What is Intuitive Eating? The 10 Principles
By Rachel Goodman, RD CDN
Do you struggle with “all or none” mentality with food? Do you feel like you are at war with food sometimes? Do you wish food and healthy eating can just come easy?
You may have heard of Intuitive Eating. It is a model of eating that has been gaining attention in the media recently. But what you might not know is - Intuitive Eating isn’t another fad diet. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of dieting. It is the ultimate non-diet approach to living a healthy and happy life, one where food is peaceful and eating is joyful.
Intuitive Eating is the ability to be attuned to what your body needs and trusting in what it is telling you by removing the stress of food rules and restrictions. It is creating a trust in yourself that you are capable of distinguishing between emotional and physical needs and knowing how to meet those needs accordingly. It ultimately teaches you how to have a healthy relationship with food and helps you depend on your internal body cues to make food choices. Being an intuitive eater is becoming the expert of your body!
We are all born intuitive eaters, meaning we were all born with the innate ability to know what to eat and how much. Think about it. When babies are hungry, they signal their need to eat by crying, they don’t doubt their hunger. They are then calm, other than the need for a diaper change or those teething seasons, until they need to eat again.
Intuitive Eating has been a part of our human capabilities since the beginning of time, however, the term Intuitive Eating was coined in 1995 by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FADA, FAND. who published the original Intuitive Eating book around that time.
Due to the current diet culture today, many of us lose our ability to eat intuitively. Diet culture teaches us that thin equates health and food rules are necessary to achieve weight loss and live a healthy life. This message can, and does, show up in the media, at the doctor's office, in weight loss books, and headline news. These external food rules and pressures to look a certain way are also what creates confusion around nutrition, and an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies which then drives unhealthy eating habits.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you swear off sugar as you start the newest diet on a Monday morning only to find yourself on Thursday deep in your pantry eating your 6th consecutive cookie of the day?
It’s not because you don’t have willpower, it’s because diets don’t work and drive you to those very behaviors you are looking to avoid due to the restrictive mentality they are grounded in. This diet mentality interferes with the innate abilities we were born with to nourish ourselves and complicates our eating habits. It burns us out as we attempt one after the other, only to find ourselves back to square one and completely exasperated and frustrated.
Intuitive eating teaches you to reject these food rules and become the expert of your body. Because only YOU can know how hungry you are, what you like to eat, what satisfies you, and what your physical and emotional needs are. No diet plan can do that for you! There is no “wrong” or “right” way to eat. The best way to eat is the way that works for you.
Intuitive Eating is built on 10 principles. I’ll walk you through them so you can get a better understanding of Intuitive Eating and learn what needs to be integrated into your life so that you can find peace with food and live a healthy life.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Reject the Diet Mentality: The first and most crucial step to becoming an intuitive eater is letting go of diet mentality - for good. Think of all the diets you have tried, of the successes that were short-lived and ultimately failed. Not because you failed, because diets fail! While there is a growing body of research showing the negative health implications of yo-yo dieting such as decreased metabolism due to loss of muscles mass, binge eating, negative body image, and weight gain (yes, dieting is actually a predictor of weight gain!) – this is not what you need to be convinced that dieting doesn’t work and that you should give it up.
Reflect on your own dieting history and ask yourself – has dieting given me the results I wanted in the long run? Am I happier now after all the diets? Do I have a positive body image as a result? Am I enjoying all foods without guilt or shame? What has dieting taken from my life?
It is important to reject any thought or belief that dieting might still work as this will interrupt the process of making peace with food. Practice removing the rules or restrictions you set for yourself and be prepared to explore a new journey so you can rediscover the intuitive eater within you and find food peace.
Honor Your Hunger: Learn to recognize biological hunger signals and honor them. Food is a primal need. If you go for too long without eating and become overly hungry you are setting yourself up to overeat, because all the body wants is quick energy – it doesn’t care what it is you eat at that point! Every time you appropriately feed your body when it initially signals hunger you are building trust with your body that you know how to nourish yourself.
Make Peace with Food: Call a truce with food! Remove food restriction and give yourself unconditional permission to eat and enjoy all foods. When you restrict and deprive yourself of certain foods you are inevitably driven to eat them, this is a natural response from your mind and body and often will result in a binge. By making peace with food and allowing yourself all foods without judgement, you can then learn to eat what you actually like in the amounts that satisfy & serve you.
Challenge the Food Police: Everywhere you turn, especially in a social media saturated world, you will find more and more diet food rules – convincing you that you need to follow them to reach optimal health and to feel good about yourself. That you are being “good” if you eat a salad and “bad” if you eat a cookie. Learn to shout a resounding “no” to the Food Police – that voice inside your head that holds on to any diet rules and judges you in every food choice you make, so you can stop listening to the voice that fuels shame and guilt with food and find joy & trust instead.
Feel Your Fullness: Recognize what being comfortably full feels like and practice respecting that fullness. Pause in the middle of a snack or meal and assess how full you are. Know that you can always go back to it (or eat something else) when you are hungry again – even if it is an hour later. Allowing yourself to eat all foods, and knowing they are available whenever you are hungry, will diminish the urgency to “eat it all while you can” and makes it easier to stop when you are full.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Savoring and deriving pleasure from food is just as important as eating food for fuel and nourishment. This in fact is a key element of being able to eat intuitively. When you eat foods that you enjoy, without guilt or judgement, they leave you feeling satisfied and content. You will start to find that you may eat less because it doesn’t take as much as it used to to satisfy you, especially when you eat foods you love.
Honor Your feelings without Using Foods:We’ve all eaten emotionally at some point or another, and sometimes that’s okay and was in fact what you needed to feel better. However, eating to cope or numb the feelings of anger, loneliness, or boredom may bring short term comfort or distract you from the real issue for that moment – but it does little to address or fix the situation and only leaves you feeling worse.Learning to deal with emotions without food, as well as learning to differentiate between physical and emotional needs, is part of becoming an intuitive eater.
Respect Your Body: We all come in different shapes and sizes, it is time to accept that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to what being healthy looks like.Striving for unrealistic beauty standards we see plastered in the media (many – if not all – magazine covers are photoshopped!) leads to unhealthy eating behaviors and unkind treatment of your body. Learn to adopt a body positive mindset and treat your body with respect by nurturing it and putting a focus on making it feel good. Your weight will then settle where it is meant to be. Your healthy weight is the weight your body reaches when you are adequately nourishing it and eating in a way that feels good and best serves you. This will look different for everyone, and that’s OKAY.
Exercise – Feel the Difference: Working out for the sole purpose of “burning calories” and “weight loss” doesn’t keep us motivated in the long run. Sure, you will be fired up to work out at first – but as the novelty wears off so will the motivation. Instead, learn to FEEL the difference. It doesn’t have to be a rigorous workout. A brisk walks counts as exercise, too! Notice how you feel during and after the workout. Does it boost your mood? Are you more energized? Move to feel good & to celebrate what your body can do, not as a punishment for what you ate.
Honor Your Health: Make food choices that honor your health and that you enjoy at the same time. Intuitive eating is not about perfection, it’s about progress. There isn’t one single food or meal that will cause you to be unhealthy or gain weight.It is what you eat consistently over time that matters most. The philosophy of Intuitive Eating when it comes to nutrition is “In matters of tastes consider nutrition and in matters of nutrition consider taste”.
It is important to understand that healing your relationship with food and finding authentic health is a PROCESS. It is NOT a program that promises “X” results in “X” amount of days. It is NOT a drastic change overnight. It is NOT a diet! Learning to become an intuitive eater, or rather – reclaiming the intuitive eater you were born as - is a journey that gradually unfolds and will look different for each individual. Don’t put deadlines on it. Be patient and give yourself the time, self-compassion and space to embrace a new way of eating - so you can rid yourself of food anxiety, guilt, and worry and find food peace, joy, and lasting health in its place.
Are you ready to make peace with food and reclaim the joy in eating for a life fully lived in health and happiness?