Throughout this series of wellness articles, we have been deliberately careful to avoid certain words in articles related to healthy eating plans. There is a reason for this: the word ‘diet’ conjures up such negative emotions that it suggests failure even before you start a weight loss eating plan.

In this article, we are going to discuss a principle long debated within the nutrition environment – intuitive eating. I know, I see the eyebrows lifting in my mind’s eye as you are reading this – intuitive eating? What now? Eating according to your own intuition? Mine wants cakes for breakfast, snacks dripping with cheese, pasta/ pizza for lunch and a hearty meal with at least two starches for dinner, thank you very much…

Before we run away with the concept – let us look at the philosophy behind it. Intuitive eating revolves around respecting your body by listening to its hunger signals. Intuitive eating practices do not give you calorie guidelines or tell you what or when to eat. So, it is not like a traditional diet or intermittent fasting practices. It relies on the individual to make choices throughout the day regarding their own food intake. It, therefore, promotes a healthy attitude towards food and body image.

Simply put, it requires you to eat when you are hungry and to stop when you have had enough. You, therefore, have to trust yourself and your body. Before you can do this, you have to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger. Physical hunger is when the body tells you to replenish nutrients – your stomach growls, or you are irritable or feel weak. Emotional hunger, however, is driven by emotions or even boredom – we create a craving for food (usually ‘comfort’ food). This type of eating can also cause guilt – which could cause a snowball effect – you eat again because you feel guilt, and so it goes.

Ultimately, the goal of intuitive eating is to establish that lifestyle changes and personal care is more important than any eating plan (or diet – there’s that word again…)

To practice intuitive eating, experts suggest the following key principles.

Reject the diet mentality

Reject the idea and the thought of a ‘diet’ and change your thoughts about your nutrition to personal care and wellbeing.

Honour your hunger

Honour your body and eat when it needs sustenance. Be aware of how your body ‘tells’ you that it needs food – some people will have a ‘hole’ in the stomach, some will be irritable, some will feel weak – know your body and honour the feeling. Try not to get excessively hungry – this might cause you to overeat.

Make peace with food

You have to eat – no need to declare war against food. It is not the enemy, in fact, it is your partner in life. Get rid of the ideas of what you should and shouldn’t eat – sometimes the body might ‘crave’ sugar. This might not be a need for sugar as such but rather starch (energy). Know yourself and your food necessities.

Respect your fullness

Stop eating when your body tells you that you are full. You don’t have to eat your plate clean if you had enough after eating half of the content. We all know how we dish up our plates – always too much. Stop doing that and only eat until you have had enough. Use the leftovers in a soup or a salad.

Understand your emotions

Honour your emotions – don’t drown them with food. Take care of your mental wellness by practising yoga, talking to your friends, journaling, meditating and so on. Stay healthy – mentally and nutritionally.

Respect your body

It is the only one you have and it has to carry you for at least the next 50 – 60 years. Respect it and look after it. There is only perfection in the eye of the beholder – be your own cheerleader and love the body you are in. make peace with ‘imperfection’ they make you unique…

Exercise

Exercising will assist you in intuitive eating because you will need the energy and feel the drain of energy when you exercise. Use exercise as a means to provide energy and joy.

Gentle nutrition

Love what you eat – enjoy the crunch of a salad, or the heat of the soup running down your throat. It is the patterns of the food that you eat that makes the difference in your life, not that one meal…

Even though intuitive eating is not promoted as a weight loss initiative (remember, weight loss programmes are there to reframe your brain regarding how it sees food and establish a healthy attitude towards your food intake), the benefits of the principles are that it develops a healthier psychological attitude towards food. It has shown improved self-esteem, body image and overall quality of life in test subjects. People are also more inclined to stick to this way of eating because there are not ‘forced’ actions involved.

Starting intuitive eating practices would require that you do some honest self-assessment regarding your own hunger. You will have to study yourself, see how your body talks to you regarding eating and get comfortable with what it is saying. Again, the aim is to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are comfortably full (not stuffed).

Stop the judgement and take pride in your body – it’s yours to maintain. Take good care of it and it will take good care of you.

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Writter and Content head at Regenesys School of Business based in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa

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