Intuitive eating, non-diet, Health at Every Size…you may have heard of these terms. Even though these concepts aren’t quite as foreign as they used to be, there is still a lot of learning to do when it comes to understanding and putting them into practice. In this blog I will focus on intuitive eating, what it is, how it’s different, the many benefits, and how to learn more if you are interested. Keep reading to learn more about what it means to be an intuitive eater.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating has actually been around a long time. If the term is new to you, Intuitive Eating was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch way back in 1995, so it’s not actually a new framework, but one that has sort of caught on in recent years. I have been teaching from a non-diet, weight-inclusive point of view for a while now and several years ago became certified as an Intuitive Eating Counselor.
The authors define intuitive eating as “an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body – where you ultimately become the expert of your own body.” There are a growing number of dietitians, therapists, and other health and medical professionals who are trained and certified to teach from this point of view. AND it is also strongly supported by scientific research. As of 2021 there are more than 125 studies that support intuitive eating and its positive health benefits.
Intuitive eating is a weight-neutral, evidence-based, non-diet approach that emphasizes internal cues and listening and paying attention to our bodies over external diet rules. It is simply put, a way to get back to nourishing your body in a way that is free from diet rules or external cues. We are all born intuitive eaters. As babies and kids, we have the innate ability to listen to our body’s cues and eat what our bodies need. When a baby is hungry, they will let you know and when they are full, they have the instinctual ability to stop eating. Over time though many factors such as family upbringing and messaging we receive around food and bodies, genetics, environment, and exposure to diet culture beliefs and rules can confuse or disrupt our ability to trust ourselves. We get so discombobulated that we get to a point where we don’t think we can function without someone else telling us what, when, and how often to eat.
We are all so used to turning to the next book or new plan or fad diet or “expert” to find health, but with Intuitive Eating YOU are the expert of your health and your body, as you should be. Of course, there is room for learning and gaining new information and ways to care for yourself in regards to nutrition, movement, stress reduction, sleep, etc. but ultimately YOU are the expert of you, not some random unqualified book author or the next fad diet peddler.
The beauty of intuitive eating is that there is no pass or fail or good or bad. Those ideas and notions only make eating and food stressful and set us up to feel like a failure. How often do you start a diet, eat the “wrong” thing, feel like you’ve failed and go off the diet?
I was talking with a new client recently who had this exact experience. She had started a popular 30-day diet plan and stayed with it for two weeks and then had a wedding to go to and didn’t want to miss out on all the yummy food so went off her diet and didn’t start it back after that weekend. When I asked her why she didn’t restart after the wedding she said with the plan once you go off you have to start all over again and she just didn’t feel like dealing with it. So, basically your punishment with that particular plan is…well you screwed up, despite all your hard work, go back to the beginning! So punitive and super annoying!
I’ve talked to countless clients and friends who have experienced this exact same scenario and instead of directing their frustration at the diets and diet industry, where it belongs, they blame themselves. With intuitive eating you learn to let go of the regret, guilt, and shame associated with eating and start to listen to your body’s innate cues for hunger, fullness, satisfaction, and pleasure to better meet your physical and psychological needs. It really is a whole different way of approaching food and taking care of our bodies and minds. It is a process but is well worth the time and effort.
How is Intuitive Eating Different?
The non-diet part of Intuitive Eating refers to taking the focus off the scale and other rules and restrictions and putting it on health promoting behaviors, improving body image, and finding peace, enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction with food. It is a process or framework that teaches a different approach to eating and our bodies than the typical diet culture, weight-centered approach that many of us turn to over and over with the same results.
To help differentiate, here is a comparison of the diet culture, weight-centered approach (which puts the focus on weight and weight loss when defining health and well-being) to an intuitive eating, weight-inclusive approach (where the focus is on viewing health and wellbeing as multifaceted with the attention on positive behavior changes).
- Diet Culture, Weight Centered Approach In the diet culture, weight-centered approach eating is viewed as a moral statement with many labels on foods such as “good” and “bad”. Certain foods choices and ways of eating are demonized while others are praised and deemed right and acceptable. Guilt and shame are common. Thinness is viewed as the only acceptable body type regardless of genetics and weight loss is promoted at all costs.
- Intuitive Eating, Weight Inclusive Approach In contrast, with intuitive eating and weight-inclusivity the focus is shifted to honoring health, not just our physical health, but also our emotional and mental health. Food and our choices are not viewed from an ethical, right or wrong, perspective, but instead are based on choice, preference, and enjoyment, and gentle nutrition. With this shift choices are guided by internal awareness, non-diet nutrition knowledge, and movement for wellness, not based on counting calories or points, diet rules and restrictions, and guilt. All body types are viewed as not only acceptable but respected and treated with compassion and care.
The Benefits of Intuitive Eating
The positive benefits of intuitive eating are plenty. Here is a list of just a few benefits that have been identified in the many studies done on intuitive eating.
- Higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- Lower triglycerides
- Lower rates of emotional eating
- Lower rates of disordered eating and eating disorders
- Higher self-esteem
- Better body image
- More satisfaction with life and less preoccupation with diets and your body
- A sense of optimism and well-being
- Proactive coping skills
- Higher likelihood to exercise because it feels good
How to Know if You are an Intuitive Eater
The intuitive eating assessment is a good place to start to get an idea where you stand on whether or not you are an intuitive eater. Check out my website for a quick assessment to see where you stand. These are some signs that may indicate that you have moved away from your innate intuitive eater:
- You often label foods as “good” and “bad”
- You get mad at yourself or feel guilty for eating something “unhealthy”
- You follow strict rules that dictate what/when/how much to eat
- You eat when you are stressed, bored, lonely, anxious, depressed, or stressed
- You often use food to help you soothe negative emotions
- You don’t trust yourself to know what, when, and how much to eat
- You weigh and measure your food
- You count calories, carbs, protein, fat, or points
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
The framework of Intuitive Eating is based on 10 guiding principles. They are not rules, but instead basic principles that you can incorporate at your own pace. Each one builds on the other in helping people change their perspective on eating and build a healthier relationship with food.
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Feel Your Fullness
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
- Respect Your Body
- Movement – Feel the Difference
- Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
How to Learn More
There are many paths to learning more about the non-diet approach and Intuitive Eating. Reading about the concepts and principles is a great way to begin. These are several books I use in my work with clients.
- Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and the corresponding workbook, The Intuitive Eating Workbook
- Unapologetic Eating by Alissa Rumsey, RD
- Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison
As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, I work with clients to process through and unlearn old diet mentality thinking and relearn the freeing and empowering concepts of intuitive eating to ultimately find peace with food and their bodies. It’s one thing to conceptually understand intuitive eating, but it can be another to put it into practice and having a guide can be helpful.
Podcasts can also be really helpful. I like to listen to them when I am driving. I share them often with clients too. One client that I recommended podcasts to decided to start with episode 1 of the Body Kindness podcast and listen to all the episodes and has been loving them. Podcasts are a great way to hear an introduction to the concept of intuitive eating and see if it resonates with you. Here are a few that I would highly recommend:
- Food Psych with Christy Harrison
- Body Kindness with Rebecca Scritchfield
- Life After Diets
- Find Food Freedom
- The Food Therapy Podcast
- Savor Food and Body Podcast
- Maintenance Phase
Social media can also be a great place to get introduced to the concepts of intuitive eating and learn more and be supported in your non-diet journey. Here are some accounts I recommend checking out…
- Alissa Rumsey: @alissarumseyrd
- Anna Sweeney: @dietitiananna
- Ashlee Bennett: @bodyimage_therapist
- Ayana Habtemariam: @thetrillrd
- Beauty Redefined: @beauty_redefined
- Be Nourished/Body Trust: @benourishedpdx
- Brianna M. Campos: @bodyimagewithbri
- Cara Harbstreet: @streetsmartrd
- Christyna Johnson: @encouragingdietitian
- Dr. Colleen Reichmann: @drcolleenreichmann
- Debbie Lesko: @diets_dont_work_haes1
- Gaudiani Clinic: @gaudianiclinic
- Haley Goodrich: @hgoodrichrd
- Ivy Felicia: @iamivyfelicia
- Jameela Jamil: @i_weigh
- Jennifer Rollin: @jennifer_rollin
- Dr. Joshua Wolrich: @drjoshuawolrich
- Julie Duffy Dillon: @foodpeacedietitian
- Kara Lydon: @karalydonrd
- Kimmie Singh: @bodyhonornutrition
- Kirsten Ackerman: @theintuitive_rd
- Lauren Leavell: @laurenleavellfitness
- Dr. Maria Paredes: @with_this_body
- Rachael Hartley: @rachaelhartleyrd
- Redefining Wellness: @redefining_wellness
- Shira Rose: @theshirarose
- Stephanie Yeboah: @stephanieyeboah
- Tiffany Ima: @tiffanyima
- The Unplug Collective: @theunplugcollective
- The Body is Not an Apology: @thebodyisnotanapology
- The Body Positive: @thebodypositive
- Virgie Tovar: @virgietovar
- Your Fat Friend: @yrfatfriend
If you are like so many others and are just exhausted from dieting, restriction, deprivation and worrying about your food, weight, and your body, maybe consider what it would be like to stop the madness and try something new. Despite popular belief, food is meant to be savored and enjoyed and our bodies are amazing and deserve respect and love. It is possible to enjoy food and respect our bodies and actually be healthier for it. I would love to support you along the way.