Understanding Intuitive Eating: Meaning and Benefits Explained by a Dietitian
Have you heard of the phrase Intuitive Eating? To eat intuitively means to be able to listen to your body’s cues, such as hunger and satiety (fullness) and respond to these cues in a timely manner through fuelling your body with any kind of food. Hunger differs from appetite – hunger is the physiological need to eat, while appetite is the desire to eat.
What Does the Research Say About Intuitive Eating?
The EAT Study (2010-2018) was a study which examined the impact of long-term Intuitive Eating practices on psychological well-being (1). This study builds on the existing evidence base, which highlights that eating intuitively and in accordance with our internal hunger cues is something which we should try to implement in a step-by-step process in order to make sustainable and realistic changes. A strength of this study that supports the application into everyday life was that the researchers recruited participants from various socio-economic backgrounds and included both male and female participants.
How to Build Food Freedom – Avoiding Distractions and Becoming Mindful Eaters
Practical Steps to Enhance Your Relationship with Food
Food Freedom can be difficult to overcome if a person is unable to respond to hunger and satiety cues when they arise. Here are some useful steps to introduce into your daily routine to help improve your relationship with food:
1. Fuel Your Day Right
Delicious Breakfast Ideas for a Nourishing Start
Having a substantial meal in the morning helps your body to break the overnight fast. This is important to replenish your energy stores and set you up for your day.
Some quick and easy breakfast ideas include:
- Cereal with milk and fruit
- Overnight oats with fruit
- Toast with eggs and cheese
- Breakfast bar and a yoghurt
- Bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon
2. Listen to Your Body
How to Eat When You’re Hungry and Avoid Overeating
Have you ever found yourself not leaving room for meals during the day and coming home ravenous and eating everything in sight? Letting your body go too long without food can result in over eating or binge eating when the next opportunity for food arises. Having a stash of healthy snacks available to you will help maintain energy and blood sugar levels steadily throughout the day.
Here are some healthy snack ideas:
- A piece of fruit and some nuts
- A yoghurt with some fruit
- Crackers with cheese
- Toast with peanut butter and banana
- Vegetable sticks with hummus
3. Breaking Free from Food Labels
Avoid labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
Current research has shown that language can influence our emotions, and associating foods with guilt can harm our relationship with food. A study examined the outcomes of participants who associated eating chocolate cake with ‘guilt’ or ‘celebration’ found that participants who ate the cake with ‘guilt’ felt less control and had a less positive attitude towards eating healthily than those you considered ‘celebration’ when eating the cake (2).
Allowing yourself to welcome all foods in your diet can help increase the enjoyment and satisfaction you get from foods. No superiority should be given to any food type and no food is off limits. It is worth thinking about food in other ways you can describe it such as ‘pleasurable’, ‘satisfying’ or ‘tasty’ instead of ‘treat’ or ‘naughty’.
4. Mindful Eating
Cultivating Awareness and Satisfaction in Every Bite
Often when we are busy, it is easy to skip a meal, such as skipping lunch during a busy day at work, without even realising or feeling particularly hungry. The opposite is true when we are distracted when eating – watching TV or scrolling on your phone when eating can make it difficult to be aware of our fullness cues and can result in over eating. You may even feel unsatisfied when your meal is gone, leading us to seek out more food in search of that satisfaction.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is the practice of being aware and fully present, without distractions while eating. It involves using your senses to choose and enjoy foods; acknowledge your responses to food; and become aware of your physical hunger and satiety cues (3).
Tips to Stay Present and Eat Mindfully Include:
- Plan ahead
- Listen to your body
- Slow down when eating
- Reflect on your thoughts and feelings
- Avoid distractions at mealtimes
5. Enhancing Your Diet with Healthy Additions
Simple Ways to Boost Nutrition
Focus on what you can add to your diet to support health as opposed to cutting out food groups and over restricting. Try making additions to meals such as:
- Nuts or seeds to cereal
- Vegetables to a curry dish
- Dried fruit to porridge
- Lentils in a Bolognaise
- Olive oil to salad
A firm favourite of mine is Greek yoghurt and peanut butter on toast! By adding additional foods you can increase the fibre, colour and variety of your diet and also increase the satisfaction you get from eating!
Shattering Stereotypes and Fostering Food Freedom
Seek A Registered Dietitian’s Expert Advice on Intuitive Eating
When thinking about food try to keep in mind that food is not black and white nor should it be labelled in such a way. If you think you need support to help build your relationship with food please seek advice from a Registered Dietitian.
- Hazzard VM, Telke SE, Simone M, Anderson LM, Larson NI, Neumark-Sztainer D. Intuitive eating longitudinally predicts better psychological health and lower use of disordered eating behaviors: findings from EAT 2010-2018. Eat Weight Disord. 2021 Feb;26(1):287-294. doi: 10.1007/s40519-020-00852-4. Epub 2020 Jan 31. PMID: 32006391; PMCID: PMC7392799.
- Kuijer, R.G. and Boyce, J.A. (2014) “Chocolate cake. guilt or celebration? associations with healthy eating attitudes, perceived behavioural control, intentions and weight-loss,” Appetite, 74, pp. 48–54. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2013.11.013.
British Dietetic Association (BDA). Mindful eating food fact sheet. Accessed 28/02/23. Available on: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/mindful-eating.html.