What Is Intuitive Eating and Should Athletes Try It?

Greenletes / Sports Nutrition / What Is Intuitive Eating and Should Athletes Try It?

Last updated on July 9th, 2021 at 09:45 am

Intuitive Eating is the new anti-diet movement that is taking the nutrition world by storm. Learn to listen to your hunger and stop dieting with Intuitive Eating.

It seems like a new diet pops up almost every single week. Even though you may know someone who lost a ton of weight following a certain diet, that doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

How long can you really eliminate entire food groups or abide by a set of strict rules before throwing in the towel? As a matter of fact, most diets are really strict, hard to follow and don’t always end in positive results.  

What is intuitive eating?

On the other hand, if you’re hoping to make a change to your eating routine that doesn’t require an invasive or strict diet, learning about Intuitive Eating might be right for you.

To get more in-depth info about Intuitive Eating for athletes, click here to learn about The Runner Nutrition Plan.

What is Intuitive Eating? 

Intuitive Eating is an “anti-diet” that encourages people to ditch the diet culture and learn how to tune into your body’s hunger and fullness cues. The primary goal is to form a healthy relationship with food.

The founders of Intuitive Eating, Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, believe that strict diet rules cause people to tune out the body’s natural hunger and fullness signals, which ultimately leads to poor body image and an unhealthy relationship with food.

The guiding principle in Intuitive Eating is listening to your body to make choices about what and how much you eat. I know that’s a bit obscure, so let’s start with the 10 underlying principles of Intuitive Eating. These 10 principles will give you a better idea of how to start eating intuitively.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

Turn on the TV or scroll through social media and you’ll likely to see someone talking about the latest fad diet, whether it’s low- carb, keto, Paelo, Whole 30 or Intermittent Fasting.

Unlike diets that have strict rules about off-limit foods, macros or meal timing, Intuitive Eating recommends rejecting ALL of those rules. Believe it or not, research suggests that dieting (i.e. calorie restriction) actually increases your likelihood of gaining weight.

Intuitive Eating suggests rejecting the diet mentality and focusing on behavioral changes as a way to develop a healthy relationship with food.

2. Honor Your Hunger

How many times have you ignored hunger only to binge on food an hour later? Ignoring your hunger sets you up to fail.

Instead, check in with yourself and pay attention to your hunger cues. When you feel hungry, eat something! It’s actually difficult to do this at first, since you likely have many food rules stuck in your brain.

10 principles of intuitive eating

For example, “don’t eat any white foods.” Well what about white rice or cauliflower? Once you listen to hunger and eat accordingly, it becomes liberating. Plus, eating when you’re hungry actually prevent excessive hunger and puts you on the right path to a healthy eating plan.

3. Make Peace with Food  

If you’ve ever put foods on a ‘forbidden’ list, now is the time to abandon that way of thinking. Negative feelings in any aspect of life do more harm than good. Try to shift your mindset to think of food as nourishment, rather than something “bad” you’re doing to your body.

4. Challenge the Food Police

The inner “food police” is the voice inside saying you are “bad” for eating a cookie and “good” because you turn down dessert. Those thoughts aren’t helpful.  

Food should help nourish your body and provide energy, and eating should be a pleasurable experience. Obsessing over guilty feelings takes the joy out of food.

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

How many times have you eaten something you don’t want to try and satisfy a craving? An hour later, do you end up giving into the craving? Intuitive Eating says you shouldn’t ignore the craving, but rather embrace it. Food deprivation can lead to overeating and uncontrollable cravings, which ends up doing more harm than good.

what is intuitive eating

Allow yourself to have a “junk food” and realize that it’s just one piece of food. Eating it won’t send you into a downward spiral. Although it may not be the healthiest food, it will satisfy your craving and allow you to move on to think about and do other things.

6. Feel Your Fullness

As you move through your meals, check in with your hunger level.

This may mean taking a 10-minute break during the meal to assess whether or not you’re still hungry. If you are, continue to eat. If you’re full, stop eating.

Believe it or not, the body is good at recognizing when it’s full. It takes time to be able to listen to your body, but being able to do this is really rewarding. Eventually, you will be able to finish a meal feeling energized and comfortably full.

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

If you’ve ever turned to food to satisfy an emotion like loneliness, boredom, stress or anger, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, solving a problem with food is very temporary.

The first step in coping with your emotions is acknowledging how you’re feeling. Next, find a way to cope with your feeling with non-food activities, like meditation, journaling, yoga, exercise, calling a friend, self-care (an at-home manicure or face mask), coloring or putting together a puzzle.

If you still feel like eating after doing one of those things, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry. If you’re not and still want food, eat something but take note that you’re not eating to satisfy hunger.

8. Respect Your Body

 Remember that ust as eye and hair color varies from person to person, so does body size. Try not to compare your body to anyone else’s, and be realistic about the goals you set for yourself.

This is difficult when the media praises the super skinny or toned celebrity. But look to role models that celebrate what’s on the inside more than what’s on the outside.

9. Movement – Feel the Difference

Stop thinking about exercise in terms of how many calories you burn. Instead, shift your mindset to think about the energy exercise provides or how it helps clear your head.

10. Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition

The last step in Intuitive Eating banishing the “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to food. Embrace the idea that certain foods make you feel a certain way, and give yourself grace when it comes to eating.

Is it right for athletes?

You may be wondering what my opinion is about intuitive eating for athletes. As an athlete, you’re probably used to structured eating. As a matter of fact, I often recommend athletes eat certain nutrients and foods at certain times to properly fuel exercise or optimize recovery.

is intuitive eating good for athletes and runners?

Planning ahead and eating before or after workouts, regardless of hunger level, can help achieve training goals. This may seem like it goes against the principles of Intuitive Eating. But there are some aspects of Intuitive Eating and sports nutrition that align. This chart compares and contrasts Intuitive Eating and Sports Nutrition principles.

Intuitive Eating PrinciplesSports NutritionSimilarities/differences
Reject the Diet MentalityYES- applies to sports nutritionMany athletes sacrifice good nutrition to be “lean”, but properly fueling is more important than being as thin as possible
Honor your hungerYES- applies to sports nutritionListening to hunger during and after a workout helps you determine whether or not are fueling properly
Make peace with food~ somewhat appliesAll foods fits for athletes, but eating any food that you want whenever you want may lead to a fueling nightmare. Instead, following a nutritious fueling plan is the best way to achieve maximum gains.
Challenge the food policeYES- applies to sports nutritionThis definitely applies to sports nutrition, especially since foods that are often labeled “bad for you”, like sports drinks, are necessary for athletes.
Discover the satisfaction factor~ somewhat appliesAlthough eating foods to satisfy your cravings has a place in every diet, thinking about when you eat these foods in relation to your workout is important. If you’re craving and eat a burger before your workout, it will weigh you down. 
Feel your fullnessYES- applies to sports nutritionListening to your bodies hunger and satiety cues are the best way to determine if you’re eating enough before a workout and following good recovery nutrition tactics.
Respect your bodyYES- applies to sports nutritionEvery athlete looks different, and that’s perfectly okay!
Movement- feel the differenceYES- applies to sports nutritionMost athletes don’t work out just to burn calories, but it’s important to recognize that exercise makes you feel strong, happy and confident.
Honor your health with gentle nutritionYES- applies to sports nutritionYou’re not defined by the last meal you ate. Instead, your athletic career comes down to how you fuel your body over time.

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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