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So you’ve heard about this thing called the anti-diet movement and how it can help you ditch eating nothing but cabbage soup once and for all.
The prospect of being able to eat without guilt, fear or anxiety, and without having to follow a list of rigid rules sounds amazing, but what does being ‘anti-diet’ mean exactly, and what do you have to do to leave restrictive eating and the yo-yo dieting mess it’s got you into, behind?
The first thing you need to know about the anti-diet movement is this: It’s got its roots in the practice of intuitive eating, which is meant to help you listen to your body and figure out what it needs to be nourished.
This way of eating paints a stark contrast to following a bunch of external rules — like diet plans or calorie counting — all of which are designed to get you to meet society’s expectation to look a certain way (thin) and keep you detached from your body’s true needs.
A great starting point to understanding how it all works is to get to know the 10 principles of intuitive eating, and why they matter.
The 10 Principles Of Intuitive Eating
The intuitive eating method were developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch — the dietitians who also wrote the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach and its companion, The Intuitive Workbook.
This way of eating is based on the following principles:
1. Ditch the diet mentality
If you constantly feel guilt, shame or anxiety whenever you eat or while looking at other people’s bodies, you’ve probably bought into the diet culture messaging that if you want to fit in, you have to look a certain way.
Pay attention to where these messages are coming from: Is it your social media feed? Is it your family? Is it your friends or colleagues? Or is it the endless number of ads that are coming your way every single day?
2. Listen to your body’s hunger
Recognizing, acknowledging and accepting the physical sensations, feelings and urges that come up when you’re hungry can help change the way you eat dramatically.
Start listening to it by asking yourself” What does your body feel like when it’s hungry? What does it feel like when you’re no longer hungry? What emotions come to mind when that sensation of hunger comes around?
3. Heal your relationship with food
In your mind, are some foods considered ‘good’ and others ‘bad’?
Your first steps to becoming an intuitive eater is to do away with these labels and start making your food choices based on which foods you enjoy rather than the rigid rules, ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ that others impose on you.
4. Stand up to the food police
You’ll know when the food police are around: There’s that voice telling you that eating that place lasagna will be disaster because all carbs are bad for you, or that you were good today because you skipped the fried chicken.
That voice could be someone else’s, but it could also very likely be your own.
The goal of intuitive eating is to stop listening to this voice so that it’ll no longer have power over you the way it used to.
5. Respect your fullness
Once you start listening to your body’s hunger cues, time to pay attention to what being full feels like.
This exercise can be challenging if you’re not used to it and it will take time to get used to, but know this: There’s no right or wrong way to do it.
6. Know what it’s like to feel satisfied
Once you’ve got listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues going, it’s time to ask yourself: “What does a meal that I find satisfying taste like?”.
Start thinking about the ingredients would make up a meal that hits the spot: What are they, where would you prefer to be eating this meal, and how do you want your body to feel after you’re done eating?
7. Acknowledge your feelings
The next time you feel like eating, ask yourself: “What emotions am I feeling right now?”.
Is what you’re feeling positive or negative? Is it possible that you’re being driven to eat (or not) by boredom, sadness or anxiety? What if what you really needed was to talk to friend, go for a run or just take a nap instead of food?
Tapping into your intuition will help you find new ways to cope with difficult feelings that you’d normally deal with by turning to the food that bring you comfort.
8. Respect your body
Living in a diet culture can turn your mind into the meanest bully on the block by planting the seeds of self-loathing and non-acceptance of yourself and others without you even realizing it.
Taking on an intuitive eating mindset means noticing when you’re being judgmental about your body or someone else’s, and accepting the natural body diversity that exists — something that no one has control over.
9. Feel the difference in movement
What does your body feel like when you’re lying still on your yoga mat? What about when you’re running or trying to do a 350-pound deadlift?
Embracing your intuition also means letting go of your habit of associating any kind of movement with calories burnt, and instead, enjoying whatever movement you’re in feels like.
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition
Diet culture is all about following a list of all-or-nothing rules that rarely work for everyone.
It categorizes foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and turns food into sources of fear, trauma and guilt.
Taking a gentle approach to eating means respecting and satisfying your tastebuds while making your diet work for, not against you.
Should You Be An Intuitive Eater?
The practice of intuitive eating is not meant to be another set of rigid rules you have to follow.
In fact, it can look different for everyone, and so are the reasons for wanting to become an intuitive eater.
Yours could look like a combination of the following:
- You’re sick and tired of going on diets. You don’t want to count calories, starve yourself, weigh your food or allow a points system to dictate what you can and cannot eat every single day.
- You no longer want to feel fear, guilt or anxiety (or all three) around food. Instead, you want the food you eat to bring you joy, satisfaction and nourishment.
- You’re tired of feeling like you have to attach your self-worth to your clothing size, weight or the food you eat.
- You want to stop being so pre-occupied with thoughts of food and your weight all the time. You just want to eat and feel like a normal person so you can focus on living your life.
- You want to lose weight but are looking for a healthier way of eating that will help you do it in a holistic, sustainable way that will also improve your physical and mental health.
- You know that trying to meet society’s expectation to look a certain way is ridiculous and damaging, and no longer want to allow other people to make you feel bad about your body.
Whatever your reasons are, and however you choose to make intuitive eating a part of your life, it’s all about going inward to figure out how to listen to your body, give it what it needs, and help it thrive on your own terms, for the rest of your life.
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EAT INTUITIVELY TO LOSE WEIGHT
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I’ve worn multiple hats over the years: Emotional eating survivor, microbiologist, writer, Deputy Editor at SHAPE Malaysia, American Council On Exercise-certified personal trainer, Levels 1 and 2 Precision Nutrition-certified sports nutrition coach, and now, self-care advocate. As you might guess, I’m fascinated with food, movement and learning how to take better care of myself as I make my way through this crazy, chaotic world, and my mission is to help you do the same.