How to Be Your Best Self: Intuitive Eating Fundamentals

 How to Be Your Best Self (Without Dieting), Part 3 of Intuitive Eating Fundamentals Series

What? Only four principles left? We covered so much already, friend. If you're just tuning in, this is the final part of the Intuitive Eating Fundamentals series. Sobbing emoji. In this 3-part series, I'm giving you a crash course on the ten principles of Intuitive Eating. If you've done the math, we covered the first six of them in the first two parts of this series:

1. How to Make Peace With Food
2. How to Trust Yourself With Food

Not sure what I'm talking about? Long story short, Intuitive Eating is a system of ten guidelines to help you tune in to your body's cues and signals and use them to orient your eating habits instead of arbitrary dieting rules. I talked a lot about what Intuitive Eating is and why you should give it a try in the last two parts, so make sure to check those out. 

Four more principles, girl. We better get going!

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7. Cope With Your Feelings Without Food

You probably heard of this idea before, maybe under the name of Emotional Eating or Stress Eating. The truth is that we use food as a resource to cope with a much wider range of emotions than just sadness and stress. Food can bring you comfort, take you back to happier moments, distract you from negative thoughts, and even help you pass the time.

While eating our feelings can be therapeutic, it's easy to default to food whenever we experience emotional discomfort. The trap in this habit is that eating doesn't make our problems go away. Not only that but once you're past the temporary pleasure that food provides, your distress is no longer exclusively emotional. It's physical too.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Emotional Eating should be all costs. Far from that. But a habit of Emotional Eating will stop you from coping with your feelings in more productive ways, ways that support your personal and emotional growth. 

I get it. Often, we're not ready to deal with whatever is going on in our lives. I've been there. But there are ways to distract yourself that will make you feel good and nurtured instead of stuffed and perhaps even sick. Try to identify the situations that tend to trigger your cravings, and proactively explore other coping mechanisms. 

If you're ready to face your emotions, that's huge. Go for it, girl! Journal about them, share them with a friend, or just allow yourself to feel whatever must be felt. If you're not there yet though, that's perfectly fine. Cut yourself some slack. Be as kind and understanding with yourself as you'd be with a friend. Invite yourself to watch a movie, cuddle with your pet, or go out for a walk.

8. Respect Your Body

This one was of the most challenging principles to discuss. True story: I spent the last twenty minutes trying to talk around it or get things going with a funny-yet-distracting analogy. But! Here's the deal: body respect is hard. But it's also oh-so-necessary.

Body Respect means accepting and appreciating your body just as it is today. Yep, right now. Regardless of size or shape. And I can hear your thoughts already. I know you're asking yourself how can you accept your body when you're so far from <insert whatever target weight you set for yourself>. But be honest with me:

Has fighting your body done any good for you so far?
Did self-hate make any of your diets successful?
Did this lack of acceptance bring you any joy or peace?

I'm confident that the answer is no. So, hey! Start giving yourself some love, girl. Respect your body just as it is and appreciate it for the things it does for you every day. 

I know from experience that Body Respect isn't a switch you can just flip. It's practice, just like most of the things about Intuitive Eating. But there are things you can do today to get into the groove of it:

  • Practice gratitude for the things you're able to do thanks to your body. Maybe that's walking your dog, playing with your kid, or just swimming in the sea.
  • Take care of your body. You know, treat yourself a nice skin lotion, enjoy a long bubble bath, or buy a pair of pretty jeans that fits you comfortably.
  • Make a conscious effort to reduce negative self-talk. If it feels hard to talk back to your inner mean girl, just try not to feed those thoughts. 
  • Make a conscious effort to stop comparing yourself to other women. We all have different body shapes because that's just how genes are, but you also never know the journey that brought others the body they currently have. That lady you're envying? Maybe she's going through a hard breakup or struggling with an eating disorder.

9. Exercise: Feel the Difference

You drag yourself to the gym after a particularly tough day at work.
You allow yourself to have dessert under the condition that you go for a run later.
You're sure hot yoga is not your thing, but you keep going because you don't want to get fat.

These are all the wrong reasons to be exercising.  Because of diet culture, you likely associate exercise with weight loss goals or think of it as a way to make up for "bad" eating behaviors. Chances are you got your gym membership when you started your last diet. You trained hard for a couple of weeks and then couldn't bring yourself to put your sneakers on. Maybe you tried running three times a week even though you don't really like running.

Enjoying exercise on these terms is hard. I don't blame you. The good news is that it doesn't have to be like this. When you're listening to your body, doing exercise that you don't enjoy doesn't make any sense. It also dissociates the value in working out from weight loss results, allowing you to appreciate movement for what it can do for your physical and mental health.

The first step here: enough with workouts that you dread. Stop thinking about exercise as calories burned. Instead, step back and think about the things that you enjoy doing. Do you prefer intense movement over a gentle yoga class? Or working out alone instead of in a group class? Or being outside instead of inside a gym? There so many possibilities beyond what diet mentality usually prescribe. Explore them, girl.

10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

In the words of the pioneers of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch: Gentle Nutrition is about making "food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well."

A common misconception in the dieting world is the idea that there's such a thing as the perfect diet. Every couple of weeks, a fitness guru comes up with a new "best diet." If you make it this far into this series, I'm hopeful that you no longer believe that this one-size-fits-all optimal diet exists.

Related: 5 Big Reasons to Stop Dieting Right Now

The best nutrition plan is the one that makes you feel nourished physically, mentally and emotionally. The plan that works for you right now is not only different from the plan that works for your friends but also different from the plan that has worked for you in the past or will work for you in the future. 

Gentle Nutrition is about allowing yourself to explore what feels well, what helps you thrive. Maybe today that means having milkshake and fries with your special person. Tomorrow it might be treating a cold with a hearty chicken soup. The day next may be unusually warm, and all you'll think about is having a colorful, fresh salad. 

It's a common myth that Intuitive Eating shows no concern with nutrition or health. That's not right. There are many behaviors that we know for sure to be health-promoting. Drink plenty of water. Move more. Eat plenty fruits and vegetables. As you explore what makes you feel best through Intuitive Eating, you'll see for yourself that those things are true. You'll pursue them from a place of self-love instead of self-control, and they won't feel like extremes or rules to live by. There are no extremes, friend. Only what makes you the best version of yourself today.

Practice, Not Perfection 

Before we wrap things up, I want to remind you that Intuitive Eating is not a diet. The ten principles we talked about in this series are not rules, but guidelines to help you reconnect to your body and use its innate wisdom to make decisions about food. Think of them as prompts to trigger reflection.

As I mentioned in Part 1, there's no pass/fail in Intuitive Eating. There is practice, and there is learning

Intuitive Eating is not a destination, friend. It's the journey itself. 

Over to you!

And that's a wrap. Virtual high five, girl! Thank you so much for being a part of this Intuitive Eating Fundamentals series. This series was fun to write and prompted a lot of reflection on my journey as an intuitive eater. I hope it was helpful for you too.

Now I want to hear from you. Got any questions about getting started with Intuitive Eating? Which principles are most challenging for you right now? Let me know in the comments.

And if you haven't gotten your copy yet, make sure to enter your details below to get instant access to the jump-start guide. It's full of simple ideas you can put to work today to become a more intuitive eater.

Get your FREE cheat sheet!

Simple and actionable ideas to get you started with the principles of Intuitive Eating today!

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One more thing, if you want to hang out with me and other smart women determined to feel and do their best, make sure to join the Food Freedom Tribe, our free Facebook group.

Fabiana Nilsson

Brand + Web Designer