Long-term studies show that a third of the weight lost through dieting returns within 2 years. Also, these studies reveal that all the weight lost and more will be gained back in 5 years. This is important because a continuous cycle of weight gain and weight loss increases the risk of cardiovascular conditions, raising the need for a more sustainable way to eat healthy without dieting.

Kounsel Live hosted Dianna Marino, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, to talk about using intuitive eating as a healthier alternative to dieting.  As an eating method, intuitive eating empowers you to have a healthy relationship with food by giving you authority over your body and hunger cues.

Intuitive eating does not impose rules on what to avoid or when to eat. Instead, you learn that you are the only one who can make those decisions. It encourages self-acceptance and emphasizes the importance of appreciating and valuing one's hunger.

This article contains the basics of intuitive eating, the principles that guide it, and how to get started. We also look at some benefits and risk factors of intuitive eating.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is a long-term approach to healthy eating. It answers the question of how to eat healthy without dieting and the risk factors associated with dieting, like food obsession and irregular metabolism.

As an eating method, intuitive eating encourages you to get in touch with the natural ability to determine when and what you want to eat. This ability is demonstrated in how newborns choose when and how they eat. As adults, we lose touch with this natural instinct because of the influence of parents, pediatricians, and the media's portrayal of good and bad food.

We stop listening to our bodies and take all our cues about health and diet from external sources. This is what intuitive eating seeks to correct.

With intuitive eating, you are encouraged to listen to your body's signal for hunger and satiety. You also get to eat what you like so that you can enjoy your food. Unlike traditional dieting, intuitive eating helps you stop seeing food as good or bad. Instead, you eat what your body thinks is good for you without guilt.

This does not mean you can eat unhealthy, as experts say the body helps you determine what is suitable for it.  Eating intuitively also entails letting go of the compulsion to lose or gain weight so that you can attain a supposedly ideal body goal. With this method, you focus on eating foods that are great for your mental and physical wellbeing.

Many people struggle with intuitive eating because they have been exposed to years of conditioning with food restrictions and obsessing over what is considered healthy food. However, if you are willing to trust yourself and put the need for weight loss in the background, you can start listening to your body and feeding it what it desires.  

10 principles of intuitive eating

It is important to note that everyone is at a different stage regarding these principles. So, you can start with one and gradually move on to the rest.

Reject the diet mentality

A diet mentality means constantly monitoring and scrutinizing your food intake so you can achieve what you think is a healthier lifestyle or body. However, studies have shown that prolonged dieting is unhealthy.

So, the first principle to start eating intuitively is to let go of the mindset that there is one correct way to eat and embrace a more holistic approach to eating that considers what your body wants. This is why intuitive eating is wholly anti-diet.

Honor your hunger

This is a simple way to start trusting your body signals for food. Honoring your hunger simply means eating when you feel your hunger signals. Do not wait until you are starving before eating, as it can drive you to overeat because your ability to listen to your body's signal for fullness may be hard at that point.

Gradually, your body learns to trust your hunger cues and satiety signals. That way, you can know when to eat and stop eating.

Make peace with food

Understand that food is not your enemy. Unless you have allergies or are intolerant, there are no off-limits foods, not even carbs.

Allowing yourself to eat unconditionally and without a sense of guilt may help you to avoid cravings, deprivation, and overeating.

Make peace with food - 10 principles of intuitive eating

Challenge the food police

Anytime you feel guilty about food or eating something, that is your internal food police speaking. The small voice in your head tells you that some food is bad or good.

Paying attention to the voice is good, but the other part is to deny it. So, challenge it anytime you hear the voice by saying no out loud.  

Respect your fullness

Once you start eating when you are hungry, pay attention to how you feel when you eat and be conscious of your satiety. This is called embodied eating.

To do this, pause in the middle of your food, drop your fork and think about how you feel. Think about the taste of the food, the sensation you are feeling, and your hunger level at that moment. If you still feel hungry, you can eat more. If you feel full, you should stop eating immediately.

Practicing this will help you know when your body has reached its maximum food capacity and when to stop eating.

Discover your satisfaction factor

Intuitive eating revolves around satisfaction and enjoying your eating experience. It is easier for you to find satisfaction in your food when you know there are no restrictions on what you can eat. Ultimately, you may find it takes less to be satisfied and feel fuller for longer.

You can enjoy your mealtime by sitting to eat what makes you happy. Also, ensure that you eat in a pleasant environment that encourages you to enjoy your food.  

Honor your feelings without using food

Sometimes, what you refer to as hunger is emotional eating. Emotional eating refers to overeating as a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult or distressing feelings. This is why you should know when you are hungry and when it's just an emotional response.

This principle inspires people to find a better way of coping with their emotions. Some better ways to cope with emotions include journaling, exercising, taking a walk, and speaking to a loved one.

Additionally, seeing a therapist can assist people in identifying the root causes of their problems and developing coping mechanisms that work for them.

Honor your feelings without using food - 10 principles of intuitive eating

Respect your body

This might be the most challenging principle of intuitive eating for many people. Respecting your body simply means accepting your body's genetics and letting go of unrealistic expectations about your body.

When you respect your body, you stop being critical of your body, and you only make positive affirmations about your body. You understand that the value of your body is not based on external factors; instead, your body is beautiful just the way it is.

Exercise - feel the difference

This principle should be practiced after you had focused on the ones before it and mastered them. The first question to ask is why you are looking to exercise.

Rather than exercise to burn calories, intuitive eating encourages you to focus on how the exercise makes you feel. When you know how the exercise makes you feel, use it as a drive to stay active.

Engage in physical activity that you find pleasurable. Instead of focusing on weight loss, make an effort to feel more alive, energized, and strong.

Exercise to feel the difference - 10 principles of intuitive eating

Honor your health - gentle nutrition

If you focus too much on eating healthy, you cannot fully make peace with food and listen to your body.

This principle emphasizes that what you eat consistently matters and that it's okay to permit yourself to eat what satisfies your craving. One meal or snack will not significantly impact your overall health.

To get the most out of your meals, they should be tasty and filling.

Honor your health - gentle nutrition - 10 principles of intuitive eating

How to start practicing intuitive eating

There are many ways to incorporate the practice of intuitive eating into your daily routine. If you're interested in learning more about intuitive eating, here are some basic steps to take:

  • Observe food habits: Pay close attention to your eating habits, but don't pass any judgment on them.
  • Reflect on why you are eating: Consider whether your desire to eat stems from a bodily hunger or an inadequate emotional response.
  • Practice mindfulness: You can stop emotional eating by practicing mindfulness, which is being conscious of how you feel and taking better steps to improve than food.
  • Obey your hunger cues: Do not restrict food intake; instead, eat when you are hungry.
  • Avoid moralizing food: Do not consider food good or bad. Instead, follow the principles of intuitive eating to eat healthily.

How can I practice intuitive eating if I have diabetes?

No matter the kind of illness, allergies, or conditions you have, you can practice intuitive eating. This is because intuitive eating focuses on how food makes you feel.

So, if you have diabetes, you are still eating to make you feel good and fuel your body. You can eat to find satisfaction and still feel good, even if you have to count carbs.  

Benefits of intuitive eating

Studies have shown that practicing intuitive eating has both physical and mental benefits.

Mentally, intuitive eating helps with improved body acceptance and weight loss. Researchers found that people who eat food based only on their bodily hunger had a better self-image than others who follow a diet.

Another study found that people with anorexia may improve their condition if they eat intuitively as it will help them recognize their hunger and satiety cues.

Can I lose weight while practicing intuitive eating?

One of the conditions of intuitive eating is to put the need for weight loss on the back burner. This means that you have to lose sight of the need to lose weight and instead embrace the need to eat food that your body is comfortable with and wants.

Intuitive eating is not a weight-loss method. It is making peace with food and trusting your body to know how to nourish itself. However, some people have been able to lose weight while practicing this method.

Can I lose weight while practicing intuitive eating?

About Dianna Marino

Dianna is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and certified intuitive eating counselor practicing in Santa Monica, California. Dianna works with her clients to create a more sustainable way of eating and making healthy food choices apart from dieting. You can connect with her on the Kounsel app.