What is intuitive eating? The 10 key principles explained

Kelly McCarthy

(NEW YORK) — Rediscovering a healthy relationship between food, mind and body is no small task, but one expert has an approach that makes you the expert — with principles adhering to your body’s instincts.

Award-winning dietitian and celebrated author Evelyn Tribole shared her wealth of knowledge on intuitive eating with ABC News’ Good Morning America, offering tips for those looking to try out the lifestyle change that ends the legacy of diet culture in your own kitchen.

“Elyse Resch and I created the Intuitive Eating framework over 25 years ago as a solution to our patients who were trying to lose weight,” the MS with a specialty in eating disorders said. “We were doing the traditional food plans and it wasn’t working so we dove deep into research, considered our experience, the consumer world and came up with these principles.”

The idea was to end a legacy of diet culture to help bring trust back to the way we eat and approach fueling our bodies.

“There’s a big myth out there that dieting works — it’s actually one of the biggest predictors for gaining more weight — and the harm that it causes in terms of increased risk of depression, weight stigma and eating disorders, it’s not this innocuous thing,” Tribole said.

What is intuitive eating?

“Intuitive eating is a compassionate self-care eating framework that’s rooted in dignity and respect for all bodies,” aimed to self-connect the mind and body while encouraging a healthy relationship with food. “In order to self connect through intuitive eating that allows you to connect with other people and your quality of life, improves, whatever that is for you so that you can flourish.”

In her latest book, Intuitive Eating for Every Day: 365 Daily Practices & Inspirations to Rediscover the Pleasures of Eating, Tribole offers practical guidance with “little practices, inspirations and a little solace away from diet culture” to make the program easy to incorporate in everyday life. “It includes 10 principles of intuitive eating with all kinds of other things like trust disruptors, how do you let go of the legacy of diet culture? What are some positive things that you can say to yourself? And how do you steer clear of some of these diet cultural conversations.”

The 10 principles explained

While there are 10 key points to the concept, Tribole said you can go in any order that feels right.

1. Reject the diet mentality

“Recognize that diet culture is not the boss of you,” she said, adding, “only you know your experiences and what satisfies you.”

“Intuitive eating is an inside job,” she continued, “and our culture today commonly entertains the idea of changing your body. Just like on your computer you can have many, many programs open, but only have one active screen, so in this case the active screen is pursuing intuitive eating and recognizing the harm that’s been caused in order to have sustainability.”

2. Honor your hunger

“It sounds really basic, but it can be really nuanced — honoring and responding in a timely manner to the signs of hunger in your body,” the author and co-founder said. “People really underestimate the power of primal hunger, the food drive when you’re not getting enough to eat — people misinterpret that intensity and think ‘something is wrong with me’ when the antidote is actually just honoring your hunger.”

3. Make peace with food

This is probably one of the misunderstood principles, but also one of the most joyful, Tribole explained. The concept that calls a truce to stop the food fight and give yourself permission to eat.

“This is about psychological health. It has to do with the phenomenon of when you’re creating a lot of food rules and you break those rules and finally get to eat [that food] it’s not just one or a few, it becomes the whole sleeve or package,” she said. “We also call that ‘the last supper effect.'”

4. Challenge the food police

“This has to do with the rules you’ve collected over time around eating and looking at what’s true and how it’s serving you,” she said. “Who says this is how you should eat?”

Tribole explained that the food police are the voices that “monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created deep in your psyche,” and pushing that aside becomes a critical step for intuitive eating.

5. Discover the satisfaction factor

“What feels satisfying to you in a meal or a snack? What sounds good and how do you want to feel? Ultimately, it doesn’t feel good to undereat and it doesn’t feel good to overeat to the point of discomfort,” she said. “This helps strike that balance on a very personal level.”

Tribole added that discovering satisfaction is an actionable and personal step “that’s about getting curious” and said this step is at the hub of the entire practice.

6. Feel your fullness

“Feeling full is normal. Our culture has demonized feeling full, but it’s actually a sign from our body that ‘Hey, I’ve had enough fuel,’ and it’s time to stop,” she said. “Look at what your body does with the information, maybe, if you felt like you ate too much at lunch let’s see what happens mid afternoon let’s see what happens with dinner, maybe you’ll discover you naturally don’t want as much food.”

7. Cope with your emotions with kindness

“Eating in and of itself can be emotional if you think about most life events from birth to death — what we find is when people cope with their emotions with eating, it adds problems,” she explained. “Ultimately this principle comes down to then is expanding your toolbox for coping techniques.”

8. Respect your body

Tribole said the key here is to “move away from the idea that the size of your body automatically tells you what your health is, which is not true.”

“Every body is worthy of dignity and respect — in spite of what diet culture tells you, study after study has shown that trying to shrink the size of your body results in harm and is not sustainable,” she said.

9. Movement — feel the difference

“Movement for the enjoyment of moving your body in a way that feels good, as opposed to going for the burn just for the sake of it,” she said. “Really having fun and connecting with your body to the degree that you want to.”

10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition

“This is last for a reason,” Tribole said. “Nutrition has been so weaponized in our culture and if nutrition sounds scary or intimidating, it’s OK to put a pause on this and come back when you actually feel ready [and] at peace with your eating and your body.”

Top tips and other helpful information

“This is just taking off worldwide, we now have over almost 1,400 certified intuitive eating counselors in 37 countries. There’s 300 million hashtags on TikTok alone which is just amazing,” she said. “It’s wild to see the popularity, it feels like a success overnight, just 25 years later.”

However, Tribole explained that “sometimes with all of that popularity comes a little confusion” when the work gets co-opted in ways that she didn’t intend, so she offered some red flags “straight from the source.”

“For example, if anyone is having you count or measure things, like tracking macros, or if it’s keto where there’s windows of timing — those are red flags. That’s not connecting to your body. If anything that has you disconnect from your body, which is a huge red flag,” she said.

“You really can’t fail at intuitive eating because it’s a constant journey,” she said. “All are welcome, no matter where you’re at — come check it out and see if it makes sense for you. This is about flourishing and the quality of your living and enjoying your eating.”

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