What is intuitive eating?

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Intuitive eating is an eating practice that involves listening to your body’s hunger cues and eating accordingly. It’s essentially the opposite of a diet or restrictive eating since you are free to eat what you want, when you want, as long as you are in tune with your body and its signals. When you engage in intuitive eating, you are the expert on your body and what it needs.

Last updated on 
December 3, 2021
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How to eat intuitively

The foundation of intuitive eating is that you should eat when you feel hungry and stop when you are satiated. Some people may find it easy to eat this way—in fact, many individuals have always eaten this way without necessarily giving it a name, whereas others may find it more difficult. And understandably so—many societal customs have taught people to ignore their body’s cues, also known as body wisdom.

Customs that undermine body wisdom may include: (1)

  • Being told to eat everything on your plate as a child
  • Being forced to eat because it’s dinner time
  • Being constantly exposed to diets, such as the ketogenic diet, Atkins, and Weight Watchers
  • Being exposed to advertisements encouraging people to eat even if they aren’t hungry 
  • Living in a society that pathologizes hunger 
  • Diet culture, which is founded on the idea that something outside of the “self” should dictate what and when to eat (the opposite of intuitive eating) 
  • Weight stigma, which drives individuals toward restrictive eating practices 

The goal of intuitive eating is to re-establish body wisdom so that you eat when your body tells you to, without restricting what types of food you eat (unless you have a specific medical issue). 

The four main features of intuitive eating include:

  • Permission to eat whenever you are hungry and eat whatever food you want
  • Eating due to physical hunger instead of to manage negative emotions
  • Listening to internal hunger cues to determine when and how much to consume
  • Valuing your energy and health over pressures caused by weight stigma to defy natural body size and shape

It’s okay if intuitive eating doesn’t come naturally to you at first. You may have to take time unlearning harmful beliefs you’ve internalized over the years, so be gentle with yourself, and try to approach the process of healing from a painful relationship with food as a process The best way to approach intuitive eating is to value the evolution of the process of learning to listen to your body.

Benefits of intuitive eating

Research on the benefits of intuitive eating is still in its early stages and has mostly focused on women. Much more research needs to be conducted to examine the advantages of intuitive eating for men, trans people, and non-binary people.

The benefits of intuitive eating can include: (1,2,3)

  • Healthier psychological attitudes
  • Weight maintenance
  • Better mental health
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved body image
  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Reduced likelihood of disordered eating behaviors.

Also, research has revealed that once people are taught how to practice intuitive eating, they are more likely to stick with this practice long-term than they would a diet. (2)

10 principles of intuitive eating

The term “intuitive eating” was created in 1995 by experts, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, who published a book by the same name. They have outlined 10 key principles of intuitive eating, which can help individuals understand their philosophy and implement this practice into their daily lives.

The 10 principles of intuitive eating include: (4)

  • Reject the diet mentality: Understand the flaws and harmful attitudes that diets promote and give up the belief that diets are the solution to your problems.
  • Honor your hunger: Listen to your body and feed it with adequate carbohydrates, fats, and protein when you are feeling hungry—this can help you learn to trust yourself. If you don’t eat when you’re hungry, this could trigger you to overeat.
  • Make peace with food: Give yourself permission to eat whatever food you desire. If you restrict certain food groups, that can lead to intense cravings and subsequent binging behaviors.
  • Challenge the food police: Reject the good/bad binary related to eating healthy vs. “indulgently.” No types of foods are inherently good or bad, and monitoring your food intake is related to diet culture, not intuitive eating.
  • Discover the satisfaction factor: Reconnect with the pleasure you derive from eating foods you enjoy. 
  • Feel your fullness: While eating, listen to the signals your body is sending you to indicate that you are no longer hungry. Learn to detect when you are feeling satisfied, without feeling stuffed. 
  • Cope with your emotions with kindness: Dieting and food restriction can make you feel out of control and can drive you to cope with your emotions by eating. When you are experiencing distressing emotions, find compassionate ways to comfort yourself and resolve your problems. 
  • Respect your body: Practice radical self-acceptance and acknowledge that you were given the body you have and that it deserves respect and dignity. 
  • Movement—feel the difference: Abandon compensatory or compulsive exercise and engage in mindful movements. Shift your thinking from exercising to lose weight and instead, view movement for the joy it gives you. 
  • Honor your health—gentle nutrition: Eat foods that promote health, but don’t deny yourself delicious foods that you enjoy. You don’t have to eat perfectly in order to be healthy—one meal or one day won’t ruin your nutrition. 

At the end of the day, intuitive eating promotes a healthy relationship to both food and your body image. As the expert of your own body, you and only you know what’s best for it. 

Eating disorders and intuitive eating

If you are experiencing eating disorders, it is not a simple process to become an intuitive eater.  It is through addressing the core issues driving the eating disorder and overcoming intense fears about food, eating and body size, that one may gradually become an intuitive eater.

Oftentimes intuitive eating requires a period of time where the treatment provider may need to outline the structure and manage patient meals. Working with your treatment provider may help your body be restored to a point of being capable of intuitive eating, as well as helping your mind overcome the fears and anxiety around eating food in peace. 

Within Health offers compassionate virtual care programs for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Together you can work with our clinical care team to establish healthy eating practices, and work towards being an intuitive eater. Learn more about our meal plans, and meal management by contacting our team today.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Resources

  1. Van Dyke, N., & Drinkwater, E. (2014). Review Article Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: Literature review. Public Health Nutrition, 17(8), 1757-1766. doi:10.1017/S1368980013002139
  2. Schaefer, J.T. and Magnuson, A.B. (2014). A Review of Interventions that Promote Eating by Internal Cues. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 114(5): 734-760.
  3. Bruce, L.J. and Ricciardelli, L.A. (2016). A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite 96: 454-472.
  4. The Original Eating Pros. (n.d.). 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.

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