10 Principles of Intuitive Eating for Athletes

If you’re looking for a 10 principles of intuitive eating PDF, you can download a free copy from Evelyn Tribole’s website.

The intuitive eating framework helps people develop a healthy relationship with food, freeing them from restrictions and diets.

Have you wondered how the 10 principles of intuitive eating might apply to athletes?

We’ll discuss the basics of the intuitive eating framework and how these principles can be used by athletes when developing their performance nutrition plans.

Why should athletes use 10 principles of intuitive eating?

Athletes tend to be disciplined and show perfectionist tendencies. Meeting the expectations of performance and school/life/sport balance can lead to disordered eating, poor body image and sometimes eating disorders. (1)

Some sports have more pressure for body composition and uniforms that make an athlete feel uncomfortable and awkward. You may also be more focused on your body appearance than how strong, energetic and happy you feel when playing your sport.

As discussed in our affirmations for athletes post, you should focus on positive affirmations about nutrition and performance. The intuitive eating framework can help you develop your affirmations and set goals for long lasting habits.

Benefits of following the 10 principles of intuitive eating

You’re more likely to implement your performance nutrition plan because you’ll recognize the signs of hunger and know the foods that will help you feel full and energized. Ultimately you’ll be more successful on the field and off.

In addition some of the key benefits are:

  • Likely to meet energy requirements need to perform at a high level
  • Increased variety and balance of eating from all food groups
  • Positive body image and body appreciation
  • Reduced risk of disordered eating and eating disorders

What is intuitive eating?

For so many, it’s not just one factor that contributes to a pattern or habit of a bad relationship with food. Maybe it’s under/overeating because of pressure, anxiety or stress around body image of composition. Or perhaps it’s restriction to make weight for your sport.

Since so many factors contribute to your health, the 10 principles of intuitive eating help you with simple easy to understand concepts.

The Intuitive Eating evidence framework developed by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole, and Elyse Resch, seeks to provide a way of eating that helps you become comfortable in your own body, getting back to your roots and trusting your body and your hunger signals. 

What are the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating?

infographic depicting the 10 principles of intuitive eating.

1. Reject the diet mentality: 

Free yourself from the endless cycle of diet books and popular diets that promise a false hope of losing weight quickly, easily and permanently. By tuning out those diet messages, you can begin to see that what you need is a life-lasting change in habits and eating behaviors. 

Dieting has a huge negative impact on athletic performance. You’ll like not have enough energy to optimally perform and this can put you at risk for injury.

2. Honor your hunger: 

Responding to hunger cues by feeding your body with adequate carbohydrates, fat and protein so that you don’t experience those hunger pangs that drive you to eat without regard to how hungry you actually are.

Some signs of hunger are:

  • stomach growling or gurgling
  • lightheadness
  • difficulty in concentrating and focusing
  • stomach pain
  • headache
  • irritability

3. Make peace with food: 

Remove the labels you put on certain foods and give yourself unconditional permission to eat any foods that you want. Putting a restrictive label on a food only makes you want it more and then this might not only result in overeating, but feelings of guilt. 

Often labeling foods bad leads to overeating when you do actually “allow” yourself to eat them. Instead, you should enjoy a variety of foods.

4. Challenge the food police: 

Challenge those negative feelings that you have when you eat a “forbidden” food. Those internal scoldings have developed over time from the diet culture messages and you need to tune those out in order to build healthier habits. 

When focusing on performance nutrition, you will rely on foods that might be high in sugar or quick carbohydrates because you need that fuel on board for performance. Making sure you understand what to eat before practices and games will help you challenge these beliefs.

5. Feel your fullness:

Listen to your body’s cues that signal you are no longer hungry. Take time when you’re eating to ask yourself how the food tastes, and how full you feel. This may mean you don’t finish your whole meal.

6. Discover the satisfaction factor: 

Give yourself the opportunity to enjoy your eating experience through your five senses, so much of the satisfaction derived from eating is in the experience itself. 

7. Cope with your emotions without using food: 

As mentioned earlier, anxiety, stress, loneliness and boredom often cause you to seek out food as a short term fix. However, it may only provide comfort in the short term. It won’t solve your problems, you’ll need to find other approaches that will provide you long lasting solutions. 

8. Respect your body: 

Recognize that you might be unrealistic and over critical of your body shape. Accept your genetic make up. Your body is beautiful in the size it is intended to be. Your sports performance relies on you being strong and fueled so that you can meet requirements for endurance, intensity and duration.

9. Exercise, feel the difference: 

Find ways to be active and feel the difference in your body, mood and energy. Athletes tend to be constantly active between practices and competitions. But you may not always find joy in movement.

Following the 10 principles and fueling your body properly can help you find joy and happiness in movement and your sport.

10. Honor your health, gentle nutrition:

Understand that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. Rely on your hunger cues, senses to move in the direction of Intuitive Eating. One day, one meal does not define your success.

In future posts we’ll explore the connection between mindful eating and intuitive eating. For more information you can check out the Intuitive Eating book.

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