Intuitive Eating is a holistic approach to health and well being that focuses on letting go of external factors (diet rules, counting calories, specific portions) and instead reconnects you back to your internal wisdom (hunger, fullness, sense of satisfaction) and what feels good for YOU while also considering gentle nutrition. Here we share an overview of what intuitive eating is, who might benefit, and address common misconceptions.
The concept of intuitive eating has become popular over the last couple years, with #intuitiveeating popping up all over social media. What many people don’t know is that the concept of Intuitive Eating was actually created in 1995, by two Registered Dietitians, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole.
While it’s exciting to see so many people join the conversation on intuitive eating, there can be a lot of misinformation on the topic. Here, our intuitive eating dietitian, Ally, breaks down what exactly intuitive eating is (including the 10 principles) and who might benefit from practicing intuitive eating. As well, she offers some serious myth busting on the subject!
So let’s dive in.
- What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is an evidence based, self-care eating framework that was created by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Read more about that here.
- What are the 10 principles of intuitive eating?
The founders of intuitive eating created 10 guiding principles to help heal your relationship with food that cover everything from rejecting the diet mentality, to reconnecting with hunger and fullness, moving your body in a feel good way, and so much more.. Read the 10 principles here.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is an evidence based, self-care eating framework, consisting of 10 principles, created by Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This framework is rooted in weight neutrality, meaning that it focuses on the value of health promoting behaviours, improving body image, and fostering a healthier relationship with food, regardless of weight or shape.
Using the 10 principles, this approach teaches you to meet your physical and psychological needs through tuning inwards and reflecting on your hunger and fullness, your satisfaction, and how food makes you feel. We often describe intuitive eating as a non-diet paradigm, as we know that dieting, food rules, and shaming beliefs about food and our bodies can disconnect us from what truly feels good and what is aligned with our core values.
What’s interesting is that we were all born intuitive eaters. If we think about how babies and toddlers approach eating, they eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. It’s normal for toddlers to eat a lot one day and a little the next day, or go through food jags (ie. periods of time where they will only eat one food item, or a very small group of food items, meal after meal.)
Studies show that when children are allowed to trust their instincts, they end up eating enough calories as well as a diverse range of nutrients to support healthy growth and development. It’s not until we get older and start to internalize diet culture messaging, guilt around eating, food rules, and societal pressures, that we start to lose touch with our intuition.
Are Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating the same thing?
While intuitive eating and mindful eating are often used interchangeably, there are some differences. Mindfulness can be defined as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique’ (source: oxford languages).
Simply put, mindfulness is awareness without judgement.
So how does mindfulness and eating come together? Mindful eating combines immersing yourself in the eating experience using your 5 senses—what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel—and building non judgemental awareness of your needs around food. Bringing curiosity to why we’re eating, what we’re feeling, and what we really need at this moment can be a helpful way to foster behaviour change from a place of exploration, as opposed to guilt-based rules.
Intuitive eating integrates similar principles of mindful eating, but extends further to include joyful movement, rejecting the diet mentality, using nutrition information without judgement, and respecting your body (regardless of how you feel about its weight or shape.)
Who is Intuitive Eating for?
Intuitive eating is truly for anyone who is ready to ditch the dieting mentality, make peace with food, and come home to their own body’s wisdom.
Our clients who are ready to embrace intuitive eating often have seen firsthand that diets don’t work long term and actually lead to psychological and physiological harm. These clients are ready to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food and trust their bodies again. Intuitive eating practices can also be implemented when you are managing chronic diseases, multiple food allergies, or pursuing health and wellness goals. It may be helpful to work with a dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating for additional guidance.
If you are in active recovery from an eating disorder, intuitive eating may not be accessible until you are further along into the renourishment phase. Speak with your treatment team if you are interested in how intuitive eating may fit into your recovery plan.
What are the benefits of Intuitive Eating?
There are now over 150 studies outlining the physical and psychological benefits of intuitive eating. These benefits include
- Improved biochemical parameters: increased HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) and decreased triglycerides
- Lower rates of disordered eating and eating disorders
- Improved body image
- Higher self-esteem
- More satisfaction with life, and optimism and well-being
…just to name a few!
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
The founders of intuitive eating came up with 10 guiding principles to help individuals embrace this framework. Note that these are principles, meaning that they are not meant to be taken as another rigid set of diet rules. Depending on where you are in your journey, different principles may pertain to you more than others, and you have full permission to start where you’re at! You don’t have to go in any particular order.
Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
You’re not alone if you’ve ever tried or wanted to lose weight. Most of our clients who see us for the first time have this exact same wish, often explaining that they want to pursue dieting for health, permanent weight loss, or both. And this makes total sense: we live in a diet culture that equates thinness to health and moral virtue, while promoting weight loss as a means of attaining higher status. (More on the definition of diet culture here.) Not to mention that weight loss and dieting is a 72 billion dollar industry!! No wonder it’s so hard to challenge this mindset.
But let’s unpack this further.
Dieting for permanent weight loss:
We know from the research that dieting is actually the biggest predictor of weight gain long term, with studies showing that 95% of people who diet (regardless of whether they stayed on the diet or not) regain the weight back within 2-5 years. Additionally, up to ⅔ of these people regain even more weight than when they started. I often refer to the weight loss industry as one of the biggest Gas Lighters out there, as it’s the only industry that can sell you a faulty product and make you feel like it’s your fault it didn’t work.
Dieting for health:
There’s a large body of research to show that dieting and weight cycling (ie. the constant losing and gaining of weight) are some of the largest confounding factors associated with increased disease risk and all cause mortality. Moreover, dieting and weight cycling has also been connected to perpetuating weight stigma and fat-based discrimination, which we know negatively impact our health and well being.
It’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy and lies that the weight loss industry has told you, but it might be helpful to reflect on your own experience with dieting. Ask yourself, did the diet really work long term? Or are you just remembering the temporary weight loss? And what has dieting cost you—socially, financially, mentally?
Principle 2: Honour your Hunger
We are born with a natural, intuitive ability to recognize our hunger and fullness cues. However, years of restricting, food rules, or looking to outside sources to guide our eating can cause us to become out of touch with these internal signals. This principle focuses on eating enough and often enough so that our blood sugars are stable and that our body is able to function at its best.
This will also help stave off the ‘caveman brain’ that we know all too well when primal hunger kicks in, where we’re eating in a way that feels distressing and chaotic. If you feel out of touch with your hunger cues, learning how to use the hunger fullness scale can be a helpful way to get reacquainted with some of your more subtle cues of hunger.
Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
Allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods is how you can truly feel at peace with food. What does unconditional permission mean? It means removing morally charged labels from food and no longer demonizing certain foods while elevating others. Why is this important? We often describe how restriction fuels intense cravings and overeating by imagining a bow and arrow. The more you restrict (whether physically restricting by avoiding those foods or mentally restricting by labeling these foods as ‘bad’ and feeling guilty after), the harder you pull on the bow, until it eventually shoots with such force to the otherside of bingeing.
Basic human psychology shows us that people want what they can’t have. We also see in our practice how this type of all-or-nothing thinking (e.g. good vs bad, or healthy vs unhealthy) drives a phenomenon known as the ‘last supper mentality,’ where you tend to overeat forbidden foods in one sitting because you think this is the last time you’ll ever eat this food again.
If this resonates with you, try to bring in neutrality when talking about food. For example, you can talk about how crunchy, sweet, or salty something is, or how this food triggers your heartburn. Notice that these descriptions are rooted in facts, not judgement. You could also approach food with curiosity, noting that your last meal was a bit carb-based: What could you do at your next meal to balance it out?
Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police
The food police are the voices in your head that berate you for being ‘bad’ for breaking a food rule and praise you for being ‘good’ by sticking to your diet plan. These beliefs may have been programmed into your subconscious at a young age, often modeled to us by family and friends. The first step to challenging these voices is self awareness. Once we are able to see the food rules and beliefs that no longer serve us, we are able to let them go and reframe these negative thoughts with self-compassion.
Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Finding pleasure and satisfaction with food and eating in a way that feels good is an effective way to get connected to pleasant fullness. When we only eat things we should eat or that are allowed on our plans, we’re often left wanting something else or scavenging our pantry for something more.
By eating foods that are pleasurable and bringing mindfulness into the eating experience, we’re less likely to overeat or eat in a way that feels chaotic. If you’ve been dieting for years and you struggle to know what foods you even like, that’s completely normal, and this principle focuses on uncovering your preferences to discover the pleasure in food again.
Principle 6: Feel Your Fullness
Discovering the satisfaction factor will help you to understand the point where you are pleasantly full and satisfied, but not lethargic or in physical discomfort. Additionally, by honouring your hunger throughout the day, your body will learn to trust that nutrition is abundant and available, which can help to let go of the scarcity mindset that often accompanies overeating. Feeling your fullness encourages you to bring mindfulness into the eating experience, asking yourself how the food tastes and where you might be on the hunger scale.
Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
As mentioned before, discovering why you might be eating can be an important part to healing your relationship with food. We discuss why you might be eating more in depth here: Why am I eating? Understanding the 3 types of hunger. If you realize that you may be eating for an emotional reason, know that it’s ok and normal to cope with food at times, however, it may be helpful to acknowledge that turning to food may not be the most effective coping strategy.
Often, eating for emotional hunger may provide comfort in the short term, while only making you feel worse in the long run as it doesn’t address the root cause of the emotion. This principle focuses on bringing awareness to what you might be feeling and what you might need in the moment. Within our MFFG coaching program, we teach our clients how to build out a nurture menu so that they’re prepared for moments like these!
Principle 8: Respect Your Body
This principle centers around accepting your body and your genetic blueprint. Body diversity exists, despite the media only portraying bodies that make up 1% of the population! This Poodle Science video portrays body diversity wonderfully and calls attention to the fact that we would never expect a mastiff to look like a poodle, so why do we put these expectations on ourselves?
Body positivity isn’t a prerequisite to treating your body with dignity and respect. We often encourage our clients to start with body neutrality (that is, the idea that you can exist and be worthy of respect without thinking about your body at all (positive or negative)). If you are looking for more support on accepting your body, this Behind the Before and After: Intuitive Eating and Body Image Documentary may be a good place to start.
Principle 9: Movement – Feel the Difference
Who here has taken an all-or-nothing approach to exercise? I know I have in the past. This often happens when we exercise solely for the purpose of weight loss. Our relationship with exercise can either swing to one side where we’re overexercising and using it to compensate for our ‘eating mistakes’ or it can swing to the total opposite side where we view exercise as an unpleasant chore and find ourselves unmotivated to move our bodies. This principle encourages you to instead focus on how movement makes you feel and to find joyful ways to move your body so that it’s sustained with ease!
Principle 10: Honour your Health with Gentle Nutrition
As Registered Dietitians, we get excited about how nutrition can nourish our cells, boost our physical and mental health, and help manage and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. But we also know that honouring our health and making food feel good needs to come from a place of self care, not from guilt/shame, in order to be sustainable and enjoyed. This principle is all about focusing on our overall eating patterns and how food makes us feel, while acknowledging that one snack, one meal, or one day of eating won’t make or break our health!
Common Misconceptions about Intuitive Eating
Intuitive Fasting is Intuitive Eating:
Not today, Gwyneth. Although the Intuitive Fasting Book markets itself as inherently anti-diet, this plan is just another mash up of trendy fad diets.
Intuitive Eating is the Hunger and Fullness diet:
Another way that diet culture has co-opted Intuitive Eating is by turning it into another diet: the hunger and fullness diet. While Intuitive Eating incorporates practices to feel your hunger and fullness, it is not meant to be another thing to fixate on in order to police yourself in efforts to restrict your intake.
Intuitive Eating will make you lose weight:
On your intuitive eating journey, your body size may go up, go down, or stay the same, and no one can predict which will happen. Through healing your relationship with food and embracing intuitive eating, your weight will settle into the range it’s genetically meant to be in.
Intuitive Eating just means you can eat ‘junk food’ all day long:
A common misunderstanding of Intuitive Eating is that it glorifies eating ‘junk foods’ (or ‘fun foods,’ as we like to call them) without any concern for health or how it actually makes you feel. While there is sometimes a ‘honeymoon’ phase where you might eat a lot of previously forbidden food, this is an integral part of the process of food habituation (ie. the process of continually exposing yourself to food until it is no longer ‘special’). Intuitive eating involves healing your relationship with food, learning how to respect and take care of yourself, while pulling in how all foods can fit and contribute to your health and well being.
Now over to you…
What other Intuitive Eating myths have you heard? Any other questions on Intuitive Eating that we missed? Share with us in the comments below! And if you found this post helpful, pass it along to a friend or family member who could benefit from it too!
Looking for more support?
If you’re looking for guidance on where to start with intuitive eating and a supportive community to help you let go of f
Looking for more support?
Looking to kick off the new year feeling free and confident in your relationship with food and every day eating? If you’re looking for a guidance and a supportive community to help you let go of the food rules and build confidence in your eating, we’d love to support you inside The Make Food Feel Good Program! Applications are officially open for January 2022! Apply here now!!