It’s no secret yoga helps guide us toward being more in tune with our bodies. Having the ability to listen to our inner wisdom is a gift, whether it’s focusing our attention on the functions of our bodies instead of our looks or increasing mindfulness as a result of regularly spending time on the mat. While yoga is powerful in helping us look inward, another framework called Intuitive Eating provides us the opportunity to do this as well.
Introducing Intuitive Eating
Intuitive Eating was created in 1995 by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Eleyse Resch. According to Tribole, “Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought… Intuitive Eating is a weight-inclusive, evidence-based model with a validated assessment scale and over 100 studies to date.”
This foundation is made up of ten principles, ranging from making peace with food (through removing judgment, good or bad, around food so all types are neutral), to respecting your body (by focusing on its function and improving body image), to exercising and feeling the difference it makes (by noticing positive effects of movement instead of the number of calories burned). There is also an emphasis on satisfaction with what we eat and attentiveness to hunger and fullness cues.
As yoga has been shown to help us tune into our bodies and remove the focus from our outward appearance, so has Intuitive Eating. Instead of concentrating on how we look, this framework encourages us to consider how our bodies’ functions benefit us. How do our legs help us in daily life? Which of our hobbies require the use of our arms?
While it may sound basic, many of us need help relearning hunger and fullness cues, especially subtle ones. For example, when trying to learn our bodies’ understated hunger signals, many people realize they get a headache every day around lunchtime or feel “hangry” before eating an afternoon snack. In addition, a subtle sign of fullness is eating more slowly as the meal goes on, even if the brain hasn’t registered the feeling yet.
This ability to sense these cues, even when discreet, allows us to avoid extreme hunger and subsequent uncomfortable fullness (think about how quickly we consume food when ravenous). It also encourages our bodies to send us these signals in the first place, as when they realize we are not ignoring hunger or fullness sensations, they will alert us to them, which also ensures we eat an adequate amount of food throughout the day.
For people who struggle to feel satisfied after eating, this framework helps tune in to that sensation as well. Being satisfied with what we eat is a very important part of Intuitive Eating. We can experience this feeling by consuming adequate amounts of foods we truly want at the moment, limiting distractions at meals or snacks, and not engaging in negative self-talk.
When we leave a meal feeling satisfied, it decreases the desire for more food later on. This means decreased cravings and less likelihood of standing in front of the pantry after a meal, wanting to eat something else for it to feel complete.
Many of us likely practice yoga in part because of the health advantages, from improving depression to decreasing blood pressure. Intuitive Eating complements yoga here too, as it has been shown to benefit our health in many ways.
Tribole and Resch state that Intuitive Eating correlates with many positive health outcomes, including decreased triglycerides and blood pressure, fewer episodes of out-of-control eating and binge eating, and less guilt and shame for eating certain foods. It also correlates with higher self-esteem, increased HDL levels (good cholesterol), body appreciation and acceptance, and the consumption of a larger variety of foods.
We know these health outcomes benefit our overall well-being, including that of the heart, kidneys, brain, and immune system. However, the effects of decreased shame and guilt around food, increased body appreciation and acceptance, and higher self-esteem might be less obvious. These benefits are associated with improved mental health including better psychological hardiness, which when taken together with all the other advantages of Intuitive Eating, play a role in preventing eating disorders and improving overall health.
Putting it all together
A powerful way to improve our well-being, yoga can be even more influential when paired with Intuitive Eating. Both avenues are associated with outcomes such as improved mental, cardiovascular, and brain health.
For those interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating, Kourtney recommends visiting Intuitiveeating.org or reading Intuitive Eating: Fourth Edition by Tribole and Resch.
Kourtney is a registered dietitian passionate about sharing information related to Intuitive Eating. The owner and founder of Intuitively Nourished, she offers freelance writing and speaking services on a variety of nutrition topics.
Originally from Rosemount, MN, she currently lives in Spain. In her free time she enjoys reading, traveling, baking and spending time with friends and family.