Eating Intuitively: Your Handy Guide

Eating Intuitively: Your Handy Guide

Written by: Charli Harlen, Bsc

Reviewed by: Grace Dwyer, RD

Eating what you want when you want?  Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat? Doesn’t sound like the “healthy eating” you’ve heard of before, does it? Before you go on thinking it’s too good to be true, take a look at eating intuitively. It may be your road towards feeling happier and healthier.

What is Intuitive Eating?

First coined in 1995 by Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating (IE) is essentially a self-care practice. IE is not a diet – rather, it’s  the anti-diet. IE focuses on self-acceptance, self-trust, and introspection while rejecting diet culture and its inaccurate images of health. 

Eating intuitively involves relying on and listening to your internal cues that signal hunger or fullness. Intuitive eaters use these biological cues to not only tell them when to eat but what to eat. They reject labeling foods good or bad and instead allow themselves unconditional permission to eat.

As infants we innately use and listen to these cues, but as we age these important signals become distorted or ignored because of messages we hear about how we “should” feel and look. Internalizing these expectations leads us to self-restrict or diet. When we forbid certain foods, we rescind that permission to eat and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to preoccupations with food.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, created by Tribole and Resch, provide a framework for relearning biological cues and rebuilding your relationship with food. These principles help relieve the  shame and guilt associated with diet culture and the “food police.”

explanation of intuitive eating, an anti-diet nutrition philosophy

Benefits of Eating Intuitively

You might be thinking, “what exactly can Intuitive Eating do for me?” Studies have shown that eating intuitively is linked to improvements in both physical and psychological health, including:

  • Eating behaviors → increased intake of fruits and vegetables, reduced risk of self-restriction, and reduced risk of disordered eating
  • Disease-risk → reduced total cholesterol, reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Psychological outcomes → increased quality of life, reduced emotional stress, increased body image, increased body satisfaction, and increased self-esteem

Your Roadmap to Eating Intuitively

Okay, so you’re sold on the idea of Intuitive Eating but don’t know how or where to start. Tribole and Resch created the principles to act as a roadmap to guide you through IE concepts!

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Reject the Diet Mentality

Dieting can be both physically and emotionally harmful. Even though many people use diets for weight loss, science has proven that diets do not achieve that goal. Studies have shown that restrictive diets do not result in sustained weight loss or improved health outcomes, and any weight loss or risks improved in six months of dieting is typically back in one year. Plus, numbers on a scale do not indicate health status.

Honor Your Hunger

Respect your biological need for food. Restriction can lead to preoccupation with food and disordered eating patterns.

Make Peace with Food

Food is not bad or good. It is just food. Forbidding certain foods can lead to distress and guilt.

Challenge the Food Police

The “Food Police” is any force that pushes harsh food rules on us. Sometimes that’s internal: we monitor ourselves and even sometimes shame ourselves. Other times, this force is external: an overbearing parent, a billboard promoting an inaccurate image of health, or even a friend commenting on your appearance. No matter what ‘Food Police’ means to you, this is where you tell them to get lost. 

Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Eat the foods that satisfy you – both physically and psychologically! As humans, it’s natural and wonderful that food can be fun, social, and satisfying. Also, consider your surroundings: eating in an environment that you enjoy will enhance your eating experience, making you better able to feel those biological satisfaction cues!

Respect Your Fullness

Relearn your body’s biological fullness cues. Knowing what fullness feels like helps us eat more intuitively. Give yourself time to respond to food by taking small moments during meals to check in with yourself.

Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Be kind to yourself and the emotions you face. Emotional hunger is not physical hunger, and it cannot be satisfied with food.

Respect Your Body

Improve body satisfaction and self-esteem by embracing body diversity. There is no ideal mold we need to fit. All bodies are different and they are equally deserving of dignity and respect.

Movement—Feel the Difference

Participate in activities that you actually enjoy instead of focusing on just burning calories.

Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Eat for health and pleasure. Understand that your food choices do not have to be “perfect” for you to be healthy – because what does “perfect” even mean, when it comes to food?

Girl eating ice cream as she practices intuitive eating
Intuitive eating means that no foods are “bad” or “off-limits”

How to Further Tap Into Your Intuition

Eating intuitively harnesses the power of  mindfulness in lifestyle and in eating.  The principles we just covered embrace being mindful of both internal and external forces. 

Honing mindfulness skills will no doubt improve your Intuitive Eating practice! Here are some awesome ways to exercise mindfulness in other areas of your daily life!

→ Practice mindfulness in your daily activities 

Mindfulness is all about paying objective attention. That means noticing your feelings and thoughts, and allowing them to exist without judgment.

Here are some simple tips to practice mindfulness in your everyday life.

  • Mindfulness can be exercised anywhere and for any stretch of time (even just 30 seconds) with some simple exercises. Anytime that you can devote some introspection will work – dinnertime, a mid-afternoon walk, or bath time. 
  • Clearing your mind is not the goal. Rather, acknowledge those thoughts without judgment and let them go. Pointing attention to your breath or repeating a word or phrase in your mind acts as a focal point and helps limit intruding thoughts.
  • When you feel yourself wandering away from the experience, just reroute back to the practice with breath or another focal point.
  • If mealtime is the best time for you to practice mindfulness, check out mindful eating meditations – guided meditations to help you remain focused on the sensory experience.


→ Practice self-care and don’t feel bad about it

Practicing self-care looks different for each individual.  For some it can be social interaction, for others it is self-pampering, and sometimes it can even be checking out with some take out and a good movie (discover that satisfaction factor!). We can use mindfulness to explore ways to practice self-care. 

  • Start giving yourself permission to relax and recharge in the ways you need to.
  • Without judgment, explore new and different ways to practice compassionate self-care.
  • Be mindful of how those experiences make you feel and adopt the practices that work for you.

→ Take Inventory

Writing down what we experience, how we feel about it, and how we deal with it can be one of the most empowering exercises.

Journaling in any capacity can help us to cope with our emotions. When we practice mindfulness in dealing with our experiences, we exercise self-kindness. We take judgment out of the equation, allowing an objective view to the root of the situation. 

Sometimes you might feel “emotionally hungry” and want to eat because you’re sad, lonely, stressed, or relieved. , We can use this activity to better understand our internal signals in these situations.

Food journals can help us document our preferences, our experiences with new foods, or our emotions around certain foods. Try journaling your Intuitive Eating experiences by noting cravings, sensations, emotions, identifiers for biological cues, and where you may be encountering the ‘Food Police’. 

Intuitive Eating Support & Resources

Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach – a book by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S & Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FADA, FAND

The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food – a book by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S & Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FADA, FAND

Just Eat It – a book by Laura Thomas, PhD

The Anti-Diet Project – a column by Kelsey Miller 

Food Psych – a podcast by Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN

Facebook IE Support Group

Want More Guidance?

No problem! Eating intuitively is a journey that can take some support. You can contact me directly for one-on-one Nutritional Counseling, with a free, no-strings 15-minute phone call to make sure we fit.

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