Intuitive eating is the practice of focusing on your body’s signals for hunger and fullness. It was developed by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in 1995 and has gained popularity ever since. It is described as a “self-care eating framework rooted in science and supported by clinical experience.”
It’s overall premise is to guide you toward a healthier relationship with food and your body by helping you attune to your body’s signals for hunger and fullness. It also helps to remove mindset blockages that are externally motivated and prevent you from listening to your body. This is not a weight loss plan however, that can be a positive benefit by learning to eat better quality foods and smaller portions. Moreover, intuitive eating aligns with the Health at Every Size® (HAES®) paradigm, a weight neutral and weight inclusive health concept. It follows 10 basic principles by which a person should apply this framework. These include:
1. Reject the Diet Mentality.
Intuitive eating essentially positions itself as the anti-diet. It rejects the diet culture and advocates against yo-yo dieting that often leads to many negative health and wellbeing outcomes. Dieting prevents one from being able to become more attuned with their bodies and understanding the physiological signals of hunger, fullness, and emotional wellbeing.
2. Honor Your Hunger.
Understanding the signals of physical hunger and honoring these signals are essential for maintaining strong nutritional balance. In doing the opposite, you can trigger a primal drive to overeat preventing you from sticking to your nutritional wellness goals. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust in yourself and in your food choices.
3. Make Peace With Food.
Many people have a strained relationship with food. This principle describes the importances of making peace with food allowing yourself to eat comfortably, unconditionally, and without deprivation. This principle works on your food psychology to help prevent uncontrollable cravings, risk of binge eating, and feelings of guilt.
4. Challenge the Food Police.
This is another principle that works on food psychology and the reward system in the mind. This principle asks you to challenge the negative thoughts you have in your mind regarding the foods you eat and the amount of calories you consume. This is a critical step in developing your intuitive eating habits by enabling your freedom of choice when it comes to your food and portion sizes. You’re in control here!
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor.
With this principle, you are learning to experience food as a source of pleasure and satisfaction, rather than a punishment or reward for your deprivation. It is having the understanding that you can eat whatever you want in an environment that is inviting and peaceful. This can be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. You will be able to realize that only a certain amount of the food you consume is necessary to satisfy you and you can decide when you have had “enough.”
6. Feel Your Fullness.
This principle works on your self-trust through mindful eating practices. In order to honor your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire by listening for the body’s signals that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Be mindful by pausing in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is. You will develop a new awareness of the food you are eating and how it fulfills you, both physically and emotionally.
7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness.
It is important to realize that food is tied to our emotions. Placing restrictions on your eating can trigger loss of control, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger. Each emotion has its own trigger and its own appeasement. However, it is important to understand that food will not appease any of these feelings. It may provide short term relief for the overwhelm you might be feeling in the moment but it will lead to negative effects down the line. With this principle, it is working on the emotional triggers within you that cause you to eat so that you can resolve them and improve your eating habits.
8. Respect Your Body.
This principle works on your self-acceptance and self-love. It is important to love and respect your body so you can feel better about who you are and your genetic makeup. The purpose of this principle is to eliminate negative thoughts and emotions that lead you to yo-yo dieting. It is also geared toward improving your self image so you can accept yourself as you are.
9. Movement—Feel the Difference.
Being active is integral in achieving your wellness goals. The body is designed to move. It does not require an intensive workout to be effective. With this principle, you are being encouraged to move in a way that makes your body feel good. This can be yoga, walking, hiking, swimming, or dancing. Whatever you enjoy is the perfect exercise routine for you. Shift your focus to how it feels when moving your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise.
10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition.
This principle advocates for making food choices that align with your nutritional goals as well as your food preferences without the guilt. It does not penalize you for indulging in a snack or meal from time to time. The goal is to honor your body and develop positive associations with eating based on your needs. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.
The Research on Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating studies have evaluated its impact on a myriad of health outcomes. In a 2014 meta-analysis, researchers noted that the intuitive eating framework is negatively associated with BMI, positively associated with various psychological health indicators, and possibly positively associated with improved dietary intake and/or eating behaviors, but not associated with higher levels of physical activity. Researchers also stated that intuitive eating is helpful in weight maintenance but not necessarily weight loss. In a 2017 study and 2018 study, researchers indicated that both intuitive eating and the HAES® intervention improved body image and reduced the negative psychological effects of dieting.
Although the research on intuitive eating is promising, and its psychological and physical effects on health and wellbeing are well-documented, additional studies are needed on more diverse populations. Nevertheless, if you are interested in breaking the diet cycle and adopting a more mindful approach to your nutritional wellness goals, then looking into an intuitive eating program might be for you. As always, there are many factors involved when it comes to improving your health, and we always recommend working with your individual healthcare provider or registered dietitian.
What has been your experience with intuitive eating? Leave a comment below.