What is Intuitive Eating?
Written by Sydney Wright, RD Candidate (BSc)
Edited by Brooke Bulloch, RD (BSc)
For anyone who has reached their emotional limit with dieting, or even just wonders if there is another way to feel well and support their best health, it’s possible you’ve come across the term Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is often talked about as a non-diet approach to wellness, but what does this mean?
Intuitive Eating is a way of nourishing the body that has nothing to do with tracking macros, counting calories, or relying on willpower. It is a well-studied concept developed by two Registered Dietitians—Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch—where people learn to eat in a way that serves them well physically, mentally and emotionally. Instead of being convinced that your body can’t be trusted (as diets do), intuitive eating works to rebuild that trust. It provides the tools to be confident in your personal food choices rather than needing to rely on food rules, which most often leads to a food relationship of guilt and shame if and when you can’t follow said rules. Dieting is problematic for many reason as you'll read in this post here.
10 principles guide the process of becoming an intuitive eater:
1) Reject the Diet Mentality: Where has your focus on changing your body gotten you to this point? What has this done to your body, or your emotional well-being? Recognizing that diets are set up to fail and that your body isn’t the problem is an important first step. This principle focuses on examining your dieting history, cultivating self-compassion, and building tools to help you unlearn the harmful things dieting has taught you.
2) Honour Your Hunger: Hunger is a biological body cue that literally helps to keep you alive. Honoring your hunger is not only about learning how to recognize these cues, but giving your body adequate nourishment (ie. carbs and calories). Have you ever ignored your hunger to the point of feeling out of control around food? If you hold your breath under water too long, you come up gasping for air. Food and eating is just as essential to live as breathing air. This principle helps you to become aware of your hunger cues and learn how to honour them.
3) Make Peace with Food: In other words, give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Ever have an “off-limit” list of foods that you “shouldn’t” eat? And uncontrollable cravings? Depriving yourself of foods you typically enjoy can create an ongoing fight of restriction, “falling off the wagon”, or even bingeing. Making peace with food helps to regain your ability to choose foods that serve you best, and that are a joy to eat (without the side of guilt).
4) Challenge the Food Police: While some people may have to deal with the external food police (ie. other people in their life making comments on their food choices), this principle hones in on the food police in your head. It’s those thoughts in your head declaring you as “good” or “bad” for certain food decisions. It takes time to change your inner dialogue, but challenging negative thoughts helps you to eventually view eating as a normal, pleasurable activity.
5) Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Diet culture teaches that pleasure has no place in a healthy diet, and this principle challenges that. Ever start to resent eating certain foods? Or get super bored with your same old diet-accepted meals? Deprivation never serves us in the long-run, and learning to find joy and satisfaction in eating again can be so empowering… and tasty!
6) Feel your Fullness: Do you belong to the clean-your-plate club? Often eating while distracted? Or eating so quickly you don’t stop to taste your food? This can make it hard to tune into your fullness cues. On the other side of things, diets have taught many of us to avoid or even fear fullness. How satisfying is it really to finish a meal and although you don’t feel hunger, you also don’t yet feel like you’ve eaten enough? This principle helps to bring awareness to your meals, and to reflect on how certain foods feel in your body.
7) Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness: Do you identify yourself as an “emotional eater”? Hint, it’s not always a negative thing. There are many reasons a person chooses to eat, and differentiating between the biological drive to eat and using eating as a coping mechanism for complicated emotions is an important skill to have. Discover when emotional eating is healthy and normal and when it might be problematic.
8) Respect Your Body: Body diversity exists, and people can thrive at all different sizes. Your body deserves respect as it is. Learning how to let go of self-criticism while working towards body acceptance is freeing. The truth is no diet, food restrictions, or exercise regimen will permanently change your genetically determined size.
9) Movement—Feel the Difference: Diet culture takes things to the extremes by painting a black-and-white picture about exercise. Can you relate to “go hard or go home”? Or “what’s the point” mentality? Change your mindset from “I have to work out” to “I enjoy moving my body”. There is no moral obligation to exercise, rather the goal is to find joy in different forms of movement. Discover what joyful movement means to you.
10) Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition: Many diets fixate on choosing only the most healthful foods. Let’s be clear, being healthy doesn’t mean eating perfectly. Learn to make food choices that honour your health, while avoiding the emphasis on “perfect” eating. Healthy eating IS imperfect, and it’s more about learning to incorporate nutritious foods AND fun foods that best serve your body, mental health, and your emotional well being.
From a nutrition professional’s perspective, I appreciate that intuitive eating helps to keep nutrition interventions focused on health behaviours and body respect instead of restrictive food rules. One of my favourite things about this is that it honors someone as a whole person—not just as an accumulation of food choices. It is the complete opposite of dieting so naturally, when you’ve been raised in a culture that values thinness over health and incessantly sends the message that your body is wrong, it takes time to unlearn and build a healthy relationship with food and your body again.
Intuitive Eating serves many purposes, but there are a couple things that it is not:
- Intuitive Eating is NOT a diet. This means that although it is based on 10 principles, these are not meant to be turned into rules.
- Intuitive eating is NOT a weight loss plan. If someone is using Intuitive Eating to promote weight loss, get outta there! There is no guarantee as to how or if your physical body will change, but that’s part of the beauty of Intuitive Eating, it removes the emphasis from weight and focuses on the things that matter in your life (after all, you are more than your body).
Intuitive Eating leaves room for you to actually experience life on the way—no obsession required. The prize isn’t waiting for you at the end. Your life IS the prize.
Are you interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating? Burnt out? Frustrated with dieting? Ready to find another way? We support clients in Regina and Saskatoon both virtually and in person. Our team experts on Intuitive Eating are Willow Padbury and Sydney Wright. Work with them to find balance and develop long-term lifestyle habits free from dieting rules, food guilt, and restriction.