Do you spend a lot of time and effort counting calories? Do you label food as being “good” or “bad?” Is concern about your diet causing you more harm than good? Consider ‘intuitive eating’ to develop a more peaceful relationship with food.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that relies on inner wisdom to guide food choices, rather than external cues (1). The approach was developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in the 1990s. Those who follow a practice of intuitive eating:
- Eat when they feel hunger and stop eating when they feel full.
- Make food choices based on both health and enjoyment.
- Trust, respect and nourish their bodies.
- Reject the “diet” mentality.
What are the advantages of eating intuitively?
Research indicates that intuitive eaters:
- Are less likely to be overweight or underweight.
- Are less likely to suffer from eating disorders.
- Have better self-esteem.
- Are happier overall.
One recent study compared a traditional weight loss program to an intuitive eating program (2). People in the intuitive eating program improved their cholesterol levels, boosted their self-esteem and increased their body satisfaction. Participants in the traditional weight loss program experienced no such benefits.
How do I start?
Try these tips to start eating intuitively.
- Stop the “diet” mentality. Recognize that quick-fix diets usually fail. Resolve to making a lasting lifestyle change instead.
- Pay attention to your hunger and fullness signals. Make a plan to eat when you are hungry, and stop when you feel comfortably full. Jotting your feelings down in a journal or notebook might be helpful to you to understand what “hungry” and “full” feel like for you. Keep your energy levels up with regular healthy meals and small snacks.
- Stop labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Labeling foods can make you feel guilty, and “restricted” foods often feel very tempting. The truth is, any food in moderation can be part of a healthy eating plan. Choose foods that honor both your health and taste preferences. Take a sensible approach and choose a diet that contains a variety of different foods from all of the food groups.
- Enjoy eating. It’s okay to relax and enjoy the experience of eating. When you eat mindfully and savor every bite, you may find that you are satisfied with less.
- Learn to soothe yourself without food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom and anger are emotions we all experience. For some, food may provide comfort in the short-term, but eating will never solve an underlying problem or worry. Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract and resolve your issues without using food.
- Respect your body. When you stop to think about it, you will see that the human body is amazing, and it’s the only one you will have for the rest of your life. It’s important to understand that bodies naturally come in all shapes and sizes. Instead of judging and criticizing, try truly caring for your body with respect. The results may surprise you.
Book: Intuitive Eating, 3rd edition by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Schaefer JT, Magnuson AB. A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014 May;114(5):734-60.
- Bacon L, Stern JS, Van Loan MD, Keim NL. Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese, female chronic dieters. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 Jun;105(6):929-36.