'Intuitive Eating' has become quite a buzzword lately. More and more people are hearing about it through social media and as major new stations and websites are reporting on it.

Although, with this recent rise in media popularity comes more confusion and misinformation. In fact, I've seen it referred to as a diet or method for weight loss, which is the complete opposite of what it is. So it's time to clear the air on Intuitive Eating. Whether you've heard of it or not, keep reading to find out what Intuitive Eating really is and how to make it a part of your lifestyle.

So, What Exactly Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is an approach to health that was developed in 1995 by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It is a non-diet and weight-neutral framework that invites you trust your own wisdom and signals to meet your unique physical and psychological needs. It focuses on nurturing your body based on your individual needs and preferences, reconnecting with your body's innate signals of hunger, fullness, and food preference, and leaving behind diets forever to create a peaceful relationship with food and body.

In short, Intuitive Eating is attunement among mind, body, and food.

"Peacefulness" and "freedom" are not often words associated with eating. In a world where diets and restriction rule, many feel far from experiencing freedom with food and eating. Yet, this is what is experienced through Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eaters are able to "make food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honor hunger, respect fullness, and enjoy the pleasures of eating." They give themselves unconditional permission to allow all foods without guilt and rely on their own feelings of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction to guide them on when, what, and how much to eat.

Intuitive Eating is evidence-based and grounded in good, strong research. A number of studies have found positive physical and mental health attributes among Intuitive Eaters including:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Increased body appreciation and acceptance
  • Increased well-being and optimism
  • Higher HDL cholesterol levels
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Lower rates of disordered eating
  • Lower rates of emotional eating

What Intuitive Eating ISN'T

Did you know you were once an Intuitive Eater? That's right - we are all born with the innate ability to listen to and honor our hunger and fullness. As we grow older we are conditioned to follow rules when it comes to eating - only eating at certain times, viewing foods as "good" and "bad", having to clean our plate, restricting and limiting foods, using food as a reward system, etc. and we lose touch with our inner intuition.

Where culture and diets normally impose restrictions and rules, intuitive eating is the opposite. There is no counting of calories, macronutrients, pounds, or measuring out portions and following strict meal plans. Rather, Intuitive Eating invites you to ditch the dieting mentality and relearn to rely on your internal cues and inner wisdom.

Our culture is taking away our ability to eating intuitively. But the good news is that you can reclaim your eating and become an intuitive eater again.

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating is made up of the following 10 principles.

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality. We live in a culture caught up in dieting, restriction, and control and obsession over the perfect body and optimal "health". And when our culture praises thinness and dieting and rejects the opposite, it is very easy to get caught up in it. The realities of dieting and weight loss are that 95% of weight loss attempts fail and result in even additional weight regain. Rejecting the construct of dieting, weight loss, and the grip it has on you is the first and crucial step towards becoming and Intuitive Eater. Reflect on your past experiences and recognize the harm that dieting has caused. Let yourself off its hook and ditch all of the things that still tie you to a dieting mentality - books, scales, social media followings. Start to let go of the goal to change your body and focus on your overall well-being instead.
  2. Honor Your Hunger. Hunger is 100% normal and is a biological drive that our body is built with in order to keep us alive. If we ignore feelings of hunger and don't eat, our body will react with extreme hunger and cravings driving us to binge. Learn to listen to your inner biological drive for food and trust and feed your body when it's hungry.
  3. Make Peace with Food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat ALL foods. Restricting and depriving yourself of certain foods and viewing foods as "good" and "bad" can lead to uncontrollable cravings, eventual "giving in" to these foods, and subsequently feeling as if you've "overindulged". Stop the vicious cycle and free your food choices by allowing all of them without any other agenda.
  4. Challenge the Food Police. The Food Police is your inner dialogue that tells you you're "good" for eating vegetables and "bad" for eating birthday cake. These are unreasonable and guilt-provoking rules conditioned by diet culture and are housed deep in your brain. Learning to challenge this voice with caring and non-judgmental thoughts is an important step towards nourishing and pleasurable food experiences.
  5. Feel Your Fullness. Learn to observe signals and listen to feelings of fullness and satiation. Pause and become mindful of the transition from empty to full stomach that occurs during a meal. Giving yourself permission to eat again if hungry can allow you to more easily honor your body's satiety signals.
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. Food is rewarding - it's in our biology. Our bodies have the innate ability to get pleasure from food since it is so fundamental for our survival. Although, this aspect of food is often overlooked and forgotten. Eating food that truly satisfies us gives us feelings of pleasure and contentment (and often with less food.)
  7. Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food. Food is strongly tied to our emotions. Feeling emotions and eating in response to these emotions is 100% normal. While food is a source of comfort, it can become a problem if it's your only coping mechanism and you're not addressing your emotions. Building a bank of coping mechanisms is important for soothing emotions and learning to eat intuitively.
  8. Respect Your Body. Bodies are diverse and they are MEANT to be this way. Just like we can't expect a Great Dane to scale down to the size of a Chihuahua, it's just as unrealistic to have this expectation with body size. Being unrealistic and overly critical of your body only makes rejecting diet culture and caring for yourself more difficult. Learn to accept, respect, and care for your here and now body.
  9. Exercise - Feel the Difference. What if you shifted your mindset on exercise from "have to" to how movement makes you feel? Movement should be something that is enjoyable and makes you feel good. Only thinking about how exercise is going to physically change your body shape lacks sustainable motivation.
  10. Honor Your Health - Gentle Nutrition. Embracing gentle nutrition is the last and final step of Intuitive Eating. Base your food choices on what feels good in your body while also considering taste and satisfaction. Food is not all or nothing, rather it's the combinative effect of what you consistently eat over time.

Interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating?

The Joyful Life embodies an Intuitive Eating approach through our nutrition counseling. We work with clients individually in-person in our Grimes, Iowa office as well as virtually from all throughout the US. Learn more about our nutrition counseling services where we will help you get back in touch with your inner intuitive eater and cultivate a peaceful relationship with food.

With Joy,