Many dieters tend to develop a negative relationship with food. That’s because diets created the idea that eating is a frivolous habit that should be restricted in order to obtain the perfect body. Unfortunately, most diets completely ignore the body needs for energy and nutrients. Instead, they create the illusion that there are “good” foods (such as cabbage and broccoli) and “bad” foods (such as doughnuts and bread) and you should only eat the good ones otherwise you’ll be condemned to be fat. Therefore, people try to deprive themselves of the foods they love in the name of “fitness.” However, eating only cabbage and broccoli is unrealistic and unattainable.

So, why do people keep dieting? Because it creates expectations and hopes about a new body and a new life. The problem is that a diet hardly ever delivers what it promises. You may be able to cut off candies, fat, or carbohydrates for a while, but you won’t be able to do it forever, and when you can’t do it anymore, you’ll feel like a failure. And what happens after that? Usually, binge eating. It is as if you suddenly rebelled against the self-imposed restraints and decided to eat all you missed in one sitting. After that, you feel awfully guilty and promise to start a new diet the next day, and the cycle restarts.

In order to help people overcome the diet mentality, two nutritionists developed a program called intuitive eating.  This program is based on few principles that help people make peace with food and respect their bodies. The main goal of the program is to create a state of awareness in order to be able to recognize biological signs of hunger and fullness. According to the authors, restrictive eaters tend to rely on external cues (such as portion size) to determine how much they should eat, instead of paying attention to internal cues (such as how they feel). This numbs their systems, and they lose the ability to trust their bodies around food. Chronic dieters believe that if they don’t micromanage their eating habits, they will overeat.

Therefore, the first step on the intuitive eating process is to give yourself permission to eat whatever you want without guilt or censure. This is obviously a difficult but crucial step, since most people will have a hard time letting go the dieting beliefs. However, this step will help you get in touch with long lost feelings of satisfaction. You see, for you to feel satisfied after a meal, what you eat is as important as how much you eat. Eating something you don’t like is not as satisfying as having a food you really love. Besides, when you give yourself permission to have a “forbidden” food without guilt, you are able to have a small but satisfying portion. If you restrict yourself, on the other hand, you’ll tend to eat a much bigger portion when you have a chance.

The next step is to reconnect with your body in order to recognize feelings of hunger and satiety. Most dieters tend to suppress early signals of hunger and eat only when starving. That’s what happens when you skip meals: you ignore your hunger for a whole day, only to find yourself famished by dinner time.   Eating when over hungry leads to overeating. The problem is that your body won’t be able to use all the calories you’ve just ingested, meaning that any extra energy will be stored as fat. So, according to the intuitive eating principles, you should eat when moderately hungry rather than waiting until you are starving.

After learning to fuel your body when it is asking for food, you’ll need to recognize when you are full. The authors encourage people to take a time-out during the meal to assess their level of fullness. Your job is to stop eating before you are too full. In order to be able to do this, you must give food your undivided attention. Eating while performing other activities leads to mindless eating, which means that you will probably eat more than you intended.

In sum: eat only when you are hungry, eat what you really want (not what you think you are supposed to eat), watch your satiety level and stop eating before you are stuffed, give food your undivided attention, and savor your food (instead of gulping it down). Following these simple principles can help you get enjoyment from food without overeating.

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