Intuitive Eating: The Anti-Diet You’ve Been Craving

Food is a large part of our everyday lives – it plays a role in our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Thus, it only makes sense that we relish what we put into our bodies.

If you go almost anywhere in the world besides America, you’ll find that foods are celebrated. In France, they’re not ashamed to eat bread or pastries. In Italy, the same applies to pasta and pizza. That’s right – gluten, carbs? No biggie. 

But in America, it’s an entirely different food situation. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t on a diet or food plan or who hasn’t gone on one in the past. Whether that involves fasting, tracking details about consumption, or entering a state of ketosis, the sad reality is that many of us have become a prisoner to a cycle of deprivation, overeating, and guilt – all because we’ve chosen to place our trust in the diet industry and not in our ability to intuitively eat. 

If this sounds anything like you and you feel as though you have lost touch with your instincts around food, we highly suggest that you continue reading to learn about intuitive eating and how you can use it to take the best care of your mind and body in an age that is plagued by diet culture and weight-loss obsession.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Despite its rise in popularity, in both the media and in research, intuitive eating (IE) has been around since 1995. Created by registered dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, the two define the evidence-based approach as “a personal process of honoring your health by listening and responding to...your body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs.” 

In other words, IE isn’t a diet or food plan. It’s basing your eating decisions on your body’s internal cues (hunger, fullness, satisfaction) rather than its external cues (food rules and restrictions). It means eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. It means not beating yourself up about choosing a burger over a salad, or oatmeal over a green juice. And it definitely means no fasting or counting calories, carbs, macros, or points. Again, the purpose of IE is to adopt an anti-diet approach and give yourself permission to enjoy and love the foods you eat.

What Are the Benefits?

Let’s face it. When people go on diets their focus isn’t on long-term health – it’s on how quickly they can lose weight. But what if those people were told that if they adopted IE they could experience benefits including but also beyond weight loss? Would they still be following a diet? Probably not.

Although the purpose of IE isn’t to lose weight, studies have shown that it can lead to weight loss, a lower body mass index (BMI), and long-term weight maintenance. However, what’s even more compelling is the data that’s been compiled by researchers that proves that IE has lasting behavioral, mental, and emotional changes, including:

  • Decreased dietary restraints and binge eating behaviors

  • Lower rates of emotional eating

  • Healthier relationships with food

  • Decreased depression and anxiety

  • Increased self-esteem

  • Improved body image

  • Increased optimism and well-being

  • More satisfaction with life

Now try arguing that IE isn’t a double win. Who wouldn’t want to heal both their mind and body simultaneously?

10 Principles - From the Pros

As mentioned above, many people feel compelled to follow dietary rules of what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. IE, fortunately, has no rules. However, Tribole and Resch recommend that if you’re interested in IE you follow their “10 Principles of Intuitive Eating” to improve your internal body awareness and remove any obstacles that may hinder you from self-acceptance.

Below, you can find a summary of their 10 principles. Each was made to help establish a healthy relationship with food, the mind, and the body.

1. Reject the diet mentality 

No long-term study has proven that weight loss dieting is sustainable. If anything, it can lead to weight gain. Free yourself from weight loss obsession by choosing not to place (false) hope in diets and food plans.

2. Honor your hunger

When you allow your body to go hungry, you lose control of your ability to eat consciously and in moderation. Acknowledge your body’s biological signals and place trust in yourself and in the food that you eat to avoid overeating.

3. Make peace with food

If you prevent yourself from accepting your food cravings you’ll end up repeating the cycle of deprivation, overeating, and guilt. Stop telling yourself that certain foods are “good” and that others are “bad.”

4. Challenge the food police

Diet culture has created unreasonable rules surrounding food. Don’t think of yourself as “good” if you follow a diet or food plan and “bad” if you chose not to or to eat out.

5. Discover the satisfaction factor

Part of enjoying life is finding pleasure in the eating experience. Eat what you please to feel satisfied and content and to learn how to instinctively decide when your body’s had enough. To your surprise, you may find that it takes less food to fill you!

6. Respect your fullness

When you eat, pay close attention to the internal cues that alert your body that it’s comfortably full. And if you need to, take a moment in between chewing to ask yourself what your current hunger level is before having another bite.

7. Cope with your emotions without using food 

It’s normal to experience feelings of anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger. But this doesn’t mean that you should depend on food for comfort during these times. If you’re going through a personal issue, try to deal with the source of emotion rather than use food as a distraction.

8. Respect your body

Everyone’s body is built differently so don’t waste time criticizing yours. Accept your body shape and size for what it is so that you can feel better about who you are. Remember, all bodies deserve esteem!

9. Exercise and feel the difference

How many calories you burned shouldn’t be the focus of your workout. Shift your attention to the energy that you feel when you exercise so that you can start and maintain a consistent workout routine.

10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition

Being healthy doesn’t mean that you only have to consume fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat nutritious foods but also foods that satisfy your taste buds and make you feel good.

Bottom Line

Although you may have lost touch with your right to engage with the pleasure of eating, rest assured it isn’t impossible to learn how to reprogram your focus to how certain foods make you feel versus how they make you look. Once you take a leap of faith into IE and commit to the process of finding true satisfaction in your eating experiences, you’ll discover that you can break the cycle of deprivation, overeating, and guilt, and build a happier, freer eating food life.

For more information on IE, we recommend that you go straight to the source! Together, Tribole and Resch have written The Intuitive Eating Book. Tribole has also published a website that provides resources such as blog articles, interviews, and studies. And if you’d like to take it a step further, you can try looking for a dietitian who specializes in IE in your area or join an IE group or class!