I’ve just finished my Intuitive Eating for Healthcare Professionals course from the London Centre for Intuitive Eating. It has enabled me to better help my clients, and to communicate the non-diet approach on here.
With the push-back against diet culture, non-diet approaches have begun to get more airtime across social media and blogs. Intuitive Eating (IE) is a specific framework with 10 principles that underpin it. You don’t need to work through these principles in a set order, and you may well find it helpful to revisit older principles as you go along. Weight loss is removed as the primary outcome in non-diet approaches. Intuitive Eaters have improved blood glucose control and report a better relationship with food and their bodies (1) than dieters.
Sure, if you come to an IE session and tell us you’ve eaten X doughnuts we won’t tell you off. But, by removing the pedestal that treat foods are put on, and instead giving unconditional permission to eat all foods, we’re levelling the playing field. If you’ve restricted certain foods for a while, it may well be that you initially eat more of these foods. The analogy of a pendulum can be helpful here: the more tightly you hold your dietary habits in one direction, the further you’ll swing the other way after letting go. Give it time, and you’ll find equilibrium in the middle. The research actually indicates that intuitive eaters consume a more diverse variety of foods (2). So whilst those doughnuts may feature, it is just one part of the dietary picture.
One of the earliest principles of Intuitive Eating focuses on recognising and honouring hunger. Later principles explore fullness, satiation and mindful eating. One of the key tools for understanding hunger and fullness is a simple 1-10 scale. Here, 1 has you at your most ravenous hunger, and 10 is full-to-burst, uncomfortable fullness like you get after a Christmas or holiday meal, plus dessert and all the nibbles. 5 is perfectly neutral. This tool can be helpful for understanding hunger and fullness, especially when these cues have been ignored. Many people won’t describe themselves as hungry until they’re around a 2 on the scale. This would really be over-hungry, and can lead to feelings of uncontrolled eating. However, this is only one tool in the Intuitive Eating toolbox. It ignores satiation, social meals and occasions, emotional eating, extra-delicious meals, grabbing a snack on the road, and all the other reasons we eat beyond simple hunger. In many ways, the aim is to work towards not needing the hunger-fullness scale. As you become more innately in-tune with hunger and fullness, to the point you don’t have to categorise it. Sticking too rigidly to the hunger-fullness scale can lead to restriction.
Gentle nutrition is one of the last principles and involves applying balanced eating and nutrition to the non-diet framework that IE has built. Often, clinicians won’t introduce clients to this principle until fairly late on in their sessions. For an otherwise healthy person, gentle nutrition may include choosing high-fibre foods to avoid bathroom discomfort, and to support long-term cardiovascular health. It might mean aiming to eat an evening meal neither too early nor too late for a good night’s sleep. For someone with a health condition, gentle nutrition may include the management of this. For someone with type 1 or 2 diabetes, this will likely involve understanding the macronutrient balance and regularity of meals to support blood glucose levels. But by using the IE principles, the removal of weight as an outcome, and freedom of choice within the gentle nutrition guidelines allows for a healthy relationship with food and diet.
For Intuitive Eating consultations, look for a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian who has done additional training in Intuitive Eating (such as the one from LCIE), or a certified Intuitive Eating councillor. I am taking on new clients who are interested in exploring Intuitive Eating, or working through a non-diet approach to their nutrition. Head to my services page to find out more.