Intuitive eating (IE) has gained a lot of traction recently and for good reason! You’ve probably seen or heard people talk about it, but what exactly does IE mean and how might it look different for athletes? Let’s get into it!
Intuitive eating is not a diet, but rather an eating framework based around self-care, intuition, and emotion. It has nothing to do with weight loss or dieting and everything to do with honoring our physical and mental health by listening to our bodies. It was originally created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and is rooted in 10 main principles:
These 10 principles serve as a guide to what intuitive eating looks like, but it doesn’t mean you have to implement all 10 principles at once. Starting slow, giving yourself grace, and approaching each principle with curiosity can prevent feeling overwhelmed, especially for those recovering from an eating disorder or disordered eating habits. For example, you might start by implementing just one of the 10 principles of IE and go from there.
The overall goal of intuitive eating is to practice listening to your body and honoring its needs without judgment or criticism.
Now that we have a better understanding of what intuitive eating looks like, let’s get a little more specific and dive into what intuitive eating looks like for athletes. Athletes have very different nutritional needs than the average person, especially high-intensity athletes, and as important as it is for athletes to listen to their bodies, it’s also just as important for them to meet their specific nutritional needs.
Athletes expend a ton of energy and have a lot to consider when it comes to their diet. For example, when to eat certain foods, whether they are getting enough carbohydrates, enough protein, or even just enough food altogether to support energy needs and recovery. Then, when diet culture is added into the mix, it becomes all the more difficult for athletes to practice intuitive eating while meeting their energy and nutritional needs throughout the day.
It’s important for athletes to find a fine balance between listening to their bodies and eating intuitively while still fueling their bodies properly to maximize their performance and feel their best.
Here are a few ways athletes can practice intuitive eating while supporting their nutritional needs:
Ultimately, athletes can absolutely practice intuitive eating. In fact, intuitive eating is often a very beneficial practice for athletes, especially for those who might be struggling with their relationship with food and their body image.
In the end it’s important to remember to be patient with yourself. Listening to your body and practicing intuitive eating is often much easier said than done. Intuitive eating is meant to be a lifelong practice. It takes time to learn how to listen to your body. Start with one principle at a time. There is no “perfect” practice here and your progress in intuitive eating is very much your own. Be compassionate. Give yourself grace. Show yourself gratitude.
Being an athlete is already alot of work, and adding in the effort of practicing intuitive eating, determining specific nutritional needs, and diet culture is A LOT. This is when working with a dietitian is so helpful as they can help guide and support athletes in all of these areas so they don’t have to do it all alone.
If this is something you need help with or are interested in exploring this further, A Dash of Dana is here for you!