What Is Intuitive Eating? Main Concept and Principles

The health and wellness world is buzzing with praise for eating intuitively and its benefits. But what is intuitive eating? Let’s break it down.

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by
Chelsea Rae Bourgeois, MS, RD
— Signos
Health writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
July 25, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Born from the belief that you know your body best, intuitive eating is a philosophy that puts you in the driver’s seat of your food choices. It goes against diet culture by not imposing restrictions or setting guidelines surrounding what you should or should not eat. Instead, it encourages you to listen to your body and its needs. You’re encouraged to eat fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, while also honoring your desire to eat other foods. No foods are off-limits. 

Intuitive eating is a mindful approach that helps you prioritize your overall well-being and mental health rather than just losing or gaining weight. And in a world that seems to be tiring of body image pressures, we’re seeing more people turn to this non-diet approach.

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Benefits of Intuitive Eating

While there’s a need for continued research, current studies point to several health benefits related to intuitive eating behaviors. Much of the science focuses on the psychological benefits connected to eating intuitively, but the positives don’t stop there.

Improved Relationship with Food

It’s no secret that diet culture has changed the way we view food. As a population, we’ve assigned morals to foods, labeling them as good or bad. We put so much pressure on food restrictions and feel intense guilt when we fall short. Sure, nutrition-packed vegetables offer endless benefits to our metabolic health, but balanced nutrition involves more than just meeting dietary needs.

Intuitive eating removes the guilt associated with food by giving you unconditional permission to listen to your body’s signals and fuel your needs with a variety of foods. As a result, many people develop a healthy relationship with food.

Enhanced Body Satisfaction

Diet culture has increasingly put more pressure on us to fit the unrealistic beauty standards of today’s society. In fact, body weight often dictates happiness. Intuitive eating focuses on our nutritional needs, not our body size. Still, research indicates that eating intuitively can help promote body image satisfaction and increase self-esteem.1 Listening to your hunger cues and removing diet rules helps you honor and appreciate your body.

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Reduced Risk of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the world’s population, and many experts believe that number is significantly underestimated.2 Thankfully, eating according to one’s internal hunger and satiety cues has been shown to help reduce disordered eating behaviors. Listening to your internal cues can especially help you avoid overeating, emotional eating, and binge eating.3

Physical Health Support

In addition to various mental health indicators, intuitive eating can also support our physical health. While weight management is not the goal of this gentle nutrition approach, research has shown that eating intuitively can actually help lower your body mass index or BMI. Additionally, it can help support other health indicators like healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.4

The Principles of Intuitive Eating

As registered dietitian nutritionists and the original intuitive eating professionals, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole have provided us with 10 intuitive eating principles to help push back against diet culture and promote body positivity.5 Let’s take a look:

  • Rejecting the Diet Mentality: Throw out the diet books that promise results in the short term. Push back against the lies that diet culture has fed us, equating a smaller body size with health and happiness.
  • Honoring Hunger and Fullness: Listen to your body’s physical hunger cues and keep it biologically fed with sufficient energy and carbohydrates. Honoring your hunger is the first step to rebuilding trust in yourself and your food.
  • Making Peace with Food: Give yourself permission to eat, free from conditions. Telling yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t eat a particular food can lead to uncontrollable cravings and overeating, followed by intense shame.
  • Challenging the Food Police: The food police monitor and enforce the unreasonable rules that diet culture has developed over the years. Unfortunately, the food police are rooted deep in our psyches. Chase the negative thoughts and hopeless phrases away.
  • Discovering Satisfaction: Rediscover the satisfaction factor by eating what you want in an inviting environment. The pleasure you feel will help you feel satisfied and understand when you’ve had enough food.
  • Coping with Emotions without Food: We all experience a range of emotions, including anxiety, loneliness, anger, and boredom, among others. While it may offer comfort in the short term, food can’t fix any of these feelings. We will eventually need to deal with the root source of the emotion.
  • Respecting Your Body: Embrace your genetic blueprint. Be realistic about your body size and give it the dignity it deserves.
  • Gentle Nutrition: You don’t have to have a perfect diet to be healthy. Make food choices that honor your overall health and your taste buds at the same time.
  • Feel Your Fullness: To honor your fullness, you need to be able to trust that you will give your body the food it desires. Monitor for body signals that indicate you are no longer hungry.
  • Movement: Physical activity is key, but intuitive eating asks us to shift our mindset away from the calorie-burning punishment and focus on how it feels to move our bodies.

Intuitive eating emphasizes the importance of personalized nutrition approaches. It highlights the need to honor individual dietary needs and goals, and it aims to complement lifestyle choices that support your best self.

Mindful Eating vs. Intuitive Eating

Although mindful eating and intuitive eating may sound similar, they present significant differences. Mindful eating encompasses a broader concept, while intuitive eating employs specific tactics to heal our relationship with food. Eating intuitively involves some aspects of mindfulness, but also requires a more comprehensive approach. 

Additionally, mindful eating has been largely commercialized and even incorporated into several weight loss diets, which goes against the very core of intuitive eating. The original experts behind intuitive eating have noted that eating intuitively can help reduce weight, but they do not preach weight loss as a guaranteed side effect.

Does Intuitive Eating Work? Overcoming Common Challenges and Misconceptions

Since intuitive eating hit the scene, studies have mostly focused on its beneficial psychological effects. Still, research supports the claims that intuitive eating can help create a healthy relationship with food and even outperform restrictive dieting on a physical level. However, it doesn’t come without its own challenges.

The anti-diet approach does not come with meal ideas, recipes, or meal plans. It often requires a period of re-learning your relationship with your body and with food. It will take time, requiring patience with yourself. It’s essential to give yourself grace when embarking on an intuitive eating journey. Thankfully, the RDNs behind intuitive eating have provided intuitive eaters with 10 guiding principles that can help.

Is Intuitive Eating Beneficial for Weight Loss? 

Intuitive eating was not born from a desire to help people lose weight. You will likely never see intuitive eating weight loss marketed by credentialed professionals. However, research has shown that eating intuitively can help with weight maintenance and may even support a lower BMI.

Intuitive eating aims to improve people’s relationships with their bodies and with food. Oftentimes, as a result, the body can find its healthiest weight on a biological level without food restrictions and excessive exercise. If you have questions about weight loss, consider meeting with a registered dietitian to address your individualized nutrition needs.

4 Tips to Get Started with Intuitive Eating

Think you might benefit from intuitive eating? Consider these four intuitive eating tips before getting started:

  1. Self-Reflection: Examine your own eating behaviors and attitudes. Reflect on your feelings surrounding meal times and ask yourself if you’re experiencing emotional or physical hunger. 
  2. Seek Support: Don’t put pressure on yourself to embark on this journey alone. Reach out to qualified professionals for help. Consider meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in intuitive eating or join a support group. With telehealth at our fingertips, finding support is easier than ever. 
  3. Practice Self-Care: Being kind to yourself is essential. Whether it means going for a walk every morning or scheduling a monthly massage, practicing regular self-care is critical to a successful intuitive eating journey. Prioritize yourself and lose the guilt.
  4. Learn From Experts in the Field: Consider learning from intuitive eating experts through podcasts, social media, and structured workbooks. Just be sure that you’re following the advice of credentialed professionals. Many healthcare professionals can earn a certification in intuitive eating. If you’re not sure who to turn to, ask your RDN for guidance.

Embracing Intuitive Eating as a Lifelong Journey

Unlike restrictive diets, intuitive eating is designed to be a lifelong commitment. This process emphasizes long-term self-compassion, encouraging eaters to cultivate a sustainable relationship with their bodies and with food.

Of course, to be sustainable, an eating pattern needs to be adaptable. Your needs change over time. Your nutrition should be able to change along with them, free from guilt or shame. To find success through intuitive eating, it’s essential to avoid rules and stay in tune with your body. Eventually, intuitive eaters may find that their eating patterns adapt naturally without much thought.

Learn How to Improve Your Health through Nutrition with Signos

Signos’ continuous glucose monitoring can improve your overall health while keeping track of your diet and blood sugar levels. Providing real-time data helps users understand how their healthy eating habits connect to other aspects of their health, allowing them to make adjustments as needed.

Understanding a food’s impact on your blood glucose can help you eat intuitively and support your specific dietary needs. Learn how Signos works and how Signos can improve health in those pursuing the best version of themselves.

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References

  1. Linardon, J., Tylka, T. L., & Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M. (2021). Intuitive eating and its psychological correlates: A meta-analysis. The International journal of eating disorders, 54(7), 1073–1098. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.23509
  2. Eating disorder statistics: General & Diversity stats: Anad. ANAD National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. (2023, May 3). https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/ 
  3. Hazzard, V. M., Telke, S. E., Simone, M., Anderson, L. M., Larson, N. I., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2021). Intuitive eating longitudinally predicts better psychological health and lower use of disordered eating behaviors: findings from EAT 2010-2018. Eating and weight disorders : EWD, 26(1), 287–294. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-020-00852-4
  4. Van Dyke, N., & Drinkwater, E. J. (2014). Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review. Public health nutrition, 17(8), 1757–1766. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980013002139
  5. 10 principles of intuitive eating. Intuitive Eating. (2019, December 19). http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/

About the author

Chelsea Rae Bourgeois is a registered dietitian nutritionist with several years of experience working in the clinical setting. Once a track and field athlete on a competitive stage, she now finds joy in combining her passions as a health writer to help people embrace their wellness through nutrition and fitness.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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