Intuitive eating is a movement toward food and body peace
Research shows that most diets fail in the long term and can predict future weight gain, food preoccupation, weight cycling, and disordered eating behaviors. As researchers and health professionals search for more sustainable approaches to health, intuitive eating has emerged as a potential alternative to traditional restrictive diets.
Intuitive eating is a tangible practice of eating for self-care and well-being, but it’s also a philosophy that says we are the experts of our own bodies — not our diet culture. While many people think of it as “eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full”, intuitive eating is a complex process of finding freedom from external food rules and developing a healthier body image.
Though it’s gained attention in recent years, intuitive eating is a decades-old practice rooted in science and research. It was born from the evidence of failed diets but created for anyone looking to make peace with food, not only those with a history of dieting.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to food and health that shifts the conversation away from weight and weight loss and toward health-promoting behaviors and overall well-being. Instead of following external rules about food, intuitive eaters trust their body’s innate ability to make food choices that nourish their physical and psychological health. This means eating in alignment with hunger and fullness cues while also making room for pleasure and flexibility.
Even though intuitive eating has a lot to do with the physical sensations that arise within the body during the eating experience, the practice extends beyond food. Ten principles make up the intuitive eating framework, all of which serve to guide people toward developing a healthier relationship with food and body image. They are synthesized below.
- Reject the diet mentality. The diet mentality is that voice in our heads that says we shouldn’t eat that slice of birthday cake even though we want it. And if we do eat it, the diet mentality makes us feel like we’ve been bad. Removing these judgments is the first and foremost step to making peace with food.
- Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. Listen to the body telling you it’s hungry. Try to avoid excess hunger, as this can lead us to overeat. Eat slowly and check in with your fullness level throughout the meal. Stop before you feel uncomfortably full but know that it’s okay if you do overeat. It’s also okay to eat when you’re not hungry. Many factors can disrupt our cues, so stay compassionate and flexible.
- Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. When we deprive ourselves of the foods we love, we develop a stronger desire for them. This can lead to overeating and binging. By allowing all foods, we are more likely to cultivate a sense of calm and balance around them instead of fear.
- Respect your body. This is not easy because we face enormous societal pressures to achieve a standard of beauty that is difficult to achieve naturally. But it will be hard to eat intuitively if we are in pursuit of an unrealistic ideal. Start by broadening your perception of beauty and setting realistic expectations for yourself. Remind yourself daily that your worth is not dependent on your body.
- Exercise for health and energy, not punishment. Movement of any kind is beneficial for our health, regardless of weight loss. Focus on movement that will make you feel energized and happy, not depleted.
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition. Intuitive eating is not “anti-healthy”. It asks that you focus first on developing a less-judgmental relationship with food, and then on giving yourself nutrition. Rather than strive for perfection, choose foods that you like and make you feel good.
These principles are not to be confused for a set of rules. They were created to help people during the difficult process of recovering their autonomy around food so that it becomes a source of nourishment instead of fear, anxiety, or guilt. This process will look different for everyone, as will the length of time it takes to build these skills. It can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year or beyond.
What intuitive eating is not
Intuitive eating tends to provoke a lot of questions, opinions, and misconceptions. While it is not possible to address all of the concerns and misinformation here, it is worth noting that intuitive eating is not a tool for intentional weight loss. Any marketing as such is inconsistent with its principles. Additionally, intuitive eating does not advocate eating whatever you want, whenever you want. It asks that we choose foods that nourish and satisfy us, and nutrition is an important consideration.
To learn more, you can talk to a Health Loft dietitian in Chicago, IL (virtually via our telehealth platform or in person) by calling us at (312) 374-5399 or by scheduling an appointment online. For more tips and fun facts to also check out our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for more articles on nutrition, physical therapy, and exercise!
Submitted by Emily Guzman
Edited by Alexander Franz
Reviewed by Morgan Murdock, RD
10 principles of intuitive eating. (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10, 9. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
Barraclough, E. L., Hay-Smith, E. J. C., Boucher, S. E., Tylka, T. L., & Horwath, C. C. (2019). Learning to eat intuitively: A qualitative exploration of the experience of mid-age women. Health Psychology Open, 6(1) doi:10.1177/2055102918824064
Barte, J. C. M., ter Bogt, N. C. W., Bogers, R. P., Teixeira, P. J., Blissmer, B., Mori, T. A., & Bemelmans, W. J. E. (2010). Maintenance of weight loss after lifestyle interventions for overweight and obesity, a systematic review. Obesity Reviews: An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 11(12), 899-906. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2010.00740.x
Bégin, C., Carbonneau, E., Gagnon-Girouard, M., Mongeau, L., Paquette, M., Turcotte, M., & Provencher, V. (2019). Eating-related and psychological outcomes of health at every size intervention in health and social services centers across the province of québec. American Journal of Health Promotion: AJHP, 33(2), 248-258. doi:10.1177/0890117118786326
Dugmore, J. A., Winten, C. G., Niven, H. E., & Bauer, J. (2020). Effects of weight-neutral approaches compared with traditional weight-loss approaches on behavioral, physical, and psychological health outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews, 78(1), 39-55. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuz020
Lowe, M. R., Doshi, S. D., Katterman, S. N., & Feig, E. H. (2013a). Dieting and restrained eating as prospective predictors of weight gain. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 577. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00577
Neumark-Sztainer, D., Wall, M., Guo, J., Story, M., Haines, J., & Eisenberg, M. (2006). Obesity, disordered eating, and eating disorders in a longitudinal study of adolescents: How do dieters fare 5 years later? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106(4), 559-568. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2006.01.003
Tylka, T. L., Annunziato, R. A., Burgard, D., Daníelsdóttir, S., Shuman, E., Davis, C., & Calogero, R. M. (2014). The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: Evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss. Journal of Obesity, 2014, 983495. doi:10.1155/2014/983495