What is Intuitive Eating?
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Rejecting Diet Culture and Stepping into a Happier, Healthier Relationship with Food and Body
Kacey Legnitto, MS, RD, CEDRD
Intuitive eating empowers each person to listen and learn from their body to better understand how to adequately and pleasurably eat. It is not associated with rules, conditions, or restrictions, rather, it is flexible and a whole-body experience. It is a way of eating where an individual trusts their body and their body trusts them back
The concept of trusting our bodies to know what and how much to eat may sound radical, but in fact, we are all born intuitive eaters. When a baby is born they know how to nourish themselves. When they are hungry, they cry. When they are full, they push away and give clear signals they are done eating. If we continue to foster this same internal wisdom in young children, we find children often grow to become intuitive eaters themselves. They feel confident in trusting their bodies to tell them if, what and how much to eat to adequately nourish themselves. However, if unnecessary restrictions around food are introduced early on, this can lead to a young child becoming unattuned with their internal signals of hunger, fullness and satiety. Unnecessary restrictions can lead to a child learning not to trust their body and their internal wisdom. Imposed restriction, like poverty and food insecurity, can also have similar effects. Even if a child was brought up in an environment that fostered becoming an intuitive eater, they can still be thrown off the path of being an intuitive eater throughout their lifetime. One common thing that often contributes to increased rigidity around food and decreased attunement to ones body’s signals is diet culture. Diet culture is described as a system of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue. It often gives the false promise that once you reach a certain body size you will be happier, healthier, and more powerful. One can spend their whole life stuck in diet culture’s grasp, which often leads to an individual feeling they are broken, unhealthy, unworthy, etc. because they do not match up with the unattainable, life-stealing thin “ideal”. When one falls prey to diet culture, they often find they no longer are able to listen to their body signals telling them when and how much to eat, rather, they now are following diet culture’s rules of when, how much, and what to eat. Eating becomes an experience filled with rules, restrictions, conditions, etc. (aka rigid or flexible dieting). Joyful eating becomes less and less joyful and physical and mental health often declines. If you are reading this and find that diet culture or the environment you were raised in affected or is affecting your ability to be an intuitive eater, rest assured that it is absolutely possible to work towards becoming an intuitive eater again in a way that feels empowering, pleasurable, and liberating to you. There is no one, perfect definition of, or path to, intuitive eating because we are all human, born in different bodies, with bodies that communicate in different ways, and have unique needs. The journey back to intuitive eating is comprised of relearning how to listen to one’s own body, breaking free from the rules of diet culture or that one’s environment has reinforced, and relearning how to eat pleasurably and adequately again (no strings attached!) in a way that honors one’s own, unique mental and physical health.
According to the authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, CEDRD-S & Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, CEDRD, “Intuitive eating is an evidenced-based, mind-body health approach, comprised of 10 Principles. It is a weight-neutral model with a validated assessment scale and over 90 studies to date (Tribole 2017).” Intuitive eating has been researched and shown to support the following:
· Increased pleasure in eating
· Decreased stress around eating
· Improving self-esteem
· Greater body appreciation and satisfaction
· Greater life satisfaction
· Lower rates of disordered eating
· Improved cholesterol levels
· Improved relationship with movement
The 10 principles intuitive eating is comprised of include:
1. Reject the diet mentality.
2. Honor your hunger.
3. Make peace with food.
4. Challenge the food police.
5. Respect your fullness.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor.
7. Honor your feelings without kindness.
8. Respect your body.
9. Movement – Feel the difference.
10. Honor your health.
*You can read more about Intuitive Eating and it’s 10 principles here: https://www.intuitiveeating.org/
My hope is that individuals are able to feel more at home in their bodies, reconnect with their body again, break free from the restraints of dieting and restriction, and enjoy food in a nourishing and satisfying way. Food is meant to be social, joyful, and life-giving. So why are we letting diet culture convince us otherwise?
1. A. Oswald, et al., “Do Interoceptive awareness and interoceptive responsiveness mediate the relationship between body appreciation and intuitive eating in young women?” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 109, no. 1 (February 2017): 66-72, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2016.11.019.
2. L. Humphrey, et al., “Health at Every Size College Course Reduces Dieting Behaviors and Improves Intuitive Eating, Body Esteem, and Anti-Fat Attitudes.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 47, no. 4, 354 – 360, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2015.01.008.
3. J. Schaefer, et al., “A Review of Interventions that Promote Eating by Internal Cues.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 114, no. 5 (May 2014): 734-760, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.024.
4. Tribole E. (2017). Intuitive Eating: Research Update. SCAN’s Pulse. 36(6):1-5.