An Antidiet Dietitian Shares the 5 Steps You Can Take to Become an Intuitive Eater
This time of year can be a trigger for many women to want to lose weight (hello, New Year's resolutions). It's exhausting, isn't it? If the idea of restrictive diets and unsustainable workout schedules makes you cringe, there is a solution: intuitive eating. It's a way of eating that makes you give up diets forever and encourages you to listen to your body, eat the foods you love, and not obsess over calories and carbs. With intuitive eating, you'll have a healthy relationship with food and freedom and peace from the pressures food and dieting may have put on you in the past. Sounds amazing, doesn't it?
Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN, an antidiet registered dietitian nutritionist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and host of the Food Psych Podcast, knows that giving up years or maybe even decades of dieting can feel overwhelming. Here are the steps she recommends to start intuitive eating.
Step 1: Understand How Harmful Dieting Is
Ready to move away from dieting and the goal of wanting to lose weight and to instead focus on body kindness embracing intuitive eating? Christy said "first and foremost, you need to understand why dieting and weight-loss efforts are harmful and to build your awareness and resolve to move away from them."
There's so much science that explains how diets fail, which she goes into detail in her book Anti-Diet, and shares stories of people who've been harmed by dieting. Restriction can lead to bingeing, which can actually cause weight gain. Dieting can lead to eating disorders, cause health issues, and can have a negative impact on your mental health.
"It's pretty much impossible to move away from dieting and weight loss when you still believe deep down that losing weight is the healthy or 'right' thing to do," Christy said.
Step 2: Investigate All the Ways You May Be Dieting
"Next, I think it's important investigate all the ways you're currently dieting, overtly or covertly," Christy said. Diet culture takes on many sneaky forms, especially since the turn of the 21st century. It's incredibly common for people to think "I'm not dieting, I'm just being healthy," when in reality they are *absolutely* still dieting.
Christy explained that many people are still eating less than they want in an effort to lose or maintain weight, or are still reflexively avoiding certain foods that were deemed "bad" on past diets, such as wheat or sugar. Or they may still be using exercise or other behaviors to compensate for eating. "Uncovering all of the internalized diet culture beliefs that you're still holding onto will allow you to consciously start to challenge them," said Christy.
Step 3: Honor Your Hunger
"From there, I think the steps get kind of messy and nonlinear, and where you go next really depends on your individual struggles and beliefs," Christy said. But a couple of additional steps that can help, not in any particular order, are:
"Start honoring your hunger instead of suppressing it." Christy explained that intuitive eating is not about only eating when you're hungry; that's just turning it into another diet. But it is about honoring your hunger whenever you notice it, to the greatest extent possible given your economic circumstances, rather than trying to delay or talk yourself out of eating for diet-culture reasons.
"It can be difficult to notice or connect to signs of hunger when you've been restricting your eating for a long time, but just know that hunger doesn't always manifest as growling in the stomach," Christy said. "In fact, many people don't have stomach sensations of hunger until they're famished."
She exampled that more subtle signs of hunger include persistent thoughts of food, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue. Christy said to try to get used to eating at subtler signs of hunger and you'll likely find that you feel steadier and more energized throughout the day. She added that "honoring your hunger does not mean eating diet food or a diet-size portion."
Step 4: No Food Is "Off-Limits"
Another essential step in letting go of dieting and moving toward intuitive eating is to make peace with food. Christy said to trust that no food is "off-limits" and that you have full, unconditional permission to eat anything you want, anytime.
"I know that probably flies in the face of everything you've learned from diet culture, but the truth is that when you give yourself permission to eat all foods, you're ultimately able to decide for yourself what you genuinely want to eat, and inevitably that will include a wide variety of foods, not just the ones diet culture deems 'bad.'" Plus, she said that the forbidden fruit always tastes the sweetest, so you'll likely find that when you stop restricting certain foods, eventually you may not even want them as often.
Step 5: Make Foods Choices From a Place of Self-Care
Another step toward intuitive eating is to make food choices from a place of self-care. If you have any true allergies or intolerances to foods (such as peanut allergy, celiac disease, or lactose intolerance), you obviously need to honor those. But Christy said, "if you've been cutting out foods unnecessarily based on a false food-intolerance diagnosis (which is sadly common these days), giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods helps you break free from harmful and unnecessary restrictions."
Also, giving yourself permission to eat anything you choose, rather than following outside rules that you're "not allowed" to eat particular foods, puts you back in charge. Having freedom to eat the foods that make you physically and emotionally happy and satisfied is an important step in intuitive eating.