What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is not a "diet," but a way of eating based on your natural hunger and fullness signals.


By Linzy Ziegelbaum


Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach, allowing people to have healthier relationships with foods and body image. This way of eating helps people differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger. They learn to eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they feel full. Physical hunger is eating from actual hunger and giving the body what it needs. Emotional hunger is eating from stress, sadness, habit or just to eat.

In 1995, Evelyn Tribole MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA wrote a book on intuitive eating. In their book, they discuss 10 principles to intuitive eating.

A summary of these principles:

1. Reject the diet mentality

This is forgetting about fad diets since fad diets are not sustainable and often offer false promises such as quick and sustainable weight loss. These thoughts will interfere with an intuitive eating approach.

2. Honor your hunger

Learn to eat when you are hungry. Eating when you are hungry will help to fuel your body with what it needs instead of overindulging. If you try to skip meals, and eat when you are extremely hungry, the result will be overeating.

3. Make peace with food

You should not fear foods, or think of foods as “good foods” and “bad foods.” When we deprive ourselves of certain foods, we are more likely to overeat them in the future.

4. Challenge the food police

Get rid of the guilt you associate with certain foods.

5. Respect your fullness

Learn to stop eating when you feel full, and learn what it feels like to feel full. Being able to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger will help you stop eating when you feel full. This will help you avoid overeating and stress eating.

6. Discover the satisfaction factor

Enjoy the eating experience. If you enjoy the experience of what you are eating, you are likely to be satisfied with less food than before.

7. Honor your feelings without using food

Learn other ways to deal with stress instead of eating. For example, if feeling stressed, try reading a book, going for a walk or knitting.

8. Respect your body

Learn to love your body no matter what your size. Intuitive promotes body acceptance, and learning to feel comfortable in your body.

9. Exercise- feel the difference

Do exercise that you enjoy and that makes you feel good. The focus of exercise should be to move and feel good and not weight loss.

10. Honor your health

Eat what makes you feel good. The foods we eat impact how we feel.

Research has been done supporting the intuitive eating approach.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics article, “What Should you Know about Mindful and Intuitive Eating” talks about how intuitive eating helps people move away from terms such as bad foods, and as a result allows people to move away from the dieting mentality. As a population, everyone wants what they can’t have.

If foods are forbidden and restricted on diet plans, people are more likely to overeat those foods later on. Listening to your body, and not making foods off limits, makes it easier to enjoy foods without overeating.

There is research showing that intuitive eating leads to increased psychological well being and lower body mass indexes. The 2005 research article published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Size Acceptance and Intuitive Eating Improve Health for Obese, Female Chronic Dieters,” compared people following a health at every size/intuitive eating approach and people following a traditional diet approach. This study's conclusions showed that those following an intuitive eating approach were able to maintain behaviors at a two year follow up, where those following a traditional diet were not. Although intuitive eating shifts the focus on body acceptance and not body weight, there is still research that is done on intuitive eating and weight. A 2014 review article published in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at articles exploring intuitive eating. Conclusions to this review showed increased physical activity levels, improvements in both blood pressure and lipid profiles without weight loss, and increased self esteem and acceptance of body image.

Although more research is still needed on the topic of intuitive eating, there is evidence showing that losing the diet mentality learning to listen to your body can lead to body acceptance and improvements in health. Listening to your body and learning to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger allows people to enjoy what they are eating without experiencing guilt. Many Registered Dietitians are shifting towards the practice of intuitive eating with their clients.

Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and owner of the private practice LNZnutrition LLC. She provides nutrition counseling and education to clients of all ages with many nutrition needs. Linzy enjoys sharing her love and nutrition expertise with others through counseling, her LNZnutrition blog and social media pages, including Facebook and Instagram.

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