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You’d think something labeled “intuitive” would be easy right? Thanks to diet culture, so many of us ignore our innate ability to listen to our bodies and trust ourselves around food. Don’t worry, while that skill may be hiding under a rock right now, there’s no rule stating you can’t dig it out, brush it off, and put it into practice. Keep reading to learn more about how to start intuitive eating. 

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitively eating means trusting in your body and your hunger signals to make food decisions that honor your physical, mental, and emotional health. This way of eating is intended to heal your relationship with food and free you from chronic dieting and the toxic diet mentality that comes with it. 

Can you imagine eating without feeling guilt or shame? What would it be like to ditch dieting for good and actually learn to enjoy food again? If you’re intrigued, learning to lean into your intuitive eater (she’s in there somewhere) might be exactly what you need to finally make peace with food. 

What Are the Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating?

The ten principles of intuitive eating provide a framework for implementing this revolutionary way of eating. Practice applying one at a time rather than trying to execute them all at once. 

#1. Reject the diet mentality

How many diets have you started only to realize it wasn’t sustainable? Sure, you might have lost some weight, but it quickly returned after quitting the diet, and it wasn’t for lack of willpower. You’re tired of feeling like you’ve failed and frustrated for giving into the lies that diet culture sells. For intuitive eating to work, it’s essential to ditch the diet mentality once and for all.

#2. Honor your hunger

Listen to your hunger cues, don’t ignore them! Dieting has taught you to skip meals, only eat at certain times, and drink water instead of eating when you’re hungry. Ignoring your hunger cues only activates your primal instinct to overeat. Learn to be attentive to your hunger signals, so you can nourish your body adequately with the energy it needs to feel and perform optimally.

#3. Make peace with food

It’s time to wave the white flag already. Surrender and set yourself free from being at war with food. Quit the food rules, and give yourself permission to eat unapologetically. No more “I can’t eat this”, or “I shouldn’t eat that”. Recognize that all foods are allowed and offer yourself unconditional permission to eat sans guilt and shame.

#4. Challenge the food police

You know that little voice in your head telling you you’re “bad” for eating so-called forbidden foods? If your answer is yes, you've already met the food police. This voice enforces strict food rules that keep you stuck in the diet mentality. Challenging this internal dialogue means constructing new, helpful thoughts that align with making peace with food. 

#5. Discover the satisfaction factor

Food is meant to be enjoyed, so stop punishing yourself for eating the foods you love. So much satisfaction can be found by eating what you want in a comfortable environment. Chew your food slowly, appreciate the aroma and flavors of each bite, and then stop when you feel comfortably full. 

#6. Feel your fullness

Have you ever eaten so much that you’re physically uncomfortable? Eating past the point of fullness is common, especially for those who eat fast (moms, I’m talking to you). Check-in with yourself throughout each meal to determine your level of fullness. Eating too little will only lead to cravings later on, and overeating will feel painful, so practice finding the sweet spot somewhere in between. 

#7. Cope with your emotions with kindness

We’ve all seen the movie scene where the girl gets dumped and ends up eating a pint of ice cream to cope with her emotions. Truth is, no matter how sad, angry, or stressed you feel, food isn’t the solution. While it may temporarily make you feel better, you’ll likely feel worse later. Experiment with other ways to cope with big emotions, like journaling, walking, or taking a warm bubble bath.

#8. Respect your body

Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. A smaller body does not equate to a healthier body, especially if it's achieved by obsessively counting calories or restricting carbohydrates. Stop trying to fit the mold of what society deems a healthy-looking body. Respect your body by adopting a healthy relationship with food that isn’t influenced by the desire to be thinner.

#9. Movement - feel the difference

Being physically active shouldn’t feel like a punishment. If you're dragging your feet to get your workout done, it may be time to consider a different kind of exercise. Move in ways that feel good to you. Like to dance? Dance! Want to swim? Swim! If you like to pick up heavy things and put them back down again, then by all means, do that!

#10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition

Gentle nutrition simply means choosing nutrient-dense foods that benefit your health and taste good. For instance, there’s nothing wrong with eating donuts, but pay attention to how they make you feel. Are you hungry soon after? Do you crash and feel tired later in the day? Choose foods that are both delicious and nutritious to feel energized and satisfied.

What Are the Benefits of Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating takes the focus away from weight loss, deprivation, and negative thoughts about food. This anti-diet approach may benefit you in the following ways:

  • You learn to respect your body the way that it is. This doesn’t mean your body won’t change as you eat intuitively. It means you’re no longer preoccupied with having a smaller body. You view your body as an instrument rather than an ornament and appreciate all it can do. 
  • You eat satisfying foods. No more choosing foods you don’t want because they are “safe” foods. Consider aroma, taste, visual appearance, and heartiness when choosing satisfying foods. 
  • You listen to your body to make food decisions that support your health. It’s a common fear that you’ll only eat copious amounts of energy-dense foods if you start intuitive eating, but if you are truly listening to your body, this won’t be the case. You’ll tap into your hunger/fullness cues and choose foods that give you energy and make you feel good. 
  • You no longer rely on diets to make food choices for you. You're in charge of what, when, and how much you eat. Building trust with your body will give you the confidence to make these choices without second-guessing yourself. 
  • You exercise kindness towards your emotions and body. Show yourself some compassion. Once you recognize your limiting beliefs and behaviors around food and body image, you can work towards replacing them with more helpful thoughts and habits. 
  • Preventing or healing harm caused by disordered eating or an eating disorder. Diet culture promotes disordered eating, which can lead to developing an eating disorder. Intuitive eating is an anti-diet approach that supports the mind and body. 

Are There Any Drawbacks?

Intuitive eating requires a complete paradigm shift to reject dieting. Unpacking decades worth of engrained food rules doesn’t happen overnight. For you to fully adopt this way of eating, you have to let go of any hopes that the next diet will be the one that sticks. Rejecting diet culture is hard, especially when it is all around you. Your friends and family will likely question your decision to ditch dieting, and some will try to talk you out of it. To sum it up, transitioning to intuitive eating can be challenging. It requires you to step outside of your comfort zone, ask yourself some hard questions, and truly accept and respect your body the way that it is. 

You may notice that you eat more energy-dense foods when you first start intuitive eating, which can feel uncomfortable. If you’ve been restricting, it’s a natural response to be drawn to foods that were previously “off limits”. This is a normal part of the process that subsides once you accept that all foods are allowed and become more in sync with how different foods make you feel. Variety, satisfaction, and gentle nutrition are all important when eating intuitively. 

How to Start Intuitive Eating

Making the shift from dieting to intuitive eating happens in stages. Most people begin this journey when they become painfully aware that every diet they’ve tried has backfired. They’re tired of obsessing over the number on the scale, thinking about food all day long, and basing their self-worth on their food choices. When people decide they are tired of living this way, they can begin the journey back to intuitive eating. 

Next, the learning begins! This stage involves a certain level of hyperawareness. You become aware of your hunger cues, learn to pause to assess fullness, challenge your inner food police, and start asking yourself what you actually want to eat. You may find yourself going through a mental checklist during meal times as you reacquaint yourself with your intuitive eater. 

After you’ve started shifting towards eating more intuitively, the hyperawareness dissolves, and tuning in with your body during mealtimes becomes a natural behavior change. Eventually, you can eat in a comfortable, unrestrained way that feels effortless. 

How Long Does it Take to Intuitively Eat?

There’s no set timeline for learning to eat intuitively. How long it takes depends largely on your current beliefs about food, dieting, and body image. It takes effort and practice to recognize your hunger/fullness cues, challenge your inner food police, and respect your body. You have to be willing to learn these new beliefs and behaviors. Those who have decided not to diet anymore will connect with the concept more rapidly than those still holding out hope for the next new diet. 

What Happens to Your Body When You Start Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is intended to shift the focus away from weight loss and body size so that you can focus more on enjoying food again and respecting your body as it is. You may find that your body falls into its genetically determined weight, the weight you are when eating normally/intuitively and engaging in your normal amount and type of physical activity. This body weight could be lower or higher than your starting weight. 

Can I Still Lose Weight By Eating Intuitively?

You could lose weight if your genetically determined weight is lower than the weight you were when you first began intuitive eating. However, starting this eating approach with the intent to lose weight is counterproductive. As long as you are determined to shrink in size, you will not be able to fully claim intuitive eating and the benefits that come with it. 

Who’s a Good Candidate for an Intuitive Eating Lifestyle?

If you’re sick and tired of dieting, angry at diet culture, and finally ready to quit the weight loss rat race, then intuitive eating is for you. You recognize that the desire to be thin leads to restrictive eating, followed by cravings and overeating. You’re ready to start something new and different.

On the flip side, if you’re fantasizing about the next diet and the results you hope will come from it, you are not a good candidate for intuitive eating. Remember, for intuitive eating to be put into practice, you must reject the diet mentality.

Getting Started with Intuitive Eating: An RD’s Top Tips & Tricks

  1. Practice the principles in small doses, not all at once.
  2. Be patient and practice self-compassion. 
  3. Educate yourself regarding the long-term outcomes of dieting. 
  4. Read the book “Intuitive Eating” written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
  5. Surround yourself with people who get it. A supportive environment will keep you feeling connected and determined.

Final Thoughts

Choosing to eat intuitively is a rebellious act in the diet-saturated society we live in today. It’s a radical shift from dieting that prioritizes making peace with food, respecting your body, and reclaiming the pleasures of eating. Although we are all born with the ability to eat intuitively, this innate skill is often neglected when overshadowed by food rules and restrictive eating. With a little practice, compassion, and patience, you can repair your relationship with food in a way that honors your physical and emotional well-being. If you're feeling exhausted, irritable, and defeated, it might be time to ditch dieting and start intuitive eating.

About the Author
Perry Nix, MS, RD, LD

Perry Nix is a Clinical Dietitian and Nutrition Writer. She has experience providing health education in public health, corporate wellness, and clinical settings. Her passion is breaking down complex nutrition information into bite-sized pieces that are easy to digest and apply.

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