Improve Your Health With Intuitive Eating

Say “No” to Diets and “Yes” to a Healthy Relationship With Food

Woman eating croissant in coffee shop
Westend61 / Getty Images

Are you tired of diets and feeling guilty about what you’re eating? You are not alone in this struggle. Our rigid diet culture has caused many people to feel good or bad about their bodies and life based on the food they eat. Strict food rules are the main reason diets don’t work and may have a negative impact on overall health and well-being.

Intuitive eating (IE) is characterized by eating in response to physiological hunger and satiety cues rather than emotional cues, and not considering certain foods to be forbidden.

We were born to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. But sometimes, this natural way to enjoy food gets lost in emotion cues, food rules, and restrictions. Happily, getting back to intuitive eating is possible for everyone. Understanding the philosophy of intuitive eating is the first step to eating this way.

Definition

Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating, according to Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, certified intuitive eating counselor. It helps you unlearn external rules, like diet rules and expectations of what and how much you should eat.

Intuitive eating emphasizes internal cues like hunger, fullness, and how foods make you feel.

It is based on 10 principles that help you build a healthier relationship with food, and engage in gentle nutrition and pleasurable movement from a place of self-care, says Hartley.

This nutrition philosophy is not restrictive nor does it promote overindulgence. Eating intuitively puts the focus on internal body cues and away from food restrictions. You become aware of what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat naturally, without worry or guilt.

You enjoy food and have no regrets about food choices. Intuitive eating is stepping away from a diet mentality and applying healthy behaviors surrounding food.

The Authors of Intuitive Eating

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, prominent nutrition experts, wrote a book called Intuitive Eating in 1995. A revised edition that includes updates to the original version, plus a comprehensive workbook, is now available. Intuitive Eating has become the go-to book on rebuilding a healthy body image and creating a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body.

The problem, according to the authors, is the rules and regulations surrounding diets have stopped people from listening to their bodies. Intuitive eating helps you get back in touch with your innate senses of hunger and fullness. This approach frees you from chronic dieting, write Tribole and Resch. It rebuilds a healthy body image, helps you make peace with food, and enables you to rediscover the pleasures of eating.

Is Mindful Eating the Same Thing?

Mindful eating is not the same thing as intuitive eating, says Hartley. Mindful eating is a skill that may be used within the broader framework of intuitive eating, and also outside of intuitive eating. You can think of mindful eating as a skill or practice, while intuitive eating is an entire philosophy.

Principles of Intuitive Eating

There are 10 core principles for intuitive eating. It is important to understand each principle and how they work together to become an intuitive eater.

Reject the Diet Mentality

Toss the diets, quick fixes, and gimmicks. Diets offer nothing but the false hope that weight loss is easy, quick, and permanent. Reject the lies that diets have made you believe about yourself, feelings of failure for stopping and regaining weight. Even one small hope that a diet could work will prevent you from being able to rediscover intuitive eating.

Honor Your Hunger

Hunger is a normal, biological process. Your body requires adequate amounts of energy and carbohydrates to function. Ignoring this body cue and feeling hungry can lead to cravings, overeating, and binges. Learning to honor hunger cues is what sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.

Make Peace With Food

Give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want. This means including all foods without labeling them good or bad to eat. Once you tell yourself you can’t have a certain food, this can lead to feeling deprived and intense cravings can build. Cravings often lead to overeating, binges, and extreme food guilt.

Challenge the Food Police

Say “no” to self-induced thoughts of being good or bad based on what you eat or how many calories you consume. Diets say you’re bad for eating too many calories or enjoying a cookie. These are unacceptable rules and restrictions that diets have created. Not accepting negative food thoughts, guilt, and other diet rules will be a critical part of returning to intuitive eating.

Respect Your Fullness

Listen for body cues saying you are comfortably full. This means you’re no longer hungry and should stop eating. Pay attention to satiety signals throughout your meal, enjoying the flavors of the food, and always be aware of your fullness level.

Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Find joy and satisfaction in the eating experience. When you eat what you want in an inviting environment, it promotes contentment and satisfaction. A positive eating experience is shown to promote satiety with much less food.

Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

Don’t stuff your feelings with food. Find ways to cope with emotions like stress, anxiety, anger, or boredom without turning to food. Food doesn’t fix these problems. Feeding emotional hunger only makes feelings worse and adds food guilt to the mix.

Respect Your Body

Body acceptance is an important part of self-love and feeling better. Instead of being critical of yourself, embrace your individual genetic blueprint. Body size and shape are unique for each person. Being unrealistic and critical about your body will make it difficult to reject the diet mentality.

Exercise (Feel the Difference)

Exercise doesn’t have to be extreme to be effective. Focus more on how good it feels to be active and move your body rather than the calorie burning process of the training session. It’s easy to feel great and motivated about exercise when you experience increased energy, better sleep, and improved quality of life.

Honor Your Health (Gentle Nutrition)

You don’t have to be a perfect eater, as diets would have you believe. One day of eating a certain snack or meal won’t make you gain weight or cause health problems. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Making food choices that taste good and nourish your body is what’s important.

Benefits for Weight Loss

Intuitive eating is not designed for weight loss, according to Hartley. Unfortunately, there may be dietitians, coaches, and other practitioners that sell intuitive eating as a diet, which runs counter to the idea entirely.

The goal of intuitive eating is improving your relationship with food. This includes building healthier food behaviors and not trying to manipulate the scale, says Hartley. Of course, almost every single person going through the process of learning to be an intuitive eater wants to lose weight—otherwise, they'd already be intuitive eaters.

Intuitive eating allows your body to break the diet cycle and settle into its natural set point weight range. This may be lower, higher, or the same weight you are right now, says Hartley.

Overall Health Benefits

Intuitive eating has been shown to have both physical and emotional health benefits, according to Hartley.

  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Lower rates of emotional and disordered eating
  • Better body image
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved metabolism
  • Higher levels of contentment and satisfaction

In a review of 24 studies that examined the psychosocial effect intuitive eating had on adult women, intuitive eating was associated with the following positive results:

  • Less disordered eating
  • More positive body image
  • Greater emotional functioning

Another study published in the Journal of Eating Behaviors compared restrictive diets and intuitive eating among a large sample group of men and women. The study found that intuitive eating uniquely and consistently presented lower levels of disordered eating and body image concerns.

Participants using intuitive eating expressed high levels of body appreciation. Researchers suggested promoting intuitive eating within public health approaches as beneficial to eating disorder prevention.

The study also supported intuitive eating by noting the particular emphasis placed on promoting body acceptance and eradicating unhealthy thinking around food and eating.

A Word From Verywell

Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating that focuses on getting back in touch with internal body cues. You are no longer under diet restrictions that make you feel bad about yourself. It helps you break free from diets and get healthy by improving your relationship with food and exercise.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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. Linardon J, Mitchell S. Rigid dietary control, flexible dietary control, and intuitive eating: Evidence for their differential relationship to disordered eating and body image concerns. Eat Behav. 2017;26:16-22. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2017.01.008

  2. Bruce LJ, Ricciardelli LA. A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite. 2016;96:454-472. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.012

Additional Reading