Written By: Jenny Anttonen RD, LD
Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
“Intuitive eating” is an evidenced based process of 10 principles developed by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Intuitive eating, simply put, would just be called “eating” if there weren’t so many diets in the world (aka “diet culture”) that set people up for failure (Ketogenic diet or “Keto” diet, wellness trends, 30 day cleanses, detoxes, intermittent fasting, “clean” eating shake meal plans, calorie counters, dairy free, gluten free, raw food diet and whatever else I’m missing). Intuitive eating is defined as “a flexible style of eating in which you largely follow your internal sensations of hunger and satiety to gauge when to eat, what to eat and when to stop eating” (Tribole & Resch, 2017).
Intuitive eating incorporates your mind, body, emotion, preference, needs, relationships, time and energy to determine what/when/how much to eat. Everyone is born an intuitive eater, until the external factors come into play to interrupt that relationship. When a baby cries, ideally the baby is fed right when that cry is heard, this is starting body trust. The body learns to eat when hungry. Toddlers may eat an abundance of food one day, then barely eat a thing another day, which is concerning to parents at times, but may be a part of the child honoring their intuitive signals. External regulation may start at a young age, with a well-intended family of course, but rules like “clean your plate” and even food availability in childhood can carry into our adult relationships with food. Any form of rules and restrictions on eating teaches you that you cannot be trusted around food and to not listen to your body.
With that said, most people want rules, regulations, time constraints, specific reasons WHY to eat or not to eat food. Because that is what we are taught is “better for you”. But what may start as just “eating healthy” can turn into a full list of foods that are not allowed, not leaving room for flexibility, and another diet ensues because “just eating healthy” often turns into more restriction. But with the fact that 95% of all dieters regain the weight lost in 5 years (NEDA), and dieters are more likely to develop an eating disorder (NEDA), why are rules and restrictions still considered “healthy”?
Intuitive eating consists of 10 principles, which are not to be mistaken for rules. They guide people along their intuitive eating journey, and help people break down the overarching term of Intuitive eating, into a do-able path.
Reject the diet mentality
Honor your Hunger
Make Peace with Food
Challenge the Food Police
Feel Your Fullness
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Cope with your Emotions with Kindness
Respect Your Body
Movement- Feel the Difference
Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
Principle One: Reject the diet mentality
The diet mentality is every set of rules and guidelines given to you that can be as obvious as “How to Lose Xlbs in X Days” or as sneaky as “These Ten Foods to help You Get Your Body Ready for Summer” (side note, just having a body makes your body ready for summer!). In this principle, you learn and unravel the lies that diet culture has sold you to make you feel like you failed. But really, the diet failed you. Reject any small hope that another diet will help you if intuitive eating doesn’t work out and this will give you the freedom to begin to learn and understand your body through intuitive eating.
Principle Two: Honor Your Hunger
Hunger is the body’s natural cue that lets you know nourishment is needed. So much misinformation teaches us not to trust the one natural cue that is actually so powerful and useful! To continue on the path of intuitive eating, you must be biologically fed adequate energy (Carbohydrates, Fats, and Protein). With ravenous hunger, all good intentions with food go out the window. Learning about your hunger and honoring it is crucial to intuitive eating.
Principle Three: Make Peace with Food
This principle encompasses unconditional permission to eat. With the constant battle in your head of what to eat and not to eat, deprivation contributes to cravings and whether you act on them or not, you shouldn’t have to live that way! The feeling of calm around food comes with this principle, after lots of time, processing, and practice.
Principle Four: Challenge the Food Police
The “food police” are those thoughts that go on about “don’t eat that” “don’t go over” “do better today” “that food is bad”. In this principle of intuitive eating, which carries into all of the other principles, is practicing reframing the negative and judgmental thoughts. You will work toward curiosity when it comes to food, rather than judgement.
Principle Five: Feel Your Fullness
This step comes after working on honoring your hunger, because without getting a solid base of fueling your body, your fullness cues will be altered. For example, if you don’t honor your hunger all day, then eat a dinner and other items that make you uncomfortably full, you may think “ugh, I didn’t honor my fullness” when really, the hunger wasn’t honored all day, leading to you entering dinner ravenously and unable to judge comfortable fullness, because you didn’t get enough to eat all day! It is a learning process in this stage to discover what foods feel like for you, what gives temporary fullness and long lasting fullness, and when a good place to stop eating is for you. This also comes after making peace with food, because if you are eating a really delicious food you don’t normally let yourself eat with unconditional permission, you may end up eating more and to the point of uncomfortable fullness. But if you have made peace with that food, it is easier to stop eating when full.
Principle Six: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The goal of this principle is to learn and understand what foods satisfy you. This varies person to person! Also finding the times of day, environment, people you choose to eat with and other factors that make a meal more satisfying play a role in this principle. For example, this means adding condiments solely for pleasure, and rejecting the diet mentality that says to omit them. Studies show that people who eat foods they truly enjoy end up eating less too! Because if you think about it, if you eat a plain, flavorless meal, you are not satisfied and may end up going back to the kitchen for more of the plain, flavorless meal, or to get a snack (and another snack and another?) to make you fill the emptiness of the unsatisfactory meal. And if some people don’t do that, it may just mean they are eating plain, flavorless meals and missing out on one of our senses we are meant to enjoy! We do have taste buds for a reason!
Principle Seven: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
In this principle, the focus is on how to cope with your emotions in kind and respectful ways. If you tend to eat to distract, nurture, comfort, and resolve the feelings that are hard for you, know that you’re not alone. Food can find a place in your emotional relationship, but it hurts when food is the only way to deal with emotions. This principle can be pushed to the forefront of your intuitive eating journey and revisited as often as needed, because our emotional health plays such an important role in our relationship with food and body.
Principle Eight: Respect Your Body
The reason you probably found intuitive eating was likely some form of wanting to treat your body with respect. To have a cohesive mind-body connection, you must learn how to respect your body. It is hard to reject the diet mentality and challenge negative food talk if you do not believe your body deserves kindness and dignity. This portion of intuitive eating is often weaved into the entire process, because we do not eat and live in a simple world… instead in “diet culture”. This makes finding happiness in your current body much harder (thanks diet culture… not) and makes this principle that much more important.
Principle Nine: Movement- Feel the Difference
Our bodies love to move! And you might have a complex relationship with exercise if exercise has always been associated with changing your body. In this principle, you are challenged to ask yourself, “If I did not care what my body looked like, what form of movement would I do?”. This is a fun question! Is it roller skating, rock climbing, walking, surfing, swimming, gardening, playing kickball… the list goes on! You deserve to find movement that suits you and feels good. Despite what diet culture says, you don’t have to “look the part” to move your body, just connect to what feels right for you!
Principle Ten: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
As a registered dietitian (along with Renovate Your Plate RD’s Lauren Rieker and Megan Miller), I am able to incorporate the nutritional benefits of food into sessions. This usually occurs when the timing is right. Unfortunately that darn diet culture (again) has taken nutrition and made it another set of rules, leaving people confused and/or super committed to them. But there are ways to incorporate food items because of the connection to certain health conditions and the way you feel, without making a new set of rules, this is why this principle comes last. Our nutritional status is not clocked per every meal, every snack, every beverage. It is what is consumed over a lifetime that plays a role in health (as well as environment, genetics, stress, other health conditions), and always great to understand nutrition more!
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2017). The Intuitive Eating Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
NEDA. (2018). Statistics and Research on Eating Disorders. Retrieved from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders