Intuitive eating is an approach to health and food that was developed by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It was in response to diet culture, and has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline or willpower. It centres around a healthy relationship with food and your bod.
I only heard about intuitive eating fairly recently, but it’s essentially what Jonny and I have been doing for a couple of years now. We try to pay attention to what our bodies tell us. For the most part that means we eat whole, plant based foods and feel completely satisfied. But you’ll have noticed we regularly mention that we will have the odd vegan burger or something else processed – and that’s a good thing! We don’t deprive ourselves of the things we want, and by listening to our bodies we have developed much healthier and more sustainable relationships with food. The biggest benefits of this way of eating are that you will feel satisfied, rather than deprived and hangry, and you won’t find yourself craving foods that you aren’t “allowed” to eat.
There are three questions I hear you asking! (1) How does this fit in with veganism? (2) How does this fit in with a whole food plant based diet? And (3) how does this fit in when you have specific fitness goals and want to support that through nutrition?
Question number 1 is easy – animals and animal products aren’t food. Veganism is an ethical belief – a lifestyle - not a dietary choice. Vegans are against all exploitation of animals, so they don’t even feature as a possible food choice.
Questions 2 and 3 are a bit more difficult. Let’s go chronologically and look at question number2 first. How does intuitive eating fit in with a whole food plant based diet? Well, I think the word “diet” here is a bit misleading. I know that some people really do see it as a diet, and to be honest I think there are some issues with that. To me, it is a way of eating that I know is best for me, my body and my lifestyle. I don’t see it as a set of strict rules that I have to follow. I see it more as the fact that I have found a way of eating that I enjoy and makes me feel good. Do I always stick to it? No. Do I feel bad when I don’t stick to it? No. Do I obsess over food and worry about nutrition? No. I think as long as you see eating whole, plant foods as something you want to do rather than something you have to do, and don’t start obsessing over nutrition, it can fit in very nicely with intuitive eating.
And question number 3 – How does intuitive eating work if you have specific fitness goals that you want to support through nutrition? Well, to be honest I don’t think it always works. It will depend on just how specific your goals are. I’ve never had a problem with intuitive eating and reaching my goals, but I’m quite lucky that my body responds well to the type of exercise I do and the types of foods I eat. I think to a certain extent that is because I listen to my body, but there is probably also an element of plain old luck there. If you have a specific cutting or bulking goal, or want to go for endurance events, I think intuitive eating could be problematic for you. These types of very specific goals require some element of planning. It might be that you are able to make it work, but just remember the more specific the goal, the more specific you need to be with your nutrition.
Hopefully this gives you an overview of the principles of intuitive eating and how it can fit in with your lifestyle. I think the most important thing is to develop a positive relationship with food – whatever that looks like for you!