Intuitive eating is a non-diet framework created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch that helps you break restrictive rules, use internal cues to guide nutrition choices, break the cycle of chronic dieting, and improve your relationship with food. It gives you the tools to change your mindset from restriction and rule-based thinking to a behavior-focused, learner mindset.
Intuitive eating would just be simply eating, if dieting didn’t exist. Most babies are born intuitive eaters– they know when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Small kids may eat little one day and a ton the next. It all evens out. But somewhere along the way external pressure comes into play. We are told what and how much to eat, adopt diets and restrictions, and stop using our innate intuitive abilities.
Much of our society is worried about weight. We see thin as good and fat as bad. But weight doesn’t determine health or worth. Nonetheless, there is a definite bias. From the need to be accepted, worthy, and healthy, people adopt diets. But diets almost never work long-term. They fail. We cannot control every aspect of our body’s shape and size, and restriction often leads to obsession, disordered eating, too low energy intake and overcompensation later. Again, diets fail.
Intuitive eating is not a diet. It’s everything but that. There are no rules, restrictions, or counting. There is only listening to your body, respecting it, and learning. Intuitive eating is seeking to care for your mind and body, not just changing its appearance.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating outline the path to ridding of dieting mentality, trusting your body, relearning how to use internal cues, and respecting your body with joyful movement and gentle nutrition.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
- Reject the Diet Mentality: Diets don’t work, at least long-term. Think back to a time where you have restricted something or dieted. What did it do for you? Was it helpful? What did you feel during that time and how do you feel now? Weight-focused approaches to nutrition and health often result in disordered eating, shame, guilt, and weight GAIN. Rejecting the diet mentality is rejecting the idea that dieting is a solution to your health and your body image.
- Honor Your Hunger: Hunger is a biological sign we need to eat. It is not to be ignored. Your body will continue to fight if it doesn’t get food. It wants regular access to food. Ignoring hunger will likely lead to intense cravings and overcompensation. Listening to hunger is one way to honor your body’s needs and stop dieting behaviors. The hunger scale can be a helpful tool when learning to listen to hunger.
- Make Peace with Food: Food is not “good” nor “bad”. It’s just food. Making peace with food means allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, and taking the power away from specific foods. Humans are naturally rebellious. We want what we can’t have. When you are finally able to have the forbidden foods, it’s likely you will feel out of control and overeat. This can lead to shame or guilt. The deprivation—overeating—guilt cycle is called the diet cycle. Making peace with food is breaking the cycle.
- Challenge the Food Police: The food police is most often YOU! Challenging the food police is to challenge the belief that you are good or bad for eating a certain food. It’s challenging unreasonable food rules that don’t serve you, so you can eat with joy instead shame and guilt.
- Feel Your Fullness: Just like hunger, fullness is also biological and helps us decide when we’ve had enough. Listening to your cues for fullness help you recognize when you feel satisfied so you don’t end up feeling sick. Checking in with your body and giving attention to how food tastes, smells, and feels can help you be more aware.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor: There’s a difference between fullness and satisfaction. We have cravings or feel the need to have certain foods that make us feel good. Pleasure is also important in eating. Asking yourself what you really want so you can feel satisfied and pleased with the meal is essential for a great food experience and relationship.
- Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food: We have emotional connections to food. Emotional eating is normal and common. Although food can help soothe emotions in the moment, it often does not fix the problem. Emotional eating can become a problem if it is the only way you are coping with emotion. Finding other ways to cope with emotions is important.
- Respect Your Body: Comparison is the thief of joy. Comparing your body to others’ is never going to bring you peace or confidence. Acceptance is the first step to respecting your body. If you can accept yourself as you are, you can seek to care for it rather than just change it.
- Exercise–Feel the Difference: A healthy relationship with exercise is also important. Exercise isn’t solely for those who want to change their body or lose weight. Exercise has many other purposes. Choosing joyful movement is part of being intuitive.
- Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition: There is no perfect way to eat. It’s not all or nothing. Experimenting with how foods makes you feel and getting curious about what makes you feel best is one step to honoring your health. Gentle nutrition means providing your body with foods that care for it. This is the last principle for a reason. You must understand and work through your relationship with food before embracing gentle nutrition.
Intuitive eating isn’t something to be accomplished. It’s a lifelong learning process of tuning-in to your body’s needs, getting curious, and honoring your body with joyful movement and gentle nutrition.
Get the book “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Trible and Resch to learn more!
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Katie Massman, RDN
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