Intuitive Eating: Moving into Attunement with your Body
Updated: Jan 8
Intuitive eating has been making a name for itself in the health and wellness space over the past few years. Before you write it off as just another diet or wellness trend, read on to learn what it’s all about and how we incorporate it into our work at Woven Nutrition.
The concept of intuitive eating dates back to the 1970s with the work of registered dietitian Thelma Wayler and psychotherapist Susie Orbach. Wayler developed a program grounded in a non-diet approach and Orbach explored the social construction of weight, publishing “Fat is a Feminist Issue” in 1978 (1,2). While others like author Geneen Roth continued exploring related concepts in the 1980s, the term “intuitive eating” was coined and popularized by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. This term, as we know it, describes a self-care eating framework that encompasses 10 principles (3). Fast forward to 2022, and there are now over 100 research studies on intuitive eating and related non-diet frameworks (4).
Principles of Intuitive Eating
The principles of intuitive eating represent a dynamic interplay between thought, emotion, and instinct, which together help us build awareness and connection with our body’s sensations to support our well-being. It allows us to meet our biological and physiological needs while filtering out disruptions to our personal attunement and intuition (4). While it may be tempting to fly through the 10 principles in chronological order and call it “done,” it’s important to recognize that intuitive eating is not a linear process. It is an ongoing practice that requires patience, introspection, and self compassion. If that sounds good to you, let’s dive in!
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Whether it’s from social media, press, health care professionals, family members, or friends, we are inundated with messaging that thinness equates to good health. This is diet culture in a nutshell. Dieting and the pursuit of weight loss are so normalized in our society that it can be hard to recognize the subtle ways in which you might be subscribing to diet culture. The first principle of intuitive eating involves pushing back against diet culture and freeing yourself from its grip. This can be challenging since diet culture is a pervasive part of our society and culture, amounting to a $70+ billion industry. If you’re feeling overwhelmed already, that’s understandable. One small step you can take today is to create awareness. Try noticing and naming diet culture when you run into it. Over time and with increased awareness, you will gain more tools to combat it.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Hunger is one of our basic biological needs. It’s our body’s way of telling us that it needs energy and nutrition. We can honor our body by consistently and adequately nourishing it, over time creating trust with our body’s internal signals. Consider thinking about it this way - when you feel the urge to use the bathroom, you usually use the restroom without thinking twice. We can apply the same general principle to hunger as a way to satisfy our physiological needs and care for our body. For a variety of reasons, it can be difficult to sense hunger cues until it has reached extreme levels (enter: hanger). This is where it can be helpful to have support from a registered dietitian to help identify possible disruptions in your attunement with hunger.
3. Make Peace with Food
One of the main goals of intuitive eating and our work as dietitians at Woven Nutrition is to support you in creating a peaceful relationship with food. This can feel like a daunting task in a society where foods are often labeled “good” versus “bad,” “healthy” versus “unhealthy,” “clean” versus “dirty” - the list goes on and on! Moralizing and restricting certain foods can result in guilt or shame, or lead us to feeling deprived or out of control around food. By giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, you can begin to view foods neutrally.
4. Challenge the Food Police
You, as a human existing in diet culture, have likely developed certain beliefs and even rules around certain foods or ways of eating. This is what Tribole and Resch refer to as “the food police.” In keeping with the previous principle of making peace with food, it’s time to ditch the inner food police. This may first involve practicing mindfulness by noticing your thoughts about food and creating awareness. After gently observing and calling attention to such thoughts, you may try to approach them with curiosity and reflection. You may even consider practicing reframing by adding in some neutral or positive statements.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Food is more than just nutrients. It’s connection, joy, pleasure, fellowship, culture, and so much more. Do you find it challenging to find pleasure in food? Have you ever left a meal feeling like something was missing? This may be an indication that your meal wasn’t satisfying in some way. It’s possible to create a meal that satisfies our physiological hunger without satisfying our soul. By allowing ourselves to eat what our body is truly craving, creating an inviting eating environment, and understanding the many roles that food plays in our lives beyond just nutrition, we can learn to discover the satisfaction factor.
6. Feel Your Fullness
We can honor our bodies by responding to feelings of fullness just like we honor our body by responding to pangs of hunger. If you can, consider taking a brief pause to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling during a meal. Are you comfortably full? Still hungry? Wanting another type of food? Again, creating awareness and responding to our internal hunger and fullness cues allows us to cultivate a sense of trust with our body. When we consistently respond to our body’s signals, we create a sense of safety that is beneficial for mental and physical wellbeing.
7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Eating can offer us distraction and comfort, or it may temporarily fill the void of something we’re missing in a particularly hard time. While food may successfully soothe us in the short-term, it’s helpful to have other coping tools too. When you feel yourself turning to food for emotional reasons, check in with yourself. What do you actually need at that moment? Maybe you do need or want food. Perhaps you need some time to process your emotions alone. Maybe you want to call a friend, go for a walk, do some deep breathing, or journal about how you’re feeling. We can honor our emotional and physical wellbeing by addressing our emotions with a variety of coping mechanisms.
8. Respect Your Body
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Consider this - there is beauty in body diversity. If we all looked the same, things might get a little boring, don’t you think? For the most part, our body type is determined by our genetic blueprint. It’s what makes us unique. For some, it may feel unrealistic to come to a place of “body love” or “body positivity,” and that’s ok. If that’s the case, you might ponder what it would take to bring yourself to a point of neutrality with your body. When we are able to respect our bodies, we can feel better about who we are and how we show up in this world.
9. Movement – Feel the Difference
Shifting away from “all or nothing” thinking is one way to reject diet culture. This concept applies to movement and fitness too. If movement is accessible to you and something that you want to engage in, consider shifting your perspective away from external guidelines (such as how many calories you’re burning) and toward how movement makes you feel. Does movement leave you energized? Do you feel more connected with your body, or with nature if you’re outdoors? Do you feel proud of what your body is capable of doing? Despite what diet culture tells you, it’s ok to move in a way that just feels good to you.
10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
The first and foremost thing to consider regarding nutrition is whether you are eating enough food regularly throughout the day. We can honor our bodies by choosing a variety of foods that taste good and make us feel good. Nourishing our bodies adequately and consistently is a practice that can support our health. Be kind and gentle with yourself, knowing that the end goal is not perfection.
Associated Health Benefits
Now that you’re familiar with the general premise of intuitive eating, let’s review some of the evidence. Research studies suggest that intuitive eating is associated with positive body image, improved self esteem, greater satisfaction with life, decreased disordered eating behaviors, and overall mental wellbeing (6,7). Intuitive eating may be associated with beneficial physical health outcomes too, such as lower triglyceride levels (8).
This is just a snapshot of some of the research on intuitive eating and similar non-diet approaches. If you’re interested in diving deeper into the scientific literature, check out the compilation of intuitive eating studies here.
How Can I Start?
While this may all sound good to you, you might find yourself wondering where and how to start. First and foremost, we recognize that varying life circumstances can make some of the principles of intuitive eating feel inaccessible. As with food and movement, it does not have to be “all or nothing.” We each have unique experiences, personalities, goals, and life conditions. Therefore, the way that we approach and implement intuitive eating will differ from person to person. Consider what parts of intuitive eating, if any, resonate with you and start there.
You can learn more about intuitive eating using the additional resources listed below. If you find yourself curious about intuitive eating and want to see how it might fit into your life, reach out to us at Woven Nutrition to schedule an appointment. We’re here to support you!
Intuitive Eating: An Anti-Diet Revolutionary Approach, 4th Edition by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
The Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens: A Non-Diet, Body Positive Approach to Building A Healthy Relationship with Food by Elyse Resch
Kooienga M (Hill). What Is Intuitive Eating? Nutrition Stripped®. Published September 25, 2019. Accessed December 22, 2022. https://nutritionstripped.com/what-is-intuitive-eating/
The History of Health at Every Size®: Chapter 3: The 1970s. naafa. Accessed December 22, 2022. https://naafa.org/community-voices/history-of-haes-prt-3
Tribole E. Definition of Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating. Published July 17, 2019. https://www.intuitiveeating.org/definition-of-intuitive-eating/
Studies. Intuitive Eating. Accessed December 22, 2022. http://www.intuitiveeating.org/resources/studies/
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating. http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
Hazzard VM, Telke SE, Simone M, Anderson LM, Larson NI, Neumark-Sztainer D. Intuitive eating longitudinally predicts better psychological health and lower use of disordered eating behaviors: findings from EAT 2010–2018. Eating and Weight Disorders - Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity. Published online January 31, 2020. doi:10.1007/s40519-020-00852-4
Linardon J, Tylka TL, Fuller‐Tyszkiewicz M. Intuitive eating and its psychological correlates: A meta‐analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2021;54(7). doi:10.1002/eat.23509
Teas E, Kimiecik J, Ward RM, Timmerman K. Intuitive Eating and Biomarkers Related to Cardiovascular Disease in Older Adults. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2022;54(5):412-421. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2022.01.010