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Intuitive Eating
Sarah Ondrish

Intuitive Eating

Written by Sarah Ondrish, a UNC dietetic intern currently at Carolina Meadows for her food service management rotation.

What is Intuitive Eating?

  • Intuitive eating is a non-diet, weight-inclusive framework that encourages internal cues over external diet culture rules
  • It aims to promote health-enhancing behaviors, improved body image, and a healthier relationship with food through the practice of honoring both physical and mental health rather than promoting intentional weight loss
  • Created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
  • Consists of 10 core principles

Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality

Principle 1 is to reject the diet mentality. This involves rejecting the false and harmful claims of quick, easy, and permanent weight loss found in diet books, magazines, etc. So, what exactly is diet mentality? Well, diet mentality is the voice inside your head that dictates your food choices with little to no regard for hunger, fullness, personal preferences, cravings, or current life circumstances. This inner voice can sound like “I can’t eat that. It has too many calories” or “I’m going to be good today and stay away from___”. Diet mentality can be hard to spot, especially since we are so rooted in diet culture, which is a culture that attaches morality and worth to certain foods and body sizes. Get angry at diet culture and rewrite your own story, one that’s free of negativity and shame!

Principle 2: Honor your Hunger

Principle 2 is honoring your hunger. This means keeping your body biologically fed with a variety of foods since it needs consistent nourishment to function at its best. Otherwise, ignoring your hunger cues can lead to excessive hunger and trigger a primal drive to overeat. Our bodies have unique ways of telling us that we need to eat such as a growling stomach, low energy levels, headaches, and preoccupation with food. Everyone’s hunger cues are different, so it is important to listen to YOUR body’s cues rather than what some else tells you. All in all, honoring your hunger helps keep your body and brain functioning at their optimum level and builds a trusting relationship between you and food.

Principle 3: Make Peace with Food

Principle 3 is making peace with food. This involves giving yourself unconditional permission to eat where no foods are off-limits. Saying that you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” eat can lead to strong feelings of deprivation that make you want the “forbidden” foods even more. It’s like if I tell you, ‘Don’t think about a pink elephant,’ then it’s almost impossible to not think about a pink elephant. This same concept can be applied to food. If you restrict certain food items, then that desire and preoccupation for the food only increases. As a human being, you can only ignore these thoughts for so long until you finally “give in” and eat your forbidden food. By making peace with food, you can begin to see all foods as equals and hold a place for all foods in your diet. It may take a while to allow yourself unconditional permission to eat, but each time you do, you are taking a step towards becoming an intuitive eater!

The Binge-Restrict Cycle

Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police

Challenging the food police involves saying no to the unreasonable and harmful rules of diet culture such as eating a piece of cake is “bad” while limiting carbs is “good.” By challenging the food police, you are giving yourself emotional permission to eat all foods.There are no “good” or “bad” foods or foods you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat, despite what the food police may tell you. Let’s challenge the food police by muting those loud voices in our heads and take the morality out of eating.

Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Principle 5 is discovering the satisfaction factor. This involves being in tune with your eating experience to find the pleasure and satisfaction that can come from it. Satisfaction from eating can come from eating what you really want, in an environment that is pleasing, and with company that’s welcoming. By taking the time to mindfully eat foods you truly enjoy, you’ll be able to decide for yourself when you’ve had enough rather than listening to the rules of diet culture.

Principle 6: Feel your Fullness

Principle 6 is to feel your fullness. To honor your fullness, you must first trust that you will give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods and consistently feed yourself throughout the day. Rather than thinking that you have to “clean your plate,” a good place to stop eating is when you’re satisfied but not overly stuffed. When looking at the hunger-fullness scale, ideally you would want to start eating when you’re at a 3-4 and stop eating when you’re at a 6-7. However, this is NOT a hard and fast rule. Feeling like you overate is normal and nothing to feel ashamed about!

Principle 7: Cope with your Emotions with Kindness

Principle 7 is to cope with your emotions with kindness. While using food as a coping mechanism is okay and does not warrant any feelings of guilt, at the end of the day, food won’t fix any of your feelings of boredom, loneliness, anxiety, or anger. Food can continue to be in your toolbox of coping skills, but it should not be your only one. Other coping skills can be in the form of listening to music, taking a walk, deep breathing, taking a bath, yoga/meditation, and phoning a friend or family member.  

Principle 8: Respect your Body

Principle 8 is to respect your body. Our bodies have their own unique genetic blueprint, just like how each house has its own blueprint. If someone had a shoe size of 8, we would not expect them to fit into a size 6. Well, the same expectation can be directed towards body size and clothing you choose to wear. When you adequately nourish your body with a variety of foods, engage in joyful movement, get enough sleep, and manage your stress, your weight will settle in the range it is meant to be in. Regardless of one’s shape or size, all bodies deserve love and respect.

Principle 9: Movement—Feel the Difference

Principle 9 talks about feeling the difference between rigid exercise to burn calories and moving your body to enjoy being active. The idea is to shift your focus from exercising to burn calories to focusing on how you feel while moving your body for fun and self-care. Does moving your body help reduce stress? Does it help you sleep? Does it help with digestion? Does it allow you to socialize with others? These are the questions that would be helpful to ask when developing a healthy relationship with movement and your body.  

Principle 10: Honor your Health with Gentle Nutrition

The final principle refers to honoring your health with gentle nutrition. Gentle nutrition is the last principle in intuitive eating because to focus on nutrition, you must first heal your relationship with food. Gentle nutrition involves honoring your health with nutritious choices while also honoring your taste buds. Eating “healthy” does not mean “eating perfectly.” It’s about variety, adequacy, consistency, and balance rather than following a strict set of rules. Remember, you do not make or break your health from one meal or one day of eating.


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