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What is Intuitive Eating?

AUTHOR: Julia Chandler, Dietetic Intern

We are all born intuitive eaters. As babies, we cried when we were hungry and turned away when we were full. As toddlers, we played with our food and ate it slowly, taking what we needed and maybe leaving the rest on our plate.

For many of us, things began to change as we got a little older and absorbed messages about dieting and rules about food. As adults, many of us may find ourselves preoccupied with food and worried about our bodies.

Intuitive Eating is all about returning. We can return to that toddler-like nonchalance of eating – the freedom from and unadulterated enjoyment of food. 

Here are the ten principles of Intuitive Eating that may help you begin down that path and return to Intuitive Eating.

Reject the Diet Mentality

Dieting messages are all around us, in advertising, on social media, and even on food packages. An important step in the Intuitive Eating process is to recognize that diets don’t work. Within three years, 95% of dieters regain the weight they lost, sometimes gaining back more than they lost.1 Additionally, the cycle of losing weight and gaining it back can be damaging to the metabolism and to overall and mental health.2,3 Throw out the diet books and unfollow the diet and exercise accounts – they are promising “benefits” that almost 100% of people will not experience long-term.

Honor Your Hunger

            Your body is so smart and works hard to keep you alive and thriving. Hunger cues are the body communicating to you – your tummy might rumble, you might feel sluggish or distracted, these are signs that your body needs to be replenished with energy and carbohydrates. Responding to those cues in a timely matter creates trust with your body. Delaying until you are ravenously hungry may result in the body’s primal drive to overeat.

Make Peace With Food

            Food rules and restrictions create a sense of deprivation. If you tell yourself you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” have a certain food, you are going to crave it even more. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat anything at any time will allow you to tune in to what your body really wants, not just what it is craving because of deprivation.

Challenge the Food Police

            It is time to lock up the food police. The food police is the voice that shouts diet messages and judgments at you about yourself and food. Reject the voice that tells you that you are “good” for not eating something and “bad” for eating something else. What you eat does not have the power to dictate your worth and value as an individual.

Respect Your Fullness

Just like your body will work to communicate that it needs more food and energy, it will also communicate when it is no longer hungry. Respect these signs that your body is comfortably full.

Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Without ravenous hunger, food rules, and the food police, your mind is a much quieter place to decide what would be truly satisfying for you to eat. Eating is meant to be a pleasurable experience, so as best as you can, make it a priority to enjoy the food you are eating. You will find when you prioritize pleasure and satisfaction in your eating, you will feel more content and at peace respecting your fullness.

Honor Your Feelings with (or without) Using Food

When you are feeling stressed, bored, lonely, angry, tune into these experiences and ask yourself what you really need. Is it a phone call with a friend, some time in nature, a nap? It may be that sharing a meal or eating a dessert will help you feel better, and that is perfectly okay. The most important thing is that you honor your feelings and be open to tending to them in a wide variety of ways.

Respect Your Body

Size diversity is a real and beautiful thing. Despite what diet culture and media try to tell us, there is no one type of body that is the “ideal” shape or size. Everyone’s individual bodies work to maintain a weight and shape that is biologically ideal, unique, and healthy for them. 2,4 Rejecting the diet mentality means beginning to accept, respect, and even enjoy the unique body that you’re in, and saying “NO” to the lies that tell you you need to change it.

Exercise – Feel the Difference

How does it feel to move your body? Do you feel refreshed after a brisk walk or a dip in the pool? Do you sleep better after a day full of movement? Forget about exercise regimes and calorie burning. Prioritize how movement makes you feel when choosing how you want to move your body, when, and for how long.

Honor Your Health

            Health is about more than just what you eat, it is also about your mental and emotional wellbeing, your sleep habits, and stress management. You do NOT have to eat someone else’s idea of a “perfect diet” in order to be healthy. Honoring your health through gentle nutrition means prioritizing foods that are pleasing to your tastebuds and also make you feel energized and well.

Intuitive Eating is an invitation to freedom and healing in your relationship with food and your body. Intuitive Eating is a slow process of unlearning everything diet culture has taught.

Nutrition Instincts can provide you with support in a variety of different ways as you begin or continue this journey of returning to Intuitive Eating.

Learn more about our Intuitive Eating services at Nutrition Instincts. We’re currently enrolling for our Intuitive Eating Group. Starts September 12th!

AUTHOR: Julia Chandler, Dietetic Intern

Julia is a dietetic intern who is committed to helping others navigate the storms of diet culture, poor self-image, and restrictive eating. She believes that everyone deserves a relationship with food and with their bodies that are marked by freedom, intuition, and enjoyment.

  1.  Mann T, et al. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62(3), 220-233.
  2. Bacon L. (2008). Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Dallas, TX: Benbella, pp. 47-49.
  3. 15. Karelis AD, et al. (2008). Metabolically healthy but obese women: effect of an energy-restricted diet. Diabetologia, 51:1752-1754.
  4. Institute of Medicine (US) Subcommittee on Military Weight Management. Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 3, Factors That Influence Body Weight. Available from:
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