In this article:
- What is intuitive eating?
- The core principles of intuitive eating
- Intuitive eating myths & misconceptions
- Resources to get started on your intuitive eating journey
The term "intuitive eating" and its ten principles were created by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The concept of intuitive eating is simple, but detangling it from the ideals created by diet culture is not. Diet culture usually focuses on restricting your food choices and often values weight loss over physical and mental health. It's responsible for the countless "lose weight fast" diet fads and plays a huge factor in our cultural views of body weight. Evelyn and Elyse witnessed the number of eating disorders steadily rise and decided to dig deeper into the cause. Their patients often visited them, exhausted from their strict diets, and disappointed with their results. After their diets ended or they resumed normal eating habits, they often gained the weight back any confidence they had in their body image shrunk. Evelyn and Elyse realized that on the most basic level, they were overriding their body's natural healthy eating cues in order to achieve weight loss results.
Intuitive eating is not a foreign concept; it aims to remove the diet mentality from individual eating habits to help people reshape their relationship with food for the long term. Intuitive eating is an anti-diet mentality that centers your food choices around how you feel, not an arbitrary BMI (Body Mass Index). It abandons the guilt, restriction, and fear-mongering of the diet mentality and instead embraces food as something that loves and nourishes your body. In order to leave behind the diet culture completely and put your faith in your body, Evelyn and Elyse created these 10 principles of intuitive eating:
9. Movement—Feel the Difference: Just like getting in touch with your body's hunger/fullness cues, you should get to know how your body feels when you move. Exercise doesn't have to be strictly weight-loss or result-driven. Instead, you can enjoy the feeling of moving in your body and enjoy how it makes you feel afterward. Remember to choose an activity that you enjoy and this will help you to remain active in the long term.
10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition: Intuitive eating exists at the intersection of eating what tastes good, feels good, and does good by your body. It might take some nutritional supplements or creativity in the kitchen, but healthy eating through gentle nutrition helps to achieve nourishment and satisfaction in your food choices.
Some of the principles of intuitive eating may have surprised you. Living among the diet culture might have trained you to toss red flags at some of the ideas behind intuitive eating. The good thing is that intuitive eating was created in the same world as diet culture, so it understands people's inhibitions or skepticism. But before you give in or write intuitive eating as too good to be true, let's dig into the common myths and misconceptions surrounding intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is a non-diet; it was not created to manage weight. In fact, many certified intuitive eating counselors tell their patients that their weight will either stay the same, rise, or lower - but there's no way to tell which one! That can be challenging to accept, but an intentional pursuit of weight loss/gain misses the mark of intuitive eating entirely. It is more about self-care and freedom from the pressures of diet culture than a number on a scale.
It can be hard to place trust in ourselves as if we don't have our own best interests in mind. Many people think that opening their world to a variety of foods will leave them filling up on junk food and desserts in the name of "satisfaction" and "eating when they’re hungry". It's understandable! We get random cravings for hostess sweets and salty snacks now and again. But research has shown that even though the option is theoretically there, intuitive eaters who embrace all 10 principles rarely only eat junk food. Research shows that more exposure to a greater variety of foods actually makes you find food less desirable because it is less of a novelty. Nothing is forbidden as is the case when following many calorie-restricted diets. Additionally, recognizing that your cravings often stem from a lack of nutrition (like craving pasta for the carbs) can help you to fulfill the craving without shame for eating foods deemed "unhealthy".
Intuitive eaters aren't a skilled and rare subset of human beings; everyone has the ability to adopt intuitive eating, but every journey will not be the same. This is mainly because everyone's journey starts in different places and every body needs different things. The diet mentality can become ingrained in us from a very young age, and it shapes us all throughout our lives. Intuitive eating can be especially difficult for people who have struggled with eating disorders or have been dieting for a large portion of their lives. Intuitive eating is not a frivolous indulgence, it takes serious work, but it's a skill anyone can learn, especially with the help of a certified intuitive eating counselor.
It's true that your body's cues are what helps you to navigate through intuitive eating, but it requires much more. Without shedding the guilt and shame of diet culture, it becomes extremely difficult to fully follow our body's cues because you aren't giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. Intuitive eating is the practice of mindfulness of your body's feelings of hunger of fullness and the emotional and cultural perceptions of food that we carry with us.
Intuitive eating is not performance-based. There are no milestones you have to achieve in order to be "good" or missteps you can take to make you "bad" at intuitive eating. What intuitive eating sets out to do is gradually reshape a healthy relationship with food. Since everyone's journey is different and the nutrition, developing an "all or nothing" mindset simply just doesn't work.
A lot of people don't "believe" in intermittent fasting because they don't think it's rooted in science and throws nutrition out the window. In reality, many scientific studies have been done on the positive effects of intermittent fasting. It's a practice that has been around since 1995 with more and more RDNs adopting it every day. Research shows that intuitive eating encourages healthier psychological attitudes and lower BMIs. It's also linked to healthier perceptions of body image, higher self-esteem, and lower levels of anxiety. Many RN's use intuitive eating as a tool to help people recover from disordered eating. Some nutritionists also recommend supplements for patients with specific dietary needs (such as vegans) that want to fill a specific nutritional gap while still following intuitive eating.
There's a reason why intuitive eating has been gaining traction in many aspects of health care since its creation. If you're interested in learning more, there are plenty of self-care and wellness podcasts, intuitive eating guidebooks, and registered dieticians who can help you along every step of the process. There's a lot of misunderstanding and mystery surrounding intuitive eating but it's really quite natural and simple - at its core, the message is to love and feed your body without shame.
After living and growing up in a culture deeply rooted in diet fad and rigid body image standards, intuitive eating can seem radical. From hitting the books to tuning in to registered dieticians who have been through it all, there are plenty of intuitive eating resources to help you get started: