Intuitive eating seems to be the hot new thing, but in reality, it’s been around for a long time. In fact, before the advent of diets, intuitive eating was just the normal way humans ate. But because of the diets have invaded our culture and collective psyche over the last 150 years, normal eating is far less common. So in 1995 two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, created Intuitive Eating, the evidence-based, mind-body approach with 10 guiding principles.
Because we get so many questions about the practice of intuitive eating, we wanted to review the 10 principles outlined by Tribole and Resch, explaining how they are explored within the NF ecosystem. Let’s get into it.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
1. Reject the diet mentality.
This is the first principle for good reason. Research shows that diets just don’t work. They fail to make us happier, healthier, or thinner time and time again. But to truly reject diet mentality in a diet-centric world, it often isn’t enough to just read the research. We find that it’s most effective to have our clients explore their own history with dieting and weight to see what dieting has really done to them, both mentally and physically. We can’t reject diet mentality for anyone as practitioners. It’s an inside job; we’re just here to support.
2. Honor your hunger.
You wouldn’t know it from the covers of magazines telling you how to “cut through cravings” or “never feel hungry again,” but hunger is a normal, healthy sensation! In fact, when we try to “outsmart” our hunger, our bodies push back by increasing our appetite and slowing down our metabolism. Many clients come to us feeling out of control with food. They vacillate between restrictive eating and gnawing hunger, followed by bouts of bingeing. They think this erratic eating pattern is their problem, when really it’s just a symptom… A symptom that tends to disappear when they begin to truly honor their hunger.
3. Make peace with food.
This is an important principle that is often misunderstood. People think intuitive eating is all about donuts, and if they’re coming from the world of “clean eating” or food rules, it totally freaks them out. The thing is, when we restrict certain foods (donuts or other foods we perceive as “bad”), we tend to end up wanting them even more. We obsess over them, and when we eventually “cave,” we end up bingeing. When the guilt sets in, we punish ourselves by restricting ourselves from food entirely, or by limiting ourselves to only “good” foods, and the cycle starts all over again. (Are you seeing a pattern with these major pendulum swings?)
Evelyn Tribole describes this as the “paradox principle.” When you finally have permission to eat anything you’d like, food loses its exaggerated hype and you get the chance to truly discover how food tastes and how it makes you feel.
4. Challenge the food police.
Now that you’ve made peace with all foods– donuts and broccoli alike– the work continues by challenging the voice in your head (and all around you) that classifies foods as good or bad. Choosing to eat or not eat certain foods has nothing to do with your moral value (unless, perhaps, you stole the food or killed the chef). Good and bad labels are keeping you stuck in the diet cycle. Pushing yourself to challenge these labels is hard work, but well worth it.
5. Feel your fullness.
One of the number one questions we get from people who are interested in intuitive eating is, “How will I know how much to eat?” There’s so much fear and distrust housed in this question, all of which is caused by dieting itself. Dieting involves arbitrary food rules and, often, the denial of hunger. They make us feel like we can’t trust our own bodies, when in reality our bodies are incredibly intelligent, powerful, and inherently trustworthy. The practice of slowing down and eating mindfully allows you to tune into your body, so you can feel the physical sense of hunger that’s often masked by diets. The question of how much to eat will be answered by your body’s own intelligence.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor.
The thing is, developing a healthy relationship with food isn’t about removing all emotion from the eating experience or solely treating food as “fuel.” Satisfaction refers to the pleasure principle of food– eating foods you enjoy. This principle helps to address the question people often ask: “If I’m eating intuitively, how will I know what to eat?” As you explore the principles of IE leading up to this point, you’ll find that you enjoy a variety of foods for a variety of different reasons. So to determine what to eat, you have to ask yourself, “What sounds good?”
Let’s say you’ve got a morning full of meetings ahead of you, and you’re craving something savory. A filling meal like eggs with avocado might sound good. The next day, you wake up and it’s cold and rainy. Then maybe breakfast is a warm bowl oatmeal with melty almond butter. If a cookie sounds good, have a cookie. If pizza’s gonna hit the spot, go for it. Smoothie for dinner? Why not?
7. Cope with your emotions without using food.
Remember, a healthy relationship with food is not devoid of emotion. Eating for comfort is normal and can be quite useful at times. But it’s not ideal for food be your only emotional outlet because it can’t always do the job. You couldn’t build a house with just a hammer, and you can’t manage all of your emotions only using food. In NF, we help our clients first bring awareness to their feelings, especially if they’ve been numbing for awhile. Then it’s about getting comfortable feeling them– even the uncomfortable ones. When you realize that feelings are just feelings, they’re not so scary anymore. Lastly, it’s time to deal. We help our clients develop additional coping mechanisms so they’ve got a tool for every job.
8. Respect your body.
We’re big proponents of body respect in NF. Everyone comes to us at a different place in their body journey, and with different desires for what that journey will ultimately lead to. The thing is, regardless of whether one chooses to pursue body love, acceptance, or neutrality, body respect can (and should) underlie it all. This includes acknowledging your inherent worthiness, regardless of body size. It involves treating yourself with dignity and practicing self-compassion. Explore what your life would look like if you were free from your own body negativity. What behaviors would help facilitate that? Maybe it’s clearing out your closet and your social media feed, or getting rid of your scale. The practice of body respect looks different for everyone, and this principle is where you’ll discover it for yourself.
9. Exercise– feel the difference.
The diet mentality doesn’t just relate to food. We can exercise from a diet mentality too. Perhaps you’ve used exercise as punishment, or as currency in your internal bartering system– “I can only eat X if I exercise for Y minutes.” We encourage our clients to approach exercise (and all the components of wellness) from a place of self-care. This means finding activity that they genuinely enjoy, and giving themselves permission to stop doing things they hate. It also means having a well-rounded view of not just exercise, but movement too– stretching, walking, climbing the stairs at work. Adequate rest is also a component of exercise as self-care. Part of respecting your body is giving it the recovery time it needs.
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition.
It might seem strange that nutrition comes last as we explore the principles of intuitive eating, but it’s for good reason. If you’re coming from a place of chronic dieting and diet mentality, additional nutrition guidelines may override your internal wisdom. But going through the other 9 principles will leave you feeling deeply in touch with that inner knowledge. This awareness allows you to receive external information and filter it to apply to your life and needs. You can then apply this information in a way that’s sustainable because it feels like you. This principle encourages you to explore body-food choice congruence, or how well the foods you eat most often support your physical health. It’s also important to gain an understanding of what motivates your food choices, making refinements and improvements where they’ll best support your health and happiness.
There you have it! The Principles of Intuitive Eating. Remember, there is no “right” way to eat intuitively and these are guidelines, not yardsticks. If you’re interested in starting your own journey to eating intuitively, click here to read more about Nutritional Freedom: Foundations.