I used to be a chronic dieter.
Even though I never would have called what I was doing “dieting,” my so-called “lifestyle” involved cutting out more and more food groups, meticulously tracking every calorie I ate, and weighing myself frequently to check my “progress.”
Sound familiar? For most people, this kind of behavior is the norm. There’s a reason the diet industry is worth a whopping $66.3 billion.
Because of the norms created by the diet industry, I was extremely puzzled by these intuitive eating principles when I first stumbled upon them. After years of restricting my food intake, here was this approach to eating that was all about shedding the food rules I’d gradually picked up over the course of my life.
And, to be honest, that idea freaked me out.
Learning the truth about intuitive eating helped me to see the severity of my own attachment to controlling what I ate. The intuitive eating principles opened my eyes to a new way of approaching food, and most importantly, they helped me achieve freedom from the hamster wheel of dieting.
*Disclaimer: As an Amazon Affiliate, I get a commission on products purchased through links in this post. I am not a medical professional, and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is an approach developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch that integrates instinct, emotions, and rational thought. It’s a weight-inclusive, evidence-based model that emphasizes regaining attunement with your body’s biological and psychological signals.
In other words, intuitive eating is all about ditching the diet mentality and learning to trust your body’s innate appetite- and weight-regulating abilities.
Intuitive eating is not the hunger-and-fullness diet. It acknowledges the many reasons we may turn to food apart from hunger. Intuitive eaters give themselves unconditional permission to eat what they want without feeling guilty about it.
If this sounds too good to be true – think about it: babies come out of the womb instinctively knowing when they’re hungry. They cry to let their mothers know, and they stop eating when they’re full. Children have the innate ability to balance out their food intake throughout the week; they may eat more on some days and less on others, but generally, they eat just the right amount to satiate themselves and meet their nutritional requirements.
Somewhere along the way, this innate ability is interrupted. We’re told we can’t have dessert unless our plates are clean. We’re told certain foods are good and others are bad, and we start to feel guilty when we choose the bad foods over the good ones. Little by little, our inner intuitive eater disappears.
The good news is, that child still exists within all of us! It’s never too late to start listening to your body. The 10 intuitive eating principles make it simple.
The 10 Intuitive Eating Principles
The intuitive eating philosophy is made up of 10 principles. I’m just providing a brief description of each principle here, but you can find full details in the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, which I highly recommend!
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
When you stop and think about it, where has dieting gotten you so far? Has it made you happier or more fulfilled? What has it done to your mind and body?
Scientific research shows that 95% of diets fail, meaning people who go on diets almost always end up gaining whatever weight they lost back (and sometimes, even more). If any other health protocol or medication had a 95% failure rate, doctors would refuse to prescribe it. But somehow, we’re still prescribing diets for weight loss.
Reject the notion that diets are good and that you will someday find the perfect diet to make all of your weight loss dreams come true.
In practice, rejecting the diet mentality means putting an end to the consumption of content that promotes dieting and disguises it as good. Unfollow triggering social media accounts that promote dieting or that make you feel bad about yourself.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Hunger is your body’s way of communicating with you. Keeping your body well-fed is essential for you to be able to do practically anything else.
Denying or suppressing your hunger signals inevitably leads to overeating or bingeing. Our primal instincts take over when we let ourselves get to the point of being famished. Tuning into your hunger throughout the day is a good way to prevent this.
Your hunger is the first biological signal you can begin to build trust with. From there, it becomes easier to build trust with yourself around food.
**Years of chronic dieting made it extremely difficult for me to feel my hunger signals at all – I had become so used to ignoring them. Because of this, honoring my hunger was a difficult part of intuitive eating for me to master. Eventually, after a while of making sure I was eating enough food consistently, the hunger signals came back!
3. Make Peace with Food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Stop internally labeling foods “good” or “bad,” as doing so will give you Forbidden Fruit mentality toward the “bad” stuff, and you’ll begin to attribute moral weight to every eating experience.
Telling yourself you shouldn’t eat a particular food can increase feelings of deprivation which can eventually build into uncontrollable cravings. When you finally give in to those cravings, it’s highly likely you’ll overeat since you don’t know when you’ll get to eat that food again. Overeating this food you’ve labeled as “bad” can lead to feelings of overwhelming guilt, starting the cycle all over again.
4. Challenge the Food Police
The food police are voices in your head that monitor how well you’re adhering to the many unreasonable rules diet culture has created. They tell you you’re good for eating a minimal amount of calories at lunch, and they tell you you’re bad for eating a cookie.
Internally screaming “NO” at these voices when they come up will show the food police who’s really in charge. While they’re deep-rooted, refusing to listen to them is essential to reviving your inner intuitive eater.
Out of all of the intuitive eating principles, this one probably takes the most persistence, since most of has have picked up countless food rules throughout our lives. But it’s also one of the most crucial steps to making peace with your body.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The experience of eating is not just for nourishment. One of the best gifts we’ve been given as humans is to experience pleasure from eating, and this is a good thing!
Diet culture causes us to flag pleasurable eating experiences as “bad,” but the pleasure and contentment derived from eating something you really want are powerful. It helps you to feel satisfied and maintain a sense of control and peace around food.
Eating for satisfaction helps unlock your ability to tell when you’ve actually had enough.
This can be really exciting! When was the last time you ate something that you really wanted without feeling an ounce of guilt? Intuitive eating turns that idea into a daily reality.
6. Feel Your Fullness
Just like honoring your hunger, it’s important to get well-acquainted with the opposite end of the spectrum. This might involve some trial and error.
As you eat, pay attention to your body’s signals. What does it feel like when you’re approaching fullness? What does it feel like to be uncomfortably full?
7. Cope with Your Emotions without Using Food
Emotions are an inescapable part of living. Anger, fear, resentment, loneliness – all of these emotions have root causes, and food only serves as a bandaid to temporarily cover them up.
Usually, using food to deal with negative emotions ends up making us feel worse in the long run. Find alternative ways to cope with your emotions, and work on addressing the root causes.
8. Respect Your Body
All bodies are good bodies.
Accept your genetic make-up for what it is, and learn to love and appreciate your body. Someone who wears a size 10 shoe wouldn’t expect to squeeze into a size 6. Similarly, there’s no point in expecting your body to do the same.
Learning to love my body exactly how it is was the first step in revolutionizing my relationship with myself on a deeper level.
9. Movement – Feel the Difference
Oh yeah, these intuitive eating principles apply to your attitude toward exercise too.
Forget about exercising for the purpose of transforming your physique to look like that person you saw on Instagram. Move for the way it makes you feel.
Shift your focus away from how you look or how many calories you’re burning and instead focus on how you feel during a workout. Allow yourself to be surprised – the new value you find in exercise might make you more motivated than ever to do it.
10. Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition
It’s possible to eat for satisfaction and to also maintain good nutrition.
This is all about progress over perfection and recognizing that one snack, one meal, or one day will not make or break your health. Consistency over time is the key to staying nourished and healthy.
There’s a reason this is the last of the intuitive eating principles – since dieters tend to be fixated on nutrition, it’s important to go through the process of shedding the food rules before reincorporating nutrition in a gentle, balanced way.
There is no such thing as a perfect eater or even a perfect intuitive eater. Eating is much more of an art than it is a science, but listening to your body is the best approach for creating positive relationships with food and with yourself.
Intuitive eating puts an end to the food craziness created by diet culture.
Learning about and implementing intuitive eating principles in my own life set me on a path to freedom, and I hope it helps you similarly.