An Introduction to Intuitive Eating
Note: Although this post can be read as stand-alone, if you are looking to learn more about improving your relationship with your body and food make sure to check my other posts in this series - a new post will be coming at the beginning of each month.
You may have heard the term 'Intuitive Eating' being thrown around more and more these days, but what actually is it? And more specifically, what is the role of intuitive eating in the performance nutrition space? The immediate thought is that it is just 'eat what you want when you want'. However, it is this pre-conception that causes so many individuals embarking on their intuitive eating journey to not persevere and see it through. Intuitive eating is defined as 'a non-diet, non-weight focused approach to health and wellness that aims to aid you in tuning into your body signal, ditching the diet culture and healing your relationship with food'. In short, it is the natural way we we’re designed to eat when we were born. Many years of exposure to diet culture has warped the way we see health and wellness, ingraining the diet mentality and tainting our relationship with food. For many, beginning an intuitive eating journey involves some significant lifestyle re-evaluations that can take time to establish. There are no ‘traditional’ methods involved, no calorie or macro-counting, no fasting, no portion control and certainly no off-limit foods. It focuses on listening to and trusting your body to make you aware when you’re hungry or satisfied and avoids listening to external cues such as food restrictions and society pressures. In essence, although intuitive eating is a way of eating, it is the complete opposite of a diet.
Something else that is frequently mentioned when people are looking into intuitive eating is will it help them lose weight? If you take one thing away from this post let it be this – intuitive eating is not a tool for intentional weight loss or gain. If you are embarking on intuitive eating as a means to manage your weight, whether that be gain or loss, then you haven’t yet grasped the fundamental concepts of intuitive eating. On your intuitive eating journey there are three potential events: you will lose weight, you will maintain weight, you will gain weight. However, no one can predict that impact intuitive eating will have on you. But don’t let these outcomes put you off beginning your intuitive eating journey. The Health at Every Size (HAES) Principles celebrate body diversity and the understanding that your body can be healthy across a wide range of weights. Every individual’s genetic blueprint influences their body shape, size and bone composition and it is our responsibility to appreciate those different between us and encourage healthy behaviours in all. There is a plethora of resources online delving deeper into the HAES Principles so make sure to check them out if you’re interested in the concept. Intuitive Eating and HAES is not going to be for everyone and so even if you only take one principle mentioned in this series and implement it then you’re on your way to improving your relationship with yourself and food. Intuitive eating doesn’t happen overnight, take the time to enjoy the food around you and embrace yourself for who you are.
But how can this principle possibly work in the performance and sports nutrition space? This is the space that has been condensed into little more than macros, food tracking and weight management, so how on earth can Intuitive Eating fit in here? Whilst there are some conflicting aspects between sports nutrition and intuitive eating, particularly at the elite levels, awareness of an athletes relationship with food is becoming more prevalent and we see more individuals in our clinic each week with some sort of food issue. Commonly this is seen in athletes who undertake sports with aesthetic connections, such as gymnastics or swimming. Although there are some sports where 'making weight' in a crucial component of success and intuitive eating is less likely to be suitable here, for the majority of athletes, gentle introduction to the intuitive eating principles can only be of benefit.
If you want to learn more about intuitive eating and improving your relationship with food, we will be discussing the 10 key principles over the coming months so make sure to check back!