We’ve talked about intuitive eating in the past (check out our hunger scale!) but never fully dove into all 10 principles — until now. Intuitive Eating was coined by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND, after their clients expressed concerns about the diet plans they had been given in the past. Eager to learn more about how we instinctively eat and to improve their clients’ relationship with food, the founders developed and began teaching 10 principles for intuitive eating.
1. Reject the diet mentality
Diet culture surrounds us, but you don’t have to participate. We all have friends or family members who have been on diets that strike us as a little (or a lot) extreme or unsustainable. Say no to rigid food rules, dietary restrictions that aren’t medically necessary and the pressure to eat perfectly all the time. There’s always going to be a new fad diet to try, but research shows crash diets don’t work.
2. Honor your hunger
Since we were born, we’ve had people telling us when and how much to eat. But the thing is: as babies, we cry when we’re hungry — even if it’s outside the typical breakfast, lunch and dinner eating times. While some structure to meals can be helpful if you have a busy schedule, ignoring your hunger because it’s not “time to eat” isn’t helpful. Most of the time, it just makes us hangry. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
3. Make peace with food
Stop fighting with food and allow yourself to eat all types of food. There are obviously cases where you should strictly steer clear of a food, like if you have an allergy to it or it will interfere with an illness or medication. But generally speaking, if we tell ourselves not to eat a certain food, we feel deprived and often overeat, which can be uncomfortable and guilt-provoking.
4. Challenge the food police
Avoid categorizing food as good or bad. If you feel “bad” for eating a piece of chocolate cake, you may need to tell your internal “food police” to take a hike. Rigid food rules and feelings of insecurity about eating “bad” foods can harm our relationship with food. All foods, especially when eating a variety of them, can serve a purpose in your eating plan. When you are eating the right mix of nourishing foods, an indulgence every now and then doesn’t have to be a punishable offense.
5. Respect your fullness
Get in tune with your hunger and check in with yourself as you eat. If you start to feel full, consider saving the rest of your meal as leftovers for another meal this week. Our hunger scale can help you tune in to your fullness cues and avoid eating too little or too much.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor
Sometimes in our diet-obsessed culture, it’s easy to overlook the pleasure of eating. When you eat what you really want (like a diverse meal of roasted potatoes and vegetables and salmon cooked with oil, plus a handful of chocolate-covered almonds) instead of what you think you should eat (lettuce, boiled chicken, no dressing) you may find it takes less food to decide you’ve had “enough” to eat.
7. Honor your feelings without using food
We all experience negative emotions, but using food to solve those problems rarely works. Instead, find a proactive way to process your emotions — whether it’s through calling a friend, taking a bath or adopting a new hobby that clears your mind.
8. Respect your body
Respect your body, because it does a lot more for you than you might realize. It’s hard to reject dieting if you are overly judgmental of your body size or shape.
9. Exercise — feel the difference
Movement is an important part of health, but you’re more likely to participate in exercise if it’s a type you enjoy doing. Focus on how you feel during the exercise — you’re more likely to engage in consistent exercise if it makes you feel energized instead of physically drained.
10. Honor your health
Intuitive eating (a non-diet approach to eating) is not anti-health. Most of the time, you choose foods that make you feel good, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, protein and healthy fats. At the same time, intuitive eating encourages practicing compassion if you overeat or eat indulgent food and recognizes that your worth is not based on your pants size.
Hopefully these 10 principles make intuitive eating a little less mysterious and a little more practical. These principles can help improve your relationship with food so you spend less time thinking about eating and more time engaging in meaningful life experiences.
This blog post includes contributions from Liz Sanders, MPH, RD.