Improve Your Health, Mind, and Body With Intuitive Eating

Say “no” to diets and “yes” to a healthy relationship with food

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In This Article

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 body and life based on the food they eat. Strict food rules are the main reason diets don’t work and are starting to have a negative impact on overall health and well-being, according to nutrition experts.

Intuitive eating is considered a healthy approach to food intake. It allows you to heal from food stigmas caused by chronic dieting. Intuitive eating is said to be normal, healthy eating as it should be.

We were born to eat intuitively, but somehow this natural way to enjoy food got lost in all the rules and restrictions surrounding our diet. The great news is that getting back to intuitive eating is possible for everyone. Understanding the philosophy of intuitive eating will be 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, authored Intuitive Eating in 1995. There is a revised edition that includes updates to the original version, plus a comprehensive workbook 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 has stopped people from listening to their bodies.

Intuitive eating helps you get back in touch with your innate senses of hunger and fullness. Tribole and Resch indicate this approach frees you from chronic dieting, 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

There are 10 core principles for intuitive eating. It will be important to understand each principle outlined below and how they work together to become an intuitive eater:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality – Toss the diets, quick fixes, and gimmicks. Diets offer nothing but 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 eating that 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 is unique for each person. Being unrealistic and critical about your body will make it difficult to reject the diet mentality.
  9. 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.
  10. Honor Your Health (Gentle Nutrition) – You don’t have to be a perfect eater as diets 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 with 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, that being said, 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, indicates 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

A review included 24 cross-sectional 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. It was also suggested intuitive eating be promoted within public health approaches as beneficial to eating disorder prevention.

The study also supported intuitive eating by recommending particular emphasis placed toward 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.

There are 10 principles of intuitive eating shown to improve the quality of your health and life. Some of the benefits of intuitive eating include a more positive body image, lowered cholesterol, reduced stress, increased metabolism, and overall contentment and well-being.

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Article Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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