Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating

Intuitive eating: 10 principles to stop dieting and find peace with food

November 14, 2023

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by

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intuitive eating
Contents
Contents

Key Points

  • Eating disorders can mean a daily battle with food
  • Diets and restrictions activate starvation mode in our bodies and aggravate disordered eating
  • Being stuck in an eating disorder cycle can be overwhelming
  • The ten principles of intuitive eating can help you break eating disorder cycles

If you have an eating disorder, you may struggle with being hyper-focused on different aspects of food and eating. All day long, you may be measuring calories, negotiating with yourself, following diet rules, and making sure other people do not “catch on” to your secret eating habits. 

Meals can be fraught with tension, and the whole process can be overwhelming. The goal of intuitive eating—the non-diet or anti-diet—is to help you make peace with food.

Intuitive eating first originated in the nineties when two nutritionists, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authored a book called ‘intuitive eating’ to help people develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.

The 10 principles of intuitive eating

Remember when you first learned to drive? As a new driver, you may have been on high alert every time you drove, from putting on your seatbelt and checking your mirrors to accelerating, braking, and turning.

In time, you were able to relax. While you still paid some attention to your car and the road, you could also sing, chat with a fellow passenger, or think about the day ahead. The principles of intuitive eating are designed to help you achieve this type of relaxed attention when it comes to eating.

Let’s look at the 10 principles of intuitive eating.

1. Stop dieting

Intuitive eating is a non-diet framework. Diets are not sustainable in the long term. Dieters often lose and regain weight rapidly, leading to an unhealthy cycle. This weight cycling can lead to low self-esteem, body image issues, and more.

Most diets focus on counting calories or cutting out entire food groups. When our bodies sense deprivation (even the thought of dieting), they go into starvation mode and do everything they can to get back to a state of balance.

2. Honor hunger signs

According to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, it is important to give your body the energy and carbohydrates it needs to perform biological functions. Otherwise, the body begins to panic, and intentions of eating moderate amounts of food wash away. Learning not to ignore early hunger signs can help you choose foods consciously.

3. Make peace with food

“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.” - Mark Twain

This principle is about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. There are no more ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. At first, it may seem scary, but it doesn’t mean binge eating; restrictions drive binges. It just means you are not operating from a state of urgency and stress around food. Food taboos are where cravings, binges, and food-related anxiety stem from.

4. Challenge the food police

Who is the food police? It’s the external voices and the voices in your head labeling you good, bad, or weak when it comes to eating. It’s the voice that says, “You were bad over the weekend, so you need to cut your calories during the week.” Or a voice that says, “You cannot let your guard down, or you will gain weight.” When you go to a friend’s birthday party or a work event, is there a voice “making sure you avoid that cake or cheese” instead of being fully present? This voice is also a part of the food police squad.

With intuitive eating, you learn to free yourself from these voices and work with your body from a place of self-care.

Want to start healing your relationship with food? Fay can help you find a non-diet nutritionist covered by your insurance.

5. Get satisfaction from eating

When was the last time you felt satisfied with something you did? It could be after a presentation at work or a relaxed weekend with your kids or friends. It’s a feeling of joy combined with feeling safe, a time when you feel (as Bob Marley says) “every little thing [is] gonna be alright.”

What if you could feel joy and enjoy meals without worrying about calories, macros, weight, and other rules? When you get genuine pleasure from what you eat, you will be content with giving your body just what it needs, nothing more and nothing less.

6. Feel your full

Apart from learning to trust your hunger cues, you will also learn to embrace the feeling of fullness after eating. Disordered eating can manifest in different ways. Feeling full can sometimes trigger negative emotions of shame, guilt, panic about gaining weight, or sadness about the meal being over. Honoring your fullness will allow you to trust your body when it's full.

7. Address why you eat with kindness

As babies, we ate when hungry and stopped when we were full. We listened to our bodies instinctively. Unfortunately, as we grew up, we began receiving social cues about food and weight and tied them to our self-worth.

In some cases, controlling eating habits may have been the only way to feel in control of our lives during times of chaos, uncertainty, or trauma. Food could have been a source of comfort, a distraction, or help us numb from feeling negative emotions.

To truly feel at peace around food, the emotional roots of eating disorders must be addressed with self-love and kindness.

8. Respect your body

A lot of disordered eating revolves around weight and body image. Making peace with your appearance can help you feel better about yourself and help you relax around food.

9. Embrace movement

Sometimes, we end up having an all-or-none mentality to exercise or fitness. Or, movement is tied to weight loss in our heads. A part of intuitive eating is just making movement a part of your life to feel better.

10. Take care of your health

Being consumed by calorie counting or rigid food rules can sometimes masquerade as being “healthy.” Intuitive eating is a return to trusting yourself with taking care of your health and your wants.

If you would like to get started with intuitive eating, Fay can help you find a non-diet nutritionist, covered by your insurance.


The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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