Intuitive Eating is an approach to food and diet created by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, that utilizes your bodies’ awareness and understanding of its’ own internal cues for hunger, satiation and cravings, in order to guide food and diet choices. Unlike many fad diets, Intuitive Eating does not tell you what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. Intuitive Eating is actually based on the premise that your body is really smart, and it knows exactly what it needs at any given time. It is your job to listen to it. Through the process of becoming an Intuitive Eater, you learn how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body – where you ultimately become the expert of your own body.
As dancers, when attempting to achieve a certain aesthetic appearance, it can be all too tempting to fall prey to various dieting schemes and fads. Most typical diets involve following sets of rules and regulations that tell you what to eat (or not eat), and when to eat (or not eat), creating a scenario where the dieter utilizes external cues to guide their eating behavior, resulting in a disconnect from their bodies’ internal cues. This causes body awareness to decrease, which is arguably not a “good thing” for the aspiring dancer.
In order to be a successful dancer, you need to be highly aware of your body – whether you are working on trying to get a higher extension without gripping your hip flexors, or you are trying to decide what to eat for lunch in order to have the best energy for afternoon class/rehearsal. The process of Intuitive Eating teaches you to attune to, and trust, your own bodies’ needs. This ability allows you to make food and diet choices, based on simple nutrition, that will fulfill and satisfy your bodies’ needs at any given time, resulting in less stress around food and eating, greater body/self awareness, increased confidence and strength, not to mention peace of mind around food and eating, allowing you to focus your energy and mental capacity on improving your dancing rather than fretting about your diet…Sounds pretty nice, huh?
If your answer is “yes,” read on to learn about the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, and how they may be able to help you become a healthier, happier and more aware dancer.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
1. Reject the Diet Mentality: More and more (and more) research is showing that diets simply do not work. They may work for a short period of time, but the weight loss resulting from any one given “diet,” is unsustainable and, once the diet ends, the dieter will gain back more weight than they lost. As dancers, we need a sustainable approach to food and eating that will allow us to sustain our bodies’ health and wellness for year round training and performing. While going on a “diet” may yield short term weight loss results, in the long run, it can actually set you up to disconnect from your body and gain weight – not necessarily the outcome you were hoping for.
2. Honor Your Hunger: Hunger is a good thing. Our bodies are smart. They know when we need fuel, and they use signals to inform us. Hunger signals might appear as a growling or cramped stomach, light-headedness or dizzy spells, shaky hands or an inability to focus, or, my personal favorite, a bad (bad) mood…often referred to as becoming “hangry.” These signals are actually survival tactics, and, they are to be listened to. As a dancer, learn to listen to your bodies’ hunger cues, and try to satiate them when they arise, so you can continue to have energy for your craft, while staying present and conscious to make good food choices through out your day.
3. Make Peace with Food: Food is good. No, wait, food is great. It is yummy, and delicious and fun, and to be enjoyed, not feared. When attempting to achieve a certain aesthetic, it is far too easy to make food the enemy, leading to restrictive eating behaviors. This restrictive behavior around food can lead to a slew of negative results for the body. Do not prohibit yourself from eating food, for this may cause feelings of deprivation and could eventually lead to over indulgence, i.e. disconnected weight gain. Food is your friend. Use it to fuel your body for your craft, and try to have some fun with it during the process.
4. Challenge the Food Police: The “Food Police” are those voices in your head (no, you’re not crazy, I have them too) that like to chime in when you are eating something that might be on your “bad food day” list, or your “I could never in a million years eat x, y, z” list. Most people have a “list,” and everyone has different things on their “list,” usually determined by their past experiences and beliefs around healthy/unhealthy food and eating. When your “Food Police” chimes in, challenge them. Try to rid your mind of any guilt-provoking and negative thoughts that arise when eating certain foods. Remember, food is good, food is your friend, and, as a living and breathing human being inhabiting this earth, you not only get to eat food, you actually need to eat food.
5. Feel Your Fullness: Again, your body is smart. It will tell you when it is sated. Learn to listen for body signals that show you are full or content. Once you start to notice that you actually do get full, and that, no, you won’t eat the entire bag of chips every single time you allow yourself to eat chips, you start to build confidence in your self and your ability to eat intuitively. This is a really important part of the process. What might it feel like for you to feel comfortably full? Remember, it is not an exact science, and your experience will vary.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Eating food is a sensory experience, and it deserves to be a satisfying one. Notice the different elements of taste, texture, color and aroma of the foods you eat. Eat in a pleasant environment, perhaps with nice china and silverware, or while listening to soothing music. Identifying the pleasures related to your experience of eating can help you be present, allowing you to more easily attune to your bodies’ needs.
7. Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food: We’ve all done it. Bad day in class or rehearsal or a performance, or, (eek) all three, and we decide to say, “Screw it, I’m eating everything in the house.” We grab the bag of chips or cookies or whatever, plop down on the sofa and drown the sorrows and unfairness of life in delicious, yummy and comforting food. The funny thing is we usually don’t end up feeling better after an episode like this, we typically feel worse. If you find yourself in a particularly emotional state, and you have the tendency to reach for food for solace, try to explore new ways to comfort, nurture, and resolve your issues without using food. Perhaps take a walk, or a hot bath or call a good friend to vent. Once you’ve calmed down, THEN try to make your food choices based on what your body is telling you. If you still desire a cookie, have a cookie. Just try not to set yourself up to mindlessly eat as a way to cope with your emotions.
8. Respect Your Body: This is my favorite – and arguably one of the most challenging. As dancers, we expect SO MUCH of our bodies. Let’s remember to take a little time to appreciate all they do for us. They not only endure the countless hours of training, but they also keep us breathing, digesting, self-regulating and much (much) more, without us ever really thinking about it. And then we berate them on top of this for not appearing this or that way? Sounds a little unfair if you ask me…Let’s try to be realistic with our bodies – respect their natural shapes and sizes, and work with them, rather than against them. This does not mean you can’t work and train hard, just try to respect your body as you work hard.
9. Exercise – Feel the Difference: Obviously dancers exercise (duh, they dance all day!). This principle is about exercising with the intention to feel good. Recognize the benefits you are gaining from your training – more energy, stamina, endurance, control – and feel how good they feel, rather than placing all the focus on the amount of calories you’re burning.
10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition: And finally, we get to nutrition – gently. I love that this is the last principle of Intuitive Eating, and that the word “gentle” is tacked on to it. Not that nutrition isn’t important for health – it is extremely important – but, often times, aiming for nutritious eating can lead you down the path of dieting and disconnection from your body. Use your knowledge of nutrition to make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while leaving you connected to your body and feeling good.
*Resch, Elyse, and Evelyn Tribole. Intuitive Eating. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.