Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to food created in 1995 by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. After working with many clients, they came to the conclusion that dieting doesn’t work and only cultivates shame and disappointment. So, they embarked on their journey of developing the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating as an alternative process to the conventionally accepted ideas of dieting. Intuitive Eating is a framework designed to foster a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body. As of 2022, there are over 125 published studies illustrating the benefits of Intuitive Eating.
So how does it work?
Well, we have to start by looking inwards at what our bodies are telling us. Interoceptive awareness is the ability to recognize physical sensations that emerge from within our bodies in the present moment, such as perceiving the urge to go to the bathroom, drink water when we are thirsty, or acknowledge our hunger and satiety cues. When we are able to tune into our bodies and recognize when these sensations are occurring, we can meet our physiological needs. Unfortunately, diet culture has caused us to reject our body’s sensations and instead eat around a strict set of rules and diet plans, creating a disconnect between our mind and our body. We are naturally born intuitive eaters. As infants we rely on our instinctive hunger and fullness cues to signal when we are hungry and when we are full while breast or bottle feeding. Furthermore, studies have shown that children have an innate ability to self-regulate their energy needs and eat according to their bodies’ hunger and fullness cues. Intuitive Eating is simply a process that encourages us to trust our bodies again and honor its needs.
There are 10 core principles of Intuitive Eating, all developed with the intention of helping us heal our relationships with food and our bodies. These principles were not created to become the new food rules we obsess over, but are merely guidelines.
Principle #1: Reject the Diet Mentality
You are not the problem and you are not failing. The process of dieting itself sets us up for failure. It promises weight loss and establishes a restrictive and controlling relationship with food. Dieting is a vicious cycle. When we diet, we are restricting food and restriction triggers our brain to have strong cravings and therefore leads to overeating. This means that it is inevitable that dieters will gain back any lost weight – and sometimes more. Some may find short-term success with dieting, but it is not sustainable and is detrimental to our quality of life. Dieting also promotes weight stigma and fails to recognize that people come in all sizes and shapes – all equally as valuable and worthy.
Principle #2: Honor Your Hunger
Honoring your hunger is all about listening to your hunger cues and providing your body with an adequate amount of food. By feeding ourselves in response to feeling hunger, we can prevent the need to overeat later on, which can be triggered by intense hunger that has been building. Because our need for food is essential and non-negotiable, there are powerful biological mechanisms that are triggered when we do not fuel our bodies. Learning to respect and trust our biological signals to eat sets the stage to rebuild a healthy relationship with food.
Principle #3: Make Peace with Food
This next principle focuses on the importance of giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat. We know that when we restrict certain foods, we only end up craving them more intensely and in larger quantities than we would if we just allowed ourselves permission to enjoy them when we want them. At first, this may seem unlikely with previously forbidden foods. But think of it as listening to your new favorite song. You may start by wanting to listen to the song over and over, but after time, you will only listen when it comes on your playlist. It works the same with foods! After we get through the initial phase, we can incorporate all foods and permit ourselves to eat freely in response to our hunger and fullness cues and truly make peace with food.
Principle #4: Challenge the Food Police
The food police is our belief system around food based on diet culture that convinces us that foods are ascribed a value, making some good and others bad. It manifests as the voice in our heads that shouts commonly accepted rules regarding food only resulting in an abundance of unnecessary shame when we eat. Assigning a value to foods can be detrimental to our self-esteem because when we eat the foods we label as “bad” it causes feelings of disappointment and makes us feel like we aren’t good enough. Challenging our food rules isn’t easy, especially when they have accumulated over our lifetime, but we have to remind ourselves it is a product of diet culture and it is not serving us in any helpful way.
Principle #5: Feel Your Fullness
Feeling our fullness starts by honoring our hunger and allowing us to tune into our bodies’ needs. Once we are eating we need to check in with our bodies for signals that we are no longer hungry and honor that feeling. This principle also focuses on challenging any long-held beliefs that we need to clean our plates. Finishing our plates regardless of our hunger and fullness cues can disconnect us from our internal signals and cause us to feel overly full.
Principle #6: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Pleasure and satisfaction while eating are often overlooked but are essential to enjoying food again. For many, eating has resulted in feelings of shame and wrongdoing due our internal food police and external pressures around health and body size. However, by creating an enjoyable experience for ourselves by eating the foods we enjoy, in a pleasant environment, and with whom we want, we can appreciate the pleasure and satisfaction in eating.
Principle #7: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
It is natural to look to food to cope with our emotions and it’s okay if it happens sometimes. However, we need to recognize that food won’t solve our problems and it is a temporary solution. We all experience a range of emotions throughout our lives and coping with difficult emotions means we must acknowledge that we have needs and give ourselves permission to meet them. This can look different for everyone, but a few examples include getting rest, engaging in movement, calling a friend, playing with a dog, volunteering, and so much more.
Principle #8: Respect Your Body
Respecting your body means that we must accept the genes we were given. Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes and are influenced by so much more than just our diets. Learning to appreciate our bodies and all of the amazing things they do for us each day – like basic functioning and keeping us alive – will help us to have gratitude and respect for our bodies. Another aspect of this principle focuses on reframing the language we use when we talk about our bodies and no longer comparing them to others’.
Principle #9: Exercise – Feel the Difference
The truth about movement is that if we don’t enjoy it and the way it makes our bodies feel, it is unsustainable. When we participate in intense exercise because we feel like we have to, we lose out on the enjoyment that movement can bring. Discovering a form of movement that feels good to your body makes a significant difference. Once you find pleasure in movement, you no longer exercise because you feel obligated to, but because you actually enjoy how it makes you feel.
Principle #10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
There’s no such thing as a perfect diet. Remember that the foods you eat do not reflect on your value as a human being. It is essential to make food choices that feel good to you and your health, while still satisfying your tastebuds. All we can do is tune into our bodies and recognize which foods help us to feel energized and provide satisfaction.
Intuitive Eating is all about making peace with food and honoring your mind-body connection.
We can’t learn it overnight, but by taking small conscious steps every day, we can learn to reject diet culture and engage in Intuitive Eating. We know that diet culture has been a profound catalyst in the development of many eating disorders. Intuitive Eating can be used to help those struggling with an eating disorder reconnect with their bodies and learn to love food again.
If you feel defeated by diet culture and find it challenging to listen to your body’s cues, it may be beneficial to work with a Registered Dietitian or Intuitive Eating Counselor.
Professionals are able to help guide you to make changes and support you on your journey to food peace. Nourished with Kindness is a team of Registered Dietitians who specialize in eating disorders and Intuitive Eating. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, dieting, or body image, the Nourished with Kindness team would love to work with you to help heal your relationship with food and your body. If you are interested in getting started, visit our Make an Appointment page on our website, follow the steps, and expect to hear back within the next business day!