How to Take Baby Steps Towards Intuitive Eating

If you're wrapped up in body hate and diet mentality, intuitive eating might feel out of reach. Here's 11 tips for taking baby steps for becoming a more intuitive eater. #intuitiveeating #haes #wellness #nutrition 

A few weeks ago, my intern Lauren gave me the idea of posting on baby steps towards food freedom. 

I really loved that idea, because I think sometimes the conversation around Intuitive Eating makes it seem much easier than it actually is. And what if you're not ready to totally ditch dieting? Maybe you're not fully there on "buying" Intuitive Eating, struggling with an intense fear of weight gain, healing from an eating disorder, or those restrictive eating behaviors are all that you have to cope with crippling anxiety? Intuitive Eating shouldn't feel off limits just because you're not ready to dive in 100%.

And frankly, if being ready to dive in 100% was a requirement for Intuitive Eating, I don't think anyone would ever become an intuitive eater because who wakes up and all of a sudden feels totally at ease in their body? Everyone becomes an intuitive eater by first taking baby steps. 

If you're not totally there on Intuitive Eating, that's okay! I hope that one day you comfortable to let go of dieting and restriction, but for today, let's just work with where you're at. 

Here's tips from my fellow non-diet dietitians on how they help their clients take baby steps away from dieting and towards intuitive eating: 

"One thing I find helpful and encouraging is just spending some time acknowledging when something diet related slips into our day and how it makes us feel. This can be our own thoughts, actions or words or something we hear, see, or partake in coming from outside sources. I find that just noticing and realizing how much it influences us, our mood, our feelings, our actions, and the negative impact that comes along with it, is a great motivator to start moving away from it. It's very difficult to make the change until we are able to identify and acknowledge what exactly it is that needs to be changed."  ~ Amanda Boyer, MS, RDN, CD of Whole Hearted Nutrition

"As silly or basic as this may sound, how we begin trusting our body is realizing that we are in a relationship with our body. And relationships take time to start, grow, and nurture. Treating your body with compassion – when you’ve been in the opposite world of hating on and disliking your body – takes time, patience, and work. In fact, it’s a daily choice you make. So give yourself a break and please don’t think that this is an overnight process (that’s your old diet mentality talking!). Instead, show yourself some humanity and kindness, just like you would anyone else." ~ Corinne Dobbas Wolk, RD  

"Since I work with a lot of athletes and active women, I’ll ask them to write down a list of their food rules. Once they’ve shared the list, we then go through them to identify which may be related to the culture of their sport or rituals they have related to competition. If not a competitive athlete, we address if the rules originated due to gym culture. Then we can pick a couple and discuss, from a sports nutrition or sports psych perspective, why those rules don’t make sense or aren’t worth honoring." ~ Kelly Jones MS RD CSSD LDN 

"I love to talk about nonjudgmental awareness and black & white thinking. We have so many thoughts each day that we consider to be factual - exploring experiences and increasing awareness can help us to explore how we feel about foods/eating/our bodies. If you have a curious outlook, you can consider the intention behind your actions/choices, and identify different areas to talk through/learn from. I find this turning inward can be overwhelming sometimes, but I like to remind people it's simply a practice that can become second nature and won't always require constant attention." ~ Kathleen Mehan, MS, RD 

"I think a really great first step is to get curious about where thoughts come from! That goes hand in hand with "ditching the diet mentality" from IE but it can be a little more gentle of a transition than immediately trying to get rid of every thought. Asking yourself about the origins of diet beliefs (like was this read online? Did a friend say this? etc) and then transitioning into challenging thoughts can help ease into things. Just wrote up a post on these kinds of thoughts too!" ~ Amy Hanneke, RDN, LD of Satisfy Nutrition 

"One common thing I work on is becoming more aware of our thoughts around food and our bodies. We start by just noticing when and how those thoughts creep in. Whether it's a rule or negative thought around a specific food, actively choosing to ignore hunger, or a negative thought about our bodies. We practice observing thoughts in a non-judgmental, curious manner. By becoming more aware of when, why, and how these thoughts arise, we can then learn how to address them and slowly change our mindset around food." ~ Sarah Gold, MS, RDN, LDN 

"Something that makes us fear that commitment is lack of confidence in how to explain (or potentially defend) it when diet culture surrounds us. So when clients are struggling with that choice, I'll sometimes work with them to practice phrases to help them set boundaries. Things they can use with family or friends when they explain they're done dieting or trying a new approach, like "I'm reclaiming my health in a way that might look or sound different to you, but it's important to me so I'm asking that you please don't comment on my body or my food choices." We also talk about resiliency, that these diet-y thoughts don't go away overnight, we just become more resilient when we recognize them and feel less of an urge to react or respond to them." ~ Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD of Street Smart Nutrition

"When people hear about intuitive eating, they often aren't able to understand the nuances right away and its by no means easy. It's difficult to ditch the diet mentality with diet culture being the norm. A small step I find helpful with clients is to bring awareness to subtle forms of diet culture without judgement-just to view it as information-and do some thought re-framing. For example, if someone were to say they couldn't have a donut unless they exercised we would explore where this rule came from(diet culture) and re-frame the thought as "Donuts are just another form of protein, fats and carbohydrates and are really satisfying to eat. Satisfaction is just as important as macronutrients when it comes to eating" ~ Hannah Turnbull, RDN of Healthy Hanny

"Hands down, what I've seen as the hardest roadblock for my clients is that it is scary. Shedding all those rules and norms is really hard and many people automatically think that if they no longer have rules, then they'll go far in the other direction (which could totally be true, and not a bad thing). I've found that talking about past dieting experiences/feelings, and then encouraging them to take a week (or however long we have till the next appointment) to reflect on how they react to situations where these rules come up can be illuminating, with a focus on curious exploration vs judgment." ~ Rebecca Clyde MS, RDN, CD of Nourish Nutrition  

"We can not address intuitive eating and ditching dieting without addressing body image. A very important small step to stepping away from dieting and toward IE is by slowly starting to let the way we feel guide us rather than the way we perceive our bodies to look. Therefore, a great way to start looking at food as something that is both nourishing and satisfying and to start honoring our hunger and fullness, is to start paying attention to what our body is telling us about our food choices rather than what our body image may be telling us. We can start making this change slowly, taking it one day at a time, to eventually transition from using the weight scale (boo!!) to the hunger scale. Start by not stepping on the scale one day or maybe try decreasing the amount of times your analyze your body in the mirror. Then try going two days or three. In time, maybe you won’t do either. Instead of letting your body image guide your decisions, listen to your body to make the decisions. See how that affects both your food choices and how you feel. Then see how those affect each other! “When it comes to adoptive intuitive eating and ditching dieting, I think it is important to recognize that our body image plays a huge role. Try to listen to your hunger scale rather than the number on your scale. Listen to how your body is feeling and not what you perceive it to look like. This can lead you toward seeing food as just food rather than seeing it as reward and punishment.” ~ Jamie Magdic, RD2B of Your Happy Healthy 

My suggestion? If you've read Intuitive Eating, pick just one principle you feel comfortable working on. Perhaps making peace will all food feels impossible, but maybe you'd like to explore ways of adding more pleasure into your diet, or honoring your hunger? Because the principles are so interrelated, I find that by focusing on one, it often opens up space to examine another. 

If you have any other ideas of what has been helpful for you, feel free to share in the comments! 

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