We did an overview of why diets don’t work and a little taste of what intuitive eating is. Let’s take a deeper dive into what it’s all about. Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to health and wellness – specifically food and nutrition. Instead of counting calories, intuitive eating encourages us to use our body’s wisdom to determine what, when, and how much to eat. At it’s core, intuitive eating is about trusting your body and responding to its cues.
For so many of us, that skill has been compromised by the many convoluted rules of diet culture. This has overridden our connection to our body’s wisdom. Intuitive eating is something that we all started off with as babies. We are born with the inherent ability to know when we’re hungry and when we’re full.
Diet culture tells us that certain foods are “good” while others are “bad”. It tells us to cut out the “bad” foods and workout extra when we eat something we “shouldn’t”. It idealizes certain body types and ways of eating that don’t work for every individual. And the crazy thing is that dieting doesn’t work!
While you may feel out of touch with this ability, your body’s wisdom is still there and it’s possible to have it guide you as an intuitive eater once more.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating has 10 principles that make up the overall framework. This isn’t a step-by-step system where you start at number one and work your way through to the end. People come to intuitive eating starting at different places. Each principle can be used to help reconnect you to your body’s wisdom in a flexible and meaningful way.
Principle 1: Reject the diet mentality
Diet culture dishes out rules on how to eat and exercise that undermines your innate wisdom. Diet culture will also have you believe that you’re the reason why “you failed” the diet. The truth is the diet failed you. You might feel angry with diet culture for leading you astray from yourself. Leaving dieting behind can be scary, uncomfortable, and can take some time.
Principle 2: Honor your hunger
This principle is about making sure your body is adequately nourished. When your body sends you a hunger cue and you respond by eating, that’s honoring your hunger. It can be challenging to trust your hunger cues when diet mentality shows up and questions it. Trusting your body and providing it consistent nourishment can help restore this sense of trust.
Principle 3: Make peace with food
Making peace with food is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat any food. No more foods that you “can’t have” or “shouldn’t eat” (unless you have an allergy or intolerance to something, of course). A common fear that people have is that they won’t be able to stop eating that forbidden food. It’s actually this deprivation of that food that leads to the uncontrollable binging of it. Normalizing these foods allows you to figure out what foods you truly enjoy and what you actually want to eat.
Principle 4: Challenge the food police
The food police enforces the rules of diet culture. It’s the inner critic voice in your head that tells you what foods are “good”, “bad”, “healthy”, or “junk”. It also judges you for how much and when you eat (“I shouldn’t be hungry, I just ate lunch an hour ago”). This voice ensures those external rules continue to drive how you eat and exercise. Calling those thoughts out as diet mentality and reframing them can help you make your own food choices.
Principle 5: Discover the satisfaction factor
Food is a beautiful thing – it brings pleasure and joy. This principle is about finding that pleasure and satisfaction in food. Eating the food you actually want helps you feel more satisfied. For example, have you ever wanted to eat ice cream, but chose something “healthier” instead? Chances are that alternative didn’t satisfy your want for ice cream and you continued to eat other things even though you weren’t physically hungry anymore. Satisfaction is a key part of eating and reminds us there can be joy in eating.
Principle 6: Feel your fullness
Part of this principle is about finding what comfortable fullness feels like for you. It’s a bit of an experiment. Some days you might feel hungrier than others and eating the same amount of food won’t make you feel full. Understanding your hunger and what foods are actually going to satisfy that hunger are important precursors to understanding fullness.
Principle 7: Cope with your emotions with kindness
For some, food has been the antidote for stressful, scary, sad, anxious moments that come up. And that’s okay! There isn’t anything wrong with emotional eating. Food can be soothing and comforting. Sometimes it makes you feel better and sometimes it won’t. Intuitive eating encourages us to examine if food is our only coping mechanism. If it is, then it might be worthwhile expanding your options by working with an intuitive eating dietitian and/or a therapist. Regardless of how many coping tools you currently have, remember to be compassionate towards yourself.
Principle 8: Respect your body
Respecting your body is feeling worthy as you are right now. This doesn’t mean you have to love your body or feel super positive about it. For some, working towards body neutrality, appreciation, and respect is more achievable. Cultivating respect for your body means speaking to yourself in a more kind and compassionate way and responding to its signals (hunger, satisfaction, fullness, the need for rest or movement).
Principle 9: Movement – feel the difference
Diet culture makes us think we “have to” exercise and it only “counts” if you break a sweat. It shifts the focus of exercise to arbitrary physical goals based on the “thin ideal” rather than prioritizing movement that makes your body feel good. This can cause you to feel like a failure when you’re not “seeing the results”. Movement can be fun and can help you feel more energized, reduce stress, and improve sleep. Intuitive eating asks us to engage in exercise that is mindful of what brings us joy and feels good for our bodies (including rest days).
Principle 10: Honor your health with gentle nutrition
Gentle nutrition encourages us to make food choices that not only taste good, but also honor your health and make you feel good. This principle comes last because it’s difficult to incorporate nutrition when diet mentality is still entrenched in your beliefs. We have to unlearn those dieting rules, reframe the food police, and relearn how to tune into our inner wisdom. It’s important to work through some of the other principles before getting to gentle nutrition. Some people find this principle to be challenging because they associate certain foods (mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains) with diet culture, and that’s totally understandable! It can take time to reclaim those foods from diet culture and get excited about them again. It is possible though!
These are the 10 principles of intuitive eating! We’ll be doing deeper dives into all of the principles – so stay tuned for that. It’s important to note that this is a framework and not a diet or set of rules that need to be followed to a T. Some of these principles will resonate with you more than others. Intuitive eating is about flexibility, attunement, and self-compassion.
Benefits of Intuitive Eating
There are many physical, mental, and emotional benefits to intuitive eating that have been studied extensively (in addition to the body of research that shows the ineffectiveness of dieting). These include:
- Higher self-esteem, well-being, and optimism
- More body appreciation and acceptance
- Higher inner awareness
- More pleasure from eating
- High levels of HDL and lower triglycerides and blood pressure
- Less emotional eating, binge eating, disordered eating
- Higher life satisfaction
The food freedom that comes with using an intuitive eating approach is calming and opens up so much space to focus on other things that are important to you.