What Is Intuitive Eating? Your Guide to Getting Started

Published October 20, 2022
Young woman eating Hamburger and enjoying it

Intuitive eating puts you in charge of what you eat and when you eat it. Sounds appealing, doesn't it? If you've ever gone on a diet, you probably remember having to follow restrictive rules about what to eat and when. But intuitive eating defies these rules.

When you learn to eat intuitively, you get in touch with hunger and fullness cues so you can decide what foods to eat, when to eat them, and when to stop eating. Basic intuitive eating principles guide you through the process of learning to nourish your body. What's more, intuitive eating can help you make peace with food once and for all.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating rejects the notion of restrictive dieting and encourages you to rely on internal signs to recognize satisfaction. The practice can help release a preoccupation with food. It is a way of eating that helps you rediscover the messages your body sends you about hunger and fullness.

You're born with the ability to recognize hunger and to stop eating when you're full. This innate appetite regulation can be slowly chipped away due to outside influences. For example, many of us were told to clean our plates as children even though we were full. And some of us learned to cope with stress by eating. Intuitive eating helps to restore those important natural regulators.

Intuitive eating is also a smart way to help stop mindless eating and the feelings of defeat that may occur afterward. Food is available (almost) everywhere you go, and unfortunately, this has led many folks to overeat, feel guilty about it, and struggle with their weight.

Although the practice is not intended for weight loss, intuitive eating is linked to lower body mass index (BMI), better health, and weight maintenance. More importantly, it can help relieve food-related stress and help to improve your overall sense of well-being. Intuitive eating centers around learning to accept your body and trust your instincts.

The 10 Intuitive Eating Principles

The principles of intuitive eating can help you rediscover a better relationship with yourself and with food. In 1995, the practice was popularized by two dietitians Evelyn Tribole MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FIAEDP, FAND. This evidence-based program was accepted by many health experts and sparked even more research into the practice.

Here are their 10 principles of intuitive eating:

  1. Ditch the diets. Let go of the false promises of the newest fad diet and embrace the opportunity to discover your own guidelines for what is best for your body.
  2. Get in touch with your hunger. Keep your body fed on a regular basis with enough calories and carbohydrates. Try not to get the point that you're famished, which can lead you to choose foods that you don't feel good about. Trust yourself to choose food when you're hungry and discover that the purpose of eating is to nourish your body.
  3. Allow yourself permission to eat. Feeling deprived can lead to cravings and binge eating.
  4. Give up the notion of good foods and bad foods. Shut down the voice telling you that you can't have a food because it's bad for you. Don't allow your thoughts about food to cause you shame and to lose trust in your instincts.
  5. Allow yourself to experience pleasure with eating. This is an important step in helping you discover the feeling of being full and helps you trust yourself to stop eating when you're full.
  6. Have foods that you want to have. Pause in the middle of eating to take note of how the food tastes. Assess how hungry you are at that moment. This will help you develop an internal fullness meter.
  7. Restricting food can spark emotional eating. Be kind to yourself if you react emotionally to food. Work to identify the source of your emotions instead. Find productive ways to deal with loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. Recognize that food cannot fix your feelings.
  8. Learn to love and respect your body. Your body can do amazing things. Celebrate your accomplishments! Try not to place your self-worth on your dress size.
  9. Move your body in ways that energize you and give you pleasure. Don't force yourself to do exercise that you don't enjoy. You'll be more likely to keep moving if you find an activity that you enjoy and are excited to do.
  10. Practice gentle nutrition. Honor your hunger and fullness by choosing foods that make you feel good. This doesn't mean you need to eat perfectly. Instead, focus on the progress you are making to nourish your body every day.

Can Intuitive Eating Help Me Lose Weight?

Intuitive eating was not developed as a weight loss diet. But some people have successfully reached a healthy weight by following intuitive eating practices. However, clinical evidence is mixed on the use of intuitive eating for weight management.

A 2020 examination of men and women using intuitive eating principles found that it is linked to weight maintenance. These results provide some good news for people who lose and regain the same 20 pounds over and over and feel shame about it.

But a 2021 systematic review of 13 studies published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that there is limited evidence to support the use of mindful eating and intuitive eating for weight loss or to improve the healthfulness of our diets.

Intuitive eating has been shown to help you regain control of impulsive eating habits and alleviate shame over your food choices. It has also been shown to help manage overeating such as binge eating when you come across foods that trigger these behaviors.

While intuitive eating is not a surefire method to lose weight, it helps you regain control over your emotions related to food. For some people, this might lead to weight loss.

5 Steps to Learn to Eat Intuitively

Putting intuitive eating principles into action requires some dedication. It's important to be kind and patient with yourself as you work through the principles and embrace them. Intuitive eating is an opportunity to listen to and respond to your body's cues to nourish yourself and make peace with your psychological response to food.

Practice Body Acceptance

Focus on your positive qualities, compliment others freely for the qualities you value, and work towards shutting down negative thoughts about yourself. Consider trying mindful yoga to help with this. Seek help from a healthcare professional if you struggle with this important first step.

Remove Yourself from Discussions About Diet

Reject diet culture. Whether you're in a conversation, reading an article about the latest diet fad or watching a news story about dieting, turn your thoughts back to something positive and encouraging.

Recognize Your Hunger

Don't try to ignore the signs when your body is telling you it needs food. Eat when you're hungry. There is no need to avoid calories or carbohydrates. By paying attention to your hunger level, you learn your body's fullness cues. Once you're full, stop eating.

Eat Mindfully

When you eat, take your time, eat in a quiet environment, and savor your food as you eat it. Gauge how satisfied you feel as you're eating. Mindful eating practices help you to more easily recognize when you feel full.

Monitor Your Mood

Pay attention to how you feel after eating. Strive to have foods that help you feel energized and satisfied.

Intuitive eating is a way to free yourself from the culture of restrictive dieting, release the shame that comes with eating foods that you once perceived as bad Ultimately, it helps you enjoy a healthy relationship with food. If eating has become a battle, it's time to let go. Honor your self-worth and try practices like intuitive eating that help you to feel empowered about your own health and well-being.

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What Is Intuitive Eating? Your Guide to Getting Started