Renee Little, R.D.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
The 10 Intuitive Eating Principles were created by Evelyn Tribole and Else Resch and published in the 3rd edition of their book "Intuitive Eating A Revolutionary Program that Works - 4th Edition"
The philosophy behind the evidenced based program created by Tribole and Resch is to help people break free from dieting and to be able to give permission to eat without restriction and worry.
Intuitive eating is a method of eating and moving your body which puts you and not an external diet/meal plan/program at the center of food and movement choices. Essentially it extracts you from the diet culture mentality and instead leads you on a journey inward to reconnect with your body and food in a positive and compassionate way. The 10 Principles are outlined in detail below to help you to understand the whole philosophy and approach of Intuitive Eating.
Here is a brief summary of the 10 Principles:
Principle 1: Ditch the diet mentality
If you have been on a diet, I'm pretty sure you could tell me the MANY reasons why you know diets don't work. At the core of each diet is food restriction.....and what happens when you restrict food?
Your body is SMART! When you restrict calories, your body makes you think about food ALL the time! It slows your metabolism down and causes binge eating behavior in some people. Your body is just trying to SURVIVE!
If you have failed dieting before, it is NOT your fault! Restrictive eating and deprivation to lose weight (aka dieting) does not work.
What does work?
Intuitive and mindful eating works!
Intuitive eating principles do not help with weight loss goals as this is a weight neutral approach. The principles DO help to move you away from the diet mentality and move you towards living free from food restriction and chronic dieting. This philosophy can help you make peace with food. and allow all foods into your diet.
When you get into the swing of intuitive eating your body will settle into a weight that is healthy for you. Stepping away from the scale and embracing a new way of eating can be scary at first. BUT trust me, you've got this!
Your body has a HUGE amount of knowledge and can be your guide. It will tell you what, when to eat and how much to eat, IF you listen. Intuitive eating principles take time and practice. Allowing yourself the time and patience to work through this new way of thinking is really key.
Principle 2: Honor your hunger
The concept of figuring out when your body is hungry is a simple idea but can be quite complex when practiced. Why is that?
If you have dieted in the past you have suppressed your hunger cues and got them a bit muddled up with automatic negative thoughts (dieting thoughts). The good news is that your body is able to tell how much and which type food it needs, you just need to pay attention AND start to honor the signals.
Every one of us is an intuitive eater!
You can start this practice by observing your current thoughts and connecting to the sensations of your body. Once you are able to form a good connection with your body the hunger signals come in loud and clear.
Principle 3: Make peace with food
Food is not good or bad...it is just food. It's protein, carbs and fat. This food didn't rob a bank, steal a car or take cookies from a toddler. Food does not have a moral compass and therefore cannot be "bad" or "good."
Making peace with food is all about exploring how you can have a positive relationship with even your "trigger" foods. Making peace with food is also about exploring how and why you put food into categories.
When you eat foods in your "bad" food category, try to observe your thoughts and how these thoughts directly inform your emotions. This can be really key in the process of letting this good/bad food mentality go and to embrace an all foods fit type of philosophy.
Principle 4: Challenge the food police
Many of us have a narrative in our mind telling us what to eat or not to eat based on weight related outcomes (i.e. striving for a thinner body). These thoughts can be called the "food police" which are negative thoughts that can interfere with your bodies signals. These narratives come from diet culture and from our own desire to put thinness above our bodies own needs.
The good news is that these narratives can be shifted into a positive dialogue that can help us to make peace with food and our bodies.
The first step is observation
Observing the thoughts that come up around specific foods, eating and activities around food will enlighten your struggles. This will highlight the areas where you can focus your efforts and make the biggest shift.
Principle 5: Feel your fullness
An essential part of intuitive eating is exploring what your body feels like when you are full. What does your body tell you when it's starting to get full and are you able to pay attention to this?
Most people tell me that they can feel when they are over-full but they are not able to tap into the satisfied feeling. You can use mindful eating strategies to tap into your fullness cues and your bodies wisdom (see the B.A.S.I.C.S of mindful eating blog post). If you are unsure of how fullness feels, you can use my Hunger and Fullness scale at meals to figure out your own cues.
Understanding how satisfaction or contentment feels with regards to eating can be tricky! But YOU got this! Each one of us was born an intuitive eater and you CAN tap back into this skill, it just takes a little time and practice.
Principle 6: Discover the satisfaction factor
Pleasure in life and in food is essential! If you are in a constant struggle with food and using "diet" foods you might be missing out on the enjoyment that food can bring into your life.
Mindful eating principles (see the B.A.S.I.C.S of mindful eating blog post) can help you to unlock all the flavor in foods by teaching you how to be present during your meals and snacks.
Being mindful and paying deliberate attention to the eating experience enhances the smell, taste and enjoyment of meals. Once you pay close attention, you will start to realize which foods you enjoy eating and you may even be surprised to discover some foods you regularly eat, you do not actually enjoy.
Principle 7: Cope with your emotions without using food
Emotions are complex and when we have emotions come up it's so helpful to know how to take care of them. If you regularly cope with your emotions using food AND you would like to make a change around this in your life, there are strategies to help. It is important to remember emotional eating doesn't need to be "fixed" and that an awareness around it can help you to feel more comfortable and understand it better.
We eat often at gatherings that are beaming with joy and contentment. This is part of our culture. We enjoy foods and share foods with those we love and care about. We use foods to celebrate and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this! We also can use food for comfort and to help us to cope with tough emotions and there is ALSO nothing "wrong" with this approach.
It's only when we find emotional eating to be a problem in our lives that we need to tackle it
When emotional eating leads to less enjoyment of food and a feeling of dissatisfaction (fullness feeling very uncomfortable or not being able to make food choices rationally vs. emotionally) it would be beneficial to dive deeper. What some research has shown is by healing your relationship with food overall you can also feel more at ease around emotions and food.
Principle 8: Respect your body
Body respect includes both body image work, eating regular meals, allowing all foods (not restricting) and overall getting things you need (sleep, connection). This principle includes gentle movement and rest. It also includes buying clothing that fits your NOW body. This area of focus can be tough to tackle because of negative thoughts which may arise about your body however you can have these thoughts and at the same time also care for your body.
Principle 9: Exercise - Feel the difference
When was the last time you exercised simply because it felt good without having a goal to lose weight? When you are able to ditch the diet mentality, start to respect your body and tap into your bodies cues, you can start to feel how exercise is beneficial in your life INDEPENDENT of weight loss.
Enjoying exercise that makes your body and mind feel good without worrying about your weight IS achievable. Going through this process may completely change how you think about activity and it might even change the type of activity you choose to do (see my mindful exercise blog post).
Principle 10: Honor your health with gentle nutrition
Once you feel ready, you may be able to explore knowledge about nutrition with a non-dieting lens. All foods can fit into your diet. It's important to remember intuitive eating isn't just about liberalizing your diet to include foods from your "restricted" or "bad" food list, it's also about finding balance with all foods.
Principle 10 can be difficult for some people to tackle because they view good nutrition as dieting. When you step into good nutrition with a view of 'non-diet' approach you can start to really enjoy a variety of foods in your diet without feelings of guilt or good/bad behavior. You are then able to approach all foods from a place of enjoyment and pleasure.
1. Health At Every Size®: A Compassionate, Effective Approach for Helping Individuals With Weight-Related Concerns Part IRobison, Jon, Putnam, Kelly, and McKibbin, Laura April 2007 - Source: AAOHN Journal vol. 55, no. 4
2. “Validity of claims made in weight management research: a narrative review of dietetic articles”, Aphramor, L.(2010) Source: Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:30 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-30
3. “Intuitive eating is associated with interoceptive sensitivity. Effects on body mass index ”, Herbert, B.M., Blechert, J., Hautzinger, M., Matthias, E., Herbert, C.(2013) - Appetite, 70: 22-30