When people learn that I work with an intuitive eating philosophy in my nutrition practice, they often ask what that means. As a short answer, I say intuitive eating means using internal cues rather than external rules to guide your food choices. Or that it's both a liberating new way of relating to food and your body and the oldest way of relating to food and your body, because this is how most of us ate when we were very young, before the diet mentality and other cultural messages about food and weight got their hooks in us.
For the long answer, I point people to the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, CEDRD, FADA, republished in part here:
"1. Reject the Diet Mentality. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight.
2. Honor Your Hunger. Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat.
3. Make Peace with Food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can't or shouldn't have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.
4. Challenge the Food Police. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
5. Respect Your Fullness. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you're comfortably full.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content.
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food.
8. Respect Your Body. Accept your genetic blueprint...It's hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
9. Exercise—Feel the Difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise.
10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition. Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don't have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy."
Amazing, right? It's so simple, and yet it's definitely not easy. For people who've dieted for years or struggled with eating disorders, these principles can seem completely foreign, and re-learning them can take a while. But it's so, so worth it—I know because years ago, learning intuitive eating was the final step in my recovery from an eating disorder.
It was a complete revelation to drop the food rules and see that I could trust my body to guide my choices, which I've now done every day for years. And the process has been just as impactful for my nutrition therapy clients and online course participants.
If you're ready to rediscover intuitive eating, sign up for my online intuitive eating course to work through all the principles and a whole lot more!