Intuitive eating is a powerful approach to transform your relationship with food, health and well-being. With intuitive eating you may enjoy natural weight loss, a lower body mass index (BMI), increased life satisfaction and more.
A key difference between intuitive eating and dieting is that with intuitive eating, food isn’t seen as something to be restricted, limited or calculated. Instead, you learn how to read your own hunger signals which puts you back in control of your body. Intuitive eating allows you to lean into your intuition and make food choices that don’t involve the guilt or shame often associated with dieting. In this approach, you choose the food, quantity and schedule that meets your needs.
In this article we’ll explore the main tenets of intuitive eating so you can decide if it’s the right approach for you.
Intuitive Eating vs Mindful Eating
While intuitive eating can have elements of mindful eating, they aren’t the same. Intuitive eating involves approaching food in a non-judgemental way, rejecting notions of diet culture, and improving your relationship with food.
Mindful eating is about being present with your food. This can look like chewing slowly, avoiding distractions like cell phones and TV, and thinking deeply about flavors and textures. Intuitive eating and mindful eating may be different, but they can team up to make your food experience that much more enjoyable.
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Start an intuitive eating practice with the following guiding principles. Remember, while this approach may work for some, it might not be a good fit for everybody. It’s up to you to listen to your body and decide what’s best.
1. Food Is Neither “Good” nor “Bad”
Intuitive eating helps us see what we eat as morally neutral. Putting food in a binary of good or bad is a major part of diet culture, and can cause unnecessary feelings of guilt or shame when choosing to consume one food over another. With intuitive eating, you unlearn the belief that food is related to self-worth and instead lean into eating things that make you feel good (both mentally and physically).
Here’s a tip: Start changing your language around food. Instead of saying something is “bad for you,” say that it’s “less nutrient-dense.” Reframe the concept of not eating because you’re “not supposed to,” and instead ask, “am I honoring my hunger and/or fullness right now?”
2. Reject Diet Culture
Diets aren’t for everyone. Those who practice intuitive eating reject notions that dieting is the only way to lose weight and feel great. Good health can look like increased energy levels, improved mood and a healthier BMI—all of which can be achieved without dieting.
Here’s a tip: Remove any social media accounts that make you feel bad about your body or the way it looks. Instead, follow accounts that promote healthy eating habits and being kind to yourself.
3. Eat When You’re Hungry
Intuitive eating invites us to eat when we’re truly hungry. While this may seem obvious, it can be incredibly difficult to read hunger cues after years of food restriction. The key is to listen to your body. Is your stomach growling? Are you feeling fatigued, hangry or irritable? These are common signs that it could be time to eat.
Here’s a tip: Reflect on your current eating habits and plan meals around when you’re naturally hungry. If you’re not hungry or suspect you may be emotionally eating, drink tea, coffee or water and see if your false hunger pang goes away.
4. Reach Fullness and Then Stop Eating
Intuitive eating tells us to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full. If after a few minutes of eating you feel satiated, stop and save the leftovers for another day.
Here’s a tip: In Japan, there’s an eating philosophy called Hara Hachi Bu. It’s the practice of eating until you’re 80% full, waiting 10 minutes, and eating more if you’re still hungry. Usually after 10 minutes the stomach has time to tell the brain that it’s full—this can help you eat more balanced meal portions.
5. Follow Your Gut
Your intuition and gut can guide you towards better food choices. However, not everyone knows the difference between a food craving or a nutritious choice.
Here’s a tip: Listen to your cravings but choose healthier versions. If you’re yearning for chocolate, studies suggest this may be a result of stress, hormonal changes or being low in magnesium. Try eating dark leafy vegetables instead. If you’re craving fried foods, you could be needing healthy fats. Try picking up avocados, nuts and seeds instead. If you’re craving carbs, this could be a deficiency in magnesium, zinc, amino acids or vitamin D. If you’re craving sugar, opt for fresh fruit.
6. Say Goodbye to the Food Police
So many of our thoughts around food are subconscious, and have been shaped over the years by our parents, the media and our social circles. To truly thrive with intuitive eating, you must learn to let go of the internal (or external) voices that shame or guilt your food choices. Instead, focus on the joy and energy you receive from eating certain foods.
Here’s a Tip: Surround yourself with supportive friends and family that understand your intuitive eating practice. Tell them about the concept and encourage them to join you on your journey.
7. Respect Your Body
You only get one body. The best thing you can do is take care of it. This means respecting when your body is hungry and not fighting the urge to eat. It could also mean respecting the fact that you are full, and consuming more food would be unkind to your digestion.
Here’s a Tip: Keep a small journal and track how foods make you feel. Do they make you feel energized or fatigued? Refer to that list when choosing foods in the future.
8. Move and Exercise
As you adjust to eating what feels good (rather than what you’ve been told is “good”), consider adding movement to your routine. Movement helps all of the nutrients you consume circulate and get to work repairing and healing the body. Infusing movement into your lifestyle can reinforce positive eating habits and help you experience wellness from head to toe.
Here’s a tip: Try a movement practice that brings you joy. Yoga, running and walking are all mindful ways to move without the need for strenuous workouts that overwhelm the body.
9. Focus on Nutrition
If you’re nervous about gaining weight after ditching your diet, try focusing on nutrition rather than calories. Turn your attention towards the vitamins and minerals that support your body’s overall well-being. Research different nutrient-rich foods and incorporate them into your lifestyle.
Here’s a tip: Fill up on something green and leafy every day. Foods like spinach, kale and collard greens are full of vitamins and minerals that give you an abundance of energy and vitality.
10. Acknowledge Your Emotions and Be Kind to Yourself
Unraveling years of conditioning about your body and health is emotional work. If you’re interested in intuitive eating but have too many mental roadblocks to start, reach out to a nutrition coach or therapist who can help release your limiting beliefs.
Here’s a tip: Enjoy each bite of your meal, savor it, and pat yourself on the back for making a choice that feels good to you. We are our own biggest cheerleaders, and encouraging healthy habits starts from within.
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