Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.

By Quinn Nystrom, MS

So what is Intuitive Eating?

It’s a way of eating that has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline or willpower. It’s about discovering a peaceful and satisfying relationship with food, mind, and body.

This eating style has been around since the mid-1990s, but this common-sense approach got lost in the shuffle of diet fads and quick-fix eating styles. Fast forward, three decades and once again eaters are rediscovering the benefits of intuitive eating thanks to renewed interest from people who were fed up with the temporary results of calories counting and restrictive diet plans.

Original intuitive thought leaders, Evelyn Tribole, RD and Elyse Resch, RDN penned several books and participated in numerous research studies on their method. Their most recent publication, The Intuitive Eating Workbook, was published in 2017 and a new interest in this anti-diet way of honoring our hunger spread like wildfire.

At its core, intuitive eating encourages people to pay attention to their hunger, eat mindfully and work to breaking free from the on-and-off cycle of dieting. Tribole and Resch formed the method of intuitive eating based on these ten principles:

Reject the Diet Mentality: It’s no secret that over-restrictive diets and excessive calorie counting can go sideways pretty quickly and lead to unhealthy and destructive eating habits. Though balance and structure is necessary for most aspects of life, intuitive eating encourages people to make peace with food and listen to their body’s needs.

Honor Your Hunger: Intuitive eating helps participants to be tuned into feelings of hunger and eat to feel nourished, not just to make the feeling “go away.”

Make Peace with Food: Just like an automobile needs fuel to run, our bodies need nourishment to function and live our best life. Acknowledging that food is our friend, not our enemy, is a massive step in embracing the natural eating lifestyle.

Challenge the Food Police: The voice of the hypothetical Food Police is always there to scold us and apply a healthy dose of guilt when we crave the things we “think” we shouldn’t have. Challenging the Food Police means relieving ourselves of the burden counting every calorie and resisting the urge to have dessert.

Respect Your Fullness: As babies, humans are hyper-aware of hunger and feeling full. Babies cry when they are hungry and stop once their little bellies are full. That process gets clouded as adulthood approaches thanks to socio-emotional triggers like stress, anxiety, grief, and even boredom. When steps are taken to eat mindfully and not in a haze of worry or fear, we can be tuned into feelings of fullness and satisfaction.

Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Humans tend to want more, more, MORE of the things we love. If we adore a TV series, we want to binge watch it. If we like a certain kind of t-shirt, we want it in every color. Food falls into this category as well. If we love a specific dish, we instinctively want to eat as much as possible in case we never get that opportunity again. Discovering the Satisfaction Factor is about redirecting those urges into a healthier form of “gentle knowing.” By slowing down and, savoring every bite, our bodies will respond positively.  Paying attention to our body when it tells us “hey, I’m satisfied” will be far more satisfying than wild indulgence.

Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food: The world is a super-complicated place. Own your feelings of loneliness, fear, anger or sadness, but also do the work to get to the root of why those feelings are present. It’s very reasonable to want to dull uncomfortable feelings and situations with something comforting like food, but that habit is like putting a Band-Aid on the Grand Canyon. Dig deep, find the “why,” and do the work to heal that part of your life.

Respect Your Body: Love the skin you are in. Sometimes that is easier-said-than-done, but the truth is that our bodies, no matter what shape and size, are works of art. Being hyper-critical and striving for unrealistic expectations when it comes to our size is self-deprecating. Our body keeps us upright and mobile. It allows us to think, explore, and connect with others. And every day we get the chance to do that all over again. It’s time to give our bodies the respect and love it deserves!

Exercise-Feel the Difference: Many of us view exercise as a form of drudgery, but the truth is that a body in motion, stays in motion. Movement is good. Movement is healthy. So the next time you take a walk or participate in a spin class, feel the difference in your mental well-being as well. Find a form of movement that makes your heart sing and stick with it. Exercise is not the enemy; it’s something we can do to help ourselves feel better.

Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition: Just because the founders of intuitive eating encourage an “eat what you want” mentality, that doesn’t mean it’s they don’t care about proper nutrition. At the core of this lifestyle change is the advice to make food choices that honor your health, as well as your taste buds. Gentle nutrition is about eating the fruits and vegetables that fuel our bodies while also enjoying things that make our taste buds dance with glee. It’s all about balance and common sense.

A final note about intuitive eating is that it is not meant to be used as a tool for weight loss or gain in any way. It’s about unconditional permission to eat, but with curiosity and non-judgment. It’s learning how to make peace with food, remove the emotional power of a “fear food,” and learn to feel safe around ALL foods.