What is “Intuitive Eating” and Why You Should Try It

intuitive eating

How many different diets have you tried? Were you successful at keeping the weight off? Chances are you lost weight when you decided to adhere to a restricted diet of one type or another, but later gained it back.

No More diets

Everywhere I go I hear people talking about all the different diets they try…there’s keto, low glycemic index, high protein, low fat, fasting, liquid diets, and more. Some of these diets are healthy, while others are not as they do not provide important nutrients.  What they all have in common is they are not easy to sustain long-term. Then there are all the companies that offer prepared foods to make weight loss easier for you. What happens when it’s time for you to start to prepare your own food? These companies try to help with the transition, but I’ve observed the weight lost initially with these programs seldom stays off.

To say you are “going on a diet” means that at some point you will “go off of it”.

Studies consistently show that losing weight is difficult unless you adopt healthier lifestyle habits that you can sustain long-term. To say you are “going on a diet” means that at some point you will “go off it”.

I found in my first career as a Registered Dietitian that when people follow formal diets, they start to look at food as “good” or “bad”. This attitude makes it very difficult to enjoy eating, especially in a restaurant. Eating a “bad” food can ruin an otherwise lovely day, and people often view themselves as failures. How can we make peace with food?

How about letting go of the idea that you need to lose weight to look a certain way and focus on foods that work best for your personal physical and mental health? And if you listen to your body, it will tell you when you’re hungry or satisfied so you know when to eat and when to stop. Experts call this process “Intuitive Eating”.

How to Eat Intuitively

Intuitive Eating is an evidenced-based, mind-body health approach created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, that encourages people to honor their health by listening and responding to their bodies to meet their needs, both physical and mental.

Below are some basic recommendations to get started.

Forget diets

Adhering to strict rules is not likely to help you keep off weight in the long run. Many people look for a new diet once they regain the weight and start all over again. Yo-yo dieting is unhealthy and generally slows down metabolism making future weight loss more difficult.

Choose foods you enjoy, but eat in moderation

Depriving yourself of certain foods can lead to binge eating. After all, it’s human nature to want what you can’t have, isn’t it?  Have that piece of cake if you want it, and don’t beat yourself up about it. One piece of cake is not going to cause weight gain. The pounds pile on when eaten often or in large quantities. 

Avoid eating for comfort

Many people turn to food for comfort when feeling anxious, angry or lonely. Others eat when bored. It’s true that eating can temporarily make you feel better or help pass the time, but doesn’t fix the underlying issues causing these feelings. Try to find other ways to deal with your feelings. Perhaps you can talk things out with a trusted friend or therapist.

Eat when you’re hungry

Learn to listen to your body and recognize when you’re hungry. When you ignore hunger pangs, you may find yourself binging later on unhealthy foods. It’s better to trust your body to let you know when you need to eat and make healthy food choices when possible. Planning ahead so you have healthy options available to you is very helpful. 

Learn to recognize when you’re full

It’s common to sit down to a meal and eat without thinking, stopping when the food in front of us is gone. Do you really need that much food?  Intuitive eating encourages people take time to really enjoy their food and pay attention to their body. It’s a good idea to pause frequently during a meal to connect with your stomach; when you have a feeling of fullness, it’s time to stop eating.

The Bottom Line

Restrictive diets don’t work as they are generally not sustainable long-term. Often their rigidity sets people up for failure. In contrast, Intuitive Eating is not a diet or meal plan.  There are no calories to count and does not categorize food as “good” or “bad”. In fact, nothing is completely off limits; moderation is the key.

Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, co-author of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, further explains on the website, IntuitiveEating.org,

There is no pass or fail, therefore there is no “blowing it”, rather it’s a journey of self-discovery and connection to the needs of your mind and body.

FAQs About Intuitive Eating

Below are some commonly asked questions we hear about intuitive eating, along with their answers.

How does intuitive eating work?

Intuitive eating involves tuning into your body’s natural signals of hunger and fullness, eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re satisfied, and choosing foods that make you feel good physically and mentally.

Does intuitive eating promote weight loss?

Intuitive eating does not prioritize weight loss as its primary goal. It focuses on promoting a healthy relationship with food and your body. While some people might experience weight changes as they listen to their bodies, weight loss is not the main focus.

Can I practice intuitive eating if I have specific dietary needs?

Yes, intuitive eating can be adapted to accommodate various dietary needs, allergies, or health conditions. It’s about making choices that honor your body’s needs while still respecting your preferences and restrictions.

Does intuitive eating mean I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want?

Intuitive eating encourages you to eat what you truly want and enjoy, but it also emphasizes mindful eating and paying attention to how different foods make you feel. It’s about finding a balance between pleasure and nourishment.

Can intuitive eating help with emotional eating?

Yes, intuitive eating can help address emotional eating by encouraging you to recognize and explore your emotions without using food as a coping mechanism. It helps you develop healthier ways to respond to emotional triggers.

Is intuitive eating suitable for everyone?

Intuitive eating can be beneficial for many people, especially those who have struggled with diets, disordered eating, or an unhealthy relationship with food. However, individual experiences may vary, and some individuals might need additional support or guidance from healthcare professionals.

How can I start practicing intuitive eating?

Starting intuitive eating involves learning to reconnect with your body’s cues and tuning into your hunger, fullness, and satisfaction signals. It often requires letting go of dieting mindset and working on self-compassion and body acceptance.

Are there any principles or guidelines to follow in intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is often guided by a set of principles outlined by the original authors of the concept. These principles include rejecting the diet mentality, honoring your hunger, making peace with food, challenging the food police, discovering the satisfaction factor, feeling your fullness, coping with emotions without using food, respecting your body, and exercising for joy and well-being.

Intuitive eating is a personal journey, and it’s important to approach it with patience and self-compassion. If you’re considering exploring intuitive eating, you might also find it helpful to work with a registered dietitian or a mental health professional who is familiar with this approach.


Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

Disclosure: This article is intended to be educational and not construed as medical advice.  Please consult your doctor before beginning any new health regimen.


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