A Guide on Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based, non-diet approach to eating that encourages a positive relationship with food and physical activity. It focuses on nurturing your body and allowing it to settle at a weight you can manage without food restriction or excessive exercise.

Although more research is needed, studies suggest intuitive eating can reduce disordered eating habits, promote a positive body image, and improve emotional well-being and weight maintenance.

This article discusses intuitive eating and how it can help you develop a positive relationship with food.

woman eating healthy lunch

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What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating came about in 1995 after two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, published their first book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Diet Approach.

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based, mind-body approach to health that encourages people to rely on internal hunger cues to meet psychological and biological needs.

Unlike many fad diets, intuitive eating does not require calorie counting or food tracking. It also does not restrict the type of food you eat. You are empowered to decide the kind of food you eat, how much you eat, and when you need to eat.

Always consult your healthcare provider before changing your diet or starting a new health program.

The Principles

Tribole and Resch outline ten key principles of intuitive eating in their book. Understanding and knowing these principles is important to becoming an intuitive eater.

  1. Reject the diet mentality: Recognize that diet culture gives people a false sense of hope. There is no such thing as quick weight loss that is easy and permanent.
  2. Honor your hunger: Your body relies on food for energy. To feel satisfied, keep your body fed with adequate calories, carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
  3. Make peace with food: Ditch the idea that food is your enemy. Limiting certain food will only cause you to feel deprived, leading to binge eating and uncontrollable cravings.
  4. Challenge the food police: Change the inner thoughts that consider you "good" for adhering to a minimal calorie diet or "bad" for enjoying a piece of cake at dinner.
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor: Eating what you want in a pleasant environment can help you feel satisfied and content after eating.
  6. Feel your fullness: Listen for internal cues that you are no longer hungry. Pause in the middle of a meal, ask yourself how the food tastes, and evaluate your current hunger level.
  7. Cope with your emotions with kindness: Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger cannot be fixed with food. Although it may provide short-term comfort, emotional eating may make you feel worse in the long run. Turn to other coping methods.
  8. Respect your body: Learn to respect your body to have confidence and feel better as a person.
  9. Movement—feel the difference: Participate in an exercise that you enjoy. Focus on the positive feelings and energy you get from working out and moving your body.
  10. Honor your health—gentle nutrition: Eat foods that make you feel good. You don't have to eat perfectly every day. One "unhealthy" meal or snack will not harm your health.

Intuitive Eating vs. Mindful Eating

Mindful eating involves paying attention to your eating experience without judgment. Intuitive eating includes mindful eating, but it focuses on physical activity for the sake of feeling good, rejecting the diet mentality, eating the foods you enjoy, and respecting your body.

Can You Eat Intuitively and Lose Weight?

Intuitive eating is not intended to be a tool to aid in weight loss. If you are trying to lose weight, it suggests that you do not accept your current body, which does not align with intuitive eating principles.

However, intuitive eating can help you reach a healthy weight for your body type. Whether or not you lose weight will depend on how far away you are from your natural weight or set point weight. Your set point weight is the weight your body will maintain when you eat without restriction and exercise normally.

One study found that eating intuitively may promote post-partum weight loss without the required weighing, measuring, recording, and calorie counting involved in traditional weight loss programs.

Will Eating Intuitively Make You Gain Weight?

In some circumstances, intuitive eating can lead to weight gain, especially in those who have followed overly restrictive diets to maintain a weight lower than average for their body type.

It is important to know that weight gain is not always bad. If you've been on very restrictive diets, weight gain could signify that your body is healing from disordered eating.

What Are The Benefits?

Intuitive eating offers both mental and physical benefits, which include:

How to Practice Intuitive Eating

Although intuitive eating sounds pretty simple, it takes practice and patience. Start by unlearning diet culture's messages about what you should and should not eat.

You should acknowledge hunger as a good thing but be able to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger. If the hunger is physical, permit yourself to eat what satisfies you. Eat slowly, and trust your body to let you know when it is complete.

Acknowledge that it's ok to do things that may not align with the principles of intuitive eating. Give yourself grace if you slip up and skip a meal or overindulge.

Tips for Beginners

If you feel like you are ready to begin eating intuitively, here are some tips and resources to help you get started:

  • Set boundaries to protect yourself from diet talk
  • Love your body the way it is and treat it with kindness
  • Trust your body and inner hunger cues
  • Keep snacks on hand to avoid getting too hungry
  • Avoid mealtime distractions
  • Give yourself patience

Summary

Intuitive eating allows chronic dieters to break free from the toxic cycle of dieting and improve their relationship with food and their body. Instead of restricting foods or food groups, you are allowed to listen to your internal hunger cues, eat freely, and choose foods that leave you satisfied. Some people may lose weight, while others may stay the same or gain weight as they learn to love and listen to their bodies. However, it's important to note that intuitive eating is not for everyone. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian before making any diet changes.

A Word From Verywell

Intuitive eating focuses on honoring your hunger and rejecting diet mentality. It helps you develop a healthier relationship with your body and food to improve your overall well-being. Although following your hunger cues sounds simple, it can take practice to break free from dieting and emotional eating. Give yourself grace through the process and accept yourself the way you are.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I switch to intuitive eating?

    Begin by listening to your internal hunger cues and eating when you are hungry. Stop eating when you are full (but not overly full) and satisfied. Avoid focusing on the nutritional composition and the numbers on the food label and allow yourself to pause and enjoy the food.

  • What is wrong with intuitive eating?

    Intuitive eating is not for everyone. If you have certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes (that require restrictions), you should seek guidance from your healthcare provider before changing your diet.

  • How long does it take to adjust to intuitive eating?

    Everyone's intuitive eating journey will differ depending on how long it takes to make peace with food. Some people will adjust within several months, while others may take much longer and require several years.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bruce LJ, Ricciardelli LA. A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite. 2016;96:454-472. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.012

  2. The Original Intuitive Eating Pros. What is intuitive eating?

  3. The Intuitive Eating Pros. 10 Principles of intuitive eating.

  4. The Original Intuitive Eating Pros. The difference between intuitive eating and mindful eating.

  5. Leahy K, Berlin KS, Banks GG, Bachman J. The relationship between intuitive eating and postpartum weight lossMatern Child Health J. 2017;21(8):1591-1597. doi:10.1007/s10995-017-2281-4

  6. University of Michigan School of Public Health. Intuitive eating: The non-diet is the best diet.

By Lindsey DeSoto, RD, LD
Lindsey Desoto is a registered dietitian with experience working with clients to improve their diet for health-related reasons. She enjoys staying up to date on the latest research and translating nutrition science into practical eating advice to help others live healthier lives.