Intuitive eating principles are intended to offer a wellness-boosting alternative to dieting. They’re designed to promote body positivity and encourage a healthy relationship with food. But what are the 10 principles of intuitive eating – and more importantly, do they work? Let’s investigate.January 11, 2023 2:45 pm January 11, 2023 2:45 pm
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a method that advocates listening to your body and enjoying your food. Simply put, you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. The intention is to develop a healthy attitude towards both food and body image.
Unlike traditional diets, intuitive eating doesn’t tell you what you can and cannot eat. There are no meal plans, recipes, calorie restrictions, or forbidden foods. In many ways, you could consider it to be an anti-diet. However, it still aims to improve your mental and physical health through its intuitive eating principles.
Dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch coined the term in their 1995 book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Diet Approach. Although they formulated the first intuitive eating definition, the roots of the concept are far deeper. In essence, it’s returning to a natural way of eating. The problem is that restrictive fad diets and our preoccupation with our appearance have disrupted our intuitions about food.
This approach asserts that by following the 10 intuitive eating principles, we can change that. By learning to trust our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues, we’re able to build a healthier relationship with food. As part of this, intuitive eating promotes enjoying the food that you love without feeling guilty.
At the same time, intuitive eating recognizes the risks of obesity. Therefore, it also advocates finding joy in exercise and avoiding using food as a way to deal with difficult emotions.
Overall, the intuitive eating principles are intended to help you break free of harmful diet cycles. Instead, you can use them to develop a positive and sustainable approach to healthy eating.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating
In their book, Tribole and Resch discuss 10 intuitive eating principles. These outline the main ideas behind the philosophy to give you a better understanding of how it works. Here’s an overview:
1. Reject the diet mentality
A diet mentality involves being fixated with food and constantly searching for a miracle diet to solve all your problems. The first of the intuitive eating principles is to free yourself from this harmful way of thinking.
It’s important to recognize that the promises of rapid, easy, and permanent weight loss these fad diets make are unrealistic. You’re not a failure because they haven’t worked for you. They promote an unhealthy mindset, and can be damaging for both your mental and physical health. Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach that aims to help you break out of this vicious cycle.
2. Honor your hunger
Many weight loss programs tell people to consider hunger as an enemy, or even a sign of success. It’s neither. Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that you need to eat. If you resist this urge and restrict your food intake, it can actually trigger a drive to overeat. When you’re excessively hungry, you’re more likely to make poor food choices.
The intuitive eating principles involve recognizing, respecting, and responding to your body’s natural hunger signals. This enables you to keep yourself adequately fed, with sufficient energy and nutrients for your body to function healthily. Plus, you’ll also feel satisfied psychologically.
3. Make peace with food
Hunger is not the enemy, and neither is food. A lot of diets heavily restrict the type of food you can eat, for example by cutting out carbs. However, telling yourself that you’re not allowed something may cause feelings of deprivation and cravings for that food. After all, we know it’s common to want the exact things we can’t have! This in turn might lead to bingeing, overeating, and subsequent guilt. Again, this is not healthy.
Under the intuitive eating principles, you give yourself permission to eat whatever you want. This means you’re more likely to feel satisfied with your meals, and not experience obsessive desires for ‘bad’ foods.
4. Challenge the food police
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that you need to confront anyone! The food police are actually inside your own head. They’re those voices telling you that you’re bad for eating a chocolate bar, or good for surviving on minimal calories. The ones that make you feel guilty for having a slice of cake at a friend’s birthday party. The voices that insist you’re a failure because a certain diet didn’t work for you.
With the intuitive eating principles, you first learn to recognize these negative thoughts for what they are. Then you challenge them. This helps you to develop a healthier relationship with food.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor
Eating should be enjoyable! A meal is an experience to savor, not something to rush. Yet unfortunately, in today’s busy world, many of us end up eating on the go or while doing other things. Not only does this take away some of the pleasure of eating, it also encourages you to eat a greater amount of food.(1)
Intuitive eating principles recommend that you make your meals an enjoyable experience. Take your time, focus on your food, and adopt a more mindful approach to eating. This will enable you to get more satisfaction from your meals, while simultaneously making it less likely that you’ll overeat.
6. Feel your fullness
Just as you need to pay attention to your hunger, the intuitive eating principles instruct you to respect your satiety. Your body will signal when it’s comfortably full, and this is your cue to stop eating.
Check in with yourself during and after meals to see how you feel and tune into your current hunger levels. This will help you to understand when you’re satisfied and avoid overeating.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
Lots of us don’t simply eat to satiate our hunger. Emotional eating is a strategy where we use food to try and deal with uncomfortable feelings, like sadness or boredom. While this might provide some short-term relief, it isn’t going to solve the problem. On top of which, it can result in overeating and make you feel worse in the long run.
Intuitive eating principles recommend a different approach. Find other, kinder ways of dealing with difficult emotions that arise. For example, you could try going for a walk in nature, meditating, journaling, or spending time with a close friend. Other options include taking up a creative new hobby, such as music or art, or speaking to a therapist.
8. Respect your body
Thanks to social media and other external influences, many people have unrealistic expectations of what their body should look like. This can lead to a lot of negative feelings and harsh internal criticism, plus a continual search for miracle diets.
Intuitive eating principles say that we first need to accept and appreciate our bodies as they are. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be healthier, but simply involves being more realistic about what you can achieve. This helps you to make more logical choices about what you eat, and can also improve your mental health.
9. Movement – feel the difference
Exercise is an important part of losing weight and staying healthy. However, when you approach it purely from the perspective of burning calories, it can feel like a chore. Instead, try to focus on how being active makes you feel.
Find activities that you genuinely love and look forward to. This could be anything from long walks to yoga sessions, gardening, or dance classes. Concentrating on the feelings of enjoyment, energy, or vitality that you get from these makes it easier to stay motivated. The benefits of exercise go far beyond weight loss.(2) As such, following the intuitive eating principles could be even more advantageous than you think!
10. Honor your health – gentle nutrition
You don’t need to eat perfectly all the time in order to be healthy. One slip-up doesn’t have to derail you, and one indulgent meal won’t make a difference in the long run. What matters is what you do overall.
Building a consistent and sustainable habit of healthy eating is key. This means not only choosing nutritious foods, but foods that you enjoy. The purpose of these intuitive eating principles is to encourage you to make positive food choices that leave you feeling good. That’s in terms of your physical health, your mental state, and your taste buds.
"By learning to trust our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues, we’re able to build a healthier relationship with food."
What are the benefits of intuitive eating?
The philosophy behind these 10 intuitive eating principles sounds positive, but what does the science say about its potential benefits? Research on this approach is still in its infancy, however the initial results are encouraging.
For example, studies suggest that intuitive eating can lead to improved psychological health. This includes better body image, lower levels of depression, and greater self-esteem.(3) The nature of the approach also makes it a more sustainable eating style compared to highly restrictive diets.
Regarding physical benefits, research has found a link between following intuitive eating principles and lower BMI (Body Mass Index).(4) Likewise, intuitive eating seems to correlate with improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, further investigation is required to clarify this.
Do intuitive eating principles help with weight loss?
So far, so good. But do these intuitive eating principles work if you’re trying to lose weight? Here’s where things get more complicated.
It’s important to remember that with intuitive eati