What Is ‘Intuitive Eating’?

You may have heard the term “intuitive eating” online or in wellness circles recently, but what does it mean?

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What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating encourages people to listen to their own physical, mental, and emotional needs to meet overall health goals rather than adhering to restrictive weight-focused diets.

Though many unsustainable fad diets rely on food limitations and shame to drive weight loss, intuitive eating cuts through the fixation on weight. It fosters space to examine your relationship with food, listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and ultimately improve self-image.

Although the practice has made a comeback with online influencers, a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist first coined the term in the mid-1990s.

Not only can intuitive eating help you stay healthy and break the cycle of yo-yo dieting, it can boost self-appreciation and keep you happy in your own skin.

Here’s how to eat intuitively and what it can do for your health.

What Does Intuitive Eating Look Like? Is It a Diet?

Intuitive eating, sometimes dubbed the “anti-diet,” is all about listening to your body and prioritizing your overall wellness — not a number on the scale — in a way that is most practical for you.

You’re listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, but you’re also developing a greater understanding of your relationship with food and sense of self without judgment, guilt, or shame.

Simply put, it empowers you to make your own food choices.

There’s no “wrong” food when eating intuitively. You may take note of situations that leave you feeling excessively hungry or prompt you to eat beyond fullness to better understand your eating behaviors and move forward with that knowledge.

Though a person’s weight may shift through intuitive eating, the only goal is improved physical and mental health regardless of body size. It may allow you to find your body’s natural healthy weight without completely sacrificing the foods you love.

Because intuitive eating gives you “permission” to eat what your body wants, many of those “forbidden foods” will eventually become a part of your regular eating pattern without overindulgence.

How to Eat Intuitively

If you’re considering adding intuitive eating to your lifestyle, there are a number of ways to get started.

First, consider talking to a registered dietitian and reading Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who first coined the phrase.

Eating intuitively will vary from person to person, but there are some guiding principles. Here’s how to eat intuitively, according to Tribole and Resch.

  • Reject the diet mentality: Getting caught up in what society deems the “ideal” body image when bombarded with fad diets and “quick fix” weight loss drugs is easy. Making a conscious effort to reject these notions and recognize that all bodies have varying biological needs is among the first steps to successfully practicing intuitive eating and achieving body acceptance.
  • Honor your hunger: Dieting often trains us to suppress or ignore our hunger. Intuitive eating endorses honoring your body’s needs and learning to read hunger cues. Be mindful of when you’re hungry and learn to eat until you feel physically satisfied.
  • Make peace with food: Food isn’t your enemy and treating it as such often leads to overindulging in “forbidden” foods.
  • Challenge the food police: Don’t equate food with morality, treating some foods as inherently “bad” and others as “good.” Let yourself have a slice of cake at the party.
  • Discover the satisfaction factor: Not only should the foods you eat physically satisfy you, but you should enjoy them, too. Intuitive eating involves choosing foods that satisfy both your physical needs and even some cravings.
  • Feel your fullness: Identify internal cues that you are no longer hungry. This may include rating your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 for guidance or recognizing you’re no longer hungry even though your plate is still full.
  • Cope with your emotions with kindness: Learn to identify the emotional reasons you eat, such as stress, loneliness, or boredom, and find other enjoyable ways to cope that do not include food. But don’t punish yourself for occasional stress eating.
  • Respect your body: Learn to appreciate your body for what it does for you.
  • Movement: Find exercise that you enjoy, not movement that feels like punishment. This could include walking the dog, swimming, or running around the park with the kids.
  • Honor your health: Eat foods that make you feel good and remember that eating “perfectly” every day is not the goal.

Potential Health Benefits of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating will look different for everyone, but here are a few possible health benefits.

  • Reduced cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
  • Weight maintenance or healthy weight loss.
  • Improved body satisfaction.
  • Decreased depression and anxiety.
  • Decreased levels of disordered eating habits.
  • Improved self-esteem.
  • Improved general well-being.

For more information and tips on nutrition, visit Nutrition Services at UPMC.

About UPMC Nutrition Services

Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.