Intuitive Eating: Principles and Practical Tips
This post in the fourth in a series on the topic of intuitive eating. Where Intuitive Eating is capitalized and italicized, it refers to the text Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Where intuitive eating is in plain text, it refers to a more generalized non-diet nutrition framework or style of eating.
Here we are, two months into a blog series on intuitive eating and we haven’t started eating more intuitively yet! Maybe that feels uncomfortable – after all, if this was Whole 30 you’d be done by now. But remember, intuitive eating is not a diet! It’s not something you’ll do for a few weeks or months and then “quit” or “fall off the wagon”. Intuitive eating is a lifelong practice in mindfulness and intentional nourishment. And when you’re trying to re-learn a behavior as fundamental as how to feed yourself, you take your time and build a strong foundation.
In today’s post I’ll take you through an overview of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating and offer a few practical tips to get you started.
But before I go on, here’s my standard disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for individualized medical on mental health care. It does not constitute a patient-provider relationship. The content of this post might not feel useful to you right now – please take the information that serves you and leave the rest.
The Intuitive Eating Workbook
Principle One: Reject the Diet Mentality
It’s time to say goodbye to diets forever. Yes. Forever. I totally understand to urge to compromise with diet culture and allow yourself to try Intuitive Eating for a few months. But where there’s a threat of another diet, there’s backlash eating. Putting a time limit on your intuitive eating all but guarantees you’ll end up stuck in “f*ck it” mentality.
Principle Two: Honor Your Hunger
My personal favorite principle! Ya gotta eat. Ya gotta eat enough. Ya gotta eat consistently. If you’re living in an always-hungry body, your primal drive for food will overpower any attempts at mindfulness or intentional eating. Intuitive eating means re-training your body to trust that there will always be food around. Oh, and “enough” food is almost certainly a lot more than you think. Remember a 1600 cal/day diet is semi-starvation for an adult. A 1200 cal/day diet isn’t enough for a toddler or large breed puppy.
Principle Three: Make Peace with Food
My second favorite principle is also the most misunderstood. This is the principle that includes unconditional permission to eat which is often misrepresented as “eat whatever you want, whenever you want”, f*ck it mentality, or even low-key binge eating. Nope, that’s not it! Principle Three is thoughtfully structured to help you introduce previously restricted foods in a way that feels intentional and accessible.
Principle Four: Challenge the Food Police
What diet rules are still living in your brain? Are bread and cookies off limits because, carbs!, while oatmeal and legumes are allowed? The food police monitor everything we eat and fill our brains with (not-evidence-based) thoughts about why some foods are bad, better, and good. Quieting these thoughts can greatly decrease stress at mealtimes and free up a ton of brain space for more life-enhancing pursuits.
Principle Five: Feel Your Fullness
Despite what diet culture has told us, we’re quite capable of stopping eating once we’re full. What gets in the way of honoring fullness? Being overly hungry and constantly restricted (i.e. dieting). But once our bodies trust that we’ll eat sufficiently and allow satisfying foods, the urge to eat beyond fullness diminishes.
Principle Six: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
When was the last time you ate something you really enjoyed? Satisfaction is a critical component of Intuitive Eating. If all your meals are only ok, or you’re health-ifying your favorite foods, you may be missing out on satisfaction. Eating is meant to be pleasurable! A meal plan that doesn’t include delicious, satisfying, exciting foods is not sustainable.
Principle Seven: Cope with your Emotions (without using food)
This principle comes with a critical disclaimer! Lots of people label their eating as “emotional eating” when they’re actually just hungry. Hunger literally causes stress in the body. And the best way to soothe hunger stress is through eating. In most cases, emotional eating resolves itself as people eat more intuitively. But if you still find yourself relying on food to manage emotions, finding alternative coping tools can be useful.
Principle Eight: Respect Your Body
Body trust, body acceptance, or body neutrality. No matter what you label it, healing your relationship with your body and healing your relationship with food are interwoven. Building respect for your body, regardless of it’s size, shape, or appearance, will enhance your feelings of positive self-regard and keep you on the intuitive eating path.
Principle Nine: Exercise – Feel the Difference
How would it feel to move your body in a way that felt energizing, fun, and sustainable? Trust me, joyful movement is way better for your overall health and wellbeing than those punishing, obligatory workouts you used to force yourself to power through. By focusing on how your workouts make you feel instead of getting caught up in calorie burn or #gains, you’ll find the workouts that truly suit your body.
Principle Ten: Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition
There’s a reason gentle nutrition is the last principle of Intuitive Eating! First, we heal our relationship with food. Then we can begin to incorporate the elements of nutrition that serve us. There’s no one perfect food or perfect diet. Gentle nutrition allows space for all foods while honoring our individual health needs.
Transitioning from dieting to Intuitive Eating can feel like moving into your own place after living with your parents for years. Suddenly there’s no rules, you can do whatever you want, and sh*t gets crazy! But it absolutely doesn’t have to go that way!
Here are a few simple guidelines to offer structure while you get started working the Intuitive Eating Principles:
Eat breakfast every day
“Breakfast” literally means break – fast, as in breaking your overnight fast. It’s a critically important meal that let’s our metabolism know it’s time to get going for the day. Eating breakfast also tells your body there’s plenty of food around so it doesn’t need to stress about conserving energy. If you aren’t hungry for breakfast that’s ok. After about two weeks your metabolism will start to expect food in the morning and your hunger will kick in.
Eat every three to five hours
Plan for meals and snacks that allow your body to move through fed and fasted cycles. That means eating a full meal for lunch instead of grabbing random snacks all afternoon. (If you’re “grazing” in the afternoon, that may be a sign you aren’t eating enough at breakfast and lunch). And it means noticing big gaps in your eating – like lunch at noon then dinner at 8pm, nope, that’s too long, you’re gonna need an afternoon snack.
Eat a mix of carbs, protein, and fat at each meal and snack
This doesn’t mean counting macros! It just means getting a source of each macronutrient every time you eat. Oatmeal alone won’t cut it for breakfast, try mixing in some nut butter or adding breakfast meat or eggs on the side. And yup, fruit is great, but it’s not enough for a snack. Try adding snack cheese or trail mix to make your snack more satiating.
Add “fear foods” one at a time
“Fear foods” can be any foods that you label as “bad”, foods that were previously restricted, or foods that you feel you can’t trust yourself around. Chips, ice cream, pizza, and cookies are common examples. It can be overwhelming to add all these foods back into your diet at once. Instead add one food at a time, allow yourself to have as much of that food as you want, as often as you want, and be patient as your cravings for the food normalize.
Clean up your social media
(Not food related, but still.) Unfollow any and all diet, thinspo, fitspo, or otherwise icky social media accounts. Does it make you feel bad/guilty/anxious/jealous? Unfollow! No more “what I eat in a day” videos. No more weight loss transformations. Block diet adds on your Meta accounts and tap “show less of this” on TikTok. Instead, try surrounding yourself with a body positive, anti-diet community that will help keep you committed to your intuitive eating journey.
So . . . we've covered why diets don't work, why intuitive eating does work, some clues it may be time to try intuitive eating, and some tips to get started. Now it's time to take action. You can start practicing intuitive eating right now, today. You have the tools you need! And if you've stuck around through this blog series so far, I know you're ready.