How to Get Started with Intuitive Eating, The Unapologetic Way
This blog post has been newly updated and revamped as of September 2021.
Intuitive eating is an approach to health and wellness that can help you to reconnect to your inner body signals and heal your relationship to food as well as your body. With intuitive eating, you are reintroducing how to eat outside of the diet mentality, putting the focus on your internal cues, such as hunger, fullness, and satisfaction, and moving away from external cues like food rules and restrictions. When making the decision to get out of a lifetime of diet talk, diet culture, media messages, and food rules, it can be scary to try to, well, just eat!
Here are five ways to help you get started with intuitive eating. To get this in PDF form along with a companion step-by-step email series where I break down the 5 steps in the guide even further, click here.
1. Move Away from “Fixing”
Our culture has created an arbitrary expectation of what we are “supposed to” look like and how we are “supposed to” eat. We’ve been conditioned and programmed to believe that to be healthy, to be loved, accepted, and valued, we must strive to be thin. To get back in touch with your inner knowing, you have to stop trying to “fix” yourself and allow yourself to reconnect with your body. This involves bringing awareness to all the ways in which diet culture shows up and intrudes on your life, including external instances of diet culture as well as internal.
Examples of external diet culture:
- Any messages that conflate body size with health and wellness, anything telling you what/when/how much to eat, and assigning morality to foods so that some are “good” and “bad”.
Examples of internal diet culture:
- When you take these external beliefs and apply them to yourself by going on a diet plan, restricting or eliminating certain foods, and measuring food or counting calories.
In this step, start to notice then challenge your thoughts about food and bodies. Can you start to question the thoughts you have, rather than take them as fact? Can you start to think about what it would be like to begin to use your body as a teacher, rather than something that needs to be “fixed”.
As you begin to, or continue, moving away from “fixing” yourself and your body, it can be really helpful to diversify the content (books, podcasts, social media, etc) that you’re consuming so that you are surrounded by more helpful, positive, food and body liberation messages. Here are a few places to start:
- My favorite body positive Instagram accounts
- A list of food and body liberation podcasts
- Additional free guides: Gentle Nutrition Cookbook and Body Positive Fitness Resource List
2. Start The Unlearning Process
Everything you think that you “know” about how to perceive your body, weight, appearance, and food has been influenced by external influences and taught to you at some point. All of this is centered around what bodies are deemed “acceptable”, but are in fact socially constructed ideas that were created to oppress others.
Your journey of coming back to intuitive eating and finding food and body liberation starts with unlearning all of these external and internal messages that have been part of your life so far. It starts with your relationship to food, but the real work becomes the process of figuring out how society has adversely affected your life and your self perception, and finding yourself again.
Two things to start to unlearn: the truth about dieting and the connection between weight and health:
- Weight and body size are not good indicators of health. We have zero evidence that weight causes health conditions or diseases. Which means that losing weight “for health” is unnecessary.
- 95% of the time, weight loss doesn’t work (spoiler: it’s not your fault). Less than 5% of people who lose weight keep it off for more than five years. Not only that, but 66% of those people end up gaining back more weight than they lost, ending up at a weight higher than they started out yet. So not only does dieting not work, but it actually causes weight gain. Let me make it clear: this is NOT your fault – this is the fault of the diet, and our body’s biological drive to survive.
The reality is that the vast majority of people are unable to lose weight not because they lack willpower but because the human body is wired for survival. Download my free 5-step-guide and check out the accompanying Step 2 email for more information on why this is.
For today, take a few minutes to reflect on your past history with dieting: What happened after you stopped using these strategies? What has dieting cost you when it comes to your time, money, energy, brain space, emotional or physical state, etc.? From there, you can restart to relearn your body’s inherent wisdom and self-trust.
3. Cultivate Awareness and Mindfulness
It’s difficult to eat intuitively, find food and body liberation, and unapologetically eat and live without first cultivating awareness, mindfulness, and curiosity about yourself and your surroundings. At its simplest, mindfulness is the act of paying attention to something on purpose. It is about bringing your awareness into the present moment, where you can purposefully notice your experiences in a nonjudgmental way.
Being able to be aware of what is going and utilizing mindfulness allows you to sit with your thoughts, feelings, and experiences – rather than trying to “fix” them. After pausing to reflect, you can respond versus react, and in the process give yourself some self-compassion.
Mindfulness is a skill, and it takes practice. It is not something to try to get “perfect” or do “right”. Mindfulness is not about stopping your thoughts or emptying your mind. Rather it’s about consistently noticing when your thoughts are swirling, or self-judgment is happening and then using that moment to take a pause and employ curiosity: what is really going on right now?
4. Reconnect with your Inner Wisdom
If you are thinking or obsessing about food, your body is most likely telling you that you need to eat. If you aren’t eating enough, it is likely that your hunger and fullness cues have not been utilized in a while and can’t reliably tell you when, what, and how much to eat. Reconnecting with your internal abilities can help you understand your body’s cues and help you build back trust with your body.
People feel hunger in different ways and in different parts of the body, and part of reconnecting with your inner wisdom is starting to pay attention to how you may be feeling hunger: through your changes in energy, mood, mental clarity, or how your stomach is feeling or what it is sounding like.
Start to notice what signs of hunger you pick up on. Aim to eat before you feel extreme or painful hunger. This will help you build back trust with your body, reduce rushed or chaotic eating, decrease times where you eat to the point of uncomfortable fullness, and lessen feelings of bloating, gas, and indigestion. Reconnecting with hunger cues takes time and consistent practice – so if you’re unsure what your cues feel like, that is ok! Keep checking in with your body and overtime it will get more clear.
5. Ask Yourself What You Want To Eat
When moving away from diet culture and tuning back into your own body, a really powerful question is: What do you want to eat? Yet it’s very common for people to have no idea how to answer it. When deciding what to eat, it can be helpful to really think about:
- What you are hungry for
- What tastes you are in the mood for
- What would feel good to eat
- What would satisfy you
It takes time and practice to reconnect with your body cues, and if you don’t know what you are in the mood for at first, that’s okay! Intuitive eating is all about experimentation, openness, and taking things one day at a time. If you look at every eating experience as a learning experience, with every meal you will learn more about yourself and get closer to reconnecting with your body’s inner wisdom.
If you found these steps helpful, download the full free guide 5 Steps to Getting Started with Intuitive Eating, the Unapologetic Way. The guide delves deeper into each step and includes reflections and prompts to help you start actually putting these steps into practice.
For more guidance on getting started with intuitive eating:
Check out my Unapologetic Eating 101 Course. A 100% online, self-paced course to liberate yourself from dieting and make peace with food and your body.|
Or, if you’re looking for one-on-one support, check out our virtual intuitive eating nutrition coaching programs.
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Alissa Rumsey, RD.
Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS (pronouns she/her/hers) is a registered
dietitian, nutrition therapist, certified intuitive eating counselor, and the author of
Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace With Food and Transform Your Life. Alissa is
passionate about helping people reclaim the space to eat and live,
A twice-a-month round-up of inspirational stories, lessons, practical tips and encouragement for living your most authentic, unapologetic life.