As a society, we’ve been programmed to think the way to lose weight is by following strict diets and food rules. These rules can be helpful if we were all robots, ate the same way, had the same nutritional needs, and had the same bodies. Intuitive eating offers a different approach to dieting. It looks at mindset, emphasising body acceptance, pleasure, satisfaction and working with your body. To help you better understand intuitive eating, I’ll talk about the 10 principles of intuitive eating so that you can develop a healthy relationship with food and yourself.
How to break free from diets and still lose weight
Gain free access to my 5 easy steps which teach you how to lose weight and keep it off without dieting. Yes it's possible!
What is Intuitive Eating and what is it not?
Intuitive eating is a relatively new concept in the world of nutrition and body attunement. It’s a way of eating that’s designed to help individuals develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies while emphasising pleasure, satisfaction, and self-trust.
Unlike traditional dieting methods that promote restriction, denial, and external control, intuitive eating recognises that food choices are personal and unique to each individual. It emphasises body acceptance, rejects the concept that there’s a “perfect” diet, and encourages individuals to trust and listen to their innate body cues.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions surrounding the concept of intuitive eating. One of the biggest myths is that it’s a “free-for-all” approach to eating that allows you to overindulge in unhealthy foods. This is not the case. Intuitive eating does involve giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all types of foods, but it also emphasises the importance of gentle nutrition, honoring your hunger and fullness, and respecting your body.
Another common misconception about intuitive eating is that it’s another diet. While some individuals may experience weight changes, intuitive eating is not designed to promote weight loss but rather to help individuals develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.
As a result of becoming more in tune with your needs, taking the pressure off yourself to lose weight, and going with the flow more, people do report losing weight.
The framework of intuitive eating is based on ten principles that are designed to help individuals become more attuned to their body’s needs and develop trust in their body’s ability to guide them in making food choices.
How does it work?
Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating that focuses on listening to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals and honoring your food cravings without judgment or guilt. This method encourages individuals to pay attention to their body’s cues and respond accordingly, rather than following rigid food rules or strict diet plans.
It is coming away from diet plans, counting calories, and labeling foods as good or bad. Moving away from counting points or sins. It is moving away from an external guide telling us how to eat and what to eat, to moving to trust your own internal guide to tell you what your body needs and how much you need.
Working with these 10 principles of intuitive eating, you can start to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body. But keep in mind that this journey takes time and patience, and seeking support from a registered dietitian and therapist who are knowledgeable in intuitive eating can be a critical step in the process.
You can start your journey by being aware of your mindset regarding each principle. It may be a jump from where you are, but keep an open mind and be open to how you can start applying each principle.
I would also recommend you take one step at a time. Attempting to introduce each principle all at once can set you up to fail. You do not have to follow it in order, just start with one place.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating
1. Reject the diet mentality
Rejecting the diet mentality is one of the core principles of intuitive eating. This principle recognizes that diets don’t work in the long term and can actually harm your physical and mental health. When you constantly think about what you should or shouldn’t eat, it can lead to feelings of overwhelm. When we do eat a food that we ‘know we should not be eating’ we can end up feeling guilt and shame around food, which can trigger disordered eating behaviours.
The diet mentality also reinforces the idea that dieting is the only way to lose weight. This can lead to further eating issues such as yo-yo dieting. It can polarise our eating which means the extent to which we restrict and then go on a blowout with our eating gets more excessive which can lead to binge eating.
In contrast, intuitive eating focuses on letting go of the notion that we have to stick to a diet or that we should be consuming a certain number of calories. Instead, it encourages individuals to listen to their body’s cues and eat in a way that feels nourishing and enjoyable to them.
We all know logically what we need to eat to be healthy, however following rules stop us from listening to our body’s cues and we override them with our logic. This logic can be irrational and can lead us into making poor food choices. We then use this irrational logic for it to mean something bad about ourselves because we have made a poor choice.
This irrational thinking causes us to go into a downward spiral, which leads to us having lower self-esteem and thinking poorly of ourselves.
How to start rejecting the diet mentality
- Stop dieting
- Stop weighing foods
- Stop calorie counting
- Stop counting points for foods eaten
- There are no rules, only guidelines.
- You can have whatever food you want.
In conclusion, rejecting the diet mentality is a crucial step towards intuitive eating and a healthier, happier relationship with food and you. By letting go of rigid food rules and focusing on self-acceptance, you can unlock the full potential of intuitive eating and experience the benefits of a truly balanced and fulfilling life.
2. Honour your hunger
Honouring your hunger is one of the fundamental principles of intuitive eating. It’s all about recognising and responding to your body’s natural hunger cues. In a bid to lose weight, we often ignore or suppress our hunger, hoping that it will go away. Hunger does not dissipate, it only gets stronger. Eventually, we get so hungry that we cannot ignore it and we can up with uncontrollable cravings and or binge eating.
When we don’t eat enough or wait too long to eat, our body goes into survival mode, leading to intense feelings of hunger and a lack of control over food. As a result, we may end up eating more than we intended or turning to unhealthy, processed foods for quick fix.
How to start to honour your hunger?
- Grade your hunger from 1-10, 10 being absolutely famished.
- Start tuning into your stomach and put a figure on how hungry you feel.
- Start to get used to feeling a little hungry. Around 3 or 4.
- Sit with your hunger for a minute and feel what it is like. You will realise that it is ok to feel hungry.
- Start to eat when you get to a 4 or a 5.
- Plan your meals at the beginning of the day or even the day before.
- Have the ingredients in your fridge and cupboard, this prevents picking and snacking.
- Take your cues from your body and not your head.
By honouring your hunger, you’re listening to your body’s needs and creating space for food freedom and enjoyment. It can be liberating to be free with food.
3. Make peace with food
Making peace with food involves letting go of rigid food rules and restrictions, and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods without guilt or shame. This may seem like a daunting task, especially if you’ve spent years dieting or believing in the concept of “good” and “bad” foods. However, it is a critical step towards developing a healthy relationship with food and nurturing your body.
Constant dieting can be an exhausting cycle of restriction and overeating, leading to feelings of guilt and shame regarding food choices. By making peace with food, you can break this cycle and start to trust your body’s natural cues of hunger and fullness. You will begin to recognize that your physical and emotional needs are valid, and that all foods can fit into a balanced diet.
It’s important to note that making peace with food doesn’t mean endless binges or eating without regard for nutrition. Instead, it involves listening to what your body truly wants and needs, and allowing yourself to enjoy a wide range of foods without judgment.
You may find that once you remove the label of “forbidden” from certain foods, they lose their power and become less alluring. Meanwhile, other foods that were previously restricted may become less desirable as you become attuned to what your body craves.
Where to start with making peace with food.
- Start by mindful eating. Become engaged with your eating, how you feel in the middle of eating and after you have finished eating.
- Noticing ways in which you are in control of food and not the other way around.
- Trusting your emotions, that they are valid and there for a reason.
- No emotion is good or bad, it is just an emotion.
- Food is not the enemy. You have to live with it and need it to live, so start making friends with food.
- Start eating consciously, this is eating without any distractions.
Overall, making peace with food can be a transformative step towards a healthier, more joyful relationship with food. It may take time and practice, but the rewards are well worth it. So give yourself permission to have that piece of chocolate cake or enjoy your favorite comfort food without guilt or shame. You deserve to nourish your body and soul with a variety of foods, without the burden of food rules and restrictions.
4. Challenge the food police
When it comes to intuitive eating, one of the biggest roadblocks that people face is the internalised “food police” that can dictate what we should or shouldn’t eat. The food police are those nagging thoughts that tell us we’re being “bad” for indulging in a piece of chocolate cake or that we should be eating more vegetables. They can create a guilt-inducing and stressful relationship with food that ultimately leads to disordered eating habits.
To challenge the food police, it’s important to recognise that there is no such thing as a “perfect” diet, a perfect way to eat, or a one-size-fits-all approach to eating. Our bodies are unique and complex, and they require a variety of different nutrients and nutrients in varying amounts to function optimally. Rather than trying to adhere to rigid food rules or unrealistic expectations, we can practice listening to our bodies and honoring their cues of hunger and fullness.
How to start challenging your food police
- Listening to your internal voice telling you what you can or can’t eat.
- Asking yourself what if – What if I was allowed to have what I want?
- What if there were no good or bad foods, just healthier or unhealtheir foods in a scale, as opposed to good or bad.
- Question the societal norms and stigmas around food and body image.
- What power are you giving to food?
When you begin to challenge the food police, you may notice that certain foods that were once off-limits suddenly become less alluring. This is because removing the label of “bad” or “forbidden” from these foods can decrease their perceived value and power over our food choices. Instead of feeling guilty or ashamed for eating something that goes against our supposed “diet rules,” we can acknowledge our decision to eat it and move on without judgement.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor
For many of us, eating is purely a functional activity that serves to fuel our bodies. We often forget that food can and should be enjoyable and fun. When we deny ourselves the pleasure of eating satisfying foods, we often overeat or turn to unhealthy choices because we’re not getting the satisfaction we crave.
In intuitive eating, we focus on finding joy in eating. That means paying attention to the flavors, textures, and aromas of our food. We take the time to appreciate each bite instead of mindlessly consuming our meals. When we fully savor and enjoy our food, we’re more likely to feel satisfied and content, which can help us avoid overeating.
However, discovering the satisfaction factor isn’t just about enjoying our food more. It also means being open to exploring a variety of food choices without fear of judgment or restriction. This means letting go of the idea that certain foods are “good” or “bad” and instead focusing on what feels good and satisfying in the moment.
How to start discovering satisfaction in food
- Start experimenting with different combinations of flavours
- Being mindful of what the tastes, textures, smells and looks of food you like
- Taking your time to eat, slowing down and appreciating your food.
- Enjoy experimenting with cooking recipes
- Plan your meals ahead to give you space to look forward to what you are going to eat.
By embracing the satisfaction factor, we can break free from the endless cycle of dieting and restriction. We can cultivate a healthy relationship with food that’s based on enjoyment, variety, and respect for our bodies. So the next time you sit down for a meal, take a moment to truly savor and enjoy every bite. You might just discover a new level of satisfaction and freedom in your relationship with food.
6. Feel your fullness
Feeling your fullness involves tuning in to the cues your body gives you to tell you when you’re no longer hungry and you’re feeling satisfied, rather than continuing to eat until you’re uncomfortably full or stuffed. When we eat beyond our fullness, we can feel uncomfortably bloated and sluggish, which can impact our energy levels and mood.
For many of us, learning to feel our fullness can be challenging because we’re so used to ignoring our body’s signals and following external rules or social cues. We may have been taught to clean our plates or finish our meals even if we’re no longer hungry, or we may feel pressure to eat certain foods because they’re considered healthy or because others are eating them.
To embrace feeling your fullness
- Introduce a fullness scale. This is a scale from 1-10 of being full. 1 is hungry 10 is very full.
- Grade your fullness level when you start eating and check in again after you finished
- Notice when you get to an 8 or 9. Then is a good place to stop
- Notice how you feel at being an 8 or 9 full.
- When you feel full, practise stopping and eating and noticing what it feels like to be comfortably full. Take a breath to slow you down.
- This can take time to learn to stop when feeling full. Go easy on yourself, this is all about trial and error.
In addition to helping you feel more physically comfortable, feeling your fullness can also support your mental and emotional health by fostering a sense of empowerment and control around food. When we tune in to our fullness, we become more aware of our bodies’ needs and can make food choices that support our health and wellbeing without relying on external rules or expectations.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
One of the key principles of intuitive eating is learning to cope with your emotions without turning to food. Emotional eating is common, but it often leads to feelings of guilt and shame, and can perpetuate a negative cycle of using food as a crutch to deal with difficult emotions.
Instead of turning to food, intuitive eaters learn to cope with their emotions with kindness and self-compassion. This involves acknowledging and accepting your emotions, rather than trying to suppress or ignore them. It’s important to remember that all emotions are valid and normal, and that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel.
One way to cope with difficult emotions is to practice mindfulness. This involves bringing your awareness to the present moment and observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your emotional patterns and triggers and can help you develop a greater sense of self-awareness and compassion.
How to start learning to cope with difficult emotions
- Learn to sit with an emotion when you feel it. Time yourself for 1 min to get used to the feeling
- Use EFT (emotional freedom technique) to help you through a difficult emotion.
- Take time out for you. This is to relax or to do activities that you enjoy. Taking time out gets you off the treadmill of life and allows you to be free.
- Have a self-care routine where you are looking after you.
- Validating all of your emotions. We tend to gaslight ourselves by questioning ourselves – am I overreacting? Am I being too sensitive? No, you’re not. Your emotion is valid and important.
- Work out why you are feeling a certain way to help you process it.
- If patterns keep repeating themselves, consider talking to a therapist to help you process it.
- Be kind to yourself. Take away the harshness and start by bringing in understanding.
It’s also important to seek support from loved ones or a mental health professional when needed. Talking to someone about your emotions can help you process them and develop healthy coping strategies, and can provide a sense of comfort and validation.
In summary, coping with your emotions with kindness that can benefit you enormously. You can learn to acknowledge and accept your emotions without turning to food and develop a greater sense of self-awareness and compassion.
8. Respect your body
Respecting your body is key to intuitive eating. Instead of focusing solely on achieving a certain body size, intuitive eaters learn to listen to their body’s signals and give it what it needs.
This means accepting and appreciating your body for what it is, regardless of its size or shape. It also means giving your body the care and attention it needs to feel its best. Such as getting enough rest, engaging in physical activity that feels good, and fueling yourself with nourishing foods that you enjoy.
Respecting your body also involves letting go of harmful dieting practices and negative self-talk.
Intuitive eaters understand that weight fluctuations are a normal part of life. And that their self-worth is not tied to a number on the scale. Instead of obsessing over the number on the scale, intuitive eaters focus on how their body feels and functions. They make food choices based on what their body needs in the moment.
Steps to respecting your body
- Practising gratitude for what your body is able to do
- Doing one act of kindness for your body each day
- Finding one positive about your body each day
- Noticing what your body is capable of.
This may take time and is a gradual journey, rather than one day waking up and suddenly you love yourself. Practising something every day can help you to start to learn to love your body for what it can do.
By respecting your body, you can develop a healthier and more positive relationship with food and your body. You can let go of rigid and unrealistic expectations and embrace a more flexible and compassionate approach to food and self-care.
9. Movement and feel the difference
One of the principles of intuitive eating is to prioritise movement that feels good for your body. This means engaging in physical activity that you enjoy and that makes you feel energised and strong.
Exercise is not a punishment for what you ate or as a means to manipulate your body size and shape. It is not something that you force on yourself.
When you shift your mindset around exercise to focus on feeling good, you may find that you start to look forward to being active. This can lead to a more consistent exercise routine and an overall increase in energy and vitality.
In addition to feeling good in the moment, exercise has numerous benefits for our physical and mental health. Regular physical activity can lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. It can also help improve our mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve cognitive function.
It’s important to listen to your body when it comes to exercise. This means tuning in to how your body feels during and after physical activity. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to take a break or modify the activity to fit your needs.
Steps to start exercising
- Start by doing easy movement for you. This might be walking gently or moving your arms.
- Use tools to help you track your progress, like pedometers.
- Find ways to make it fun, use music, do it with others.
- Have a variety of ways to move so you are challenging yourself
- Build in to your day extra movement where you can. This could be parking the car further away. Walking or cycling to pick your children up. Dancing whilst cooking.
- Think of it as movement, rather than exercise.
Exercise takes time to build up and time for us to find out what we love doing. Again go easy on yourself and set healthy expectations. Moreover this is about listening to your body.
10. Honour your health – Gentle nutrition
Intuive eaters think about their health and honour it. Gentle nutrition is where you can add in or swop out foods for healthier choices. Like swapping out fizzy drinks for flavoured waters. Our gut health is central to our wellbeing. Rather then thinking about body weight and size, reframe that thinking to improving your health.
Ways to honour your health
- Swop out one food at a time
- Make changes one at a time to get used to them.
- Notice what it feels like to eat in a healthier way.
Forget about diet books and start reading books on nutrition. They will give you guidance towards your health, allowing you to make your own choices based on your health.
As you can see this is all a process and a journey. Guide yourself through this gently, observing where you are and observing where you get stuck.
Talking to a health professional can help you past any points that are not working for you.