Intuitive eating doesn’t mean constantly eating whatever sounds yummy. It’s about being in touch with how, why, and when you eat — instead of focusing on diets.
“Intuitive eating” is a phrase Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, two California-based dietitians and nutrition experts, came up with in l995. In their book, first published that year, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works,” Tribole and Resch explained how they help clients get off the diet merry-go-round and stop obsessing about weight.
The key, they wrote, is to learn to be in touch with internal cues about what, how much, and when you eat — instead of fixating on external dictums about food that’s “fattening,” denying yourself a cookie or some other treat, and beating yourself up emotionally when you give up and fall off the diet wagon.
In fact, intuitive eating is not about dieting and worrying about your weight (Tribole and Resch advise avoiding scales). Instead, it’s about finding a healthy and happy relationship with food.
Intuitive eating is not another weight loss diet
The concept of intuitive eating has been discussed for 25 years, since Tribole and Resch’s book was first published. It has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, especially with people sick of dieting and being told they must restrict food groups and weigh themselves religiously.
“Intuitive Eating is not a diet or food plan. Period. There is no pass or fail, therefore there is no ‘blowing it,’ rather it’s a journey of self-discovery and connection to the needs of your mind and body,” nutrition therapist Evelyn Tribole explains on the Intuitive Eating Pros website.
“There is nothing to count: This includes no counting of calories, carbs, points, or macros. If a health professional or coach is offering you Intuitive Eating for the purpose of weight loss — run away. Fast,” Tribole writes. “There is not a single long-term study that shows that weight-loss dieting is sustainable…. Worse — the focus and preoccupation on weight leads to body dissatisfaction and weight stigma, which negatively impacts health.”
Understanding how intuitive eating works
There are 10 principles of intuitive eating Tribole and Resch describe in their book:
- Reject the diet culture. Intuitive eating involves changing your attitude about thinking that you must look a certain way or be a certain size to be acceptable. "It's time to let go of a dieting system that is toxic. The data show that 95 percent of people who go on diets fail at them, and if they've lost weight, two thirds of them gain even more weight back,” nutrition therapist Resch explained in an interview with CNN.
- Discover the satisfaction factor. Allow yourself to experience pleasure from the food you eat, or you’ll never feel satisfied from a meal or snack, according to Tribole and Resch. Feeling satisfied helps you make peace with food and informs you about whether you are hungry or full, too.
- Cope with emotions instead of using food. Sure, you eat for comfort sometimes. We all do. But when you become aware you’re not really hungry, but eating because of stress or when are feeling down, you will start making different choices about eating. You’ll recognize when you are not really hungry and need to cope with your feelings instead of eating.
- Honor your hunger. Hunger is not your enemy, lurking to make you overeat. It’s a normal signal from your body. So, Resch and Tribole emphasize paying attention to the signs of hunger your body gives you (they vary between people) and honor that hunger — eat. Don’t wait until you are ravenous.
- Feel the fullness. Intuitive eating involves making meals “sacred time” — at least, when you can. That means turning off your phone or TV, sitting down, and consciously enjoying your meal. Stop about halfway through and ask yourself if you are feeling full or not. You don’t have to “clean your plate,” and you don’t have to deny yourself a second helping, if you are still hungry.
- Challenge the food police. Most of us have spent our lives in a culture where we are bombarded with various diets and confusing pronouncements that this food or that is bad. For example: Don’t eat carbs! Give up meat! Eat more meat! And people are shamed for their body shape and weight. If the food police in your head start trying to guilt trip you, Tribole and Resche advise telling them, “No!” — and continuing on your own intuitive eating journey.
- Make peace with food. If you have told yourself “Don’t EAT!” a specific food — like never allowing yourself a piece of cake or pizza — you likely will crave more of it, according to Resche. Don’t be afraid of eating food you want, she advises. Make peace with it so food doesn’t have power over you.
- Respect your body. Resche and Tribole emphasize you need a healthy relationship with all aspects of your life. For example, getting enough sleep, being physically active, and cultivating a satisfying way of eating are important ways to respect your body.
- Feel the difference. Pay attention to how you feel as you cultivate a healthy relationship with eating and all the things you do as part of self-care and wellness.
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition. “Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well. Remember that you do not have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating,” Tribole and Resch explain in their book.
April 29, 2022
Janet O’Dell, RN