Intuitive eating is an approach to food popularized by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in the book of the same name, which was first published in 1995.
Tribole and Resch are both dietitians. In the early years of their individual practices each worked with clients wanting to lose weight. They knew the odds weren’t good, as 95% of diets are known to fail, and they vowed that their patients would be in that lucky 5%.
While their clients did lose weight on their prescribed meal plans, those patients inevitably regained the weight and ended up back on their doorsteps, feeling shameful.
Through reviewing research, Tribole and Resch discovered the radical idea of people eating anything and everything they wanted. They evolved that approach into one that still took into account their training in nutrition, and “intuitive eating” was born.
In a nutshell, intuitive eating is about trusting your body’s own signals about what it wants to eat and when. It says that our bodies know best at all times, and that if we only tune in, they will be our guides. For instance, intuitive eating is about trusting that your body knows what kinds of macronutrients it needs at any given time. If your body is low on carbs, it may crave a lovely banana, some focaccia, or a granola bar. If it needs fat, it may crave an avocado, some cheese, or a hamburger.
There are 10 tenets to intuitive eating (note that the names of the tenets are from Tribole and Resch; the descriptions are my own interpretations):
- Reject the diet mentality. Accept that diets don’t work in the long-term and are actually the most effective way of putting on weight.
- Honor your hunger. Are you hungry? You should eat. Period.
- Make peace with food. Give yourself allowance to eat absolutely anything without guilt or shame. Deprivation (either forcing yourself not to eat something or feeling guilty about eating something) leads to bingeing.
- Challenge the food police. Give up all connection in your mind between food choices and morality. You are not a “good” or a “bad” person for any given food choice; likewise, there are no inherently “good” or “bad” foods.
- Feel your fullness. Tune into your body and learn to recognize when you’re feeling satisfied. Tribole and Resch speak only of physical fullness; I like to add the concept of holistic fullness, recognizing that food can have purposes beyond simply fueling us. Eating past fullness may be a choice you consciously make and that’s absolutely fine. But it’s valuable to learn to tune in so that going past fullness is a conscious choice instead of accidental.
- Discover the satisfaction factor. Experiencing pleasure from food is a lovely experience. It doesn’t have to be a constant goal. Sometimes we feed ourselves literally only to fuel ourselves, but deriving pleasure and satisfaction from food is an experience that most dieters haven’t experienced in a long time, and one that can be an extremely useful contributor to our overall happiness.
- Cope with your emotions without using food. This one feels a little too “rule-like” for me, but it basically emphasizes the value of finding coping mechanisms for painful emotions outside of food. (Again, there’s a ton more to talk about here but we’ll save that for another day.)
- Respect your body. This emphasizes the importance of personal body acceptance in this journey. The more you feel at ease in your own body, the easier it will be to accept whatever weight change does or does not occur as a result of this new approach to eating.
- Exercise — feel the difference. I have personally come to dislike the term “exercise” as it brings to mind hamster wheels and icky gyms filled with self-hating gym rats, but regardless of that, this tenet is about relearning how to enjoy movement, and how movement makes your body feel.
- Honor your health — gentle nutrition. This is the hardest of all the tenets as I feel it’s a bit of a contradiction of tenets 3 and 4, and hugely triggering for those of us who have been disordered eaters. But the basic idea here is that there are a few nutritional ideas that may improve your health outcomes. If health is one of your personal values (and let me emphasize that it need not be for you to be worthy as a human), you can start to mix these ideas in. These should not be pursued until much later into one’s intuitive eating journey, if they’re pursued at all.
I highly, highly recommend reading the book to learn all the details!
- My posts about Intuitive Eating & Allowance
- Books: Intuitive Eating & Allowance
- Podcasts: Health At Every Size (these typically cover intuitive eating too)
- Films: Health At Every Size & Diet Culture (these typically cover intuitive eating too)