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The Science and Psychology of Intuitive Eating

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Imagine a world where you woke up each day and had an easy relationship with food. You ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were full. There are no moments of being hard on yourself. No beating yourself up when you ate something “bad.” No shame or guilt. No eating out of anger or sadness. You simply ate what felt good for you and your body.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a fairy tale. This type of relationship with food is surely possible. What if you knew that all you needed to do to get there was to trust – trust your body and yourself to make informed choices surrounding food?

Trust is the focal point of a nutritional philosophy known as Intuitive Eating. It’s by developing trust in your body’s inner cues regarding hunger and fullness that you can begin to make great choices around eating. You can distinguish between physical and emotional hungers and over time you’ll see that you can eat in a way that allows you to find your natural weight and health.

This approach is certainly different from what we usually hear. No longer does good health and natural weight require diets, calorie restriction, and extreme exercise. Quite the contrary, the simple act of listening to your body, trusting its wisdom and honoring its needs can lead to weight loss, improved energy and a better experience of life.

If you’re curious about this approach, here are 4 key insights into the science and the psychology of Intuitive Eating and why it really works:

You have a brain in your belly

The knowledge behind eating intuitively is actually based in science.
Have you ever had a “sense” that something was not right? Have you felt “off” in certain circumstances? Felt butterflies in your stomach? Or experienced an upset stomach when attempting to manage a situation you felt unsure about? This is your body’s enteric nervous system talking, otherwise known as the “gut-brain.” Yes, we really do have a brain in our belly.
Our “gut-brain,” of course, differs from the brain in our head. The enteric nervous system is actually housed under the mucosal lining and between the muscular layers of the esophagus, the stomach, and the small and large intestines. Through an extraordinarily complex network of neurons and neurochemicals, it senses and controls events in other parts of the body, including the brain itself.

Researchers have determined that the enteric nervous system is constantly providing information to our brains regarding our nutritional needs. Most of us learn to eat by listening to messages coming from outside of ourselves – messages from our parents, teachers, friends, or the media. Eating intuitively requires honoring the messages from your own inner source of knowing to guide you.

Your body knows when it is hungry and when it is full

Beginning the process of learning to trust your “gut-brain” and your body wisdom means understanding your body’s inner cues regarding hunger and fullness.

It’s so important to slow down and observe so you can hear what your body is saying.
Oftentimes, we’re moving so quickly through the world that we spend our time disconnected from our body. We run from one meeting to the next, skip meals when we don’t have time, or overeat at the end of a day. All of this disconnection wreaks havoc on our metabolism and on our happiness.

If you begin to tune into your body, you’ll recognize what it feels like when you’re hungry and full. Your body will tell you when you’re fatigued or energetic, or having trouble digesting.
Just observe your body’s messages.

How do you feel when you’re hungry? Does your stomach feel light and rumbly? Do you get a slight headache or does your mouth begin to water? Notice when you are just starting to feel full. Where do you sense it in your body? In your stomach? Do you start to relax or breathe easier?

Everyone is different, so we’ll all have our own bodily sensations and messages. Simply take time to ask your body what it needs. Tune into the sensations of hunger and fullness and you’ll be on your way to eating intuitively.

Trusting your body benefits your health in many ways

One of the greatest gifts you can receive from eating intuitively is the ability to trust both your body and yourself. This can have profound benefits on your overall health.

Of course, everyone knows that stress is challenging for our health. Bathing ourselves in stress hormones every day can make it difficult to lose weight and build muscle. It can cause fatigue and impair immunity. But trusting your body’s inner cues and feeling confident in this approach allows you to relax into your relationship with food as well as your life. Imagine the trickle down effect this can have on your overall well-being. Trusting and becoming the expert on yourself and your own needs will make you feel more empowered to create a life in which you can truly thrive.

By placing trust in yourself you may begin to feel safer in your relationships and in the world. You may find that you can move away from being hard on yourself to being more compassionate. From there, self-judgment around food can become a thing of the past. Please don’t underestimate the power of placing trust in your body and yourself.

Intuitive eating is a way of life:

Learning to listen to your body and respect your its wisdom is not a trendy dieting approach like others that have come and gone over the years. Rather, eating intuitively is an approach that can become an organic part of your life. The concepts are simple yet profoundly powerful when put to use.

As intuitive eating is a practice and a way of life, rather than a pre-set meal plan that you simply have to adhere to, it’s not 100 percent accurate all the time. Some days you may find it easy to listen to your body’s inner cues. Other days it may be more of a struggle. But as you practice listening, the entire approach will come more easily and be more consistent over time. And the benefits in terms of self-knowledge, peace of mind, and optimal health will be much more far reaching than anything you can experience from a typical weight-loss diet.

Here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, we love teaching about eating intuitively. We believe strongly that no one knows more about you than YOU. So as you consider all the information out there regarding food and health, take a step back and look inside. You have so much of the information you need within your own body. Your job is simply to practice listening…

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