An Introduction to Intuitive Eating & How It Will Change Your Life
By Jessica Jones, MS, RD, CDE
There are over 2 million hashtags for intuitive eating on Instagram. However, many have this self-care eating framework all wrong. If you’ve ever thought that intuitive eating is the “eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full” diet, you wouldn't be alone.
Intuitive eating is so much more than what you eat, when you eat, or why you eat. Adopting these principles will forever change the way you see food and your body.
So, let’s dive into your introduction to intuitive eating.
In this article you’ll learn:
What intuitive eating is and what it’s not.
The benefits of intuitive eating.
The 10 Principles you’ll work through on your intuitive eating journey.
How intuitive eating is different from mindful eating.
Additional resources to help you fully integrate intuitive eating into your life.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a framework for eating that helps you to reject any external rules (calorie counting app, macro counting) or cues that guide your eating while letting your internal cues (what does your body feel like eating, what sounds good) guide what and how much you eat.
This framework was developed by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Intuitive eating is a weight-inclusive and evidence-based model with over 140 studies proving its effectiveness at improving health and wellbeing.
The Benefits of Intuitive Eating
Diet culture has taught you that a successful way of eating must result in weight loss. Diet culture is a liar.
The benefits you will reap from Intuitive eating encompass every part of your life. From physical to emotional and social health, the possibility of positive changes derived from intuitive eating is endless. Here are just a few of the many benefits of intuitive eating.
You’ll have a stronger, more positive appreciation for your body.
Intuitive eating helps you turn inward to become familiar with and gain a whole new level of respect for your body. The goal is to work with your body, not against it. When you learn to do this, the appreciation you have for your body and all it does for you will improve.
In one study, after 10 weeks of learning and implementing mindfulness and intuitive eating, there was a significant improvement in body appreciation scores among participants. If thoughts of body dissatisfaction are a daily distraction, intuitive eating can help change this.
2. Your weight will stop cycling and you’ll settle into your body’s natural set point weight.
Your body wants to maintain a constant weight range and will do extraordinary things to achieve this. You’ve likely seen this yourself when you’ve dieted, lost weight, and found yourself back at the same weight (or an even higher weight) soon after.
More than an annoyance, chronic weight cycling can have profound effects on your health. One study found that people who had large variations in their body weight had a significantly increased risk of a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke.
Intuitive eating helps you to trust your body to guide how much and how often to eat. You will honor your health with gentle nutrition and joyful movement and reject external diet rules. By doing this you will naturally maintain a constant weight range that your body is healthiest at.
3. Your Cardiovascular Health May Improve.
Several studies have been done to evaluate the physical health benefits that intuitive can have. When it comes to cardiovascular risk factors, total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and inflammation in the body come into play.
One study found that there was a significant improvement from baseline in total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol. Others have found a decrease in inflammatory measures. Despite the common diet culture myth that you need to “diet” for a healthy heart, you can improve your health through intuitive eating.
4. Disordered eating will be a thing of the past and you’ll trust your internal cues to guide your eating.
If disordered eating patterns rule your life now, it might seem impossible to actually trust yourself to know what or when to eat. Intuitive eating is a proven framework. By working through the principles you will find freedom from disordered eating patterns and learn to put that trust in yourself.
People who trust their bodies to tell them how much to eat, instead of following a diet, have significantly lower disordered eating patterns... It won’t happen overnight, but it’s worth the effort and time to have true food freedom.
Additional Evidenced-Based Benefits of Intuitive Eating
Reduction in binge eating
Increased intake of fruits and vegetables + overall food variety
Increased body appreciation
Increased body trust
Increased enjoyment of eating
Increased body cue awareness
Increased wellbeing and self-esteem
Decreased idealization of thinness
Increased HDL (‘good’ cholesterol)
Decreased disordered eating
Increased glycemic control
A Quick Breakdown of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
The first step is acknowledging that diets don't work. Realize that the repeated failed attempts of weight loss and dieting are not your fault. Diet culture runs deep and is a systemic problem affecting you from every angle of life. Get rid of diet books, unfollow diet-focused social media accounts, do whatever you have to do as you reject the diet mentality, and move forward.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Learn to identify and honor your hunger. If you’ve followed diet rules to know when and how much to eat, this may take some time. Learn how hunger feels and allow yourself to nourish your body when it needs it.
3. Make Peace with Food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. This includes those foods on your “forbidden food” list and all of those foods you feel you cannot trust yourself around. All foods are allowed and “good” and “bad” food labels no longer exist.
4. Challenge the Food Police
There are several ways diet culture polices your food choices and assigns moral value to what you eat (or don’t eat). Learn to challenge these rules and the feelings of superiority or inferiority associated with what you eat.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Food is so much more than fuel. Allow yourself to enjoy and find pleasure in what you eat with all of your senses. Feel not only full after a meal, but also satisfied.
6. Feel Your Fullness
Just as you learn to listen to your body to tell you when to eat, you follow your body’s signals to tell you when to stop. You will start to feel fullness progress throughout a meal and stop eating when comfortably full.
7. Cope with Your Emotions
Emotional eating exists and is not inherently a bad thing. It can be difficult to honor your body and lean into the intuitive eating process when food is the only way you have to cope with emotions. Learn other tools to work through emotions and acknowledge that food doesn’t fix deeper problems.
8. Respect Your Body
Reject the “ideal body” you wish you had and learn to respect and appreciate the body you have now. Begin to appreciate all that your body does for you and treat it with kindness.
9. Movement- Feel the Difference
Stop exercising as punishment for what you ate or to change your body. Instead, find ways to move your body that are enjoyable and feel good to you.
10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
It’s no accident that gentle nutrition is the last step in intuitive eating. When the diet mentality has been dismantled from your thoughts and patterns, you can begin to focus on foods choices that honor your health. You’ll learn to focus on overall patterns, not one meal or day of eating.
Will Intuitive Eating Help Me Lose Weight?
Contrary to what you may see on social media, Intuitive eating is not a weight-loss method. To be honest, there are three things that can happen with your weight when you become an intuitive eater:
You can lose weight
You gain weight
You stay the same
None of us have a crystal ball to predict how our body will respond once we start to nourish it adequately and consistently. The truth is, using weight as a measure of success to intuitive eating means you're relying on external cues and variables instead of internal ones.
Read more about my thoughts on whether or not you can try intuitive eating and still want to lose weight.
Part of the “work” of Intuitive eating is rejecting the scale/weight/body composition goals as a symbol of success. Instead, the goal is to focus on whatever physical and mental health care markers are important to you, for example, some people may monitor their frequency of binges or their glycemic control. Others may monitor their general wellbeing and energy levels.
Additional metrics of success may include:
You are more attuned to your hunger cues.
You feel your fullness and are able to respect it more.
You skip fewer meals and eat more consistently throughout the day
You stress less about food.
You don’t feel guilty about eating certain foods (ie sweets, carbs, etc)
You know which foods satisfy you (and which ones don’t).
You eat more mindfully.
Your cravings decrease, and you are less guilty when you honor a craving
You are able to respect your body, size, shape, weight, etc
You understand what constitutes as joyful movement to you and you are able to incorporate it more consistently
Is Intuitive Eating the Same as Mindful Eating?
Intuitive eating and mindful eating both involve slowing down and using your senses and body when you’re eating. Mindful eating is a complement to intuitive eating, but only part of the picture.
The Center for Mindful Eating explains that mindful eating is a non-judgemental way of noticing your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating and connects you to your innate wisdom regarding your hunger and fullness.
Intuitive eating involves becoming a practiced mindful eater, but goes so much further with a framework that helps you to reject diet culture, make peace with food, and challenge the food police in your life. You do all of this while honoring your health and respecting your body.
Additional Resources to Jumpstart Your Intuitive Eating Journey
Can You Practice Intuitive Eating While Trying to Lose Weight (A Deeper Dive)?
Does Intuitive Eating Help If You Have a Chronic Disease? (Let's Explore...)
Can Black Folks (and other BIPOC) Have Eating Disorders?
Food Heaven Made Easy: Troubleshooting Intuitive Eating with Alissa Rumsey
Food Heaven Made Easy: Help, I Can’t Stop Counting Calories!
Food Heaven Made Easy: How to Stick to Intuitive Eating
Get My Full List of Recommended books
Want to work with a registered dietitian to help you become an intuitive eater?
Jessica Jones Nutrition is currently accepting new clients. Are you ready to make peace with food and start your own intuitive eating journey? Working with a dietitian will help you to confidently turn away from dieting and turn into the intuitive eater you deserve to be. You can book your free discovery call so we can learn more about your specific needs and how we can help.
With 35 years of combined experience, the Registered Dietitians at Jessica Jones Nutrition are helping people with diverse backgrounds heal their relationship with food and improve their health.
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