Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Amy will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. These links are noted with an asterisk (*).
Written by Dietetic Intern Kristen Zaner. Edited by Amy Camenisch, MS, RDN, LD, CLT.
I like to think of intuitive eating as honoring your body as you may never have before.
Often we are at war with ourselves. We think our wants and needs can’t coexist happily together. But our bodies were made to communicate with us. We just need to learn how to listen to our body’s language again.
This is where intuitive eating comes in.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Intuitive Eating?
- 2 How is Intuitive Eating different from dieting?
- 3 What are the potential benefits of Intuitive Eating?
- 4 What are the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating?
- 4.1 1. Reject the Diet Mentality
- 4.2 2. Honor your Hunger
- 4.3 3. Make Peace with Food
- 4.4 4. Challenge the Food Police
- 4.5 5. Respect your Fullness
- 4.6 6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- 4.7 7. Honor Your Emotions Without Necessarily Using Food
- 4.8 8. Respect Your Body
- 4.9 9. Exercise- Feed the Difference
- 4.10 10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
- 5 How do I start eating intuitively?
- 6 How long does it take to learn how to eat intuitively?
What is Intuitive Eating?
First, a little background knowledge! Intuitive Eating (IE) is an evidence-based health approach dating back to 1995 created by two rockstar dietitians, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD. It focuses on cultivating body awareness by identifying body cues and removing barriers that distract us from them.
Eating intuitively, believe it or not, came naturally to us when we are born. So, what happened to it? A shift happens as we get older and are exposed to diet culture. Food is no longer just food. Food becomes a reward, a punishment, the judge and the jury. It tells you whether you’re strong or weak, worthy or unworthy of love.
At its best, eating food during mealtimes is something we get through unscathed without any negative self-talk during or after. At its worst, we allow mealtime to tell us what kind of person we are. It can form the story in our heads and tell us what to think about ourselves. If we didn’t work out today and ate more than usual: shame. If we went out to eat two nights in a row because our friend was in town: guilt. It is the source and remedy to emotion and it’s ruling our lives.
The journey of Intuitive Eating provides the space for you to make peace with food while feeling safe through curiosity and without judgment.
How is Intuitive Eating different from dieting?
Study after study is showing that dieting (eating with the purpose of weight loss) results in weight gain and weight cycling as well as increased risk of damage to mental health.
“The pursuit of intentional weight loss is a failed paradigm, which creates health problems including weight stigma, weight cycling, and eating disorders,” says Evelyn Tribole.
Intuitive Eating, on the other hand, is a holistic approach that acknowledges your physical and psychological needs. Intuitive Eating is weight neutral, meaning the goal is not to change your weight. It is a way to create satisfaction around food while learning to trust your body’s intuition. In IE, foods are no longer be labeled as “good” or “bad” and you will no longer label yourself as “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods. Your goals will shift from losing or gaining weight to making yourself feel your very best: holistically healthy, self-confident, and cherished.
What are the potential benefits of Intuitive Eating?
If you’d like to view the growing list of studies illustrating the harm of dieting and the benefits of intuitive eating, check out this page on IntuitiveEating.org. I’ve listed a few of the potential benefits here:
- Better body image
- Higher self-esteem
- More satisfaction with life
- Proactive coping skills
- Optimism and well-being
- Lower rates of emotional eating
- Lower rates of disordered eating
- Improved blood pressure, cholesterol, cortisol, and other biomarkers
- Improved dietary quality
What are the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating?
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Do a spring cleaning of your mind that was previously filled with old ideas of how to take care of yourself. Recognize the harm that dieting has caused and how it has failed to serve you. It’s finally time to step off of the exhausting restriction-obsession cycle.
2. Honor your Hunger
Hunger is normal! Respect yourself by feeding your body when it’s hungry. It is one of our most basic primal needs. Honoring this signal is the first step to learning to trust yourself and your body again.
3. Make Peace with Food
This one often feels the scariest, but…all foods are on the table. You have permission to eat anything you want. Try choosing one thing you used to rarely allow yourself to eat and take the time to really taste it. Think about the thoughts and emotions that come up. Remind yourself that restriction creates obsession.
4. Challenge the Food Police
You are more than what or how you eat. No amount of good or bad eating can dictate what kind of person you are. Your inner food critic is no longer welcome. Instead, start to cultivate friendly and nurturing inner voices that will make your intuitive eating journey much easier.
5. Respect your Fullness
Pay attention to your body and give it time to communicate with you. Listen for the signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. How much you eat is about you and no one else.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Create a positive environment to experience your meals and think about what foods you really enjoy eating. This often changes day-to-day as well as throughout our lives! Once you have removed the judgment and negativity around eating you will feel so much more empowered, satisfied, and content.
7. Honor Your Emotions Without Necessarily Using Food
Emotions are complex and so are their triggers. Food can distract you for the short-term but usually doesn’t solve the real problem. Explore other forms of self-care to deal with tough emotions. These may be as simple as creating new habits such as going for a walk or meeting up with a friend…or it may mean realizing that it’s time to book that appointment with a therapist.
8. Respect Your Body
Not everyone was made to perform or look the same. Respecting your body’s uniqueness and set of skills will help you respect your body and feel better about the path you’re on. Practice gratitude for the things you love and appreciate your body can do.
9. Exercise- Feed the Difference
Experience movement from a new perspective. Focus on how it feels to move your body. What does it feel like to get your heart pumping or engage your muscles? Forget about the calorie-burning effects of exercise. Find the ways that feel best to you to move your body.
10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
You don’t have to make an unbroken series of perfect decisions every day to be healthy. Think carefully about what outside recommendations you will allow to affect your eating decisions. Diagnosed with a health condition that may be affected by nutrition? Consider meeting with a dietitian who endorses intuitive eating. You’ll be meeting with a food and nutrition expert who will also respect that you are the expert on your body.
How do I start eating intuitively?
Intuitive Eating Book
You can go straight to the source and read Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s book Intuitive Eating*.
Intuitive Eating Workbook
They have also created a workbook* full of helpful journal prompts, self-quizzes, etc.
Intuitive Eating Online Course
Amy Camenisch has also developed the online course and support group Nourish with Intuition in collaboration with Megan Medrano of Run Whole Nutrition with the goal of educating folks about intuitive eating and getting them well on their way to experiencing food peace for themselves. It’s called Nourish with Intuition and more information can be found about it on Megan’s website here. Check it out to see when the next course will be in session and sign up for the waitlist!
Work with a Dietitian
I also strongly suggest working with a dietitian that is well-versed in intuitive eating. Not all dietitians are trained in Intuitive Eating; some may even recommend it for weight loss (which is not what is was intended to be used for). If you find an RDN you are interested in working with, find out what their approach looks like and if your visions are complimentary. This will give you a much more in-depth approach to tackling the areas that need the most attention.
Your dietitian should review your health history with you, your current eating habits, and discuss your goals and concerns. Your dietitian can then move forward with your sessions based on your current level of nutrition knowledge and create a plan for you. Having a dietitian by your side every step of the way will help you to address challenges as they arise and create a plan to overcome them. You will learn so much about yourself, your body, and gain insight into how to give your body what it needs to optimize your health.
Set Up Your Support Group
Even if you read the books, do the course, and work with a dietitian, you’ll still find it helpful to set up a support system for yourself. Finding family, friends, or support groups who are also interested in adopting the intuitive eating mentality will get you well on your way to finally experiencing food freedom. Turn a critical eye to your social media feeds. You’ll find it easier if you unfollow accounts that promote dieting and find new accounts to follow that promote IE and Health At Every Size.
How long does it take to learn how to eat intuitively?
It usually takes at least a few months to get to know the basics of Intuitive Eating, but it is actually a lifelong journey. The approach has a name so it’s easier to discuss, but in essence it’s just returning to the original way we were meant to interact with food. Don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’ve “blown it.” You can’t fail! Any time you notice that you’ve slipped into old dieting behaviors or gotten out of tune with your body, it’s just an opportunity for you to reflect on what was happening in your life that influenced your interactions with food in that way.
You will always be learning new things about yourself. Digging in to these feelings will likely be difficult and painful at times, but the reward will be life-changing.
*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Amy will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. These links are noted with an asterisk (*).