Exploring the Principles of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is difficult yet often a key to recovery from an eating disorder.

Our bodies know what they need. We are all born with the intuition and attunement for knowing what we want and need when it comes to food and nourishment. Have you ever watched a toddler eat a piece of cake? You may have noticed that they eat some of it and walk away from the rest. Many adults find this difficult to conceive. What began as connection with our bodies may evolve into a separation from our intuitive selves after receiving certain messages around food and our bodies. For instance, you may have been told you can only eat certain foods at a specific time of day or occasion. Or perhaps, society’s media messages about “good” and “bad” foods have influenced food choices and behaviors over time, so much so that hunger and fullness cues are no longer intact and we become disembodied from our natural, attuned selves. 

The development of eating disorders is another way in which we become disconnected from our intuition.

Desire extends beyond the common definition of attraction. Desire can be thought of as desire of worth, of having friends, and connecting with peers and family. In an eating disorder, it is impossible to connect with desire because eating disorder behaviors have thwarted intuition and innate wisdom. 

In order to help someone feel more attuned with their needs and desires, the ten principles of intuitive eating, developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, become an important component for recovery. Intuitive eating means returning to your own internal cues of hunger and fullness and food preferences. 

  1. Reject the diet mentality: The diet mentality refers to the false notion that dieting will result in better health and improved happiness. The diet mentality forces us to go against our bodies’ natural cues which is actually harmful for our health. Beyond refraining from dieting, we have to move away from even the subtle forms of dieting that we might not even initially be aware of.
  2. Honor your hunger: Dieting makes us feel and believe that hunger is bad, that hunger is weakness. Respond to hunger by feeding your body. By respecting this biological cue, you are able to build a healthier relationship with food. 
  3. Make peace with food: Food is not the enemy. Allow yourself to eat what you prefer and not what your eating disorder tells you is allowed. All foods are allowed and food is not attached to morality. 
  4. Challenge the food police: Combat the rules that diet culture has implanted in your head, such as portion sizes, calorie counting, and “good” and “bad” foods.
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor: Whether or not you are satisfied after a meal plays a role in fullness. When you are able to, prepare a meal that tastes good to you. It is okay to enjoy and desire food. 
  6. Feel your fullness: Just like you must (re)learn to honor your body’s hunger cues, your body also tells you when you’ve had enough food. Fullness isn’t always the same and it is normal to eat beyond fullness at times.
  7. Cope with emotions with kindness: All emotions have a place and are normal to experience. It’s essential to approach all emotional experiences with kindness rather than judgment and part of that is accepting that eating can be a source of comfort. Eating in response to an emotion sometimes is not necessarily problematic. 
  8. Respect your body: Respect your body no matter what size or shape it is. It is natural for bodies to come in all sizes and shapes. All bodies are worthy!
  9. Exercise to feel the difference: Find ways to move your body that do not feel punitive or are not done with the intention of compensating for eating or losing weight. Movement can be joyful. 
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition: While focusing solely on nutrition can counteract the goals of intuitive eating, it is important to incorporate a variety of foods that you find satisfying, enjoy, and meets your body’s needs. Every meal does not have to be perfectly balanced because overall food patterns are what shape your health.

Learning to trust your internal wisdom and attunement around food and eat without judgment can be a slow and difficult process. Additionally, while intuitive eating connects us back to our desires, there are other benefits to intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is positively linked to increased body appreciation and cognitive flexibility, two requisites for eating disorder recovery. Intuitive eating also promotes overall well-being and health, and people who are able to eat intuitively more often accept their bodies, their relationships, and present moment experiences.