Nutrition therapist and co-author of Intuitive Eating Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D.N., F.A.N.D. explains, "Intuitive Eating is a dynamic interplay of instinct, emotion and thoughts, and it's based on the premise that we are all born with... all the internal wisdom we need to have to know how to eat." For the most part, babies come out of the womb knowing when they're hungry and when they're full, says Resch. As they become toddlers and are offered a wide variety of foods, they continue to instinctively know how much food they need to be satisfied and not overfull, and they also learn which foods they like. "Most people, unfortunately, get pulled away from that internal wisdom, and so Intuitive Eating is about reconnecting with that internal wisdom," Resch explains.
Scientifically speaking, Resch points out that we, as human beings, have triune brains, meaning our brains are comprised of three integral systems: the reptilian brain, which is only concerned with instincts; the mammalian brain, which layers in emotions and social behaviours; and the neocortex, which allows for rational thinking. "Intuitive Eating combines all of these three factors," explains Resch. In today's world of processed foods and social situations, we can't rely on instinct alone, because other factors are at play. Ultimately it becomes a "balance of listening to what your body tells you but also using your rational mind to decide whether it's going to work for you, and [honouring] the emotions that you have that impact your eating," she says.
Do you ever feel as though you and almost everyone around you is either on a diet, considering a diet or at the very least "watching" what they eat? We all want to live healthy, happy lives, and somewhere along the way, diets came forward as the way to achieve that. But can they really do all they promise? From her 31 years working as a private practice nutrition therapist, Resch doesn't think so. In fact, she believes diets have physiological and psychological effects that can actually be quite damaging to our bodies and minds.
Physiologically, diets can cause semi-starvation, leading to low blood sugar, which causes cravings and the release of brain chemicals that cause overeating or even binging. "They also slow the metabolism, so that when the person ends the diet and tries to eat even a normal amount of food, which previously would have kept the person's weight stable, it now causes immediate weight gain," she says. This unexpected weight gain leads to discouragement, which can lead to even more overeating, Resch explains.
Diets also have profound psychological effects. For example, when certain foods are considered "bad" or "off limits," it increases our desire to have them, notes Resch. But most importantly, diets take away our autonomy, she explains, since "they are created outside of the private place within each of us that holds individualized information about hunger, fullness, food preference, etc. Eventually people rebel against being told what to do in the quest of regaining autonomy."
The system is broken down into 10 principles that help individuals break free from the dieting mentality so they can get started on a life of Intuitive Eating. To put together the 10 principles, Resch and her co-author, Evelyn Tribole, considered the physiology of the body (hunger and fullness), emotional aspects (how feelings can affect eating), cognitive aspects (how negative thoughts about food or your body can cause you to disconnect from your body's needs), movement and, finally, nutrition. But Resch encourages readers to not feel as though they have to go through the principles in the order listed or get stuck on any particular principle. Instead, she suggests that "they all work together," and approaching them as a synergistic system will be most effective.
The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating:
When laid out in this form, Intuitive Eating seems like a very honest and doable approach to eating. But are you still feeling nervous about the idea? Don't worry; that's completely normal. Even Resch admits that when she first started working on the concept over 20 years ago, she was nervous too. Telling people they could eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted went against everything she had been taught in school. Fortunately Resch's interest in psychology drove her to focus in on the fact that her clients on diets were feeling deprived, rebellious and angry from being on them. From there she determined that diets might not work, but giving people the autonomy, the empowerment — that's what works, she states. Because of the deprivation diets that individuals have been on for so long, Resch knows it can be incredibly scary for them to believe they can set their own limits. It can be hard at first to accept "the freedom of knowing you can have whatever you want at any meal for the rest of your life," says Resch. But once you give yourself that permission, a healthy connection between your body, mind and food can start to develop.
One of the most important things to remember with Intuitive Eating is that there are no rules. There are principles that will guide you on your journey, but there is no such thing as being "bad" or "good" based on how you eat on a particular day. "There is no failure with Intuitive Eating; there are just learning experiences," explains Resch. And when the moment comes that you do revert to old habits that might previously have filled you with guilt? It's all about trying to neutrally understand why you relied on old habits. Most importantly, this must "come from a place of curiosity, not judgment," says Resch. That way you can "use every experience you have... as a learning experience." Diets have no connection to what you really want to eat, when you're full, when your body needs to eat, etc., she explains. So with Intuitive Eating, you can finally "achieve a sense of freedom and peace and satisfaction." Intuitive Eating is based on autonomy, as you tune into your unique needs; as well as compassion as you learn to give up the negative feelings dieting gave you and treat yourself and your body with kindness.
To get your journey with Intuitive Eating started, pick up a copy of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. And if you need a little support along the way, check out the Intuitive Eating Online Community Resch and Tribole started. It's important to remember that, unlike dieting, Intuitive Eating isn't about a "quick fix." It's about listening to your body, honouring it and being kind to yourself as you find your way toward a healthier, happier relationship between your body, mind and food.
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