t make you feel better for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

When we talk about coping with emotions, it’s important to acknowledge that eating is normal and human. However, we want to build other coping strategies as well. This could include journaling, calling a friend, or going for a walk. 

One tip is to reflect on the emotions you experience when you turn to food for comfort. Using an emotion wheel can help identify your feelings. Once you know what you’re feeling, you can develop other strategies to cope. 

For example, if you’re feeling sad, you might take a bath, journal, seek help from a psychologist or friend, watch Netflix, or go to sleep. It’s about having various tools in your toolbox.

 

woman in pink knit sweater and blue jeans holding white mug

 

8. Respect your body

This involves body gratitude, body appreciation, and body neutrality. It’s about recognising how your body supports you – and appreciating it rather than criticizing it for not being ‘perfect’. 

A part of getting started with intuitive eating is accepting our genetic blueprint. Our genes significantly influence our body shape, weight, and size. 

Just like a size eight shoe can’t fit into a size five shoe, there are limitations to how much we can change our bodies due to genetic constraints.

We acknowledge that this is potentially easier to do in some bodies than others, especially in more marginalised bodies that experience more scrutiny in society about what they should look like. 

We also recognise that while a size eight shoe can’t fit into a size five shoe, we live in a society where everyone is expected to be a size five. It’s about building our own armor in this diet culture and body idealistic world. 

A tip for practising body neutrality is to focus on what your body can do for you daily. Be grateful for its functions. For example, if you’re going for a walk and thinking your legs are too big, acknowledge that it’s okay to feel that way but also focus on what your legs have allowed you to do, like walk five kilometers or spend time in nature.

 

9. Movement – feel the difference

This principle ties into respecting your body because we know that when we move, especially without the goal of burning calories or changing our body shape, it can improve our body image.

An important guiding principle here is to focus on how it feels to move your body rather than the calorie-burning effect or muscle changes. Think about exercises or movements you enjoy.

 

10. Gentle nutrition

The way we like to explain this is with a Venn diagram. So imagine on the left hand side, it represents what your body needs or wants in that moment. And on the right hand side, we’ve got nutrition knowledge on nutrition education. 

There’s going to be a sweet spot in the middle where you can combine knowledge around what kind of foods can be helpful to combine, with what you’re actually craving and what honours your tastebuds in that moment.

The goal of gentle nutrition is not perfection; it’s about making progress with small changes that add up over time, and finding a level of consistency that fits your life and unique needs. 

The idea is that you won’t get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy from one snack, one meal, or even a single day of eating. 

It’s more about what happens over weeks and months. For example, if you stopped having carbohydrate or protein foods entirely, it could lead to an iron deficiency over time. But if you just skipped protein at lunch one day, you won’t suddenly have a deficiency.

Some tips for practicing gentle nutrition include eating regularly – aim for three main meals and two to three snacks a day. 

Also, focus on building balanced meals by including fruits and veggies, proteins, carbohydrates, and nourishing fats. We also want to aim to have a variety of different foods throughout the week 

 

Summary

Non-diet approach focuses on holistic health, body acceptance, and rejecting diet culture’s restrictive norms.

If you are interested in getting started with intuitive eating, our non-diet dietitians at Imbodi Health can help guide and support you on this journey. 

If you would like to find out more about how we can help, you can book a free 15-minute discovery call here!

 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

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