What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating was first coined by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in the first edition of their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. Intuitive Eating is based on making food choices that nourish and fuel our bodies, following internal hunger and fullness cues, and allowing oneself to eat unconditionally.
Tribole and Resch developed 10 principles that outline the idea behind intuitive eating
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
1. Rejecting the diet mentality
2. Honor your hunger
3. Make peace with food
4. Challenge the food police
5. Feel your fullness
6. Discover the satisfaction factor
7. Cope with your emotions without using food
8. Respect your body
9. Exercise. Feel the difference
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition
“We define healthy eating as having a healthy balance of foods and having a healthy relationship with food.”
― Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
In addition to having freedom from diet culture, research has shown that individuals who are intuitive eaters have even more health benefits.
- are consistently linked to positive health outcomes.
- lower levels of disordered eating.
- have a more positive body image.
Please note: Intuitive Eating is absolutely NOT a weight loss diet.
How does intuitive eating work?
Intuitive eating is recognizing your body’s own hunger and satiety cues, and allowing them to guide when and how much you eat. Following intuitive eating involves eating outside of a scheduled meal plan if you feel hungry, allowing second portions at meals, and honoring any and all food cravings without feeling guilty. Following intuitive eating does not mean you are automatically going to “overeat,” because the purpose of intuitive eating is that you are trusting your body to tell you how much energy it needs to perform to its top potential.
The transition of going from disordered eating to intuitive eating will involve allowing yourself to eat outside of a structured meal plan and eating frequently (every 2-4 hours), so that your body can relearn its own hunger cues. This may take some time, but after you can recognize and honor your own hunger and satiety, then the magic of intuitive eating can begin.
“Call a truce; stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat.”
― Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
So, intuitive eating sounds great, but how do you get there after many years of disordered eating?
We like to think of 4 “phases” throughout the intuitive eating journey.
What are the 4 phases of Intuitive Eating?
Phase 1: Nutritional Healing
We provide the majority of our clients a flexible meal plan to use as “training wheels.” When someone is far removed from intuitive eating, they have to take baby steps to re-train their bodies and to re-build our bodies’ trust in them to feed it regularly. It’s so important in the early stages of this journey to eat enough, aka providing the body with adequate fuel during the day. Typically, we encourage eating every 2-4 hours and making sure meals and snacks have multiple food groups.
During this stage, we actually advise our clients to eat more mechanically instead of listening to hunger/fullness cues. Why? Because it’s very likely the body’s hunger/fullness cues are suppressed. So, if we told our clients right off the bat to listen to hunger/fullness, it’s very possible they wouldn’t be eating enough! The body has to get used to getting fed every few hours in order for the body to start producing those cues. In session, we’ll process with clients if eating this amount feels like too much or not enough food. It’s possible we adjust the meal plan accordingly.
During this phase, we also may work with clients to eat outside the meal plan and challenge the mindset of “the meal plan is my new diet.” Because that’s not it’s intention! Again, it’s supposed to be a flexible way of eating and there are no food rules. If the meal plan feels to diet-y, we will adjust and decide on a better strategy.
Phase 2: Embodiment
Please note that all these phases are fluid and they don’t have to go in order. People may move throughout the phases at any given time, but that doesn’t mean they are moving “forward” or “backward.”
We’ve noticed one theme with clients is challenging their food rules and working with them to let go of the “diet mentality.”
During this phase, some of our clients may go through a mourning process in giving up something they have held onto for so long, and that’s totally normal. We also begin to have the conversation about weight stigma.
One common theme we see with our clients across the board is a fear of letting go of controlling their body’s shape and size. Which is something we really can’t control from the beginning. But, diet culture sells us on the idea that we can. And if we change our bodies just enough, we’ll be happy and life will be easy. The reality is, dieting only brings more body shame and guilt. Micromanaging our bodies actually brings us further away from being connected to our bodies. During the embodiment phase, we work to bring back that connection. We’ll discuss how food feels in the body. How movement feels. And we’ll reinforce the idea of eating unconditionally.HAES advocates for health at every size, in every body
Phase 3: Transition
During the next phase of the intuitive eating process, our clients work to gain some autonomy. There are often instances where they can eat more freely without relying on the structure of the meal plan. Generally, individuals might find themselves more at peace with their bodies. And please note, this doesn’t mean they love the way their bodies look, but they are accepting the body they have and working on respecting it’s needs and wants.
What do we challenge/discuss in this phase?
• Food rules (like eating past a certain time, having the same food twice in a day, having dessert twice in a day, eating more than your “normal” amount of snacks to honor hunger, eating lunch or dinner earlier…etc)
• Internal and external weight/food bias
• Participating in life (not letting food/your body stopping you from avoiding events)
• Gentle nutrition
• How to honor hunger/your body in times of change (sickness, vacation, business…etc.)
Phase 4: Intuitive Eating
Again, a reminder that this process could take 1-2 years to achieve when you’ve worked through the other 3 phases. It’s a continuous journey.
More Intuitive Eating Resources:
Intuitive Eating book written by our team of dietitians:
Did you know that our Registered Dietitians wrote this book to help you be healthy and happy with your eating habits?
Our Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating book will take you down the path of nourishing your body from start to finish.
The 10 ingredients to happy, healthy eating starts by exploring how you eat now and how to adopt the principles of intuitive eating.
We guide you through nutrition concepts and what normal eating can look like.
Next we take you step by step of putting that knowledge into practice by organizing your kitchen, meal planning, grocery shopping, meal prepping, and eating out.
Not only will this workbook help you improve how you feel but it will give you confidence in eating.
We also suggest building a positive “bubble” to help you on this journey. The first step can be re-assessing who you follow on social media! Check out some of our favorite accounts below!
Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients. Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.