Does Intuitive Eating Work? Definition, Principles, and Tips

Intuitive eating is not a diet and focuses on eating what you need to fuel your body and stopping when you are full.

  • Intuitive eating is the opposite of diet culture.
  • Intuitive eating has improved physical, psychological, and behavioral outcomes.
  • There are 10 key principles of intuitive eating.
  • Intuitive eating is more effective for weight maintenance than weight loss.

The term intuitive eating was first coined in 1995. Intuitive eating, also known as adaptive eating or body wisdom, refers to responding to hunger and fullness signals without restricting the type of food eaten unless necessary for specific health-related issues. Unlike a traditional diet, intuitive eating does not impose guidelines on what to avoid and when to eat. Instead, it allows the person and their body to choose. On the other hand, dieting impacts physical and mental health as severe calorie restrictions for weight loss lead to adverse physiological conditions.

Intuitive eating is the opposite of a diet as it promotes a healthy attitude between food and body image. It allows you to focus on eating when you are hungry and stop when you are full. While this may seem like a simple concept for many people, it is hard to trust their bodies to tell them what they need.

 

Eating intuitively means learning how to trust your body. To do so, you must distinguish the difference between physical and emotional hunger. Physical hunger is the biological urge telling you to restore the nutrients in your body. Hunger is felt through signals such as a growling stomach or irritability. This indicates a physical need for food that should be met. Emotion hunger is driven by emotional need. Stemming from sadness, loneliness, and boredom — emotional hunger drives people to crave food. Often, due to a heightened emotional state, this type of hunger frequently causes you to crave and overeat large quantities of food. This results in guilt and self-hatred, causing a vicious cycle to occur.

On the other hand, intuitive eating has better health outcomes, both physically and psychologically. This includes a correlation with lower weight and BMI, improved LDL, and HDL cholesterol. Unlike other weight loss-focused interventions, intuitive eating has been shown to affect blood pressure positively and is correlated with weight maintenance. Psychologically, intuitive eating also improves body satisfaction and decreases levels of depression. Intuitive eating can also reduce eating disorder behaviors and help people make more balanced food choices.

There are 10 key principles of intuitive eating.

  • The first key principle of intuitive eating is to remove the diet mindset. This means throwing out magazines that offer you a lose weight quick diet and focusing on discovering what intuitive eating means to you.
  • The second principle is learning to respect your hunger cues. This includes eating enough food to keep your body energized but avoid reaching excessive hunger levels as this can cause you to overeat.
  • The third principle is accepting that you need food. You have unconditional permission to eat. Eat the food you want without depriving yourself and suppressing cravings. With intuitive eating, there is no such thing as “giving in” to forbidden food, as you should eat what you want when you feel hungry.
  • Fourth, challenge the food police. The food police set unreasonable rules from diet culture.
  • Fifth, know when you feel full. Listen to your body and its signals, and stop eating when you are no longer hungry. A great way to achieve this is to pause in the middle of the meal and ask yourself how the food tastes and how full you are.
  • Sixth, discover the satisfaction factor. Understanding what you really want to eat in a positive environment will help you be satisfied and content.
  • Seventh, honor your feelings without using foods to comfort or resolve your issues. Food will not fix your problems or your emotions.
  • Eighth, respect your body by loving yourself for who you are.
  • Ninth, exercise will help you feel energized and manage stress rather than burn calories.
  • Finally, honor your health through gentle nutrition by choosing healthy food that tastes good while making you feel full.

The difference between intuitive eating and dieting is that dieting focuses on body weight or attaining a lower weight as the main goal. In contrast, intuitive eating omits discussions about weight loss and offers a fundamental approach to non-dieting. While intuitive eating is not as effective for weight loss, it is highly effective for weight maintenance. Research has also shown that intuitive eaters have a more nutritious dietary intake and overall positive eating patterns than those who do not follow an intuitive approach to food. People eat for various reasons, such as when they are physically hungry, responding to environmental or social cues, or for emotional reasons.

However, some people may find it hard to eat only when physically hungry. Therefore, intuitive eating assumes people have control over when and what they eat, which may not be the reality. Thus, even if intuitive eating successfully improves health, it may not be easy to implement and maintain long-term for some people.

Intuitive eating is an alternative approach to dieting that focuses on eating when hungry and stopping when full. It focuses on removing the concept of restriction, allowing you to eat any food and in any amount. However, difficulty with intuitive eating stems from the lack of understanding of the connection between your body and emotions. As physical hunger is frequently confused with emotional hunger, you must first understand your body and its needs before intuitive eating. Intuitive eating has many benefits, including physical, psychological, and behavioral outcomes. However, it may be challenging to implement if you cannot control what and when you eat throughout the day. Working with a qualified intuitive eating professional can help make intuitive eating feel more manageable for you. 

Summary

Intuitive eating allows you to listen to your body and only eat when hungry and stop when full. It removes the limitations placed upon people from the diet culture and promotes eating only during physical hunger over emotional hunger. Intuitive eaters can also benefit from the positive mental and physical health aspects of intuitive eating, such as decreased levels of depression and increased body satisfaction. The key principles of intuitive eating are understanding when you are hungry and how to respond to your body’s cues. Finally, intuitive eating is not dieting, but it may be difficult for some people who do not have a say over what or when they eat throughout the day.

Scientific Information

  • Intuitive eating: A new way to fuel your body based on eating what you need and stopping when you are full, removing the limits based upon you by diet culture
  • Physical hunger: Hunger stemming from your stomach being empty and understood through signals from the brain such as stomach growling or irritability
  • Emotional hunger: Eating when an emotional need is brought up, such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs): “Bad” cholesterol collects in the blood vessel walls, raising the risk of heart attack or stroke
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDLs): “Good” cholesterol aids in removing other forms of cholesterol from the bloodstream
Written by:
Sabrina Mierswa
Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering
Reviewed by:
Registered Dietitian

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