What is health? How do you define it? The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Personally, I think that’s a tall order for most people, which is a discussion for another day, but no matter how you define “health,” it’s not a destination with a finish line. That’s both because your state of health fluctuates over time, and because you can’t disease-proof yourself.

No, health is a journey, a partnership between you, your body and mind, and sometimes your doctors or other healthcare providers. Regardless of where you are, there’s still work to be done, but it’s meaningful work.

That’s why I personally (and professionally) like the definition of “authentic health,” or more specifically, what achieving authentic health means, in the book “Intuitive Eating.”

“Achieving authentic health is an ongoing process of dynamic integration of your inner world, including your attunement with your body’s wisdom and needs with the external world of health guidelines, which includes exercise and nutrition.”

From “Intuitive Eating: A Radical Anti-Diet Approach” (4th Edition)

External health guidelines include health policies, such as “expert consensus” based on the research (which is sometimes problematic when research in a specific area, such as research on weight and health, is riddled with bias and assumptions and failure to factor in things like physical activity and the impact of weight stigma on health). It can also include food philosophies, such as a desire to eat locally produced foods with a low carbon footprint or avoid animal-based foods for ethical reasons.

The power of attunement for authentic health

As authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (both registered dietitian nutritionists) explain, when you are seeking authentic health, you decide what aspects of external health guidelines you’d like to integrate. If you have inner attunement (more on that in a moment), you can integrate an external value — such as a desire to eat local, sustainable foods — while still paying attention to hunger, fullness, satisfaction, etc.

However, if you incorporate external health values without having inner attunement, there’s a risk that these external values will become another rigid set of rules.

The 10 principles of intuitive eating work to increase body attunement, or interoceptive awareness — the ability to perceive physical sensations that arise from within your body, such as hunger, satiety, a full bladder, or the physical sensations that accompany emotions — by helping you develop it or by removing obstacles to it.

Four principles — honor your hunger, feel your fullness, discover the satisfaction factor, and movement (feel the difference) — help you hone the ability to hear (and thus respond to) the physical sensations that arise within your body, such as biological cues of hunger and fullness.

Six principles — reject the diet mentality, make peace with food, challenge the food police, cope with your emotions with kindness, respect your body, and honor your health with gentle nutritionhelp you remove obstacles that primarily come from your mind in the form of thoughts, beliefs and rules, such as…

  • Rules about what you should or should not eat
  • Beliefs about what a healthy body should look like
  • Judgmental thoughts about “good” food vs. “bad” food

Note: I want to quickly acknowledge that cultivating interoceptive awareness can be challenging for some people, including those who are neurodivergent, have a history of trauma, or currently have a restrictive eating disorder.How attunement can break the chains of diet culture

How attunement can break the chains of diet culture

Another benefit of continually cultivating interoceptive awareness, as well as reflecting on positive changes you’ve noticed since beginning to practice intuitive eating, is that it can help you build resilience from diet culture.

One of my former clients, a fitness instructor, shared with me in one of our sessions that she was surprised how much food it took for her to feel truly fed, which gave her a new perspective on just how much she was restricting her food before.

She noticed not only that her mood improved once she was consistently eating enough, but she had more energy during her workouts…and her libido improved.

Because her food restriction was contributing to binge eating — which was highly distressing to her in part because the binges would begin in the evening and carry over into the next day — in our first month or so of working together, she had to have a firm self-care plan (beyond simply eating enough) in order to lessen her binges on days when she felt them coming on. Then she reached the point where she was adequately nourishing herself on a regular basis, and having fun with food again, so she didn’t have to actively take steps to ward off a binge.

Digging deep and tuning into how it feels to…

  • make peace with food…
  • choose ways of moving that feel good to your body…
  • inhabit your body instead of treating it as an object…
  • listen to your body when it tells you what it needs in terms of food and movement and rest…

…will help you keep moving towards your individual version of authentic health and away from society’s ideas about how we should look, live and be. And that is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

Learn more

To help you on your continued journey, here’s a list of books you might want to explore:

You can also book a free 20-minute intro call to see if my intuitive eating or nutrition counseling services are a good fit for you.

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Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!

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