Stacey Simon, RD
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is a phrase that you may have heard on social media (#intuitiveeatingofficial or #intuitiveeating may be popping up on your FYP more and more), in the news, and even in scientific research. You may be wondering the meaning of intuitive eating, if it's a new trendy diet, or if it's right for you. Intuitive eating is a non-diet (dare I say "anti-diet?!") approach to trusting your body's innate hunger and fullness cues, making peace with food, ditching dieting for good, and learning to have a healthy relationship with your body. If this sounds good to you so far (or if you're not sold yet!), keep reading! Here, we're going to break down the principles of intuitive eating, answer some of your questions about intuitive eating, and consider how intuitive eating may work for you.
Intuitive Eating Principles
Intuitive eating is a "self-care eating framework" created by two Registered Dietitians back in the 1990s (I personally love anything that considers nutrition to be a form a self-care!). It consists of 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating that can be addressed in any order.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating are:
1. Reject the diet mentality
2. Honor your hunger
3. Make peace with food
4. Challenge the food police
5. Discover the satisfaction factor
6. Feel your fullness
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
8. Respect your body
9. Movement- Feel the difference
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition
Is intuitive eating a diet?
You'll notice that Principle 1 is "Reject the diet mentality." In order to truly become an intuitive eater, you'll forego the weight loss goals and focus on nutrition to support your overall health! Intuitive eating is not a weight loss diet, and if you find a provider who sells you "intuitive eating for weight loss," run the other direction! Some intuitive eaters find that they do lose weight, some find that they gain weight, and others find that their weight stays the same, but a change in weight is not the goal. Intuitive eating is a weight neutral approach to nutrition, meaning you can finally throw the scale out of the window (or into the trash if you're in a high-rise building) and focus on much more important factors as markers of health. When considering if intuitive eating is effective, consider the non-weight wins you may experience, including learning to listen to your body, love your body, move your body, and fuel it with nutrition that includes all foods.
Is intuitive eating a fad?
Who wouldn't feel jaded by the seemingly daily diet trends that make the news headlines as the next "quick fix" or "way to finally take control of your eating." Just this year, we've seen intermittent fasting, keto, carnivore, paleo, "anti-diet" diets that actually sell you weight loss, and so much more. I consider intuitive eating to be a breath of fresh air for a few reasons:
It's not a diet (woo hoo!)
It's been around since 1995
It's been the subject of over 125 scientific studies (and counting)
There are no black and white rules (no, seriously!)
Let's talk about point number 4 for a moment. When you think about "diets," don't you start thinking about all the rules you have to follow? No eating after 6 pm, no refined carbohydrates, no flour, no fat, and more.
Intuitive eating is based upon the principle that all foods can be a part of a healthy life unless you're allergic, intolerant, or just don't like them. Fueling our bodies doesn't have to be a process ridden with guilt or shame. We don't have to shut down the kitchen at a certain hour if we're hungry. We don't have to "hold out" until lunchtime if we're hungry before. So I'd say no, intuitive eating isn't a fad because it has stood the test of time, the test of scientific review, and doesn't require rigorous rule-following.
Is intuitive eating evidence based?
As a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, I love a good scientific study, and intuitive eating has over 125 studies to date. Not only are intuitive eaters shown to have improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels, they're also found to have a better relationship with food and with their bodies. An eating pattern that can support physical and mental health! Intuitive eating is so much more than unconditional permission to eat fun foods like cookies and cakes (though it does include that unconditional permission!), and has been shown to improve health.
Intuitive eating vs. mindful eating
Mindful eating vs. intuitive eating.... what's the difference? While there is certainly a lot of overlap, there are a few differences. Mindful eating is an excellent component of a healthy relationship with food, focusing on being present and attuned to the eating process (something I certainly emphasize in working with my clients!). Mindful eating is more focused upon being present and judgment-free while eating, and intuitive eating focuses on the above-mentioned 10 principles. Mindfulness is a key component of intuitive eating, but intuitive eating is not required in practicing mindful eating.
Is intuitive eating right for me? How do I try it?
I'm so excited that you're asking this question! I generally recommend starting off by finding the right healthcare provider to support you in your journey. I recommend working with a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist (RD or RDN) who is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. Speak with a few RDNs to learn more about their counseling style and to see if you'd be a good match. Remember, intuitive eating isn't a diet, so it's not something you'll knock out in a week or two. You want to find a provider that you feel comfortable with, since you'll likely be working together for a few months (or more!).
Ask all of those important nutrition questions when you meet with your dietitian so you feel comfortable working together. Find out about their experience working with clients like you, their education, training, and those "vibes" that can't be measured but make you feel safe.
You may also wish to start reading about intuitive eating in your spare time to complement your counseling. Pick up a copy of "Intuitive Eating" and the "Intuitive Eating Workbook" to help support your journey.