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expert tips Why you should throw away diet books and tune into your body's cues with intuitive eating

Sisters Sinéad and Gillian Crowe have created an online community to promote intuitive eating.


Ditch the diets

Ditch the diets

Sinéad is a mental health nurse and nutritional therapist, and Gillian is a mental health social worker and yoga teacher

Sinéad is a mental health nurse and nutritional therapist, and Gillian is a mental health social worker and yoga teacher


Ditch the diets

We are all born intuitive eaters. As newborns, we intuitively know how to access food - crying. And we feed until we are satisfied. It's not until we get older that this changes.

Suddenly there's rules; certain times to eat, certain foods available at certain times, some foods are deemed 'good' and some foods are 'bad' for us - food used as a reward for good behaviour, food taken away if we've 'done something wrong' and unfortunately, many experience food scarcity.

The foundation of intuitive eating is beginning to relearn how to listen to your body's individual cues and unlearn all the rules and judgements from all the external sources in your life. This gifts us an opportunity to fuel our bodies when it needs it, with the foods that will nourish us.

Of course, some foods are for pleasure as opposed to nourishment and that's great too, intuitive eating allows us to make peace with all foods so we can enjoy these foods without guilt or shame. There's no place for guilt or shame when it comes to your eating. Food is not a moral issue.

Intuitive eating was developed by two dietitians in the 1990's - Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. They found that the majority of their clients were losing weight temporarily but, in the long term, they were gaining back the weight they had lost and often more.

They began to realise that diets weren't working, restricting foods under any 'diet' disguise, did not work. So, they focused their attention on helping clients tap back into their own intuition, trusting that our body has wisdom that guides us towards how much and what foods we need day to day, to not only survive, but thrive.

They developed a self-care framework comprised of 10 principles to guide you to repair your relationship with food and your body.

The 10 principles

1. Reject the diet mentality

We have been conditioned to believe our weight is a measure of our worth. This is simply untrue. Diet culture is a system of beliefs that worships thinness, equating it to health and moral virtue, promoting weight loss as a way of attaining higher societal status and oppressing those that do not fit into this 'acceptable' beauty ideal standard.

Disordered eating has become so normalised in today's society - obsessing about food, obsessing about weight, feeling guilt and shame about food intake, using exercise to 'earn and burn' food, feeling out of control with food - this is not normal.

We deserve more in life than to spend it consumed by the desire to shrink ourselves. This first principle is about opting out of this mindset, deciding to quit the diets that don't work anyway.

2.Honour your hunger

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We're often afraid of our hunger, even mistrust it, we definitely judge it, this is diet culture at play. We can trust our hunger, our body is very clever and it gives us many clues about when to refuel. Hunger is not to be feared, it's to be honoured, if you're privileged to have access to food.

3.Make peace with food

Wave the white flag with all foods. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods.

Unfortunately, food is no longer just food, it's good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, clean/toxic, which turns eating into a moral issue. "I'm bad for eating this etc", keeping us stuck in diet mentality. I know it sounds scary to allow yourself to eat all foods, and so many people think they'll just want chocolate and ice cream all day everyday.

This is just not the case, when you're allowed all foods, the intense pull towards certain foods fade, you can have it whenever you want, it's less compelling.

In fact, many people discover they don't even like some of the foods they've been trying so hard to avoid most of their lives.

4. Challenge the food police

These are often the critical inner thoughts we have about food and our bodies. Most of us have horrible thoughts about ourselves that we'd never dream of saying to a loved one. This principle helps us challenge this thinking, which is of course a result of diet culture.

5. Feel your fullness

Your body knows when you've had enough food. It'll tell you too with specific cues. Most of us find it difficult to recognise and respond to these cues because we're shaming ourselves for what we're eating, maybe planning the next restriction, vowing to eat less the next time. This principle helps you relearn what fullness feels like and honour it, which will be the most satisfying eating experience for you. Feeling uncomfortably full is not satisfying.

6. Discover the satisfaction factor

We all deserve to feel satisfied, and when we're satisfied with our food choices, we're content. When you choose to eat an apple when you really want a piece of chocolate, what happens?

You might end up eating an apple, an orange, some grapes, a yogurt, some rice cakes and eventually you cave and eat the chocolate, what might it be like to satisfy your initial craving of the chocolate?

7. Cope with your emotions with kindness

'Emotional eating' is often demonised as if it's a bad thing. Eating is emotional. We use food to celebrate, to mourn, to connect. It's often a very effective way to soothe our emotions.

While using food to soothe your emotions is most definitely not a bad thing, it's definitely helpful to find other ways to cope with your emotions, it's important to add more self-care tools into your toolkit.

If we always turn to food to feel better, we will unlikely build on our coping skills, or build resilience to experience unpleasant emotions without numbing out or blocking the emotional experience.

All emotions are valid, there's no right or wrong emotions, some are definitely more pleasant than others but when we're living life to the fullest, we'll experience a wide range of emotions.

8. Respect your body

We can all benefit from some self-compassion. Most of us are very hard on ourselves, we speak to ourselves in ways that are so hurtful, feeding a cycle of self-loathing.

You don't have to like your body right now, that's OK, but what might it be like to respect it? Finding appreciation for what it does for you each day?

Working on this principle helps many to find some acceptance around the body they live in, not fighting it and punishing it at every opportunity.

9. Movement

Movement has many benefits, mental, physical and emotional. Sadly, many of us associate exercise with weight loss, believing we need to 'work off' food we ate or 'earn' food for the weekend. Once again, we're not listening to what feels good in our body.

Finding movement that you enjoy, for others reasons that have nothing to do with weight loss is a game changer.

Your body will thank you for getting it to the place where you move to improve how you feel and not how you look.

10. Gentle nutrition

This is the last principle for a reason, because if you jump straight to the information in this principle before you've repaired your relationship with food, you'll end up treating it like a diet. The 'wellness' diet is still a diet. When you can come to this principle from a neutral standpoint you can integrate gentle nutrition to benefit your overall health, not for the purpose of manipulating your weight.

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