Intuitive Eating {The Basics}

Happy New Year! I hope you had a nice celebration, whatever that looks like for you, and you are ready for 2018. I think it is going to be a good one.

I thought we could spend a little time looking at the basics of intuitive eating (IE) today.  Just in case you are new to this space or interested in learning a bit more.  In past posts, I explained what intuitive eating is in a general way, and why it is a part of my practice as a non-diet dietitian.  I thought we could break IE down by principal today, in case this is your first time hearing about it or you are intrigued, but not overly familiar.

There are 10 principles of intuitive eating, which is great as it makes it feel organized for those of us who live mostly in the left side our brains, but it also allows us to jump around and start where we feel most comfortable.  It is journey, not a checklist.  You typically can’t accomplish one principle and move on to the next, they are woven together and very synergistic.

Intuitive eating is a way to improve your relationship with food and your body by letting your own body cues guide you.  Meaning you can lean to trust your body’s needs because you are truly the expert.  We were all born intuitive eaters, so it is just getting back to the basics.  Let’s get started and break it down.


The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating 

Principle 1: Reject the diet mentality.  This is a vital piece of the puzzle, and honestly it helps if you tie this principle into every other principle.  Rejecting the diet mentality means you are fed up with the vicious cycle of following food rules, plans or programs that are designed to fail.   You are tired of spending all of your money or mind-space, just to be left feeling guilt and upset about your own “willpower.”   You have hit diet rock-bottom and can’t image going on another diet.  You work to actively reject the pursuit of weight loss and the thin-ideal.  Basically, any thought or plan that makes you think you are in need of being “fixed” or changed to truly be happy/accepted, those are thoughts/actions steeped in the diet mentality.  With that said, I recently heard the idea of at least “recognizing” the diet mentality, which is a great start and may act as a bridge.  

NOTE: a diet in this case is any plan, program, protocol, etc., where someone else dictates how much, when or what you are going to eat or not eat. It may also include rules about foods to avoid or limit and amounts of foods you need to measure.  It can also include rules about when and how to exercise.  It doesn’t have to be called a diet – Whole 30, Weight Watchers, “Healthy” Meal Plans – are some masks typically worn.  Those are still very much diets.

Principle 2: Honor your hunger.  You respect that your body is telling you what it needs.  When you feel hunger you will make a point to feed yourself.  People can’t always feel physical hunger, and working with a dietitian who is trained in intuitive eating and mindful based practice can help with this.  There are many ways to feel hunger, we just haven’t always been listening.  Honoring your hunger can help prevent feelings of ravenous hunger or rebound eating when we overly restrict our intake or ignore hunger due to a hectic lifestyle.  Hunger is a biological sensation, like having to go to the bathroom, you wouldn’t question your need to go to the bathroom, why then do we question our hunger cues?

Principle 3: Make Peace with Food.  Food may have been viewed as the enemy in the past, you either had a “good” day of eating or a “bad” day of eating, this principle means we let go of that black and white thinking.  We accept all foods and work toward making them all emotionally equal.  Once the permission to eat all foods is there, the guilt can start to fade away.  We don’t feel the need to overeat due to fear that this food won’t be available again, so we can check that post-eating guilt at the door.

Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police.  That voice in your head that tells you if you eat carbs you will get fat.  Or those people in your life that make comments about what you eat.  Nope, we challenge all those people and thoughts, we form armor and focus on our nutrition allies.  We works to form more compassionate thoughts.  We debunk what is a belief and what is really true about foods and live and let live.

Principle 5: Respect your Fullness.  During any meal or snack there is a moment when you feel physically done eating, it is helpful to learn to respect that feeling.  This is difficult for a dieter to do, the usual thought is “I need to eat all of this cake because I have to get on track tomorrow.”  This principle ties into making peace with food, because if I have made peace with the fact that all foods are typically available, I am less likely to eat to the point when I feel uncomfortable.

Principle 6: Discover the Satisfaction factor.  This is huge.  Imagine, for the most part, eating foods that really satisfy you.  Getting to choose what you really like to eat and what really sounds good, not what you think you “should” have.  Often when you do this, it is easier to respect your fullness.  Have you ever chosen a meal when eating out because you were trying to be “good” but really wanted that yummy looking other dish…. then you are left searching for food later in the evening because you just feel like you “need something”.  That could be an example of lack of satisfaction.

Principle 7: Honor your feelings without using food.  Emotions are all around us.  It is helpful to learn when you turn to food to numb out or to escape or distract yourself from feeling your feelings.  It is not uncommon or wrong to eat when you feel sad, anxious, happy or stressed, but it is important to notice if it is your only coping mechanism and if you want to have more balance.  Sitting with emotions can be hard, but learning to cope with them without food can be a powerful stepping stone.

Principle 8: Respect your body.  Your body is with you all the time.  It deserves to be comfortable, even if that means buying more comfortable fitting clothes.  It deserves to be fed and not ignored. Self-care is a way of respecting your body and using kind words when talking about your body is self-care.

Principle 9: Exercise – feel the difference. You are done focusing on how many calories you burned or participating in exercise as a way to punish your body.  You find movement that makes you feel great and that you enjoy.  You are intuitive with your movement and can take it or leave it, knowing that it too will always be there tomorrow.  No more “that didn’t count, I’m not dripping in sweat or feeling like I could die”.  Or, I workout x-amount of minutes, now I get to eat what I usually don’t “allow” myself.  That is using conditions around food and movement, not intuitive.

Principle 10: Honor your health. Honoring health with gentle nutrition. No surprise this is the last principle as it is usually worked on once your relationship with food has healed.  Intuitive eating is not about never eating nourishing foods again, it isn’t about living a life where you only eat one kind of convenience food and never have variety.  Because if it was, and you look inward, your body would be pretty bored and you might not feel your best.  Intuitive eating is about finding foods that make you feel great and not having to overthink it, no mental mind games, you want broccoli great.  If it feels really bad in your stomach to eat a bowl of broccoli, also good information.  It is about choosing foods, having the experiences and getting to decide based on how your body feels, if you would like to have that experience again.  Variety and balance is possible, and when we are ready we can make some choices about how to make sure there is a nod to nutrition at most of our meals— for improved digestion, staying power and other reasons of health.  Nutritional balance often falls into place one the rest of intuitive eating and its principles are well formed.


There is so much research that has shown the benefits of intuitive eating.  I am so exited to be a part of a community that accepts all bodies and really helps people heal their relationship with food.  If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please reach out to me.  I highly recommend reading the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, if you feel like you’d like to learn more.

As always thanks for reading, happy 2018 & let’s make this year the one where we open our minds up to more, and leave the stress of dieting behind.

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