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

1. Reject the Diet Mentality 

It’s time to get angry at that voice in the back of your head that is constantly focused on losing weight and making you feel like a failure. To begin your intuitive eating journey and make peace with food, you must start by getting rid of the physical tools of dieting– diet books, articles, apps, scales, and anything that has given you false hope to continue this cycle of self-hatred. Once you remove these physical tools, you’ll likely be left with lingering remnants of diet mentality in the form of rules, beliefs, and automatic thoughts– stay tuned for pillar #4 to help with this. Rejecting the diet mentality is the first step is to set yourself free because you cannot connect with what your body needs until you unsubscribe from all the exterior rules and metrics that you’ve internalized over the years.

2. Honor Your Hunger 

No one else can tell you when to eat, how much to eat, or what to eat because the truth is, everyone’s body is different. Your body will tell you when it’s hungry through internal sensations such as stomach growling, headaches, or even things like lack of focus or irritability. Diet culture often leads us to ignore these signs because “it’s not time to eat,” we don’t have enough “allotted” calories/ points left in the day, or we feel like we “shouldn’t” be hungry because we just ate an hour ago. But when we ignore our hunger, we trigger our body’s natural compensatory urge to overeat or binge from a place of protecting us from the perceived threat of starvation. This keeps us stuck in an exhausting cycle of binging and restricting; stress and shame. When we honor our own biological signals, we start the process of rebuilding trust with our bodies, which is a crucial aspect of intuitive eating.

LINK TO HUNGER/FULLNESS SCALE (https://leahkernrd.kartra.com/page/hungerfullnessfreebie)

3. Make Peace with Food 

This might sound radical, but a central part of intuitive eating is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you truly want. Labeling certain foods as “forbidden” or “bad” puts you in a deprivation mindset, which can eventually lead to intense cravings and binges. When we make certain foods “off-limits,” we tend to crave them even more due to the “forbidden fruit” phenomenon. It’s true that cake has objectively different nutritional value than broccoli, but these foods are morally equal. You are not “bad” for eating cake or “good” for eating broccoli.  It’s helpful to keep a supply of all foods you enjoy and soon enough, through a process called habituation, foods you once feared will no longer hold the same power. Most importantly, food is not the enemy.

4. Challenge the Food Police 

“The food police” are those internal voices that monitor whether or not you’re following diet culture’s harmful rules. A critical step in becoming an intuitive eater is rejecting these voices, and challenging the rules that have caused so much unwarranted guilt. This pillar involves bringing awareness to negative self-talk surrounding food and replacing these statements with more supportive reframes. Rewiring your mind in this way will help you to address the lingering mental restriction that we talked about in the first pillar, Rejecting The Diet Mentality.

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Diet culture can often remove us from the inherent pleasure of eating.  Discovering the satisfaction factor is about choosing what you actually desire as opposed to what you feel like you “should” eat to be “good.” When we ignore our preferences, we can end up feeling physically full without feeling fulfilled by the meal. This lack of satisfaction can lead us to be fixated on food, on the prowl for something to fill the void left by the lackluster eating experience. Prioritizing satisfaction can have surprising benefits beyond pleasure such as increased nutrient absorption and decreased binges. Remember, you should feel satisfied after meals, not deprived of what you really want.

6. Feel Your Fullness 

When we’re dieting and restricting, it can be difficult to stop when we get full because our brains worry that restriction is always looming around the corner. Overtime, when you practice consistently honoring your cues, your body will re-learn to trust that you aren’t going to start another diet. Fullness cues can sometimes become difficult to recognize after long periods of disordered eating, but with close attention and practice, these cues can become second nature again.  Something such as pausing in the middle of mealtime can be a helpful tip to assess where you’re at in terms of fullness. It’s a learning process, but it is possible to become one of those people who can easily stop when full.

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness 

If you struggle with emotional eating or feeling a loss of control around food, being patient with yourself and mindful of your triggers can help you cope. Sometimes, experiencing emotions such as anger, sadness, or even boredom can cause us to turn to food as a distraction. If you find yourself reaching for food in times of distress, ask yourself: “am I biologically hungry?” If the answer is no, this doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to eat– remember, there are no rules. There is nothing wrong with using food to soothe emotions, however if it’s your only tool, you’ll likely end up uncomfortably full. Try taking a moment to consider the root of your emotions rather than using food as a temporary band-aid for a deeper issue.What do you really need? Connection? Consider calling a friend while having your bowl of ice cream. Intellectual stimulation? Try putting on a documentary while eating your snack. Most importantly, be kind to yourself if overeating happens– this doesn’t mean you should restrict yourself later, move on with compassion and patience for yourself.

8. Respect Your Body 

This principle emphasizes the importance of accepting your body’s natural shape and size rather than striving for an ideal. Just like humans can be a range of heights and shoe sizes, we also naturally have a range of body weights and pant sizes. Diet culture doesn’t want you to know this, but body diversity is inherent in the human species. Instead of setting yourself up for failure by expecting your body to conform to unrealistic standards, this principle is about shifting into self-respect. Of course, this process of body acceptance can come with grieving the fantasy of finally achieving the idealized body that diet culture promised you if you just “worked hard enough.” We can hold that grief AND work on caring for our here and now body through personal hygiene, compassionate self-talk, regular medical visits, and other forms of self-care. Your body works hard everyday to keep you alive; it’s been on your team all these years.

9. Movement – Feel the Difference 

The best form of exercise is movement that is enjoyable for YOU! This principle is about shifting your focus from moving your body to burn calories, to moving your body to feel good. Going to the gym or doing intense workouts isn’t for everyone. There are a variety of ways to move your body such as going for walks, dancing, or doing yoga that can be fun and sustainable if something more intense isn’t your thing. Our brains are wired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Therefore, when exercise is framed as a punishment, our brains will always find a way to avoid it; when it’s about feeling joyful, our bodies will naturally find ways to seek it out. Most of all, movement isn’t a tool for weight loss, it’s a tool for shifting how you feel in your body and mind.

10. Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition 

People often think that intuitive eating has nothing to do with nutrition, but that’s not true. Gentle nutrition is about eating from a place of self care, not self control; using nutrition as a tool for how you want to feel as opposed to a tool for manipulating body size. Afterall, the food we eat doesn’t impact our body size as much as we’ve been led to believe. We can use objective nutrition science to make eating decisions that are aligned with how we want to feel in our body, while still honoring our preferences and incorporating satisfaction. Instead of thinking in terms of what you can restrict, try asking yourself, “what can I ADD to this meal to optimize it?” The key here is to avoid falling into the trap of optimizing everything. You’ll be just fine if you don’t have nutrient-dense foods with every meal or snack. 

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. 

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