Breaking Down Intuitive Eating
By: Rose Weisenstein, RD, LDN
It is estimated that 95% of all diets fail. Yikes.
The answer is simple: Most diets (I am talking fad diets) are not sustainable, and not realistic for the long haul. Many people spend their entire lives trying out new diets in an effort to change something about themselves, whether it is weight loss, “cleansing” the body, or otherwise.
If you are thinking about trying out a new diet, ask yourself the following questions: Does this diet encourage me to restrict an entire food group? Does this diet encourage me to only eat foods from one food group? Does this diet promise too-good-to-be-true quick and easy fixes? Is there a potential for this diet to be physically or psychologically harmful to me or my loved ones?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions, RUN! Run fast and run far away from that fad diet. As a food and nutrition expert, I have seen fad diets do far more damage than good, and it is my duty to help heal the damage and guide you toward a more wholesome way of fueling your body. Restrictive eating and diet culture are not only harmful to the body, but also to the mind. Because of this, I would like to offer you a new tool to add to your wellness toolbox: Intuitive Eating.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought and was originally created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Intuitive Eating is a weight-inclusive, evidence-based model with a validated assessment scale and over 100 studies to date.
There are 10 guiding principles that help to lead an individual to eating in a more intuitive way, with less of a diet mentality.
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at diet culture that promotes weight loss and the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet or food plan might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise, you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust in yourself and in food.
3. Make Peace with Food
Call a truce; stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.
4. Challenge the Food Police
Scream a loud 'NO!' to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The Japanese have the wisdom to keep pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our compulsion to comply with diet culture, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes just the right amount of food for you to decide you’ve had “enough.”
6. Feel Your Fullness
In order to honor your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is.
7. Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness
First, recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort in the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger may only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion.
8. Respect Your Body
Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body size or shape. All bodies deserve dignity.
9. Movement - Feel the Difference
Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm.
10. Honor Your Health
Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.
About The Author
Rose Weisenstein is a registered dietician for Studio-Element. If you would like to get in contact with her for a consult you can email her at or call the studio (314) 623-9904.