What is Intuitive Eating & Is it an Option for You?
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is an evidenced-based, weight-inclusive, non-diet, and mind-body health approach designed to encourage a self-compassionate eating framework. It comprises ten principles and was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch , in 1995. Since its conception, there have been over 200 studies which have assisted in the creation of a validated assessment scale, allowing for multiple revisions to this framework. If you are unfamiliar with this practice, I highly recommend the 4th edition of their book, Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach , to use alongside your journey with me.
To get you started, let’s take a look at some highlights of what intuitive eating is, some common misconceptions, and information to help you decide if this is for you…
What Is the First Step Towards Becoming An Intuitive Eater?
First and foremost, it is important to understand that the concept of intuitive eating is completely counter to diet mentality; you don't restrict yourself to a certain type or quantity of food and you release the focus of operating from a desire to control your body. As well, you allow your inner rebel to shine, rejecting any external dictatorship of what someone else thinks about your food or your body.
Rather you lean into knowing you have personal internal wisdom available to you. You may think this means that you need to become your own expert immediately which leaves you feeling completely overwhelmed, but finding your own attunement can take time and will require you to unlearn all that you have been conditioned to with diet culture. Eventually you will nourish yourself with what your whole being needs most at each given moment. Therefore, this first step is really just becoming aware of where diet culture shows up in your life and then being compassionate to yourself that you are on your way towards a new relationship with your food and body. It is ok that you are not already there. You are right where you need to be.
Is Making Peace with Food about Eating What You Want, When You Want?
One principle behind intuitive eating that often gets confused is that we make peace with ALL food. Food loses the labels of good or bad and just becomes what it was always intended to be, nourishment for our minds, bodies and our souls. This further helps us to ditch the diet mentality. However, there is often the critique that this would mean that “you can eat anything and everything you want, when you want”. But this is just an example of how our conditioned diet brain wants to form rules with intuitive eating (because it is used to rules) and distorts the deeper layers of intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is more than just eating what you want when you want. It is about honoring your entire being. Your mind may be telling you “want” something, but your body may have a different need, and your soul could be searching for something else allowing the mind to cover up it’s voice. As well, it is about using all parts of your brain together. It comprises use of instincts from our reptilian brain, emotions from our limbic brain, and rational thought from our neocortex. So as you can see…. It is not merely the eat what you want diet.
Is Intuitive Eating Anti-Weightloss?
Intuitive eating is NOT anti-weight loss… but it IS about NOT working from a point of weight loss because often those thoughts, beliefs and rituals normally associated with weight loss methods will disconnect us from our own interoceptive awareness which is what allows us to be intuitive eaters. With that said… if weight loss ends up happening, there is absolutely no opposition to that. However, if you are holding out even an ounce of hope that intuitive eating will finally be your forever method for weight loss, you will not be able to step into your fullest potential of self-attunement.
With that said, we need to talk about the desire for weight loss though. It does not need to be a hush hush topic. We need to talk about it to know where these desires came from. Diet culture is pervasive and runs deep into our history. While we have many commonalities within it’s twisted history, it is also extremely personal to each one of us. Not talking about it and acting like it will just magically go away is ludicrous and does nothing for our healing. We need to talk about why the desire for weight loss is present and how it can be harmful to not only ourselves but for generations to come. Finally we need to connect with our ability to nourish and honor our entire selves in each present moment. If we continue to stay in the frame of mind around desiring weight loss, it is problematic, because it puts us into future anxious thinking or connects us to regret for not already being successful in the past. These types of thinking take away our power of supporting our body in the here and now moment.
Is Intuitive Eating The “Eat When You are Hungry, Stop When you are Full” Diet?
Let me be clear right off… NOPE. Two of the principles are about honoring your hunger and respecting your fullness, but there are eight other principles that comprise being an intuitive eater. The hub of all the principles is.... satisfaction. When you focus on finding satisfaction within your eating experience, you will be more easily able to connect to pleasure, joy, and love with not only the nourishment you chose, but also with the feelings within your body during this experience.
The first step to finding satisfaction in your eating experience is through simply allowing yourself to seek pleasure with eating. For so long, you have likely enjoyed a food but met that with shame or guilt because you are not supposed to enjoy that food. One of our first comforts in life was through nourishment after leaving our mothers womb. Nature designed food to be pleasurable as a way to sustain life. Can you imagine if you simply ate to eat without any connection to flavor, texture, aroma, temperature or appearance? If you feel resistance towards allowing this, one thing you can do is take several deep breaths before eating and during as needed.
As well, it is important to think about how your body may be filling after your eating experience. Will your body be satisfied? Will your body be satisfactorily full until your next eating experience? For example, if you know you have a full morning of work or tasks, did your morning nourishment provide you with the amount you need to sustain your energy and stamina? Or will it be potentially too much to where you feel lethargic or your blood sugars go on a swinging roller coaster ride?
As you develop your intuitive eating skills, you'll notice that you're paying more attention to how meals make you feel physiologically. Foods like fruits and vegetables may help you feel more invigorated and fed than less nutrient-dense foods like cookies and french fries. On the other hand, those foods have their place, and as an intuitive eater, you have the option. Intuitive eating can assist you in achieving the balance that allows you to feel your best.
Lastly, also consider the environment in which you are eating. Is the environment enjoyable? During my time working as a dietitian in the hospital, one of the things people often liked to complain about was the food. However, the food was generally quite good. Made mostly from fresh products; however, I have to question if their dissatisfaction with food was from their environment. Your environment includes external factors like where you are eating, types of aesthetics, and who you are with. And it also includes internal environments like eating when you are not overly hungry, if you are eating from a place of guilt or gratitude, and if you are savoring your foods through connection to your senses.
Is Intuitive Eating An Option For Me?
I believe intuitive eating is an option for everyone and I walk each and every one of my clients through the principles and how to use them in their own life. Overtime, the process of intuitive eating becomes just that, intuitive, but there is a process that comes before that. It can be challenging at first for some, especially if you have battled with diet culture and rigid eating habits for many years or you're confused about how to integrate medically needed nutrition changes without it feeling like restriction.
So often I hear that adopting intuitive eating feels like abandoning your health goals, but in fact intuitive eating will help get you to your health goals. This is done through unraveling all of those old patterns, habits, and beliefs around eating while directing you to a new path with more ease and love.
Intuitive eating has many different layers and there can be profound freedom in just the basic learning about intuitive eating, whether that is through the book mentioned at the beginning here or from other resources. Nevertheless, it can also be extremely helpful to seek guidance from a professional on this journey to help you identify where there may be brain tricks happening and to help regulate your nervous system to these changes.
Is It Healthy For Me?
I could tell you all the reasons that intuitive eating could benefit you, but I won’t. Rather I invite you to open yourself to learning, being curious, and deciding for yourself about all the benefits intuitive eating offers as it relates to your mental health and nutritional health.
What I can share with you is that in studies in comparison to restrictive dieting strategies, intuitive eating has been shown to support nutritional benefits. Intuitive eaters consume a plethora of foods because intuitive eating does not come with precise diet plans, meaning intuitive eaters are actually more likely to get the advantages of well balanced nutrition.
Despite the fact that intuitive eating is not a weight-loss method, research has revealed that intuitive eaters do see significant benefits to their overall health such as their cardiometabolic health.
All the clients I have worked with have told me that intuitive eating is a much more sustainable way of living and once they learned more about intuitive eating with support, there was no going back to feeding into diet culture.
When we are an intuitive eater, we are honoring all parts of us. To see on overview of all the 10 Principles, visit at www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating or join our free Mindful and Intuitive Group for video lessons, support, and more.