rollercoaster at sunset with text overlay: Getting Off the Diet Rollercoaster with Intuitive Eating

Getting Off the Diet Rollercoaster with Intuitive Eating

How’s your relationship with food? Is it good, bad, or somewhere in between? Are you one of the millions who struggle with trying diet after diet, then feel you’ve failed when it doesn’t work or you can’t stick with it?

“Good” foods, “bad” foods; “always” eat this, “never” eat that…. We’ve become obsessed with nutrition information while at the same time, we’ve become more and more unhealthy.

We get on the diet roller coaster and don’t seem to be able to get off.

Diet can refer simply to eating patterns — what we eat in a given day, but it can also refer to the restriction of calories, certain foods or nutrients, etc.. The latter is what I’m talking about here.

Obviously, some health challenges require us to abide by a certain eating patterns or restrictions and if we’ve been advised to do that, we need to stick to it. It’s always helpful to work with a Registered Dietitian when we have specialized nutritional needs.

For the rest of us, though, maybe it’s time to get off that diet roller coaster.

I’m not advocating throwing healthful eating out the window, but I wanted to talk a little about an approach to eating that could help us stop letting an unhealthy relationship with food rule our lives.

Have you ever heard the term intuitive eating? I was introduced to this approach many years ago at a fitness conference I went to. I took this workshop because I wanted to help my clients get out from under the guilt and feelings of failure they had every time a diet didn’t work out.

So many times people go on a super-restrictive diet, have some initial success, then when they can’t stick with it long-term, they feel they’ve failed. It’s not the person who has failed, though. It’s the diet mentality that has failed them.

The intuitive eating program was developed by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A.. They encourage people to ditch the diets and listen to their body, to reconnect with their inner intuitive eater.

So how do we know if we’re in touch with ours? Let’s look at what intuitive eaters do: “Intuitive Eaters march to their inner hunger signals, and eat whatever they choose without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma.” (1)

As they describe it, we are naturally intuitive eaters. In their book, Intuitive Eating, they reference toddlers and their innate wisdom about food if we don’t interfere with it. They state that “….study after study shows that if you let a toddler eat spontaneously, he will eat what he needs when given free access to food.”

The problem comes in when we start assigning human attributes to food (i.e., good or bad foods), deprive ourselves of the things we really love, and start to feel guilty when we eat something we “shouldn’t” eat. This sets us up for unhealthy attitudes centered around eating, and makes mealtime more of a chore than a time of day we can use to reconnect with family around the table and enjoy each others’ company.

Slate tray with tomatoes, basil, pasta, garlic, and peppercorns with text overlay: "Having a healthy relationship with food means you are not morally superior or inferior based on your eating choices." Evelyn Tribole

So how do we get back to being the natural intuitive eater that we used to be?

Tribole and Resch outline 10 Principles for Intuitive Eating (2) on their website. These principles are:

  • Reject the diet mentality. This may be the hardest step for many of us. We’ve spent so many years looking for that ‘one diet’ that’s going to help us look and feel the way we want, and we don’t have to look very far to see someone promising to help us “lose weight quickly.”
  • Honor your hunger. Don’t ignore your hunger signals. Feed your body when it needs to be fed. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to overeat when you finally do eat.
  • Make peace with food. Get rid of the “good” or “bad” food narrative that so many of us have had running in our heads. When we deny ourselves certain foods, it can actually cause us to crave them more.
  • Challenge the food police. As Tribole and Resch say in their article, “The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
  • Discover the satisfaction factor. Practice mindful eating. Let’s take the time to sit at the table and make our meals a pleasant experience rather than mindlessly eating while bingeing Netflix.
  • Feel your fullness. Remember the 80% full trick? If we eat until we’re 80% full initially and give our brains time to catch up with our stomachs, we will be able to leave the table satisfied. We want to feel we’ve had enough without overstuffing ourselves.
  • Cope with your emotions with kindness. Rather than using food to deal with our emotions, we need to find constructive ways to cope with them.
  • Respect your body. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes. We are each wonderfully made just the way we’re supposed to be. It’s time that we learn to accept our bodies as they are, and stop being overly critical of ourselves.
  • Movement — feel the difference. Rather than focusing on the calorie-burning aspect of exercise, why not just enjoy the way exercise feels?
  • Honor your health — gentle nutrition. Let’s make food choices that both honor our taste buds and nourish our bodies. Having something that isn’t as healthy every once in a while won’t set us back in the long run. Remember what Winston Churchill said — “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

If you’d like to learn more about Intuitive Eating, you can check out their website, www.intuitiveeating.org or their book, Intuitive Eating. My copy of the book is older than dirt (okay, it’s only 16 years old) but they’ve published an updated one, as well as a workbook, which are both available on Amazon.

Getting back in touch with our inner intuitive eater can help us get off the diet roller coaster, learn to enjoy food again, and restore a healthy relationship with food. When we’re able to eat healthfully, enjoy our food, and not beat ourselves up when we indulge in that occasional treat, we reap the benefits in both the physical and emotional dimensions of wellness.

Are you familiar with the concept of Intuitive Eating? Would you say that you’re an intuitive eater? Please share!

Blessings,

~Terri

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Rollercoaster at sunset with text overlay: Getting Off the Diet Rollercoaster with Intuitive Eating

Sources:

(1) Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Program That Works, 2nd ed, 2003, Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York

(2)

14 comments

  1. I really loved the Intuitive Eating book! I read it after reading about Intuitive Eating in my Precision Nutrition program. I think they have some really great things to say. I keep their thoughts in my mind along my nutrition journey.

    1. Thanks for sharing Sarah! Are you a Precision Nutrition Coach also? I’ve done several nutrition certifications and theirs is head and shoulders above the rest! I’m glad you enjoyed the Intuitive Eating book also. We need to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves around our eating. Blessings to you!

      1. No I’m not a PN coach but I went through the program with a friend who is one. I posted about it recently on my blog. One of my next posts will be about working with a nutritionist after PN on some specific things. For me it’s been about fueling for exercise and the right combination while leaving room for play foods.

      2. That’s wonderful, Sarah, and I’m glad you had such a great experience with PN. I’ve gotten behind on my reading posts this past week, so I plan to read your post today. I look forward to hearing about your work with the nutritionist also. Often having someone to walk alongside you can help you make big strides in your wellness. Blessings to you sweet friend!

  2. Absolutely amazing post, Terri! Intuitive eating is a topic I hope becomes more and more mainstream as time passes on. Diet culture is nothing more than a money making machine. How often have we seen Photoshopped images trying to sell a product associated with that particular diet? It’s nonsense! It reminds me of the “get rich quick” schemes out there. They’re all simply trying to make a buck on someone’s bad luck. Sad, really – and honestly, angering.

    I was familiar with the concept of Intuitive eating, but I learned a ton from your post. Like you, I agree that we need to get off the roller-coaster ride leading to nowhere that is dieting. Most of all, just as you said, changing our relationship with food is the key to success.

    I love what you said about movement too, and enjoying the feeling of it. How blessed we are to have bodies that can and do move. I’m guilty of this one though – seeing exercise as a means to an end. It’s all part of the brainwashing. You’re 100% right; when we begin to actually enjoy exercise for the joy of it – it’s no longer a chore, and our results in turn are exponentially better. Plus, we can reap the mental health benefits a whole lot easier too.

    Your writing is amazing, Terri. I always love reading your posts. They are so relatable, honest, and inspirational. You’re amazing. I always leave here motivated to think differently from more of a wholeness perspective. Keep it up, Terri. I’ll remain a big fan and supporter of yours! ❤

    1. Thank you so much Holly! You are far too kind! I agree with you 100% that the whole diet culture is a money-making machine. Like you said, it’s like the get-rich-quick schemes, only with get-thin-quick as its catch-phrase. What people don’t seem to realize is that thin doesn’t always equal healthy. Losing weight too quickly can cause its own set of problems…. Thank you again for your kind comment Holly; you are such an amazing and encouraging person! Sending lots of love and hugs!

  3. Excellent post, Terri! The advice is all good. I’m a vegetarian, and intuitive eating holds a lot of healthy ideas for me! Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much Resa! I’m glad you find intuitive eating helpful as well. I find it can help people get rid of the guilt they often feel around food and eating. Hope you’re staying safe and well sweet friend. Sending hugs your way!

  4. Ooo I’ll check out the website in a minute. Over the years, particularly when I was much younger, I’ve read a few particularly good eating/overeating self-help books. Intuitive eating is often at the heart of them, with a focus on moving ourselves away from labels and calorie counting, and towards listening to our bodies. An excellent post, Terri! xx

    1. Thank you so much Caz! It really is beneficial, especially for people who deal with feelings of guilt around food and eating. Sometimes we have to learn how to get back into touch with the signals our bodies are sending in order to eat intuitively, but it really can help us avoid all the ‘baggage’ we carry around when it comes to our eating. Hope you’re feeling better and that things have slowed down some for you. Sending hugs your way!

  5. Thanks for sharing this Terri. Intuitive eating? I am always amazed at the new things I learn from reading your posts. I always pass what I learn on to my family and friends and they are amazed as well.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Mark! I’m so glad I’m able to bring you some new information. I love learning about different aspects of wellness and sharing it with others. I hope you’re staying well my friend!

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