Intuitive eating is an approach that was created by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in 1995. Since then, they have written many books and participated in numerous scientific trials studying their method: Intuitive Eating Approach. (1)
The “Intuitive Eating Approach” teaches you to become the expert of your own body and recognize its hunger and fullness cues, helping you to break the cycle of chronic dieting. Intuitive eating heals your relationship with food.
How to eat intuitively
As babies, we’re all intuitive eaters. Babies cry, eat, and then stop eating until they’re hungry again. Kids have an innate sense to balance their food intake from day-to-day, eating when they’re hungry and stopping when they’re full. As we age, rules and restrictions placed around food start to govern our choices. We often learn that we have to finish everything on our plate and that dessert is a reward for finishing our dinner. We are told that certain foods are good for us and others are bad. In short, we lose our inner “intuitive eater”.
What are the 10 principles of intuitive eating?
1. You don’t need to be on a diet!
The first basic principle of intuitive eating is to stop dieting and to stop believing the diet books, magazine articles, and celebrity-endorsed diets promising that quick-fix weight loss plans can deliver lasting results.
2. Hungry? Listen to your body
Pay attention to your body’s hunger cues and ensure you give your body enough calories and carbohydrates to feel satiated. Allowing yourself to become excessively hungry can trigger the urge to overeat and all intentions of eating consciously become futile.
3. Know when to stop eating
This principle goes hand-in-hand with #2. Just as your body will tell you when it’s hungry, it will also tell you when it’s full.
While you’re eating, put down your fork and check-in with yourself. How does your food taste? How hungry or full are you feeling?
4. Be mindful, but stop fighting with food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. This is not to say you can eat whatever, whenever, and however much you want. Rather it’s eating whatever, whenever, and however you want while practicing mindfulness.
Placing restrictions on certain foods tends to make them even more tempting, which can lead to feelings of deprivation, uncontrollable cravings, and often binge eating.
5. Challenge the food police
The ‘food police’ is that internal voice or even people in your social circle that monitor unreasonable rules that you’ve heard over and over again over the years and make you feel guilty for not following them.
Food is not inherently good or bad, and you are not good for cutting carbs or bad for having that piece of chocolate. Be a rule breaker and challenge any thought or person that tells you otherwise.
6. Rediscover the joy of food
In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, we often overlook the simple pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. Instead, we scarf down food as to not disrupt our hectic schedules.
Getting satisfaction from your food is all about noticing and appreciating the taste and texture of food, as well as the environment in which you’re eating. Making time to eat without distraction and noticing different aspects of the food (taste, smell, texture) can bring joy back to eating and help you truly feel satisfied after a meal. In this way, you may also find that you are satisfied with less food.
7. Avoid emotional eating
Emotional eating is a common strategy to cope with negative feelings.
Anger, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness are emotions that we all experience, but food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may provide short-term comfort or distraction from the pain, but it won’t solve the problem.
It’s important to find ways to nurture yourself without turning to food. Talking with a friend, playing with a pet, taking a bubble bath, reading a good book or turning to an activity that you enjoy are just some alternatives to emotional eating.
8. Learn to respect your body
Instead of criticizing your body for what it looks like and what you perceive to be wrong with it, respect your body and appreciate all the wonderful things that it can do for you.
Practicing body acceptance can help you reject the diet mentality.
9. Tune in to the benefits of exercise
It’s not about finding the exercise that is going to burn the most calories. Find ways to move your body that you enjoy and focus on how you feel during and after exercise.
10. Focus on being healthy
Being healthy doesn’t mean having the perfect diet. The food you eat should taste good and make you feel good.
You’re not suddenly going to gain weight from one meal. It’s your food choices over time that matter. So strive for progress rather than perfection!
Top benefits of intuitive eating
There are over 100 published research studies demonstrating the benefits of intuitive eating. (3) These studies report that intuitive eating is associated with:
- Higher self-esteem
- Improved body image
- Lower body mass index (BMI)
- Higher HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol)
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Increased life satisfaction
- Optimism and well-being
- Proactive coping skills
- Lower rates of emotional and disordered eating
Here’s how you can start eating intuitively
To get started with intuitive eating, take a look at your current eating habits, but don’t judge them. The goal is just to become more aware of how and when you eat.
While you’re eating, check-in with yourself. Are you truly hungry? Or is it more of an emotional hunger? If you’re truly hungry, try to rank your hunger. A hunger-fullness scale is a useful tool that can help you pay more attention to what different levels of hunger and fullness feel like to you. Check-in with yourself before a meal or snack, partway through eating, and as you finish eating to rank your hunger/fullness on a scale from 1-10 (very hungry to overstuffed). (4) The goal is to eat when you’re hungry but not starving and to stop when you’re comfortably full but not stuffed.
In this way, you can get back in touch with your internal hunger and satiety signals and learn to trust your body to tell you when, what, and how much to eat.
Intuitive eating support
You can also learn more about Intuitive Eating by reading the Intuitive Eating book and complimentary The Intuitive Eating Workbook published by Tribole and Resch.
The bottom line
Intuitive eating teaches you that you are the best person—and the only person—to decide what and when to eat.
Letting your internal hunger and fullness cues guide your eating can help you to break the dieting cycle once and for all and heal your relationship with food.