It’s THRIVE month at UBC, where we focus on ways to foster, improve and maintain good mental health. One way to improve your overall health and mental wellbeing is by eating!
Maddy Laranjo, a student-athlete at UBCO, has written this week’s blog on nutrition and intuitive eating to help you thrive during your studies.
Last week, I introduced Intuitive Eating and how it allows us to return to a non-diet mindset, remove the guilt in foods, and eat according to our physiological and psychological needs.
This week I want to expand on the 10 principles that help guide you to become an Intuitive eater, explain how honouring your health through Intuitive Eating can also improve your student experience.
Before we dive into this week’s topic, I want to make one thing clear that Intuitive eating is NOT a diet. It’s about listening to your internal cues by moving away from diet rules and restrictions. Intuitive eating focuses on practicing nutrition from a place of self-care, not self-control. It encourages you to have a gentle, flexible, balanced and permissive approach when making food choices.
Intuitive Eating Principles
There are 10 principles to Intuitive Eating as described by Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, creators of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, the proven non-diet approach that has helped people become Intuitive Eaters1,2. These are not rules, but guidelines to help reconnect with your body’s physical and psychological needs. These principles encourage eating for satisfaction and engaging in physical activity for enjoyment, while also addressing cognitive distortions and emotional eating (e.g. school stress). Finally, these principles aims to guide you to honour your health while respecting your body.
You may find some principles easy to adopt, while others are more challenging. Remember you are trying to rewire your thoughts and behaviours. This is a process that will take time! Challenge each principle starting with number 1. You will start to notice that certain ones will become habitual and effortless.
Your end goal - Principles 9 and 10 - is to honour your overall health through exercise that you enjoy, and gentle nutrition. However, you have to retrain your brain first, relearn the basics, and re-frame your mindset before tackling those final steps. Everyone’s journey to food freedom will be different, but it is possible for everyone!
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Make a decision to never diet again. First, get rid of calorie-counting apps, diet books, and un-follow weight loss-focused influencers who have been offering you the false hope of losing weight quickly through calorie cuts and strict dieting. Second, remove all restriction around food, such as what you eat and when you eat (e.g. you are allowed dessert, and can eat after 8 pm). You will need to have complete freedom to eat. Dieting will prevent you from becoming an intuitive eater and listening to your body because it forces you to listen to external cues and rules, rather than your internal hunger signals. It’s also been proven that restricting foods and dieting can trigger overeating, due to the caloric deficit and our biological response to under eating1,3,4. You will also have to re-frame the idea of foods as being categorized as “bad” or “good”. If you allow yourself to eat the foods you desire and ditch the diet mentality, your innate signals will eventually guide you to foods that satisfy both your nutritional health and satiety.
2. Honour Your Hunger
Eat when you are hungry! Keep your body biologically fed. When studying, it can be easy to get caught up in school work, and forget to eat. Waiting too long to eat can lead to intense feelings of food deprivations, which can build into uncontrollable cravings and activate your protective instincts to overeat once you gain access to food. Extreme food deprivation can be a traumatic attack on your body and mind (e.g. eating in a caloric deficit and extreme dieting) and can replicate a famine state. Research has shown that our bodies were not designed to experience intense periods of hunger. To reverse these feeling and ensure our bodies feels safe and secure, they need to be consistently fed with an adequate amount of food. Honouring your hunger will help you reconnect with your internal signals and recondition your mind and body to believe it will always have access to food. This is the first step in rebuilding trust in yourself and food, and identifying your biological hunger signals. In addition, be mindful that there are different reasons for and types of hungers. All types of hunger are normal and require you to respond through eating. And to help identify your hunger signals I encourage you to practice mindful eating.
Reminder for students, our brains are fueled by the breakdown of glucose in carbohydrates! So eat when you are hungry and nourish your body with adequate energy (e.g. carbohydrates) to keep your body and mind fed and energized.
3. Make Peace With Food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Move away from the idea that you can’t or shouldn’t eat certain foods, and instead allow yourself to eat any foods you crave. Food is simply energy. If you tell yourself you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can enhance those cravings, which can result in overindulging in them. “Giving in” to your "forbidden foods" will help you rewire your brain to believe that you are allowed to eat these foods again. Remind yourself that you can eat these foods in the future and whenever you desire1. In doing this, your craving and intense desire for certain foods will eventually dissipate.
4. Challenge the Food Police
Say NO to all the food rules that diet culture has created. The food police are the critical thoughts that arise and cast judgment, guilt-provoking accusations, and label you as being good or bad depending on what or how much you eat. Challenge the thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” when you eat minimal calories and “bad” because you eat a piece of cake. Test that inner voice and challenge any food rules that have been holding you back from eating certain foods you desire. The focus is on honouring your body and mind. Be mindful and aware during this principle (See Principles 5 and 6 to help with this process). Eventually, you will get to eat foods again without the food police making you feel “bad” or “unhealthy.” And when you truly honour your hunger without the negative thoughts, your hunger and fullness signals will guide you to consume an adequate amount of food, while your satiety will guide you to eat foods that satisfy your cravings and nutritional health. Remember your internal signals will lead you to honour your health, so don’t leave it to the food police or diet rules to determine what or how much you can eat.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
It’s important to prioritize the pleasure and satisfaction that you experience in eating. When you eat what you truly want, the pleasure of food will help you to feel satisfied and content. By seeking a pleasurable eating experience, you are more likely to eat an appropriate amount. Enjoying this experience will help build a positive relationship with food and leave you only wanting the foods you actually enjoy.
6. Respect / Feel Your Fullness
Learn to listen and identify your body’s signals that tell you when you are no longer hungry. Be present, pause during meals, and practice mindful eating (question the taste, aroma, texture, and pleasure of certain foods) to be able to tune in to these signals. Observe the signs that show you that you are comfortably full. I encourage you to ask yourself the question: "Do I feel I have had enough? Am I satisfied?" Also, I want you to notice how your body feels when you eat too much, and when you don’t eat enough. At first, this will be a tricky task, but through trial and error you will be able to be satisfied and comfortably full from every meal.
7. Manage Your Emotions with Kindness
Seek constructive, kind, and nurturing ways to cope with emotions. Food is often used to comfort, nurture, or distract you from feelings of acute stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, or anger. For students, we often feel the stress of studying and school deadlines, so it’s essential to tune in to your hunger cues when eating in times of stress. Although food can offer a short-term distraction, it won’t fix those feelings long-term. Ultimately, you will have to work to identify the true source of these emotions. If you are using food to cope with your emotions, it’s important to identify when you are emotionally eating and what may be triggering this emotion. Second, identify what type of emotional eating you are experiencing. Acknowledge how you are feeling and what your body or mind may need. (e.g. journal, make a mental note, phone a friend). Although, emotional hunger is VERY normal, food shouldn’t be your only coping mechanism.
8. Respect Your Body
Accept that your body size and genetic blueprint will be different from other people. Being unrealistic or overly critical of your body size or shape will make it hard to reject the weight-focused diet mentality. The process of respecting your body coincides with understanding that your needs and optimal weight are specific to you. Our bodies are constantly working hard to help you regulate and improve function. Thus, they will have different needs. When you learn to listen to your internal signals, your body will naturally find its “set point weight”, which is an optimal and maintainable weight that helps your body to function properly. Unfortunately, diet culture has added societal pressures that have led many people to believe they must hold a smaller body to be deemed “healthy.” However, if everyone ate the same thing and exercised the same way we would still look and hold different bodies. Don’t let diet culture fool you into believing you must shrink your body or achieve a specific size to be healthy. Not only is this not true, it can also be extremely harmful. All bodies deserve to be treated equally with respect and dignity. Body acceptance and appreciation will bring you one step closer to becoming an intuitive eater.
Shift your reason for excising from one of punishment and calorie-burning, to how it feels to move your body. Recognize how you feel from working out and moving. Most importantly, find a type of exercise that you enjoy. Simple forms of movement such as stretching or getting outside for a walk are easy ways to honour your health and practice daily movements. You don’t need to do an hour of intense physical activity, lift weights, or run on a treadmill every day. I also encourage you to try different ways to move your body, such as yoga, spin classes, pilates, trail running, or kickboxing. Different types of exercises can be fun to try and social. Learn more about how to Thrive by moving more with UBC Wellbeing.
10. Honour Your Health Through Gentle Nutrition
Finally, make food choices that nourish your mind, body and soul, while also satisfying your taste buds. One snack and one meal does not dictate your overall health. Gentle nutrition encourages individuals to consider how certain foods support their health. It’s eating a healthy balance of different foods, while also prioritizing a healthy relationship with food. Ask yourself how certain foods make you feel, in addition to their taste and satisfaction. It encourages adding nutritious foods to your day (e.g. protein, vegetable, etc.), without feeling the need to remove less nutritious foods. Being healthy does not mean eating “perfectly.” When becoming an Intuitive Eater, it’s about the “progress, not perfection2.” Focus on ways to support your health and to improve your relationship with food.
The Benefits of Intuitive Eating
Research has shown there are many benefits of Intuitive Eating both physically and psychologically, and has also shown improved behavioral outcomes1.
- Improved metabolism
- Diminished stress levels
- Increased body appreciation and acceptance
- Higher self-esteem
- Unconditional self-regard
- Improved cholesterol levels
- More pleasure from eating
- Reduced anxiety around food
- Decreased rates of disordered and emotional eating
- Increased satisfaction with life
As students, we have all experienced the stress of school, from assignment deadlines to final exams. But, what we eat shouldn’t add to this stress. I question you to ask yourself: Does dieting and food restriction elevate your stress levels, or increase your feelings of fear or guilt towards food? Intuitive Eating uses a holistic self-care approach that invites you to evaluate your relationship with and mindset toward food, body and exercise.
Research shows that practicing Intuitive Eating significantly reduces stress, while also improving other aspect of your physical health and mental health. Maintaining a good mental state throughout the semester can not only help you thrive in school, but help to improve your overall student experience.
For information about mindful eating while studying and working from home, visit our blog post here!
Learn more about Intuitive Eating
Learn more about Thrive
- Learn why mental health literacy is an important skill to help you live, work, and learn at your best.
- Talk about mental health to reduce stigma and access educational resources to identify signs that help is needed.
- Explore ways to support your mental health and your community at UBC through the Thrive 5+, and
- Check out the Thrive calendar for events throughout November to help support and maintain your mental health.
Connect with us!
- Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. Intuitive eating: a recovery book for the chronic dieter: rediscover the pleasures of eating and rebuild your body image. 1995.
- Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. The intuitive eating workbook: Ten principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. New Harbinger Publications, 2017.
- Van Dyke, N., & Drinkwater, E. J. (2014). Review article relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review. Public health nutrition, 17(8), 1757-1766.
- Hawks, S., Madanat, H., Hawks, J., & Harris, A. (2005). The relationship between intuitive eating and health indicators among college women. Journal of Health Education, 36(6), 331-336.