Intuitive Eating is the personal process of listening and responding to the direct messages of your body in order to get your physical and psychological needs met. It is based on a non-diet framework and evidence-based approach that was developed in 1995 by Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The overall premise is learning to meet your body's needs by listening to your internal cues, rather than following external rules.
We are all born intuitive eaters. Babies readily communicate when they are hungry and when they’ve had enough to eat. However, as soon as we are old enough to understand and communicate, we begin taking in other messages about eating from diet culture. Over time, instead of turning inward, we begin turning outward to get our needs met. Diet culture teaches you that your body can’t be trusted, and that you need to rely on external factors – like calorie tracking, measuring food amounts and meal plans – to determine what, when and how you can eat.
All of this can make eating feel burdensome, restrictive and joyless. But you can learn to trust your body again through eating intuitively. Your body has innate wisdom to share, and deserves to be trusted: intuitive eating can teach you how to listen. Below are the key principles of Intuitive Eating to help you begin reconnecting with your body.
- Reject the Diet Mentality: Once we learn and understand what diet culture is, we can see that it’s deeply intertwined in all aspects of our lives. Opting out of diet culture is an essential component of beginning to trust your body again. If you are feeling tempted to start another diet, ask yourself, for how long, and at what cost? Diet culture can leave you feeling like a failure, when really, it’s the culture of dieting that has failed you. Simply put, weight loss is not sustainable for most people. And despite causing harm to our physical, psychological and emotional health, diets don’t ever come with a warning label.
- Honour Your Hunger: We are born with the innate ability to identify and respond to our hunger cues in order to get our needs met. Dieting and restriction encourages us to ignore what our body is communicating, sometimes to the point that we lose the ability to identify hunger. Intuitive eating can help you become more in tune with and honour your hunger cues again. Hunger shows up in many different ways, including things like low energy, headaches, feeling irritable, or a grumbling tummy.
- Make Peace with Food: This principle is all about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. This is an essential step in healing your relationship with food. Food has no moral value – there are no good or bad foods. Allowing yourself to eat all foods can feel scary after years of food rules, and we often hear, “But if I allow myself, I will never stop”. Making peace with food is the only path that allows you to reach a place of food neutrality where you know that you can have something if you want it. Your worth is separate from your food choices.
- Challenge the Food Police: The food police could be a friend, family member or your own inner critic. Get critical of where your beliefs around food have come from and how they are affecting you. Are foods still being labelled as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”? Replace judgment and punishment around your food choices with curiosity and compassion. Set boundaries with family and friends if they are playing the role of the food police. What’s on your plate isn’t up for discussion.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Seeking satisfaction from food is inherent as humans, but diet culture interferes with our ability to connect with this aspect of the eating experience. Reclaim satisfaction in your food relationship by replacing the idea “I should eat” with the question “What sounds good?”. Do you really know what foods you enjoy when your mind isn’t filled with food rules? Seeking satisfaction from food allows us to embrace a really important part of the human experience – joy, pleasure and connection.
- Feel Your Fullness: It’s helpful to acknowledge that seeking satisfaction from food is connected to honouring our fullness. You deserve to feel full and satisfied after eating a meal or snack. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat gives you access to a wide variety of foods that provide satisfaction. Feeling your fullness allows you to honour your needs. Sometimes this might look like going back to the kitchen for more, and sometimes this looks like leaving food on your plate. Reducing the influence of diet culture on your thoughts and behaviors around food can be challenging. Be gentle and patient with yourself in the process, and know a healthier relationship with food is possible.