What Is Intuitive Eating? A Nutritionist Explains How and Why It Works

First things first, it's not a diet.

January 25, 2021
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Photo by: Eternity in an Instant/Getty Images

Eternity in an Instant/Getty Images

You’ve probably seen the term intuitive eating recently on social media or while looking up diet trends online. However, there’s a lot of confusion about what intuitive eating is, and how to actually incorporate it in a practical way. Does it mean you eat donuts for breakfast? Or that you ditch meal planning and go with whatever your body wants that day? Well, not exactly. As a registered dietitian who has been practicing intuitive eating for years now, this approach has completely transformed my relationship to food for the better and I’m really excited to dive into intuitive eating with you!

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is an evidenced-based approach to eating that was first introduced by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Instead of focusing on external food rules to guide your eating choices, one of the goals is to cultivate trusting your own body and instincts. There’s so much confusing nutrition information out there, and intuitive eating can help us quiet the noise and tune into what habits help us feel our best.

If you’ve gone on a diet before, you’re probably familiar with how food rules manifest. Eat less carbs (or completely cut them out), don’t fry anything, eat between these times, drink your meals ...it seems like an endless list of restrictions and some are more subtle than others. It’s important to note that these food rules are usually tied to losing weight, toning up or changing your body in some way. Dietiting, restriction and intentional weight loss can negatively impact your quality of life, increase your risk for disordered eating, slow down your metabolism, and research has shown that most people who try to lose weight ultimately end up gaining the weight back.

Intuitive eating helps to ease the pressure of unrealistic body type and weight loss goals. Instead of focusing on how to change your body, the goal is to learn to shift how you feel in the body you’re currently in. To get you started, below is a breakdown of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating and in the weeks to come, I’ll be exploring these principles more with you and will provide practical ways to incorporate them into your daily life!

This is Part 1 of our series on intuitive eating.

Reject the diet mentality.

For most people, diets do not work. Losing weight is not synonymous with being healthy, and you can achieve health at your current size.

Honor your hunger.

Listen to your body and eat when you feel a sensation of hunger. Many diets teach you to do the exact opposite. By honoring your hunger, you’ll decrease your chances of overeating at the next meal.

Make peace with food.

Give yourself permission to eat! Give yourself permission to enjoy. Food is meant to be an enjoyable experience and there’s no need to moralize foods by labeling them "good" or "bad."

Challenge the "food police."

Rid yourself of the mentality that you are a better person for eating “good” foods or a terrible person for eating a “bad” food. Remove the food rules that you and others have placed on certain foods and food groups.

Respect your fullness.

Your body will tell you when it has had enough. What does pleasantly full feel like? Pause while you’re eating and ask yourself how the food is tasting to you and assess how full you are feeling.

Discover the satisfaction factor.

Do you enjoy those plain, steamed veggies? When dieting, we often lose the sense satisfaction that can come from food. Make it an experience to be savored and enjoy every bite.

Cope with your emotions with kindness.

Find coping mechanisms for anxiety, stress, sadness, and even happiness and joy that do not involve food. Food will not address your feelings in the long run. Learn to adapt new techniques like journaling, exercise, meditation or other hobbies that help you deal with the emotions.

Respect your body.

Thank your body for carrying you every day and allowing you to do some of the things you enjoy. Body respect can help open up the way to body acceptance and love.

Do joyful movement.

Find movement that you like doing, whether it’s an intense HIIT workout or just a walk around the block. Focus on how movement makes you feel. Do you have more energy? Are you sleeping better? There are so many benefits to exercise that have nothing to do with weight loss.

Honor your health.

Eat foods you enjoy that will nourish your body and promote good health and wellbeing. Make food choices that make you feel good.

As a registered dietitian/nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, Wendy Lopez, MS, RDN, CDCES is passionate about accessible and culturally relevant nutrition education. She is the co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast, and the co-founder of Food Heaven, an online platform that provides resources on cooking, intuitive eating, wellness and inclusion. When not working on creative projects, Wendy also provides nutritional counseling and medication management to patients with diabetes.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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