What Is Intuitive Eating? Explore The Revolutionary 10 Principles To Start Learning How To Eat Intuitively!

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Last updated on May 27, 2020

what is intuitive eating?

Intuitive Eating is an amazing and practical way to free yourself from
bad eating habits, but it’s not straightforward.

pinterest image with title of blog what is intuitive eating

With other diets and meal programs you can easily get the gist:

  • Keto = less carbs more fat
  • Atkins = just meat
  • Paleo = cavemen > fish, fats, veggies
  • Weight Watchers = predetermined point system

These other diet programs tell you what to eat and what not to eat. They have clear rules. Do this and Don’t do that.  “Think” about your food in this way. 

Diet programs try to make eating a science. They try to make everything logical and predictable.  This sounds great, but in reality they often do not result in long-term weight loss. In fact, quite the opposite, diets are shown to be a predictor of weight gain and binge eating!

Can I ask how any one of these that is working for you, especially over the long run? How is trying to ‘think’ about your body and food going for you?

On the other hand, Intuitive Eating has no rules, only guidelines. 

Don’t get me wrong – Intuitive Eating guidelines are backed by science. The philosophy of Intuitive Eating was popularized by scientists and dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. If you’d like to a list of additional studies from major universities, see this list of published research on Intuitive Eating.

In this post we’ll take a look at the revolutionary 10 principles of Intuitive Eating and explore the following topics:

  1. What is Intuitive Eeating? Looking at the 10 principles
  2. How To Start Intuitive Eating – note that we’ll start to look at this after explaining the first two principles and that this will weave in and out of our discussion. 
  3. Big Picture On How To Eat Intuitively

Alright, are you ready to learn about Intuitive Eating and make peace with food? Let’s explore this topic together:

What is Intuitive Eating? Looking at the 10 Principles

10 principles of intuitive eating image

Big Picture How To Eat Intuitively – Discover

We just talked about food preferences.

Take note of food preferences because understanding food preferences is the key to intuitive eating.

This key is Discovery. You have to go on an adventure to discover your food preferences!

Here are some ways to wrap your head around food preferences:

  • What do you want to eat?
  • How did that food taste to you?
  • Do you really want to eat more food, or would you feel better if you stopped eating?
  • Would you feel better eating the same food, or trying a different food?
  • How did that food make you feel?

Understanding food preferences is the key to learning how to eat intuitively.

Want to know how to eat intuitively? Well, reject the diet mentality. And, really embrace a personal discovery journey where you are discovering what foods you like and dislike, and what foods make you feel good.

This is where we get intuitive.

Because foods that I like, dislike, and make me feel good are NOT the same foods that make you feel good.

This is there are no food rules in Intuitive Eating. This is why some people crave the structure of diets. Put simply – they don’t want to think (or they might not have energy, time, mental bandwidth to think). 

Intuitive Eating requires you to feel, think, and reflect for yourself upon your experiences. No one can tell you how to be an intuitive eater. 

However, it does help to have a guide. As a coach and certified intuitive eating counselor help support you through this process, I can help you look inward and to help you find out what you like. In addition to this guidance, I can help you through times where you can’t understand what’s going on.  

Schedule a free complimentary session here if you’d like to begin this journey with me.

Principle 1 – Reject The Diet Mentality.

quote by temple - people are always looking for the magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet.
picture of bullet with quote saying there is no magic bullet

Millions of Americans continue to diet each year because of the structure that diets provide. 

We humans love rules. Rules make things clear. They give us structure. 

In the short term, repeat, in the short term, tThe other reason why diets are so alluring, like fish going after bait because…

  • Trying to lose weight by eating less food (also known as dieting!) is also attractive because you initially lose weight fast. Have you ever started a diet and immediately lost 5-8 lbs in a week? 
  • Losing so much weight quickly is like a drug. You feel good, you feel in control. You feel unstoppable. There is a chemical rush of dopamine and adrenaline when you step on that scale and see the weight numbers plummet like an asteroid.

However, dieting rules pave the way for a rigid lifestyle of restriction and deprivation.

I can’t tell you how many people I have spoken to who feel totally confused and helpless because of the preposterous amount of food rules that these types of diets impose.

I remember one person told me they spent 30 minutes comparing two cans of beans in the supermarket!

The Reason People Fall For Dieting (Even “Lifestyle” programs like Whole30) …

The reason you get hooked into these different programs is the allure of weight loss. You do their ‘new’ program, lose weight, and feel great.

But this weight loss is an illusion. Many studies show that these kinds of dieting rules often lead to or exacerbate binge eating and eating disorders. Dieting rules do more harm than they do good.

Many diet programs also claim their weight loss claims are backed by science which backs up their weight loss claims, diets 95% of the time cause eating disorder, gaining weight and binge eating!

Ultimately, in the long run, diets don’t work. And that’s why this first principle is about rejecting everything that falls under the umbrella of dieting.

That means rejecting things like:

  • Calorie counting
  • Judging foods as gGood and bad foods from a moral perspective
  • Perfectionism
  • Making wWeight loss is sole criteria of success

Good news is there is increasing cultural recognition that dieting is bad. For example, the Health At Every Size movement places healthy behaviors over weight loss.

Principle 2 – Honor Your Hunger

John templeton quote - tell your readers to use it or lose it. If you don't use your muscles, they get weak. if you don't use your mind, it begins to fail.
picture of brain with quote saying use it or lose it

Honoring your hunger means training yourself to pay attention to both the emotional and physical aspects of hunger. 

I figure you know what the physical feels like, but the emotional side of hunger is even more important. When I say “emotional hunger,” I mean “feeling” things more subtly than just a hunger pang – that is, the ‘quiet voice’ of your belly. This quiet voice may speak to you in:

  • gurgles
  • rumbling
  • emptiness
  • other sensations

And training yourself to become sensitive to your stomach in this way leads to enhanced hunger strengths and abilities, which means – ultimately – you’ll be able to prevent yourself from entering ‘survival’ mode (a concept I cover more in this article here about starting intuitive eating

To start explaining this principle, lLet’s first compare hunger to weight lifting. 

Your hunger is like a muscle that can be trained. With practice, over time you can enhance your hunger strength and abilities:

  • Notice when you are hungry
  • Distinguish between ravenous hunger and moderate hunger
  • Distinguish between emotional hunger versus physical hunger

And just like muscles, if you stop working out and being active, you lose your muscles. Hunger is the same way. If you don’t connect with your hunger and distinguish the differences in the above list, then you stop being able to feel your hunger.

How do you stop feeling your hunger more subtly? Oftentimes people spend all of their attention concentrating on following their diet rules rather then listening to their stomach. Over time, you might lose the ability to feel your hunger. 

What happens when you stop feeling your hunger? You spiral out of control. You eat haphazardly and then binge. Worst of all, you feel the desire for more structure and control, so you start to diet again and the cycle restarts. 

In contrast, if you DO connect with your hunger, then you can avoid binging, emotional eating, etc.

Unfortunately, most people who I work with began to ignore their hunger in innocence. 

Just the other day a woman told me how she and her mom together went to the dietitian’s office the first day of highschool. Together they started a diet the first day of high school. It was a family affair. Her mom was proud of the young lady her daughter had become.  And at first they bonded because they lost weight together (I’m unsure if mom was on diet too but definitely was invested in her daughter losing weight).

So later on when this young girl regained the weight from dieting (because that’s what you do – regain the weight and more when you diet) her relationship with her mother became strained and never recovered.

Can you see the innocence? People start dieting innocently, but then quickly pay the price. 

There’s good news, though. While over time you may have lost connection to your own body, with Intuitive Eating now you just have to practice. 

First you have to honor your hunger by realizing diets will never work!

Second, by making a commitment to practicing your hunger skills, instead of dieting, you can relearn how to hear feel your hunger.  (And as you learn and practice more, you’ll also find that understanding food preferences is key to intuitive eating – I’ll talk much more about food preferences and “intuitive” in Principle 6 below, but let’s take it step by step).

But I’m scared to trust my body and listen to my hunger … what then? How do I start to eat intuitively?

How To Start Intuitive Eating

Before you freak out like so many people do when they hear ‘honor your hunger’ – let’s take a step back. There’s no need to worry. In fact, there is a surprising amount of structure to guide you as you learn to start intuitive eating.  This structure is different from the rigid rules of other diets, it’s more like guidelines that you can personalize to your individual needs and preferences.

Starting intuitive is like learning to ride a bicycle. You start off with training wheels, right? Training wheels are a little cumbersome, but they keep you upright as you learn to balance.

To start intuitive eating, you begin with a simple, flexible meal schedule. 

We cover this information more in depth in my podcast Definition Of Intuitive Eating: Interview With Two Dietitians, Hayley and Michelle”. 

The primary reason to start with a meal schedule is simple. A meal schedule is the number way to prevent binge eating.

(The number one cause of binge eating is when you stop eating for 5+ hours and develop ravenous hunger. Having a meal schedule and eating regularly like every 3-5 hours helps reduce binge eating). 

A simple, flexible meal schedule is MUCH different than a restrictive diet for the following reasons:

  • It says nothing about what you can’t eat
  • Gives you flexibility. For example, a guideline is to eat every 3-5 hours. But there’s no specific time like how some diets say “eat at noon”
  • No calorie counting!
  • Instead of calorie counting, you focus on getting a protein and a complex carbohydrate every meal. For example, for breakfast instead of thinking about how an egg is worth 120 calories you would just focus on getting some eggs and a complex carbohydrate like whole wheat toast. 

Let’s continue on with the third of the 10 principles of intuitive eating…

Principle 3 – Make Peace With Food

quote - when we remove that black and white, all or nothing thinking around food, we remove the charge and take away the power that food has over us

Is a donut good or bad? 

Trick question. A donut is neither good or bad. Got you! Or did I? Let me know in the comments below.

A donut is not morally bad or good. A donut is just a piece of food. Click To Tweet

Sure, a donut has more calories than a piece of carrot. Are you a better person for having a carrot? Or are you a worse person for having a donut? No. Of course not.

At first glance this principle might appear to be unhealthy. You might think that if all foods are equal, why not eat donuts 24/7? 

eating whatever you want isn't what you think like tons of sugary foods, instead eating what you want looks like a variety of healthy foods

The truth is different. 

If you make all foods morally equal then you end up eating a variety of all foods. 

“Morally equal” means that you give yourself permission to eat all foods, if you genuinely want to, without judgment. This principle will dramatically change your relationship with food …

Normally people guilt trip themselves when they eat unhealthy foods. They start off by making certain foods good and other foods bad.

But humans are wired to automatically crave foods that are bad. We love being bad and dirty!

So people are ‘good’ for awhile and then something happens. Their willpower and motivation dries up. When a person’s willpower and energy levels are low … then that’s when their secret desires spring forward. The bad foods are binged on!

All these problems stem from judging foods as being good or bad. Drop the judgment towards food. Make peace with food.

Allow your body to eat what it wants. 

Stop basing your self worth and judging yourself based on what foods you eat! 

Instead of all this guilt, redirect this energy into noticing how the foods make you feel. Give up the idea of morally right or wrong foods!

Principle 4 – Challenge The Food Police

food police cartoon with the police saying to people exactly what to eat and the people asking if they are under a dictator and then finding out the police person is just a nutritionist

The Food Police symbolize our internal and cultural standards towards food. Oftentimes our inner voice demands perfection!

If we have even one cookie then we think we are a failure. Have you ever felt this way? Where you make have one mistake when eating and then you say to yourself “f**k it!” and then go proceed to binge like crazy?

In this principle you learn to identify and hear the different voices in your head, which are collectively called the Food Police. The Food Police are your inner judge and jury. They condemn you and are the voices responsible for making you feel ashamed about your eating habits.

It takes courage and effort to stand up to the Food Police voices. 

I remember that back when I lived as a monk and started exploring mindfulness and mindful eating, I started getting first hand exposure to these voices that were ruining my life without my knowledge! 

And over the years, I’ve found that some degree of sincere, effort, contemplation and reflection is necessary to identify these voices.  This really is part of the commitment and daily practice we talked about above, of learning how to tune in to your feelings about hunger.

There are additional tools from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which can be incredibly helpful in helping you realize these voices are false, not true, and extremely biased.

As you learn to stand up to your inner Food Police, you also start to learn how to access your Inner Nurturing voice.

THIS voice empowers you to calm down and meet your emotional needs.

Principle 5 – Respect Your Fullness

quote - our culture has bred consumers and addicts. We eat too much, buy too much, and want too much. We want more ... but we are really hungry for connection.

This principle is related to hunger but in the opposite sense – fullness.

Getting too full is like the picture above which shows a bunch of water spilled on the ground. The lesson is when you pour too much water in a glass you get messy.

The same thing is true of eating, but it doesn’t need to be this way. You can be “full” without going over the top!

To feel your fullness I have one key training principle for you that’s pretty straightforward and that I teach each of my clients. Are you ready?

Just notice when the food starts tasting not as a good.

The first bite is amazing. The second bite is great. The third bite is good. The fourth bite is ok. The fifth bite you don’t really want.

To respect your fullness, you will need to listen to your body and taste sensations – that is, you’ll need to learn how to identify when you about ready to over the top.  But if you can simply slow down and , mindfully eat intuitively, then you will be able to respect your fullness levels. 

One last thing about fullness – people say letting go of food judgment is the scariest part of Intuitive Eating.

But they also Yet people say the most difficult part of intuitive eating is learning when you are full.

And please understand that this is a process, a journey, which is why you need to make that commitment to daily practice. 

You’ll be eating food and suddenly realize you ate too much! What happened? Nothing happened. It’s called learning. It’s like you fell over on the bike. Does that mean you rode the bike wrong? No. You just pick yourself up and make a mental note. No guilt. Just see what you can learn and move on. 

The next time you are approaching your fullness, you’ll be better prepared to stop eating. 

Principle 6 – Discover The Satisfaction Factor

Evelyn Tribole Quote - if you don't love it, don't eat it, and if you love it, savor it

You have two choices when you eat food, and you alone are the only person who can decide.

What are you deciding between? The choice is simple – do you like this food or not

Do you like how it makes you feel physically? Are you satisfied while eating the food? Basically, does the food satisfy you?

To make this decision you’ll have to be “present and in-the-moment” (that is, you’ll have to be paying attention) and slow down. You’ll have to taste the food.

And remember, most foods are always available. You no longer have to scarf down the brownies at the social event after work because you never have brownies and this is your one and only chance.

Now you finally have a chance to make a decision about brownies based upon how brownies make you feel. Instead of being driven by scarcity and dieting rules, you stand at a fork in the path.

You can like brownies. Seriously, you can.

You can also not like brownies if they don’t make you feel good.

The freedom can be terrifying.

But at the end of the day, if you’ve been following the other principles and are not guilt tripping yourself, then you’ll start to able to reclaim the joy of eating for you personally.

The word ‘discover’ is very apt here. You have to go on a food journey of discovery. 

Principle 7 – Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

quote - we cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions

In the picture above there is the vast universe.

Your feelings can be scary like the universe. They can seem overwhelming like the number of stars. They can seem confusing like the dark matter mysteries in the universe. You may feel uncertain about your place in the universe. 

You may hate the universe or you may hate the cold black space or the laws of gravity. Maybe you can hate your emotions and that you lose control. Or you can despise the fact that you have trauma. Perhaps you avoid your emotions in all sorts of ways these days with Netflix and computers and distractions.

The alternative is you can face the truth. Your emotions can beautiful – just like the universe. The universe can also be a place of wonder, of awe at God’s creation perhaps, of connectedness. Likewise, your emotions are your soul talking to you.

As messy and as chaotic as they may seem, you can learn to soothe your emotions and to make peace with your emotions and your place in the universe. There are stress relief tactics out there!

To start being able to handle emotions without turning to food, you’ll first need to be on a flexible meal schedule and eating regularly, as I discussed in this two step plan to start intuitive eating

And as I suggested, you’ll most likely need some therapy or coaching for advice and a shoulder to lean on. In fact, that’s what I consider to be my primary job as a coach. To be able to absorb your negative feelings so that you have someone to take the burden, and then my secondary job is when you have released some pent up energy, to ask about your experiences and help you proceed further in this journey. .

Getting you to calm down and relive your experiences, and to relive your experiences with you. Helping you do things differently next time. The key is develop tools to honor your feelings so you don’t totally rely on food.

For me, I needed years of meditation, coaching, therapy, and self-develop to really get more in touch with emotions. I can safely say that this process is worth it. 

This principle is all about being willing. Willing to feel, willing to learn skills to manage emotions and being willing to take care of yourself. The scariest is willing to embrace the mess. The hardest is the willingness to journal to sort through the mess. Being willing.

Principle 8 – Respect Your Body

scale with big red x symbolizing to not base your self esteem on your weight loss
quote - respect your body when it's asking for a break. respect your mind when it's seeking rest. Honor yourself when you need a moment for yourself.

Here’s an interview that says it best: Give up the pursuit of weight loss

This is not to say you won’t lose weight. In fact, the majority of people I work with do lose weight. 

If you are overweight and binge eating, if you stop binge eating what do you think will happen? Will you gain weight or lose weight? You’ll lose weight. 

But … don’t focus on losing weight. You can lose weight, but forget about losing weight. If the weight does come off, let the weight loss be a natural by product.

Instead focus on sleeping more, doing self-care, living in accordance with your values, sitting with difficult emotions, learning from difficult emotions, and exploring foods to see what feels good to you.

You must realize that you are more than your body. Your life is more than your body. There are many, many aspects to life. If you wait until you are skinny to live your life then you might be waiting forever.

I can’t emphasize enough that you actually have much more chance to lose weight if you stop focusing on weight!

If you just focus on learning skills that support your happiness then paradoxically by NOT focusing on weight loss you might actually find the very thing you were searching for!

Principle 9 – Exercise And Feel The Difference

quote - laughing is one of the best exercises, it's like running inside your mind. You can do it almost anywhere and it's even better with a friend

Stop taking exercise so seriously! What if laughter counted as exercise just like running on the cardio machines?

There’s more to health and fitness than working out crazy hard and hating yourself because your not strong yet, or you get out of breath.

Remember when you were a kid and could play outdoors for hours because you simply liked it? 

What types of movement do you actually like doing? Not for calorie burning. Like hiking – do you go hiking to burn calories or for fun? Of course you go hiking for fun or socializing with your friends. Find more activities like this which you do for fun.

Hiking? Walking? Maybe just an hour of yoga? What do you like to do for fun?

Stop thinking about ‘earning’ food by exercising hard (that is, “oh I’ll do a bunch of exercise and then I can justify eating that donut) . That mentality is going to kill your motivation. What types of exercise do you actually like?

Again, you will be at a crossroads here, just like with food. But stop taking yourself so seriously! 

Just laugh and try to have fun. Experiment with different forms of movement.

We’re almost done … the last of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating is coming up!

Principle 10 – Honor Your Health

quote - good food is very often, even most often, simple food

Embrace the food plate. That’s it. You know the food plate that the government recommends

portion serving size with half fruits and veggies, milk, healthy protein foods and whole grains

Embrace this. That’s it.

It’s pretty simple, right? But dang, this is tough stuff. Try to actually do this 3x per day! 

Can you ditch all the rules and just focus on the basics? 

Hint: in the beginning of intuitive eating it’ll be hard to follow these exact guidelines. The key here is to think of addition, in terms of subtraction. 

By this I mean you can still eat chocolate (remember principle #3, make peace with food). You can have chocolate, ice cream, all sorts of stuff. But first, fill up on the good stuff. 

It’s not that you can’t have the sugary stuff. No. We want you to actually be able to have some unless you have an underlying condition like diabetes! But no matter what, we want you to eat the nutritious stuff first you could say!

So I hope this post answers your questions about Intuitive Eating. Any remaining questions? Let me know.

And last but not least ...

Are you friggin' finally frustrated with food and done feeling guilty and shameful about your body and your eating habits? 

If you’ve finally had enough binge eating and emotional overeating — you’ve arrived in the right place!

I’ll help you learn how to let go of dieting and binge eating — so you can clear your mind of food & body image thoughts and reach a state of zen with your weight, self talk, food relationship and body image.

If I may suggest, please try out my FREE Zen Mindful Eating Guide. Accessing the guide will give you useful information and add you to my email list. I sent out a few emails per week and also offer free weekly live streaming yoga to the community. 

Most people aren't ready to chat with me until they get to know me over email over many weeks and months. However, if you trust that I'm an expert and can help you, then you're welcome to book a FREE Discovery Session with me