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Is Intuitive Eating Worth a Try?

While dieting has been popular for many years now, intuitive eating is a trend that's gaining more momentum.

Since we're so familiar with how diets work (because most of us have been on one or know someone who has), let's compare intuitive eating to dieting to gain a better understanding of what it is and even dive into what it can mean for a Christian who might be curious about trying it.

What's the difference between intuitive eating and dieting? In a nutshell...

Dieting vs. Intuitive Eating

Focuses on External Cues | Focuses on Internal Cues

One-size-fits-all | Individualized

Rigid & stringent | Flexible & ever-changing

Eating can cause stress & anxiety | Eating is a pleasurable experience

Food is the enemy | Food is a gift from God

Physiological Focus | Whole-Person Approach

Can promote self-hate | Can promote self-compassion

Temporary success | Permanent reward

The main difference between the two is that dieting uses external cues and measures from another “expert.” In contrast, intuitive eating (IE) uses God-given internal cues and measures, relying on the individual as the expert on their own body. Dieting extracts one or a very select few parts of nutrition to focus on (calories, macronutrients), restricting foods that go outside of the prescribed boundaries by controlling the quantity of food or excluding certain foods or food groups.

In contrast, IE looks at food as information for the body, attuning one’s awareness of its impact on the person’s body, both immediate and long-term. It’s important to note that an intuitive eater doesn’t have to throw out external knowledge or ignore food facts (what we know and understand from science) but rather can use that information to shed light on their own experiences with food, with the approach of performing their own scientific study through their body’s reactions. That self-study through testing and observation is part of becoming the expert.

Intuitive Eating Offers Freedom

Diets are one-size-fits-all, whereas IE is more individualized.Diets tend to work more like a recipe to be followed precisely to obtain promised results; yet, many dieters feel like a failure when they don’t get the same results as others or can’t follow the diet. That’s because each individual is unique, with a distinct DNA, and differently affected by their environment, life experiences, emotions, mindset, etc. Health (and one’s way of eating) is bioindividual, in that what might work for me may not work for you; thus, nutrition should be individualized.

Diets are rigid and stringent, while IE is flexible and ever-changing. In some ways, we might prefer to diet because there are clear guidelines and boundaries, where everything seems black and white and there’s nothing to have to figure out; however, IE offers freedom. If we’re willing to put in the effort and thoughtfulness to connect our minds to our bodies, we can create a feedback loop that informs us of the most beneficial foods, times, and ways to eat for the most positive impact on our individual health.

That’s why we shouldn’t mistakenly assume that IE doesn’t require self-control. It requires discipline and patience to become attuned to our body’s cues and honor the body, by adjusting our behaviors to the information it’s giving us, even changing our thoughts and mindset about food and eating.

The Intuitive Eating approach involves going all the way back to God’s perfect design by understanding and honoring things like hunger and satiety cues, cravings, fatigue, emotions, physical pain, discomfort, etc.

In God’s wisdom, He provided our bodies with various mechanisms through which we receive feedback so we can form habits and make adjustments to care for ourselves and live abundantly as a means to love Him and others well.

Intuitive eating allows us to see all food as a gift from God to be enjoyed, as an opportunity to nourish our bodies, God’s temple, keeping it fit for use in His Kingdom, a living sacrifice for His glory.

Food Is A Gift From God

Unfortunately, diets can cause stress and anxiety, while intuitive eating helps us realize that eating should be a pleasurable experience the way God intended it to be. Diets can destroy our relationship with food because when we start viewing foods as good or bad, we see ourselves as either good or bad for eating those foods. That destructive mindset has no place in IE.

IE allows us to see food for what it is: neither inherently good nor bad, yet having the ability to destroy or edify. We even have to be careful with that statement because one meal of food that our body may not handle well doesn’t mean we’re on the path to destruction. Our eating patterns over time ultimately determine our health, along with many other gene and lifestyle factors.

IE allows us to see all food as a gift from God to be enjoyed, as an opportunity to nourish our bodies, God’s temple, keeping it fit for use in His Kingdom, a living sacrifice for His glory. The beauty of this individualized approach is the understanding that one person’s medicine may be another’s poison.

I also believe that the enemy uses diet culture to attack our identity because diets can be a way of working for an identity versus IE helping us to work from our identity in Christ. When we are fully known and realize we’re still chosen, beloved, forgiven, redeemed, royalty, unconditionally loved, and shepherded, we are free to make decisions out of love that helps us flourish, rather than acting out of fear, which causes us to shrink back and play smaller than our God-created potential.

IE Accounts for the Whole Person

Diets are solely physiological, focusing only on the body and food, whereas IE involves the mind, body, and emotions. While dieting is only concerned with what is eaten, IE also focuses on the way you eat, encouraging mindful eating. It goes beyond physical hunger and explores other things we might be hungry for, how our emotions play a role in this, how food can in turn serve as a comforter, even becoming an addiction, and ways to nourish ourselves beyond food.

As Christians, IE can help make us aware of our tendencies to wander away from the God who loves us and meets all our needs, often turning to food to fill a need only He can, sometimes making it an idol.

While diets can promote self-hate, IE can encourage self-compassion and self-love. Diets can feel restrictive, depriving, depleting, and draining, while IE should be about open-minded exploration and discovery, a place where it’s safe to wonder and be curious about one’s body and how different foods in different quantities, times of the day, stages of life, and varying hormone levels and moods affect one’s whole being, for overall optimal health. It should be energizing and focus on what you’re gaining, what you “get to” enjoy rather than what you “have to” give up.

Diets might end with a temporary successful outcome, but IE is intended to be permanently rewarding. Learning the skill of intuitive eating is an opportunity to partner with the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our decisions, to know ourselves more authentically, accept ourselves for how God made us and how life has shaped us, honor God’s perfect design of our intricate and wonderfully made bodies, reconnect our bodies to our minds and spirit, living in the present, making conscious decisions out of full awareness to improve our health for our good, the good of others, and God’s glory.

So now you get to decide whether intuitive eating might be worth a try. Thought it's an innate behavior, most of us have learned to suppress it throughout our lives. The good news is that with practice, you can become skilled at it and reap the benefits soon!

If this is a topic you'd like to learn more about, specifically how to implement the practice in your lifestyle, check out my Ditch the Diet Program, where we dedicate an entire week to intuitive health, then continue practicing it for six weeks in the program.

In Love & Service,

Coach Leah


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