What are the 10 principles of intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a non-diet, self care eating framework.
Unlike diets or weight loss programs, the 10 principles of intuitive eating guide you to stop following food rules and instead reconnect with your body to be your number one guide. This allows you to stop the fight between body and mind which often leads to out-of-control food behaviours such as binge or emotional eating. Intuitive eaters naturally eat without second guessing their food choices or obsessing over food in a way that is peaceful as well as beneficial for their own unique bodies.
These 10 principles of intuitive eating will guide you to develop trust with your body so you can stop stressing over food and become and intuitive eater.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating
The principles of intuitive eating are rooted in interoceptive awareness - developing awareness and trust for the internal sensations inside your body. These internal sensations are the language your body uses to communicate what it needs. The principles of intuitive eating guide you to let go of societal expectations and then learn to feel and trust your body as your number 1 guide in your eating and self care. Let's explore each principle:
1. Reject the diet mentality
How often is your fear of food linked to a fear of weight gain? While we hold onto cultural ideals of how our bodies should look, we will stay stuck in a deprivation mindset which triggers deprivation based eating such as emotional eating.
As we start intuitive eating, we must explore diet culture - the worshipping of thinness above all else as well as the value and morality that is placed on our food choices. Diets don't work for the vast majority of people. In fact they cause harm by triggering episodes of binge-eating, poor self worth and weight cycling which is linked to poorer health outcomes*.
Recognising the harm dieting has done, getting angry at the ongoing lies and letting go of the false promises from diet culture are challenging but an important first (and ongoing) step as we open up space to become an intuitive eater.
A deprivation mindset triggers deprivation eating.
2. Honour your hunger
So often our eating issues such as emotional eating or binge eating are largely triggered by biological hunger, such as not having consistent and regular food. Our body communicates hunger through internal sensations inside your body, but if you are used to using diet rules to guide you, you may not feel or understand this communication until you feel ravenous.
Earlier hunger allows for peaceful, conscious eating where we can make a decision on what food will best support us. However, later hunger feels more urgent and leads to craving higher energy foods. If we are usually feeling hunger at this more ravenous stage, it can create false proof that you need a diet to guide you.
You must start honouring hunger - by eating enough when you feel hungry or eating at regular intervals if you are not feeling hunger cues. You cannot expect your body to stop eating at a comfortable level of fullness (principle 6) until it trusts that food will be available next time it needs it.
3. Make peace with food
All foods are morally neutral. As an intuitive eater you must have unconditional permission to eat ALL foods. Fruit is akin to sweets and vegetables are on an even playing field with pastries. There is a fear that when we allow all foods unconditionally we will want to always eat the foods we currently try to avoid. Actually the opposite is true.
It is the deprivation of the foods that leads you to obsessively think about and crave them. From a place of deprivation eating, "bad" foods can be experienced with intensity, overeating and a side of guilt. When all foods are considered morally neutral, we make space to eat all foods mindfully and for our body to fancy a range of nutritious and fun foods.
All foods are allowed equally with intuitive eating.
4. Challenge the food police
The language we use to think about and describe food fuels morality over food. If we deem a food less morally worthy, eating a "bad" food leads to feelings of being “bad” for eating it. This can trigger guilt and shame which is not supportive of our health or wellbeing and often fuels further stress eating. There is no such thing as a "bad" food. All food can play a role on our lives whether it is biological nourishment or emotional, social or cultural nourishment.
Removing "good" and "bad" labels on food and allowing all foods to be morally neutral is the only way you will stop the stressful deprivation driven eating of these foods and make space for all foods to nourish your body in supportive ways.
5. Discover satisfaction
Just as getting nutrients from food is required for good health, so too is getting pleasure, comfort and connection from eating experiences. If we choose foods we feel we should have rather than what we really feel like, we are denying ourselves the pleasure and satisfaction that come with eating and we will likely keep thinking about and craving food.
There is a fear that satisfaction only comes from "unhealthy" foods. But when we have worked through principles 3 and 4 we will find our body craves both the biological nutrients and the pleasure and comfort so we will naturally feel like a variety of foods to be satisfied.
6. Feel your fullness
If you do not eat enough and consistent food when hungry, your body will not guide you to stop at fullness. If it is unknown when the next meal will be available, it is natural for your body to want to eat as much as possible in each eating opportunity. This can lead to developing less attunement of fullness and experiencing fullness only at an extreme or uncomfortable level.
Once you are consistently honouring your hunger, you can begin to tune into how your body feels during and after a meal, developing connection with what your body feels like when it is at a comfortable level of fullness.
7. Coping with emotions
Eating is emotional. Food is supposed to provide comfort and pleasure, if we try to separate emotion from eating, choosing foods only for the nutrients, you will keep craving foods that provide this pleasure. Oftentimes when we feel we are emotional eaters, the first check is that we are allowing enough pleasurable foods to satisfy the emotional role of food and eating enough food to satisfy the biological role of food.
However, if food is being used in place of other coping tools, it can stop us finding an effective way to manage and cope with emotion. Emotion is felt in your body through internal sensations. Intuitive eaters explore not only their internal eating cues but also their other self care and emotional cues as well to best support their body to meet all their needs.
Food enjoyment is an important part of intuitive eating. To learn how to navigate food please and nutrition, grab my FREE e-book "5 steps to get started with Intuitive Eating"
8. Respect your body
You cannot look after a body you wish to have in the future. You can only look after your current body. You must treat your here-and-now body as worthy and valued even if it does not look the way you would like. Respecting that your body has needs which it deserves to have met.
Our culture has a way of shaming us into “healthy behaviours” but self-hate and judgement makes us less able to include supportive behaviours that care for our body and support our health and quality of life. Intuitive eaters prioritise care of their here-and-now bodies with nourishment, self care and pleasure.
You can't look after a future body. You can only care for your here-and-now body
9. Enjoyable movement
The physical and mental health benefits of movement are too often swallowed by a cultural focus on weight loss which in turn leads to rigid, unenjoyable exercise regimes. When weight loss is the goal of exercise, movement is less likely to be continued long term and more associated with guilt and shame (which is not supportive of health). Switching the focus to enjoyable movement means we will feel the benefits, want to move our bodies and continue for the long term.
10. Gentle nutrition
Once we have developed attunement with our body’s internal signals, we can bring back our external knowledge to support our food decisions. Intuitive eaters trust their body's messages as their number one guide, while food knowledge can be helpful to support getting a variety of nutrients or meeting any health or movement goals.
It is important to reconnect with your body before trying to use food knowledge. Otherwise, food knowledge will continue to be trusted more than your body's communication. A healthy relationship with food and connection with your body is the most important part of healthy eating, only when you have trust in your body can food knowledge support a healthy way of eating.
How to start intuitive eating
Starting intuitive eating begins with letting go of judgement and adopting curiosity. Curiosity towards your food choices, curiosity in your food cravings and curiosity in the way your body feels. You can't negative self talk your way to positive changes. Every eating experience, positive or uncomfortable, is a chance to learn something new about yourself.
Learn the first steps you need to take to be an intuitive eater with your FREE ebook "5 steps to get started with Intuitive Eating" and say goodbye to stressing over food.
Written by Emma Townsin, Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor
Emma is the founder of Food Life Freedom and the host of the Food & Life Freedom Podcast. For personalised support to stop stressing over health and heal your relationship with food and your body, learn how you can fast track your way food and life freedom.
Hunger et al. 2020. An evidence based rationale for adopting weight-inclusive health policy.
Intuitive Eating 4th Edition, 2020. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
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