Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating is a weight-inclusive, non-diet approach to food and eating, determined by two US-based dietitians in the late 90s. They found traditional weight-loss methods to be unsustainable and damaging to their clients and started to look at the body and mind as one, as an approach to whole-body wellness. 

Here, we’ll look at the Intuitive Eating approach in-depth, and how it can be helpful to adopt its framework for a healthier relationship with food, more positive mental health, and improved physical health. We'll also explore the relationship between Intuitive Eating and mindful eating, and how the two approaches differ.

What is Intuitive Eating?

In 1995, dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch were working with clients to help them lose weight, but it soon became apparent that no matter how hard their clients tried, almost 95% would return to the clinic having regained weight. It was time to think differently, and so Intuitive Eating was born.

Intuitive Eating is a mind-body health approach to food and eating that embraces individuality and encourages you to tune into your body’s signals when it comes to what, how much and when you should eat.

Learning to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger, the science-backed approach rejects diet culture by eradicating any obstacles in body awareness and deconstructing learnt diet mentality and behaviour patterns, in order to thoroughly nourish your body. It's about the connection to your true, authentic self.

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.

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What are the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating?

Adopting the practices of Intuitive Eating means working through the 10 key principles which are fundamental to addressing the relationship you have with food — the rationale behind Intuitive Eating.

This approach is a lifestyle change, 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 
  2. Honour your hunger
  3. Make peace with food 
  4. Challenge the ‘food police’
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor
  6. Feel your fullness
  7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
  8. Respect your body
  9. Exercise and feel the difference 
  10. Honour your health through gentle nutrition

Eating intuitively can be incredibly freeing and revolutionary, placing the mind-body connection and whole-body well-being at the centre of its practice. 

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 to those that practise it and 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.

- Registered Associate Nutritionist Hattie Rees (ANutr) shares her experience of Intuitive Eating.

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 reported trusting their body when it came to how much to eat, reported lower odds of demonstrating 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-judgemental 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 wellbeing. 

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.

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