- Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to nutrition that rejects diet culture and food rules.
- You can apply intuitive eating principles to your life, which can help you eat all your favorite foods without feeling guilty afterward.
- A registered dietitian can teach you how intuitive eating can improve your overall relationship with food and nutrition.
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to eating that rejects diet culture and food rules. Instead, it embraces your body’s natural hunger cues, reinforces the importance of a mind-body connection while eating, and encourages you to focus on behaviors instead of weight-specific outcomes.
This article will teach you what intuitive eating is and how you can start applying intuitive eating principles.
What is Intuitive Eating
The intuitive eating approach was created by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who wanted to promote a way of eating that countered fad diets and restricted eating practices.
Over the years, their unique approach to nutrition and eating has been extensively studied and used in research projects worldwide. The results have shown that practicing intuitive eating can help you improve your health and your relationship with food.
Understanding the Principles of Intuitive Eating
There are ten fundamental principles that make up intuitive eating. You don’t have to apply all these principles to your life at once, but it can be helpful to review them so you have a good understanding of what makes intuitive eating different from other nutrition approaches.
- Reject the diet mentality. Abandon the notion that fad diets and miracle meal plans can improve your weight or health. Express your feelings of anger towards Western diet culture, which has set impossible standards for body image.
- Honor your hunger. Nourish your body with food so your biological needs are satisfied. Carbohydrates provide you with essential energy, and honoring your hunger helps you build trust with yourself and food.
- Make peace with food. Give yourself permission to eat anything you like by letting go of food rules or feelings of guilt after eating.
- Challenge the food police. Say no to unreasonable food rules that are rooted in diet culture.
- Discover the satisfaction factor. Slow down and savor food instead of rushing through a meal. Enjoying the moment and finding satisfaction is part of intuitive eating.
- Feel your fullness. You can learn to recognize your satiety or fullness signals by checking in on how you feel midway through a meal. When you are full, you should feel comfortable and at ease.
- Cope with your emotions with kindness. Sometimes food is used to comfort, but learning other strategies to cope with emotions can give you better tools for managing your feelings.
- Respect your body. Your genetics influence so much of your health and physical appearance. Instead of critiquing yourself, learn to respect what your body does daily to keep you healthy.
- Movement - feel the difference. Reflecting on how movement makes you feel can offer a new perspective on the benefits of regular movement. For example, noticing that you have more energy after moving your body in the morning can encourage you to continue the activity.
- Honor your health - gentle nutrition. You don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. Choose foods that fuel your body and make you feel satisfied overall.
How to Practice Intuitive Eating in 6 Steps
Deepening your knowledge of the ten principles of intuitive eating is a great place to start. Here are six steps you can take if you’re ready to start practicing intuitive eating and healing your relationship with food.
Step 1: Give Up Dieting
Firstly, giving up dieting is essential for intuitive eating. The creators of this approach are firm in their belief that dieting behaviors make it difficult for you to have a healthy relationship with food. This is because many fad diets are restrictive and therefore unsustainable, prioritize body shape or body weight-based outcomes, and foster feelings of guilt or shame if you break the “rules” of the diet.
If you need help giving up dieting, consider booking a virtual nutrition appointment with a registered dietitian. They provide a safe space to ask questions, and most insurance carriers cover their services.
Step 2: Let Go of Food Rules
Even if you are not actively following a diet plan, food rules may still influence your dietary choices. Some of these food rules can be ingrained in you from childhood, and you may not even be aware they influence you. An example of this could be being told to avoid eating anything after 8 p.m. Another example is being told to eat everything off the dinner plate, even if you’re full.
Taking time to identify food rules can be an eye-opening exercise. You can write down food rules that you think are influencing you and review them with your dietitian. Try to approach this activity without judgment or criticism; you are gathering information and trying to identify any behaviors you would like to work on in the future.
Step 3: Listen to Your Body Cues
Your digestive system sends chemical signals to your brain through hormones to indicate when you are hungry or full. Previous eating patterns may have decreased your awareness of these signals, but allowing yourself moments of reflection while eating can help you better connect with your hunger and fullness cues.
Step 4: Find New Emotional Outlets
This step may be most appropriate for people who turn to food for comfort. Occasional emotional eating is normal, but eating every time you feel emotional is a behavior that should be addressed.
You may want to try brainstorming different coping strategies that sound appealing and practical for you. For example, include more physical activity in your workweek, or slow down by doing a regular meditation session.
You may benefit from meeting with a professional mental health counselor if you need more support. They can help you work through your feelings and give you alternative strategies to help you cope.
Step 5: Let Go of Food Guilt
You should never feel guilty for nourishing your body. Your muscles, vital organs, and every cell in your body need energy (in the form of calories) to function, and eating food provides essential energy. One of the ten principles of intuitive eating states that you don’t need to follow a perfect diet to be healthy; you can include all foods in your diet guilt-free.
Step 6: Give Yourself Permission to Enjoy Eating
When you let go of food rules, you make room for pleasure and joy while eating. Instead of worrying about breaking the rules or feeling guilty, you can change your mindset to appreciate and enjoy all foods.
It can take a bit of time, and consistency, to develop this new way of thinking. Be kind to yourself as you explore this new approach to eating, and recognize that it will take some time to give yourself permission to enjoy eating fully. If you encounter any food rules floating through your brain, remind yourself to challenge the food police and say no.
Getting Started with Intuitive Eating
There is no timeline you need to satisfy to follow intuitive eating. You are encouraged to work through these steps and make behavior changes at your own pace. There are additional resources you can review to further your knowledge about intuitive eating:
- The Intuitive Eating Book; written by the intuitive eating creators Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
- The Intuitive Eating Workbook; a book based on the ten principles of intuitive eating. It has exercises and prompts to help you apply intuitive eating to everyday life.
- Feeding Yourself With Love and Good Sense; written by Ellyn Satter. Ellyn is a dietitian who has advocated against following food rules throughout her career, and her nutritional approaches overlap with intuitive eating.
If you ever have questions about nutrition or intuitive eating, you can book a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.
A systematic review published in 2022 showed that people who follow intuitive eating practices have better attunement to hunger and satiety cues, which may help improve overall diet quality. More research is being done in this area to continue understanding how intuitive eating may benefit health.
You don’t need to follow food rules or schedules to “succeed” at intuitive eating because it is not a diet program. Instead, you are encouraged to explore your hunger and fullness cues and move forward at your own pace.
Changing Eating Behaviors with an RD
You can dive into intuitive eating alone or by working with a professional, such as a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian is a trained healthcare professional and expert in nutrition. Through individualized counseling, they can teach you how to make behavior changes that will support your health goals.
Nourish has a team of dietitians who are available for online visits. If you’re ready to take the next step in your health journey, consider booking an appointment.
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