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05th Jan 2021

What is intuitive eating? The anti-diet that wants to repair your relationship with food

“On average it takes two years for a person to repair their relationship with food.”

Welcome to January. Or, welcome to an entire month of fitness routines, 30 day challenges, and restrictive quick fix eating plans. Same thing, really.

With the New Year comes new challenges, new achievements, and new ways of living. It can also come with new diets, new strict workout plans, and new ways of feeling bad about yourself.

Enter ‘intuitive eating’: the anti-diet plan that’s recently seen a significant resurgence on social media – and it may just have come at the perfect time.

A framework that has been around since the ’90s, the term was introduced by dietician Evelyn Tribole and nutritional therapist Elyse Resch.

Both experienced in working with eating disorder patients and both familiar with the feelings of guilt and stress that can come alongside food, the pair wanted to devise a means of achieving mental and physical health, without succumbing to restrictive eating and a focus on weight loss.

Nutritional therapist and co-founder of Intuitive Eating Ireland, Sinead Crowe, says that intuitive eating is less about what you’re eating (or what you’re not eating), and more about building a healthy relationship with food.

“It’s a framework of self care,” she tells Her. “You draw on your instinct, your emotions, and your rational thinking. We were designed to know when we’re hungry and when we need to feed ourselves.

“With diet culture, we’re following so many rules. We don’t know if we’re doing it right or wrong, we’re looking at what we should and shouldn’t be eating. We’ve come away from that intuition over time, we need to tap back into it and see what feels good in our bodies.”

Unlike dieting, intuitive eating doesn’t involve following a strict set of rules or organised steps in order to reach a goal. Rather it’s comprised of 10 core principals, each of them interlinked, none more or less important than the other. Except for maybe the first one: Rejecting the diet mentality.

A refusal to restrict food, a commitment to listen to the body, an acknowledgment that a fad is not going to change your life. Rejecting the diet mentality is challenging, of course it is – because diet culture is everywhere.

“I spent two decades dieting, always on that hamster wheel of trying to lose weight,” says Sinead. “I was obsessing about food, eating way past fullness and not feeling comfortable in myself. Then I realised diets just weren’t working for me.

“It’s a big step. It’s quite radical to say ‘I’m done with diets.’ But only when you opt out of diet culture, can you start the other principals.”

Ranging from ‘honouring your eating’ to ‘respecting your body,’ intuitive eating’s principals vary but the central tenet remains the same: reframe they way you think about food and your body will thank you for it.

The framework urges people to challenge the “food police,” become more aware of the signs of fullness, and to tackle internalised criticism of the body.

Intuitive eating does not work for everyone in the same way, says Sinead. Nor is it a quick fix to achieve confidence and self love. But if practised, it is a means to learn how to be healthy, both mentally and physically.

So, if dieting is so toxic, that what else is left? According to Sinead, well… everything. Exercising for the right reasons, keeping up a nutrition dense diet, and having a body that feels energised and, most importantly, full.

“I’ve got my own fitness goals and they have nothing to do with weight loss,” she says. “Goals should work with what your body needs. It’s not about doing rigorous exercise, but moving with a purpose.

“I also had to work on repairing my relationship with food. Your body wants to feel energised and comfortable. You want to sleep well, move well, think straight. We don’t get this when we’re dieting.

“Weight cycling is hugely problematic for people’s health. A person could be spending years gaining and losing weight and that has an impact on your physical health.”

Unlike the classic quick fix fad diet, intuitive eating takes more than 30 days to see results. In fact, it can take a person an average of two years to fully repair their relationship with food. When you’re in it, says Sinead, you’re in it for the long haul – but she’s adamant that the results are worth it.

“I was so consumed by dieting when I was younger,” she says. “I just keep thinking: imagine if I had something like this back then.”