The basic principle of intuitive eating is to listen to your body and eat only when you feel hungry.
Intuitive eating rejects any kind of diet mentality — no type of food is off-limits, and instead, you should be more mindful of your relationship to different types of food.
Research has found that intuitive eating is a great way to maintain weight and develop a healthier body image, and may contribute to improving blood pressure and cholesterol.
Intuitive eating is a great way to change your relationship with food, without needing to count calories or cut out specific foods from your diet. Intuitive eating is all about listening to your body and eating according to your body's needs. The focus of intuitive eating is not on weight loss, but on mindfulness.
Here's what you need to know about intuitive eating as well as how to do it.
Understanding intuitive eating
Intuitive eating involves eating when you are physically hungry and stopping when you feel full. Essentially, it encourages you to listen to your body to guide your eating habits, says Erin Holley, RD, registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
"The principles of intuitive eating will help you reconnect with that innate ability to eat without other messages clouding what, when, and how much to eat," says Holley.
The practice of intuitive eating comes from a book called Intuitive Eating written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who are Registered Dietitian Nutritionists. Originally published in 1995, the book is now in its fourth edition, and the practice of intuitive eating is still recommended by dietitians and nutritionists.
There are 10 principles of intuitive eating, according to the book.
Reject the diet mentality: Avoid diets that promote weight loss and diet culture.
Honor your hunger: Listen to your body and eat when you are physically hungry.
Make peace with food: Don't feel guilty about eating less healthful foods.
Challenge the food police: Ignore those who say that certain foods are "good" or "bad." even if that voice is coming from within.
Discover the satisfaction factor: Eat what sounds best to you and allow yourself to feel satisfied.
Feel your fullness: Stop eating when you are comfortable or full - and notice your fullness as you eat.
Cope with your emotions with kindness: Use healthy, kind ways to cope with negative emotions rather than emotional eating.
Respect your body: Respect your body as it is.
Movement - feel the difference: Stop thinking about exercise as just a way to burn calories, and instead really notice how it feels to get moving.
Honor your health - gentle nutrition: Choose foods that make you feel good.
Unlike a traditional diet, nothing is specifically off-limits with intuitive eating. There is no limiting of specific foods or counting of calories.
"This isn't a diet. It's really about changing your relationship with food and having more awareness and attunement with your own body and eating in response to that," says Holley.
Additionally, intuitive eating focuses on a more holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle.
"The overall idea of those principles is that complicated and restrictive diets tend to fail and the most important goal is to focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle," says Artur Viana, MD, clinical director of the Metabolic Health & Weight Loss Program at Yale Medicine.
For example, Viana says intuitive eating allows you to appreciate food that you enjoy that you might not be "permitted" to eat when you're on pre-packaged or fad diets.
Plus, Viana says intuitive eating is really based on listening to your own body, particularly the cues it gives you related to hunger and fullness, as well as how you respond to emotions, and the role of food in your life.
The health benefits of intuitive eating
Additionally, Viana says intuitive eating is related to better body image - and is also used to treat and prevent eating disorders such as binge eating.
Another 2014 review of 20 studies found that intuitive eating was associated with positive psychological benefits including better self-esteem and quality of life, and less depression and anxiety.
Important: Intuitive eating does not promise weight loss, Holley says. If someone is promoting intuitive eating as a way to lose weight, she says they are probably promoting a diet alongside it, which goes against the principles of intuitive eating.
How to practice intuitive eating
There are several actionable ways that you can practice intuitive eating. Some tips include:
Trust your body when it tells you it's hungry: Pay attention to when your body is hungry, and feed your body appropriately and consistently, says Holley.
Don't dwell on numbers: Remember that weight and BMI (body mass index) are just numbers, and that your focus should be on overall health, instead, says Viana.
Avoid putting a moral value on food: Remember you are not a bad person for eating certain foods, says Holley.
Don't overindulge: Eat only when you're hungry and stop eating when you are full, says Viana.
Be sure to exercise: Viana recommends engaging in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week.
Don't skip meals to "leave room" for a bigger meal: Holley says this will set you up to overeat - and you will not be following the principle of honoring your hunger.
Remember to examine your emotions: Viana says to think about why you're eating what you're eating, and how it makes you feel.
Enjoy eating: Choose to eat the foods that sound best to you, says Holley.
Intuitive eating may not be for everybody. "Intuitive eating is just another framework to think about lifestyle, and not necessarily the only or best approach to food," says Viana.
If you aren't sure if intuitive eating is the best approach for you, be sure to talk to your doctor to determine if intuitive eating would be a good fit.
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