The pursuit of weight loss and thinness fostered by diet culture is a belief which has been highly entrenched in most of today’s Western societies and is fast spreading to the rest of the world. Diet culture teaches us that in order to be healthy one must look slim and lose weight – both of which are achieved by following a number of restrictive approaches and food rules, aka. diets. The effectiveness of restrictive diets has been shown to be first and foremost, short-termed (and thus, unsustainable). Additionally, diets have been shown to increase the risk of disordered eating, eating disorders and to be associated with a myriad of physical and psychological problems. Intuitive eating however, approaches health from a completely different standpoint whereby it focuses on cultivating sustainable behaviours aligned with one’s specific health needs and preferences. Ultimately, this model will help individuals to move away from this misconceived (and futile!) belief fostered by diet culture.
What is Intuitive Eating (IE)?
IE is a self-care eating framework and evidence-based model which works by dynamically integrating mind and body through 10 key principles(1). This approach helps individuals to cultivate a healthy relationship with food by learning and discovering a new way of honouring one’s health through listening and responding to our unique inner bodily cues and attending to one’s basic needs.
It is of paramount importance to recognize that IE is a weight inclusive approach and thus, weight loss should never be the focal point or goal of this approach. Placing weight loss and appearance at the heart of this practice will inevitably interfere with the foundation of this framework which lies on honouring health by listening to one’s bodily sensations, a concept known as interoceptive awareness – rather than focusing and relying on external influences (e.g. outward appearance).
Interoceptive awareness which is at the core of IE has been described as the ability to perceived physical sensations that arise from within one’s body(2) and thus, responding (aka. behaving) in accordance to those sensations (e.g. eating when feeling hungry, sleeping when feeling tired, taking a break when feeling stressed).
The 10 IE principles work in two main ways, one is by cultivating interoceptive awareness and the other is by removing the obstacles to interoceptive awareness(3).
1. Reject the diet mentality: learn how to move away from diet mentality, ditch dieting tools (i.e. fitness and calorie trackers, scales) and behaviours (i.e. food rules and diet plans).
2. Honour your hunger: eat when biologically hungry.
3. Make peace with food: learn to welcome back every food whereby you no longer have any foods off-limits and start noticing how feelings of guilt and shame start to diminish.
4. Challenge the food police: explore the origins of your food rules and start challenging those intrusive dieting thoughts.
5. Respect your fullness: stop eating when feeling comfortably full.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor: find pleasure and enjoyment in every eating experience.
7. Honour your feelings without using food: learn techniques to deal with your feelings without turning to food.
8. Respect your body: start showing respect toward your body and appreciation for all that your body allows you to do and experience, regardless of appearance.
9. Exercise – feel the difference: find ways of moving your body that are enjoyable and which feel good to you.
10.Honour your health with gentle nutrition: make food choices that make you feel good and which satisfy your taste preferences.
Note that the founders of IE, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, placed nutrition as the last principle in their book, not as means of being of less importance but to ensure that prospective intuitive eaters prioritize healing their relationship with food before pursuing a healthy diet.
Characteristics of an Intuitive Eater
Research has found that individuals who eat intuitively are less preoccupied with food and less likely to label foods as “good” vs “bad” – instead, intuitive eaters make food choices based on satisfaction (e.g. taste, texture), health, energy, and performance. Following Tylka’s Intuitive Eating Scale (IES) which is composed of four subscales, intuitive eaters can be identified for having 4 key characteristics(4):
1. Eating based on physical rather than emotional influences
2. Unconditional permission to eat and welcome any desired foods
3. Reliance on internal cues (hunger and satiety) to eat
4. Body-food choice congruence: this refers to the ability to make food choices according to one’s bodily needs
Impact on physical and psychological health
In recent years, a substantial body of research has been published evaluating the impact of IE on a number of health indicators. In terms of physical health, IE has been associated with improvements in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and dietary intake(5). Although BMI (body mass index) is not a pivotal component of IE nor it is an accurate indicator of health, studies investigating their relationship have reported a negative association between BMI and IE.
Research studying the associations between IE and a number of psychological factors has found increments in body appreciation and satisfaction, improved emotional wellbeing, decreased disordered eating patterns, dieting behaviours and internalization of the thin ideal(6).
Finally, one must always remember that the process of becoming an Intuitive Eater does not happen overnight nor this process will strive to perfection. IE is a process of experimenting, learning and discovering a way of living which is aligned to your unique needs and where cultivating self-compassion and patience is vital to help you along the journey.
If you would like to know more on how to become an Intuitive Eater and stop worrying about food once and for all, Andrea will explore your current struggles with your relationship with food and your body and so, to help you get started in your journey!
Andrea is a Registered Associate Nutritionist and Intuitive Eating counsellor in training. Andrea's mission is to empower and equip you with all you need to start living a healthy and fulfilling life, free of food guilt and restriction. Book Andrea here
1. Tribole E & Resch E (2020) Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. United States: St. Martin's Publishing Group.
2. Mehling WE, Acree M, Stewart A, Silas J & Jones A (2018) The Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness, Version 2 (MAIA-2). PLOS One, 13(12).
3. Resch E & Tribole E (2017) The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food. United Kingdom: New Harbinger Publications.
4. Tylka TL & Kroon Van Diest AM (2013) The Intuitive Eating Scale-2: item refinement and psychometric evaluation with college women and men. Journal of counselling psychology, 60(1), 137–153.
5. Van Dyke N & Drinkwater EJ (2014) Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: a literature review. Public health nutrition, 17(8), 1757–1766.
6. Bruce LJ & Ricciardelli LA (2016) A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite, 96, 454–472.