What is Intuitive Eating?

Guest Post by Jaime Thorpe, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Dietitian

From the day you were born, you were a natural intuitive eater. As babies, we cry, eat, stop when full, and cry again when hungry. As we grow, we continue eating intuitively -  eating when hungry, stopping when full, and some days eating much more than others; overall averaging out to meet our basic needs. However, once we start listening to and hearing external messages, such as “you must clean your plate” or “this food is good or this is bad,” our natural intuitive eater diminishes. Whether these messages are intentional or not, they start to determine what, when, and how much we eat, instead of allowing us to be the experts of our own bodies. 

Intuitive Eating is an approach created by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in 1995. This evidence-based, non-diet approach focuses on tuning into your body signals, breaking free from diet culture and weight obsession, and ultimately healing your relationship with food and body through ten guided principles. 

As a non-diet approach, intuitive eating is simply not a diet. This approach focuses on getting back to a place of normal eating - and sends a break-up letter to dieting and diet culture, rigid food rules, and counting calories, macros, or anything in between. Intuitive eating puts trust back into your body’s innate signals of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction to determine what, when, and how much to eat. There also is no “pass or fail” to intuitive eating like there is with diets. There is instead grace and acceptance of the journey to trusting your body to send signals that help you meet your physiological and psychological needs. And in this journey, there are 10 principles to guide you, in no particular order at all. 


What are the Ten Principles? 

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality: Think of where dieting and the pursuit of weight loss has lead you to - likely low energy levels, more rules/rigidity, a slowed metabolism, nutritional deficiencies, the list goes on. It is not your lack of willpower or you that has failed at dieting - dieting has failed you (hint: according to research, diets fail 95% of the time). Dieting is not sustainable, after weight loss it generally leads to weight gain, and can lead to disordered eating and food preoccupation. So start out by freeing yourself from diets - throw out the diet books, unfollow dieting blogs/emails, and get angry at the lies that tout diet myths and sell “quick and easy weight loss.”
  2. Honor Your Hunger: If you had to use the bathroom, would you ignore that body sensation? Then why is it that we’re told to ignore our physiological sensation of hunger? Honoring your hunger is listening to a body cue that is often ignored - recognizing it, and providing your body with nourishment to build that trusting relationship. Honoring hunger also reduces the primal drive to overeat. If you have chronically dieted in the past or have a history of disordered eating, it may take some consistent eating to kick start those cues. Once you feel them, embrace them! 
  3. Make Peace With Food: The first step to making peace with food is to allow yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods. “All foods fit” means getting rid of the black and white thinking (should/shouldn’ts, good/bad labels). If you tell yourself something is off limits, intense feelings of deprivation will only send you wanting more. This deprivation usually ends up causing a backlash behavior and a “last supper” mentality where you must eat as much as you can until it is off limits again! 
  4. Challenge the Food Police: Say NO to the voices in your head that tell you should, shouldn’t, can or can’t eat any food or that you are good or bad for particular food choices. These are often unreasonable food rules/rituals created by dieting or external messages we hear. Chasing this food police away is a critical step to start intuitive eating.
  5. Feel Your Fullness: Similar to honoring hunger, feeling your fullness can be a huge step in forming a mind-body connection. Once eating, check in with your fullness level and observe what it means to feel full. Check in throughout the meal too - how does it taste, is it satisfying, when are you no longer hungry? 
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor: In our diet-obsessed and thin-ideal culture, we often overlook the simple pleasure and satisfaction that food can provide. When we allow ourselves to eat a food we truly enjoy, in a comfortable and inviting environment, we can tune into the satisfaction factor of the food that keeps us content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it might take less food to decide you’ve had “enough.”
  7. Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food: Emotional eating, though normal, can often lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and likely some discomfort. When we eat due to emotions, the comfort only lasts short-term. Finding other ways to cope can help diminish the drive to overeat, and instead offer more long-term, sustainable solutions. 
  8. Respect Your Body: We are often too critical of our body and shape - though it is a predetermined range that our genetics have created. Learning to respect our body for how it is in the current moment is critical to reaching a point of intuitive eating. 
  9. Exercise - Feel the Difference: Activity should come from a place of joyful movement - as in moving because we like the way it feels. If you are exercising for the intention to burn calories or lose weight, it will likely backfire and leave you resisting moving in the first place. We know activity is beneficial, but it should be in a way that we look forward to instead of feel guilt around if not completed. Ask yourself, what are forms of activity you actually enjoy?
  10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition: There is no perfection when it comes to healthy eating. Gentle nutrition means making food choices that make you feel good and are tasty and satisfying. One meal, one snack, or one day will not change your overall health. It is the overall picture, and ultimately your relationship with food that is most important. 

To learn more about each principle, check out blogs/resources that focus on Intuitive Eating and find more about the book and founders on intuitiveeating.org.   

Jaime Thorpe, RDN, CD works full-time with eating disorder and disordered eating patients at The Emily Program in WA state. She works with clients to overcome their disordered eating and improve their relationship with their food and body. Jaime practices from an non-diet, intuitive eating approach and is HAES-informed. You can connect with her on Instagram at @jaim_eats or on her website!

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