Why Intuitive Eating May Not Work for You (And What to Do)

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If you are tired of the empty promises of fad diets and of being lied to by the weight loss industry, intuitive eating (IE) may be the refreshing change you are looking for.

IE is a self-care eating framework that includes 10 principles to help guide your mind-body needs. If you've been fruitlessly following weight loss plans or fad diets for many years, IE will be new to you, since it's not a diet. Instead, it helps reset how you think about food, eating, weight and your body.

Read on to learn more about IE and some common mistakes people make when getting started with this approach.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is a mind-body health approach and practice, which honors both physical and mental health. It was developed by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in 1995. It is based on years of clinical evidence and research, including over 100 studies to date.

Intuitive eating is a weight-neutral model and aims to help you honor your health by listening and trusting your body to meet its needs. There are 10 principles of intuitive eating:

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality: Avoid diet culture lies about easy weight loss or one perfect body size.
  2. Honor Your Hunger: Eat when you feel hungry and rebuild trust in yourself around food.
  3. Make Peace with Food: Give yourself permission to eat and enjoy food without guilt.
  4. Challenge the Food Police: Skip the rules created by diet culture of foods being "good" or "bad."
  5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Eating should be joyful and pleasurable.
  6. Feel Your Fullness: Listen to your body’s signals to know when you are no longer hungry.
  7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness: Take steps to understand emotional eating.
  8. Respect Your Body: Bodies deserve dignity no matter their size or shape.
  9. Movement—Feel the Difference: Focus on how your body feels instead of the calories burned.
  10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition: Choose nutritious foods that make you feel good.

What Is NOT Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is not a weight loss diet or a meal plan. It's not a diet you stop and start, and it does not include any features of typical diet plans, such as calorie counting. IE is the opposite of dieting and is not intended as a weight management tool. 

As explained on the Intuitive Eating website, "If a health professional or coach is offering you Intuitive Eating for the purpose of weight loss—run away. Fast."

Since there are no reliable long-term studies that show weight loss diets are sustainable, IE takes a different approach. The concept aims to help you learn to trust your body and understand what hunger, fullness, and satisfaction feel like.

IE aligns with Health at Every Size; the developers of IE believe that the pursuit of intentional weight loss is a failed paradigm that creates weight stigma and eating disorders.

Mistakes People Make With Intuitive Eating

"The most common mistake that people make with intuitive eating is continuing to focus on weight as a measure of success," explains dietitian Becca Blumberg of Ripple Nutrition Coaching. "As you develop your IE skills, your weight may stay the same, or you may lose or gain weight," Blumberg notes, explaining that what matters most is stepping off of the diet rollercoaster.

"Another common mistake I see with IE is trying to apply only certain principles," says Kelsey McCullough, a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor at Feed and Flourish Nutrition Therapy.

The 10 principles of IE work together to encompass a whole mind-body health approach, so it doesn't make sense to just pick and choose certain principles to guide your journey.

The principle of honoring your hunger is difficult for many. "It's common when people get started to be nervous that they're going to end up overeating and not feel good physically," confirms Ashley Braun an intuitive eating dietitian and life coach with Food Peace Nutrition.

"Going from believing you have to control yourself around food to being completely free to eat what you want can be a little scary," she adds, also noting that 'rebellion eating' is another common mistake. That's when you eat just to prove that you can and show that food rules no longer control you instead of tuning in to your body.

Another common mistake is treating intuitive eating principles as a set of rigid rules. "Intuitive eating is not a weight management plan," Blumberg reminds us. "Using the principles as rigid rules can create guilt that's common with the diet mentality."

Signs That Intuitive Eating Is Not Working for You

"Some people feel IE is not for them because they still desire weight loss," says McCullough, who explains that practitioners recognize the societal pressure to diet, but encourage folks to see what might it be like to put those desires on the back-burner and try something different.

"If someone thinks that IE isn’t “working” for them, I would challenge them to re-define what “working” really means," adds Blumberg "If they mean they aren’t losing weight, they need to revisit the intention of IE."

If you cannot get in touch with your hunger and fullness cues, you may initially struggle with IE. "People with years of disordered eating patterns often have ignored these cues for so long that they may no longer notice them," explains Blumberg. This can be something that you work on with your dietitian.

It's worth noting that Blumberg feels IE may not be a good fit for someone with an active eating disorder who is in the early stages of treatment. "Physiologic changes associated with eating disorders, such as a slower rate of passage of food through the stomach, may also change or blunt hunger and fullness cues."

What You Can Do Instead

"If IE isn't working for someone because they want more structure, I'd offer that there is an opportunity for growth in learning to trust yourself and decide what you want," says Braun. "If a traditional structured approach that told people exactly what to eat worked long term, we would all just be doing it." Flatly, weight loss diets often don't work, so maybe the answer is giving IE a chance.

Braun explains that it takes time to unlearn old beliefs and learn to trust ourselves around food. "In my experience, intuitive eating can help anyone heal their relationship with food, even people who consider themselves emotional eaters or those who believe without rules they'll just overeat."  

McCullough encourages people interested in IE to work with a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.

A Word From Verywell

Intuitive eating is a set of principles that can help you ditch diet culture and make peace with food. It's not a weight loss diet; it's a way to trust your body, your mind, and your decisions around food.

If intuitive eating is a concept you're considering adapting to your life, a certified IE practitioner would be a valuable resource to guide your journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is intuitive eating applicable to everyone?

    Anyone can try IE, though it may not be the right fit for people in early treatment for eating disorders, or people who cannot sense hunger and fullness cues due to medical conditions or medications. If IE is something you are considering, work with a mental health professional or a nutritionist to create a plan that's safe and considerate.

  • What are the downsides of intuitive eating?

    There are no real downsides to a program that works with your mind and body to help overcome diet culture. If you are looking for weight loss, one downside is that IE is not a diet or weight loss program.

  • Is intuitive eating a diet or weight loss plan?

    IE is not a diet or weight loss plan. It is a set of guiding principles to help you trust your body and make choices around food that feel good, without judgment and without influence from diet culture.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Intuitive Eating. What is Intuitive Eating?

  2. Intuitive Eating. Studies.

  3. Intuitive Eating. 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.

  4. National Eating Disorders Association. What Does Intuitive Eating Mean?

  5. Intuitive Eating. Definition of Intuitive Eating.

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
 Cara Rosenbloom RD is a dietitian, journalist, book author, and the founder of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company in Toronto, ON.

Edited by
Lily Moe
Lily Moe for Verywell Fit

Lily Moe is a former fitness coach and current Editor for Verywell Fit. As a wellness enthusiast, she can often be found in a hot yoga studio, trying a new recipe, or going for a long run in Central Park.

Learn about our editorial process