Intuitive Eating is a weight-inclusive, non-diet approach to food and eating. Here, we’ll explore how it can be helpful to adopt the Intuitive Eating framework for a healthier relationship with food, more positive mental health, and improved physical health. We'll also explain the relationship between Intuitive Eating and mindful eating, and how the two approaches differ.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is a mind-body health approach to food and eating. It embraces individuality and encourages you to tune into your body’s signals about what, how much, and when you should eat.
The science-backed approach rejects diet culture and helps you learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. It encourages you to deconstruct learnt diet behaviour patterns, in order to thoroughly nourish your body.
In this video, nutritionist Kacie Shoulders explores the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating and explains how a nutrition professional can support you with your relationship with food and movement.
What are the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is a lifestyle change. It's a personal process that encourages you to honour your body’s signals and respond consciously with kindness and health to meet your body’s physical and psychological needs.
1. Reject the diet mentality - Intuitive Eating is the anti-diet.
2. Honour your hunger - Hunger is not your enemy. Feed your body.
3. Make peace with food - Reject ideas about what you should or shouldn’t eat.
4. Challenge the 'food police' - Food is not good or bad. Challenge thoughts that tell you otherwise.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor - Make your eating experience enjoyable.
6. Feel your fullness - Listen for the signals of when you have had enough.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness - Honour your feelings without using food.
8. Respect your body - Stop criticising your body for how it looks.
9. Exercise and feel the difference - Find ways to move your body that you enjoy.
10. Honour your health through gentle nutrition - Eat foods that taste good and make you feel good.
Eating intuitively can be incredibly freeing. The mind-body connection and whole-body well-being are at the centre of its practice.
Intuitive Eating is an empowerment tool – it’s time to unleash it and liberate yourself from the prison of diet culture and weight obsession.
- Evelyn Tribole, dietitian and co-founder of Intuitive Eating.
History of Intuitive Eating
Some of the concepts of Intuitive Eating have been around at least since the early 1970s. However, the term wasn’t coined until the late 90s.
In 1995, US-based dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch were working with clients to help them lose weight. They found traditional weight-loss methods to be unsustainable and damaging to their clients. It became apparent that, no matter how hard their clients tried, almost 95% would return to the clinic having regained weight.
They decided it was time to think differently, so they started to look at the body and mind as one, as an approach to whole-body wellness. And so, Intuitive Eating was born.
What are the benefits of Intuitive Eating?
The concept of Intuitive Eating has been scientifically proven to provide a variety of both physical and mental benefits. It is encouraged as a popular method for individuals who struggle with their relationship with food. The science-backed benefits of this framework include:
- positive mental health
- higher feelings of self-worth
- positive body image
- increased feelings of gratitude
- decreased rates of disordered eating habits
- increased metabolism
- increased satisfaction in life
- decreased stress levels
- sustainable weight loss
Intuitive Eating isn’t just about diet. It’s a holistic approach that involves all aspects of your health. There are many intertwining factors that determine your health and diet is just one of them. Other factors include your mental health, how fulfilled you are with your life, how physically active you are, the strength of your support system, and your general stress levels.
Intuitive Eating for eating disorder recovery
Research has shown that practising the Intuitive Eating principles can be an effective method in eating disorder recovery treatment. A 2012 study of nearly 3,000 young adults found that participants who trusted their bodies with how much to eat also reported lower odds of disordered eating behaviours (when compared to participants who weren’t able to trust themselves).
Female participants who stopped eating when they felt full had lower odds of chronic dieting and eating disorder behaviours (such as binge eating) than those who did not stop when full.
What is mindful eating?
In today's fast-paced society, eating is often a mindless act; we consume our food quickly and without much thought. It's also common to lean into emotional ways of eating – using food as a source of comfort or as a reward.
In contrast to this, mindful eating is based on the practice of mindfulness and involves being fully attentive to food – as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it. Fundamentally, mindful eating involves:
- eating slowly, without rushing meals
- eating without distraction (turning off the TV and putting your phone down)
- properly chewing your food, to help with digestion
- engaging all your senses by noticing the colours, smells, sounds, textures, and flavours of your food
- distinguishing between physical and emotional hunger (true hunger vs non-hunger triggers for eating)
- listening to physical hunger cues and stopping when you’re full
- appreciating your food
- eating to maintain overall health and well-being
Ultimately, mindful eating is a powerful tool to regain control of your eating and to slow down in general. Particularly if conventional diets haven’t worked for you, this technique is worth considering.
What's the difference between Intuitive Eating and mindful eating?
Mindful eating and Intuitive Eating are similar in nature. Rather than trying to change the types or amounts of food that someone eats, instead, they focus on how a person engages with food, their body, and the eating experience. Both are approaches often used by non-diet and health at every size (HAES) professionals, so it's understandable to assume that they're one and the same.
However, although the two approaches complement each other and have significant overlap, there are some important differences. Whereas mindful eating is about being present in the eating experience in a non-judgmental way, Intuitive Eating is a broader framework that goes outside the eating experience, encouraging people to actively reject diet culture messaging and change their relationship with food and their body.
Some would also argue that, while it’s possible to engage in mindful eating without becoming an intuitive eater, Intuitive Eating isn't possible without adopting mindfulness.
How can a nutrition professional help me with Intuitive Eating?
Practising Intuitive Eating has a number of benefits, by no means is it easy but the benefits can help to reframe any negative thought and behaviour patterns that have been affecting not just your relationship to food, but your whole-body well-being.
A nutrition professional can guide you through the 10 principles and their importance, as you move towards Intuitive Eating and support you to embrace a healthy, fulfilling relationship with food.
It’s important to note that we are all unique, and our experiences with diet culture in the media, celebrity endorsements, our own social circles and our genes have played a big part in shaping the relationship we have with food. Addressing the route of an unhealthy relationship with food can be emotionally tough, so it can help to gain support from a professional counsellor or therapist alongside a nutrition professional.