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If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve tried everything to get your eating under control; fad diets, exercise gadgets, advice from well-meaning loved-ones, “miracle pills,” cutting out food groups, and tracking apps like MyFitnessPal.

These things likely “worked” for a little, until you fell off the wagon because it just wasn’t sustainable.

You’re tired of the all-or-nothing mindset and the vicious cycle of binging and restricting. You’d love to get to a place where you can eat when you feel feel hungry, know when to stop, and not feel sick after meals. You’d love to be able to indulge happily without worrying about your weight or calories or how you’ll burn off the food.

All you want is to eat what you feel your body needs to be healthy and fueled and find peace with how you look. You donʼt want to spend hours everyday stressing over your diet and workout routine and you want to understand what your body needs to feel good.

Somehow, you learned about intuitive eating, and you’re intrigued by this non-diet approach to nutrition and health. The idea of getting rid of all your food rules and honoring your body’s cravings sounds freeing and peaceful… but you have some fears and a ton of questions.

In this blog post, I’m answering 10 of the most common questions I hear from people who are new to intuitive eating. Let’s dive in👇

1. What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is a self-care framework involving a dynamic interplay between instinct, emotion, and logic. 

The Intuitive Eating Framework was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (Elyse was on my podcast, Shoulders Down, and shared the full backstory of how the framework came to be, if you’re interested in learning more).

Intuitive Eating consists of 10 principles that work in one of two ways; to either cultivate attunement with body cues or remove attunement disruptors (aka things that get in the way of hearing body cues). 

The 10 principles are centered around 3 main components:  

  1. Unconditional permission to eat when hungry and what food is desired.
  2. Eating for physical rather than emotional reasons.
  3. Reliance on internal hunger and satiety cues to determine when and how much to eat.

Contrary to dieting and diet mentality, intuitive eating is about using your body’s cues to govern how you eat as opposed to relying on an external set of rules such as a calorie tracking app, diet protocol, or meal plan.

For many people, the idea of trusting body cues instead of relying on outside rules can sound radical. 

Right about now, you might be thinking…

“Can I really trust my body’s cues?”  

“Is it really okay to eat whatever I’m craving?”

“What will this do to my health…?!”

These are all such valid questions that we’ll explore in this intro to intuitive eating post. 

Spoiler alert: 

You really can trust your body’s cues.

It really is okay to eat whatever you’re craving.

Intuitive eating is supportive for your health outcomes… 

And this isn’t just my opinion, there are over 150 studies pointing to the efficacy of this framework, so you don’t have to take my word for it. Click here to download my free research guide if you want to see for yourself.

2. So you’re saying I can just listen to my body instead of following a diet or set of food rules?

Yes… I know it might sound terrifying, but you really can learn to listen to your body’s innate wisdom.

Imagine you’re regarding yourself as you would a child. If a child told you that that they were hungry, would you deny them food? Hopefully your answer is no—so why would you deny yourself food when you’re hungry?

You were born with the ability to use your body’s cues to govern when you eat, what you eat, and how much you eat. But if you’ve spent any amount of time following food rules or diets, you’ve likely lost touch with your intuition.

Intuitive eating is a framework to help you rebuild your trust with the innate wisdom that you were born with.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably internalized countless food rules over the years– rules about the types of foods that you should be eating, the times of day that you’re supposed to eat, the “acceptable” portion sizes, and rules about pretty much everything else related to food. 🫠

Intuitive eating is about working towards rejecting these internalized rules, and instead focusing on trusting your body’s cues, even if that means eating foods that diet culture has caused you to fear. I know this is a lot easier said than done, it can certainly be scary to incorporate previous “off-limits” foods. If this is something you’re getting stuck on, it might be a good idea to seek more support.

3. What if when I start listening to my body’s hunger cues, I can’t stop eating?

If you have spent any amount of time on a diet or following food rules, it’s likely that when you first begin your intuitive eating journey, you might feel like you’re eating more than you “should.”

This is a completely normal response.

After spending so much time focusing on what others are eating or what you’re “supposed” to eat, your perception can become distorted. For example, if you’re watching some “wellness” influencer share what she eats in a day, you may think you’re eating wrong. When in reality, oftentimes these “influencers” are grossly under nourishing themselves therefore displaying an unrealistic standard. 

On top of this skewed perception of “normal” eating, there is also a very real biological response at play.

After long periods of on-and-off dieting/restriction, it’s normal to experience a spike in hunger which is actually your body trying to protect you against the perceived threat of starvation. This period of increased hunger won’t last forever… once you stop dieting and start nourishing yourself consistently, your appetite will stabilize. 

4. What if I only eat cookies, candy, and “junk food” forever?!

When first starting the intuitive eating process, many people tend to eat a lot of the foods that they may have restricted before. It’s true, you tend to crave what you can’t have. 

But, when giving yourself unconditional permission to eat these previously forbidden foods, you’ll eventually habituate to them. Habituation is the phenomenon where repeated exposure to the same stimulus makes that stimulus less stimulating over time. In other words… the more consistently you keep the previously forbidden foods around, the less special they’ll end up feeling. Chips and ice cream and cookies will end up being just another food– something that you can take or leave without stressing.

As you become more in tune with your body’s signals and experience habituation, you’ll begin to crave a wider variety of foods.

In listening to your body, you’ll notice how certain foods make you feel physically and mentally. While delicious, you might notice that less nutritionally dense foods may not be your body’s best source of energy. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat them at all– and it certainly doesn’t mean that these foods are morally inferior– it just means that objectively, different foods feel different in our bodies.

Intuitive eating is about eating for the way that you want to feel in your body (whereas diet-mentality is about eating for the way that you want to look). 

So if you’re worried that when you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, you’ll end up eating only “junk” I want you to consider… 

If you ate ice cream every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, how long do you think it would take you to feel like you genuinely craved something else?

Most clients say that it wouldn’t take long! 

It’s completely valid to fear that granting yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods will only lead you to crave “junk,” but you’ll be surprised to learn that these won’t be the only types of foods that you want to eat.

5. Am I allowed to eat food when I’m not actually hungry?

Intuitive eating is a dynamic interplay of instinct, emotion and logic. This means that having a biological hunger cue isn’t the only reason that you’re allowed to eat. 

There are many reasons why we eat that don’t pertain to hunger cues. Sometimes we have taste hunger, where we eat simply because a certain food sounds good, or we want to try it.

Sometimes we eat from a place of emotion which, contrary to popular belief, isn’t a bad thing! Maybe you’re at a birthday party and you don’t have hunger cues, but cake is being passed around. Perhaps you choose to have the cake not because you’re hungry, but because you want to participate in the celebration and enjoy the ritual of having birthday cake. 

We also sometimes eat from a place of logic, or “practical hunger.” In these situations, we might choose to eat not because we’re physically hungry, but rather because we know we won’t have access to food or time to eat later. 

For example, if you wake up in the morning and you’re not hungry but you have back-to-back meetings or classes, you might still choose to eat from a place of practical hunger. In this case, logically, you know that if you don’t eat, you’ll end up in a state of ravenous hunger which can lead you to binge later on. 

It’s important to avoid turning intuitive eating into the “hunger fullness diet.” There are no rules when it comes to this framework. That means that you’re allowed to eat when you’re not hungry, and you’re also allowed to stop at any point– you have full body autonomy.  There is no “perfect” way of approaching intuitive eating. You are not morally superior for eating only when you have biological hunger cues, because, as outlined above, there are many other valid and important reasons to eat.

6. How can I overcome the guilt of eating foods that I once labeled as “bad”?

After years of viewing certain food or food groups as “bad” it can take time to create new beliefs. 

The reality is, every food has something to offer the body. Even foods that you’ve been taught are “junk” or “empty calories.”

“But Leah, what about ice cream? You can’t be telling me that ice cream has something to offer my body.”

…It sure does!

Ice cream offers calcium and protein from the dairy. It also offers an abundance of energy since it is a calorie-rich food.

Ice cream can be an easy way to get nutrients in when you have a sore throat as it’s nice and cooling and soothing.

It can also be great after dental procedures which might inhibit your ability to chew. After these types of procedures, your body needs the protein and calories to heal the wounds but it can be difficult to eat when you’re in pain. Ice cream can be a total life-saver in these situations.

Sometimes when emotions are running high (anxiety and depression) it can be difficult to eat. Often emotional distress can trigger loss of hunger cues.

Ice cream can be an easy and comforting way to get some calories in when you have perhaps lost your appetite due to emotional distress.

Ice cream also offers pleasure! Various studies show that pleasure is good for your health! Epidemiological studies link pleasure/happiness to longevity… how cool is that?

Want to take one step right now to move towards healing your relationship with food?

Start thinking of food in terms of what it’s offering your body instead of how it’s supposedly harming your body. (hint: every food has something to offer!)

7. Will Intuitive Eating make me lose weight?

Intuitive eating is not a weight loss program. Though its valid to still hold onto the desire for weight loss when starting intuitive eating, actively focusing on losing weight will prevent you from honoring your body’s cues and finding true peace with food.

Diets promise you a certain amount of weight loss in a certain amount of time. As an intuitive eating practitioner, I cannot promise you anything. I can, however, say this:

If you enter the intuitive eating journey above your set point range (maybe from a history of binging or consistently eating past the point of comfortable fullness) intuitive eating will, likely, in time, result in some amount of weight loss to restore you to your set point range.

If you enter the intuitive eating journey below your set point range (perhaps from a history of restriction) intuitive eating will, likely, in time, result in some amount of weight gain to restore you to your set point range. 

And in many cases, intuitive eating does not impact your weight at all. It’s possible to feel physically better in your body and your mind without your weight changing, and I actually see this happen quite often.

Ultimately, intuitive eating works to restore your body to it’s set point weight range– the weight at which it performs physiological functions most optimally. I talk a lot more about set-point weight in this blog post, plus I also share one of my favorite metaphors to help you shift your perspective on the necessity of weight loss. 

8. How do I get rid of a weight loss mindset?

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been indoctrinated with the idea that your weight is directly linked to your health (i.e. being higher weight=bad and being a lower weight=good). 

You might be surprised to learn that this actually isn’t true…

The current body of research shows that a person can be healthy in body sizes across the spectrum. This framework is called “Health At Every Size” or HAES. Body size is not an indicator of health. In other words, a person in a thin body can have negative health markers and a person in a fat* body can be in perfect health according to their biological markers. (*the term fat is used in a reclaimed way, as a neutral descriptor). 

Getting rid of a weight loss mindset is easier said than done. To start, try shifting from focusing on weight loss to focusing on your overall health (if health is a value you hold). After all, weight loss does not equate to being healthy.  

You can spend your life chasing a number on a scale or a body type that isn’t yours, or you can start walking towards food freedom and body respect.  Intuitive Eating Principle 8: Respect Your Body (leahkernrd.com)

9. What if my doctor told me I need to lose weight for my health?

Though doctors are incredibly knowledgable about the human body, they are not immune to societal anti-fat bias. In fact, research shows that doctors are the #1 source of weight discrimination against women and the #2 source of weight discrimination amongst men.  This weight stigma often goes hand in hand with other forms of discrimination, such as racism and ableism.

Doctors also historically receive very little nutrition training in medical school, so when it comes to advice about eating behaviors and relationship with food, they are not typically equipped with the right training to support patients.

Anecdotally (from my personal experience and from my experience supporting clients), I’ve found that doctors often have tunnel vision for dietary intake without considering relationship with food, disordered eating, or stress associated with food and body image.

It doesn’t matter how much kale and quinoa or “superfoods” you’re eating, if you are constantly feeling stress, guilt, and shame about food and your body, you’ll be in a chronic stress state, which certainly isn’t supportive for our health.

Healing your relationship with food and body lowers stress levels, improves responsiveness to body cues, increases the intrinsic desire for self-care, and ultimately leads to more positive health outcomes when compared to restriction or dieting interventions. No matter the medical concern you’re dealing with, having a healthy relationship with food is beneficial for you’re overall health outcomes.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that all doctors are doing harm. There are certainly some incredible providers who are committed to providing weight inclusive care in alignment with the Health At Every Size approach.

If you need medical care, consider meeting with a weight-inclusive physician who employs the HAES (Health At Every Size) approach, calling around and asking local physicians about their approach when caring for higher-weight patients, and bringing resources with you to your appointment for weight-neutral, evidence-based care options.

10. I can get behind this whole “health at every size” concept, but I still don’t like the way my body looks!

If you’re in a place where you could never imagine loving your current body, you’re certainly not alone. 

You might be surprised to hear this, but I actually don’t believe that you have to love your body in order to experience positive body image. 

People often think that healing your relationship with your body is all about body positivity aka “loving yourself,” regardless of what you look like. Though getting to a place of pure love for your body is possible for some, for many people, this can be a wildly unrealistic destination.

If you are coming from a place of body hate (which is the unfortunate reality for many people thanks to diet culture, beauty ideals, & social media) then arriving at a place of body love would be a massive leap.

When we try to take these big leaps using affirmations like, “my body is good,” we can be left feeling like a fraud, not actually believing the statements. Oftentimes, a positive affirmation for distressful body image can feel like a band aid for a bullet wound. 

What’s more, focusing on “loving your body” is still emphasizing physical appearance. The true goal of body image work is to connect to your wholeness as a human being, not just the outward looks of the vessel you inhabit.

So, if the goal of body image healing isn’t necessarily body positivity, then what does body image healing look like on an intuitive eating journey? How can you not fully love your body and still experience positive body image?

Here’s a quote that sums it up perfectly…

“Positive body image isn’t believing your body looks good, it’s knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks.”

 -Lexie and Lindsay Kite, More Than a Body

Your body is merely the container that holds your spirit, your energy, and your intrinsic gifts. It’s the vessel that allows you to experience the physical world. It’s the vehicle through which you are able to enjoy the taste of delicious food, the comfort of hugging your loved ones, the smell of a crisp fall morning, the sound of leaves crinkling, and the feeling of laughing so hard you can’t breathe.

It’s possible to not fully like the way your body looks AND still respect it for being the vessel that allows you to move through the world. It’s possible to not fully like the way your body looks AND still know that you are worthy. It’s possible to not fully like the way your body looks AND acknowledge that you are more than your body; you are the values you live through, your gifts, and your spirit.

 

Do you want to learn how to become an intuitive eater so you can experience food freedom and body peace for the rest of your life? If you just read this whole blog post and you’re craving more, I’d lovr to invite you to enroll in my self-paced, online course, The Return.

This course guides you step by step through making peace with food and finding body acceptance so you can live your most expansive life. The method I teach in The Return has already helped hundreds of human beings find food and body peace.  Learn more and enroll here. 

A special thanks to my incredible intern, Laura, for her help writing this blog post! 

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