What is Intuitive Eating?


Posted By: Envision2bWell, Inc

What is Intuitive Eating?

What is Intuitive Eating?

By Rachel Rosenblatt

With comments like “lose the quarantine-15” and trying to get a “summer body” circulating these days, it's a wonder how anyone avoids the onslaught of diet advertisements looking to help you lose weight fast. But is any of that really good for your overall health or your relationship with food?

Instead of searching for the perfect diet, it might be an idea to try intuitive eating instead!

The term “intuitive eating” was first used by dieticians Evelyn Trioble and Elyse Resch in 1995 as the title of their book. Inside, they define the term intuitive eating by the following ten principles:

1.) Reject the diet mentality

2.) Honor your hunger

3.) Make peace with food

4.) Challenge the food police

5.) Respect your fullness

6.) Discover the satisfaction factor

7.) Honor your feelings

8.) Respect your body

9.) Movement—notice the difference

10.) Honor your health with gentle nutrition

Traditionally, “diets” involve restriction, whether it be entire food groups, certain snacks, or the time of day you are allowed to feed yourself. Intuitive eating offers a much more wholistic view of eating that relies on instincts and trusting your body. Rather than restriction, intuitive eating preaches moderation and honoring your cravings.

Let’s break up each of these principles to really understand exactly what intuitive eating entails.


Reject the Diet Mentality 

Rejecting diet mentality centers around avoiding restriction and not setting harsh rules around your eating patterns.

Diet mentality is all about eating less, or eating perfect, in order to become smaller and lose weight. Diet mentality is not necessarily healthy, as restriction in dieting can lead people to not consume enough calories to properly function and is often unsustainable. How long can anyone resist their favorite restricted foods?

The dangers of dieting through restriction are numerous and, oftentimes, contradictory to the goals people have when they set out on a diet. Restriction of foods can lead to overeating, typically of that food you’ve told yourself you can’t have. If it is a food you’ve labeled off-limits, this then leads to shame and frustration, which can lead to further consumption of that food, particularly if you are an emotional eater.  

Eating should never be a shameful practice, but diets can transform how you see snacks and foods you otherwise enjoy.


Honor Your Hunger

Honoring your hunger is pretty basic, but something a lot of people practicing diets fail to do. It means to listen to your hunger cues, which could be anything from light-headedness to a growling stomach.

While this may seem straightforward, there are many diet-practices that relate to avoiding and ignoring these hunger cues. Regularly ignoring your hunger cues may cause you to lose touch with them.

While hunger cues may get lost, they can always be remembered again. It’s a process that varies depending on how long someone has been dieting and how much restriction was involved in that diet, but there are a few key steps anyone can follow to become reacquainted with their hunger cues.

The first step is simply to begin paying more attention to your body’s cues in general. It is possible you have developed a negative connection to your hunger cues, so focus on positive bodily cues first—your energy level is a good place to start. Take stock of how your body is feeling at any given time and work toward a feeling of peace with your hunger cues.

Once you begin to reconnect with your hunger cues, then you can start honoring them by eating when you are hungry.


Make Peace with Food

Making peace with food relates to the ideas of “good” and “bad” food. To the average dieter (or even the average person) we would naturally assume a home cooked meal of fresh vegetables and the protein of our choosing is “good,” while stopping in the drive-through of our favorite fast food restaurant would most definitely be “bad.”

While yes, the home-cooked meal would likely be more nutrient-dense, intuitive eaters don’t believe in placing either meal in a moral class.

By calling the less nutrient-dense food “bad,” we’ve created a culture of guilt around those foods. Guilt for buying them and guilt for consuming them. Eating foods that aren’t perfect should not be create guilt every single time, as this guilt creates a negative relationship with food.

Making peace with food often leads to a reduction in unhealthy habits such as emotional and physical deprivation, as well as binge eating. When we classify a food as “bad” or “off-limits,” and then we break this food rule (who can really resist fast food chains anymore?), we are more likely to consume those foods in a binge because of our guilt and shame.

To be clear, intuitive eating does not mean you get to eat fast food every single night of the week because you’ve made peace with it. Practicing intuitive eating is about properly nourishing your body with foods that make you feel good, and by consequence, this teaches your body to actually want and crave nourishing foods.

This is where moderation comes into play—removing labels based on nutritional content can and will assuage guilt and shame, but eating primarily nutrient-dense foods is what will make you feel best for any lifestyle.


Challenge the Food Police

While there is no actual Food Police out there, many of us have a police system in our brain, that little voice inside that makes you feel all the guilt and shame about your food choices, that questions every food decision you make, searching for blame and wrongdoing.

Intuitive eating wants you to challenge these thoughts as much as possible. It is difficult to shift thought processes, especially for those who have been engrained in diet culture for so long, and it is a process that will have peaks and valleys.

Yet, by challenging these negative thoughts about the morality of food, your relationship with food and your body begins to improve over time. To help challenge these thoughts, I’d suggest unfollowing or unsubscribing from social media accounts that support restriction and diet culture. By distancing yourself from that negative mentality, it can help you refocus on intuitive eating without distractions.

The Food Police can also be found in the media, from fat-shaming on TV or in books, to influencers and social media advertisements pushing consumers to subscribe to a particular diet so they’ll look just like the photo-shopped models. These forms of media can be dangerous for people trying to change their mindset around eating.

It is important to applaud the body positivity movement and others on social media who encourage people to honor their bodies and their hunger cues, but there is still a ways to go to combat the prevailing diet culture of our day.


Respect Your Fullness

While honoring your hunger is about deciding to eat a meal or snack, respecting your fullness is about deciding you’ve had enough. This principle is mainly concerned with discovering how to listen to your fullness cues—trusting your body to know when to finish eating.

Respecting your fullness is about trusting your body to tell you when it is full. Sometimes is means not finishing your portion at dinner because you piled too much on your plate. Other times it means allowing yourself to a second helping if you are still hungry. Respecting your fullness requires a level of trust that some of us don’t have with our bodies yet.

This is, once again, something chronic dieters will need to learn again. It can be difficult to understand the concept of fullness if you’ve been heavily restricting yourself around food, so consulting a professional on the matter is always a good idea. This can be a nutritionist or a registered dietitian to get advice on how to recognize fullness and respect it properly. It can also be hard for people who overeat often.

Because this is a learned behavior, there may be a subsequent learning curve. The goal is to not feel shame if you accidentally eat past fullness, or not eat enough at the time while you’re still educating yourself on what your specific fullness feels like. Take each eating endeavor as a new learning experience and get to know your body without shame.


Discover the Satisfaction Factor

The satisfaction factor is all about your personal satisfaction. Yes, food is fuel, but food should be pleasurable and enjoyable and flavorful too! Find foods that you enjoy eating! By rejecting food morality and trusting your body, you can experiment with different kinds of foods to find what flavors you enjoy eating.

This doesn’t mean eat a whole bunch of junk! The satisfaction factor is about finding the foods that not only taste good, but that also make you feel good—energized and positive.

Another important aspect of the satisfaction factor is transforming the experience of eating from a chore to an event. Too often we are glued to our phones during meal or snack times. Intuitive eating wants you to really take part in the experience of eating, to notice and appreciate the different flavors and textures of your meal.

By creating an atmosphere at mealtime that is pleasurable, intuitive eating continues to aim for creating a positive relationship between us and our food.


Honor Your Feelings

Oftentimes, a negative relationship with food is tied to emotional eating. Emotional eating is when we try to solve a problem or cope with a difficult situation by eating primarily nutrient deficient food, even if we aren’t hungry. While emotional eating may be more common in those who struggle with their mental health and wellbeing, the truth is anyone can be an emotional eater.

In an effort to honor our hunger cues, we must learn to honor our feelings. By doing this in ways that don’t directly connect to our hunger and food, we can actively work on our mental health while also continuing to heal our relationship with food by not giving it power our mental state.

Some healthy ways to honor our feelings include going for a walk, listening to our favorite music, journaling, or calling a friend to talk about our emotions. These are all healthy outlets to decompress after a distressing situation that are not related to food.


Respect Your Body

Diet mentality implies there is something wrong with your body. Intuitive eating is not about changing your body. It is about cultivating a healthy relationship with food and with our bodies.

This means that instead of criticizing your body and trying to lose weight, you should celebrate your body for what it can do. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. As we say all the time, “Everybody is different and every BODY is different!” By respecting your body, you can adopt a much healthier mindset when it comes to self-image and, coincidentally, your relationship with food.

If you are interested in learning more about body positivity, check out our article, How to Build Body Confidence.


Movement—Notice the Difference

Intuitive eating is not just about food because diets are not just about food—movement and exercise are also related.

Intuitive eating preaches movement as a celebration and a fun experience. This directly contrasts to diet culture, which often relates movement directly to calories burned or a punishment for what we’ve eaten throughout the day.

Movement is really about learning what types of exercise you enjoy. This can come in many forms—yoga, walking, Pilates, and resistance training, to name a few. To learn more about different types of movement and our top five tips to add more movement to your daily life, check out our blog here.

The movement you take part in should be whatever works best for you and your lifestyle. Intuitive eating is about sustainability in our diets as well as our movement, and too much exercise can actually burn us out, or make us despise movement entirely. Focus on learning which forms of movement you can work into your schedule and that bring you joy, and celebrate the way your body moves!


Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

The final principle of intuitive eating summarizes the rest well: Eat foods that taste good and eat foods that make you feel good.

Gentle nutrition is really about finding balance in your eating patterns. A healthy diet is one that you can sustain, after all, so figure out what works for YOU and YOUR body.

So why bother going through the process of becoming an intuitive eater? Here are some of the many benefits intuitive eating can have on your mental and physical health.


Lowered Appearance of Disordered Eating Habits

Food restriction, as mentioned above, can be the cause of, or exacerbate, disordered habits. This is because food restriction disconnects our bodies from our hunger and fullness cues, so we are unable to listen to them and understand what our bodies need.

Because everybody is different, disordered eating can make itself known in different ways. For some, restriction may be so extreme that they are not eating enough calories for their body to function on a day-to-day basis. For others, it can be a binge episode, in which one consumes far more food than they are hungry for (often due to previous restriction).

While heavy restriction and binge eating episodes are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, disordered eating habits that are not as extreme are still just as detrimental to your physical and mental health and should be addressed.

Intuitive eating teaches us to care for and trust our bodies in equal measure, which can greatly help those suffering from disordered eating to improve their relationship with both the food they eat and their bodies.

It is important to note that while intuitive eating has been shown to lower chances of disordered eating, it is not in any way an outright cure for those with eating disorders. If you suspect you or someone you know has an eating disorder, contact a health professional. Each person’s journey with eating and wellness is different, and a professional will be able to help you get the proper help for your specific needs.


Improved Self-Esteem

Improving our relationship with our bodies leads to a healthier body-image and better overall body satisfaction. While diet mentality may equate “thinness” with “health,” people come in all different shapes and sizes, and all of these shapes and sizes can have similar health profiles without necessarily being the “thinness” diet culture perpetuates as the ideal.

The transition from hating our bodies to loving our bodies can be a difficult mindset jump, especially when diet mentality has skewed our reasoning and our self-perception. One way to bridge that jump is a body neutrality transition phase in which you neither hate nor love your body.

While body neutrality may sound dismal to some, it can lift a weight off the shoulders of those who have lived for years with internalized body shame. To accept your body as it is and not actively wish to change its size helps us enjoy the present moment, rather than miss it because we’re too busy hating ourselves for not being twenty pounds lighter.


Increase in Energy

Because intuitive eating ends food restricting, people often experience an increase in energy can come as a result of ending extreme restriction in food.. By properly fueling your body with enough food – and primarily with food that nourishes you and makes you feel good – you will experience energy levels that move past “survival” and into enjoyment of daily activities.

This increase in energy will also help you add more movement to your day which will, in turn, increase your energy even more! This will often result in a naturally more active lifestyle, thereby increasing your health and well-being.


Intuitive Eating in the Long Run

The beginning of summer season is notorious for its onslaught of ‘get summer ready’ body-shaming ads marketing a variety of quick fixes and crash diets. Quick fixes, however, do more harm than good if they damage your relationship with food. This summer, don’t succumb to the negative messages. Instead, create sustainable change by beginning a practice of intuitive eating.  

Redefine success and shift your goals from weight loss to satisfaction and guilt-free eating! Once you commit to a lifestyle change you’re actually capable of sticking with in the long-run, you’ll never have to search for a quick fix again!
















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