If you’ve ever heard of intuitive eating, you might assume that it’s just another diet trend — but you’d be wrong. In a world full of fad diets, this eating philosophy offers something completely different. Something kinder, gentler and more sustainable.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is the polar opposite of dieting. Instead of following rules and restricting what you eat, you trust your internal hunger, fullness and satiety cues to help you decide what and how much to eat. No food is off the table.
The 6 principles of eating intuitively
Intuitive eating asks you to unlearn the negative messages about food and eating that society has taught you to believe. We all have an internal eater in us, but it’s buried under diet culture. With dieting, you follow rules; with intuitive eating, you listen to your hunger cues.
If you’ve spent years dieting and following self-imposed food rules, it can be a challenge to learn to identify and trust your hunger cues. Rather than trying to start all at once, we suggest trying a 6-day challenge.
Each day, focus on one of the principles. Notice how it comes up, how you can put it into practice, some of your challenges and struggles, and how it improves your life.
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Have you ever noticed all of the messages you receive about food and dieting? From social media, advertisements, and even chit-chat among friends, talk about the latest trendy diets and diet products is everywhere.
Rejecting a diet mentality means letting go of everything related to dieting. It’s recognizing and actively rejecting diet culture and everything it stands for that is harmful to your body.
Example: You see an advertisement that indicates peanut butter is fattening. You recognize this as diet culture and continue to eat peanut butter because you love it.
Put it into action: Try to identify and recognize when you’re being influenced by diet culture. We recommend an activity we call “I Spy Diet Culture.” Notice how often you see diet ads, articles about unhealthy eating styles and even language that celebrates weight loss, like “skinny jeans.”
2. Honor your hunger
Longtime dieting teaches us to ignore our hunger cues. But hunger is a biological response, and you wouldn’t ignore your body’s other biological responses, would you? You don’t try to suppress breathing, blinking or your urge to pee — yet we try to ignore our hunger all the time. Hunger is not your enemy or something to be avoided. Intuitive eating is about listening to your hunger and learning to respond to what it needs.
Example: You know you have a tendency to get ‘hangry’, so you put some mixed nuts in your purse to eat when you start to feel cranky.
Put it into action: The key to living this principle is to ask yourself: What are you hungry for? And what is your hunger telling you that you need or want? As simple as it sounds, practice eating when you’re hungry and trying to figure out what food your body is asking for.
3. Discover the satisfaction
Do you eat what you feel like you’re supposed to eat, or do you eat what will satisfy you? For many of us, it’s the former. And while eating is a biological requirement, the foods you choose should also bring you some joy.
Eating should be an enjoyable experience. This includes tasting pleasurable foods. If you’re eating something that just isn’t satisfying you, it’s probably a sign that you’re not eating what’s right for you at the moment.
Example: You’re in the mood for something crunchy and healthy, so you aim to find a snack to satisfy that taste — maybe celery with peanut butter or carrots with hummus.
Put it into action: As you begin a meal or while you’re eating, ask yourself: Is this the food I want? Does it make me feel satisfied? Is there anything that might better satisfy me?
4. Cope with your emotions with kindness
Here’s a mantra to remember: Food doesn’t fix feelings. But often, we eat because we’re bored, stressed, anxious or sad — in other words, for emotional reasons.
Food and feelings are so intertwined with each other. This principle is about finding kind ways to nurture, distract, comfort, and cope with your feelings with activities that help you to reduce your stress rather than with food.
Example: You’re feeling stressed and start to look for some candy. When you pause, though, you realize it’s not candy you need but a way to relax and destress. You do a meditation instead.
Put it into action: Make a list of other ways to respond to your emotions: yoga, reading a book, going for a walk, etc. Then, when you’re compelled to stress-eat, spend some time thinking about how you’re feeling
5. Respect your body. While diet and exercise do play a big role in the size and shape of your body, there’s a lot more to it than that — including your genes.
Everybody is different, and we are influenced heavily by our genetic blueprint, we can’t diet our way into a body that is not made for us.
Intuitive eating recognizes and respects size diversity and the idea that all bodies are worthy of celebration.
Example: Some of your clothes no longer fit. Instead of holding onto them and hoping you’re eventually small enough to wear them again, you donate them. Then, you fill your closet with clothes that fit and make you feel good.
Put it into action: If body positivity seems too far-fetched for you, work toward body neutrality. Because of diet culture, jumping right into loving your body can be so difficult for people. Instead, it might be easier to start with accepting your body as it is — what it does for you, how it helps you.
If you equate movement with exercise — and subsequently, with dread — you can probably blame diet culture. But there’s another way. Rather than exercising to burn calories, this principle recognizes that it feels good to move.
Intuitive eating encourages you to do movements that bring you joy. And notice that it’s about movement, not exercise because sometimes exercise makes people think.
Example: You decide to go for a walk instead of running. You know running burns more calories, but you can’t stand doing it, whereas walking makes you happy.
Put it into action: Explore ways to move that you enjoy and that make you feel strong and energized, whether it’s dancing, walking your dog, surfing, or playing tennis. Notice how your body feels when it’s active.
Can intuitive eating help you lose weight?
If you’re looking for intuitive eating for weight loss, you may not initially like this answer: The goal of intuitive eating is not weight loss. Weight loss is part of diet culture. It pushes you into shame and guilt in a way that focusing on improving your health and your joy around food do not.
Some people do lose weight because they’re able to stop unhealthy behaviors like binge eating. But other people gain weight, especially if they’ve been restricting or dieting for a long time.
It comes down to the fact that your body will do whatever it needs to do. That can be tough to wrap our minds around because it’s so different from the diet mentality that promises you’ll lose 10 pounds in 10 days.