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Beginner's guide to intuitive eating

Learn to eat intuitively

Diet culture has been around for decades and it seems as though every year brings a new dieting fad. But for those who struggle with weight loss or disordered eating, diet culture often serves only to reinforce feelings of failure.

In a bid to dispel the negativity of diet culture, the concept of intuitive eating has become increasingly popular. It’s about becoming attuned to the needs of your mind and body concerning food. 

Getting started with intuitive eating is about changing your mindset for a healthier relationship with your food and your body.

What is intuitive eating?

The core principles of intuitive eating started to develop as far back as the 1970s. It centered around the idea that diets are ineffective for weight loss and are damaging to mental health. Instead, people should focus on changing their lifestyle and focusing on personal care to boost their long-term health.

Later, the terminology was defined in a book written by Evelyn Tribole and Eluse Resch entitled “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach.”

Following intuitive eating means rejecting the idea of diet culture, meal plans or restrictive eating. It involves making peace with the hunger your body feels and resolving the instinct to avoid specific types of foods for weight loss purposes. Intuitive eating means that no food is good or bad and you should listen to your body to determine what food is right for you.

However, this doesn’t mean simply eating whatever you want whenever you want. Instead, it’s about learning how to interpret your body’s hunger signals. That way, you’re eating only when you’re truly hungry and stopping when you feel full. If you’d like more guidance on how to eat healthier, check out this diet review by BestReviews.

Benefits of intuitive eating

Intuitive eating is about focusing less on weight loss and more on overall health. So its main benefits are with self-esteem and mental health. 

Mental health improvements

In a qualitative study published by the National Institutes of Health, women reported that previous restrictive dieting methods they had tried led to obsessive behavior and feelings of frustration and depression. Conversely, adopting an intuitive eating philosophy allowed them to take a healthier approach to food and gently break the diet cycle of “yo-yo dieting.” 

This is the core benefit of intuitive eating, particularly for people who have developed disordered eating or obsessive dieting methods in the past. It enables you to break negative associations with food

Weight maintenance

Research has not found a conclusive link between intuitive eating and weight loss, which makes sense since the concept is designed to divert eating habits away from the goal of weight loss and towards a focus on overall mental and physical wellbeing. However, research has shown a correlation between intuitive eating and lower BMI and sustained weight stability.

The 10 principles of intuitive eating

There are 10 key principles of intuitive eating. Following these principles leads to healthier associations with food and eating over time.

Rejecting the diet mentality

Intuitive eating is not a diet. It encourages people to reject the idea of a restrictive way of eating. It encourages you to abandon the concept of eating as a goal towards weight loss.

Honor your hunger

The concept of intuitive eating encourages you to connect with your mind and body to understand your hunger levels, avoid becoming excessively hungry or eating when you’re not hungry at all.

Make peace with food

Rather than restricting certain types of food or labeling any type of food as “good” or “bad,” intuitive eating means making peace with all types of foods.

Challenge the food police

Similarly, avoid listening to those who try to dictate what food you should or should not eat, including your internal monologue.

Respect your fullness

To avoid overeating, learn to listen to your body when it tells you it is full and satisfied. The goal is to have enough and to eat mindfully so you hear those signals when your body sends them.

The satisfaction factor

Rather than forcing down food because it is “healthy,” all your meals should taste good to you and be enjoyable to eat. This often results in eating less as your body becomes satisfied faster, too.

Honor your feelings

Emotional eating is a common strategy to cope with feelings of sadness, stress and anxiety. Intuitive eating encourages you to find other ways to cope with these feelings rather than relying on food as a solution.

Respect your body

Instead of criticizing the shape or look of your body, appreciate it for what it allows you to do and how it sustains you.

Take some exercise

Rather than exercising to lose weight, find forms of exercise that feel good for your body. Seek out exercise as a way to generate energy and positivity, whether it’s hopping on a treadmill for 20 minutes or finding a local dance class.

Honor your health

The concept of gentle nutrition means eating food that tastes good and makes your body feel good. Your health is about your pattern of eating over long periods, not about single meals or snacks.

How to eat intuitively

Intuitive eating is not about following a specific meal plan or cutting out certain types of foods. It’s about changing the way you think about your body, mind and eating habits.

Physical hunger vs. emotional hunger

Physical hunger is the biological need for food. When your body signals hunger, it requires nutrients and nourishment. Physical hunger signs may include tiredness or stomach grumbling. When you eat, these signals stop once your body is satisfied.

Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is driven by your mental state. Many people will be familiar with the urge to eat in response to feelings such as anxiety, boredom or sadness. In those moments, you’re more likely to reach for “comfort food” and to overeat. This is quickly followed by feelings of failure and guilt, all of which is a perfect recipe for an unhealthy relationship with eating, even in times of healthier mental states.

Beginning intuitive eating means being mindful every time you eat. Take a moment to understand your hunger and whether it is physical or emotional. If you feel the eating is emotionally driven, develop some other tactics for coping with those feelings, such as writing in a journal, light exercise, a hobby or calling a friend on the phone.

Ranking your hunger level

Even when your hunger is a legitimate physical need, it’s easy to overeat. The first thing to do is to rank your hunger level on a scale of 1-10, from extremely hungry to completely stuffed. You should try to eat when you’re hungry without letting yourself get right down to one on the scale. Waiting until you’re starving to eat can result in speed-eating or overeating.

It’s also important to remain in a mindful state when eating. Try to sit down at a table and focus on your food without any other distractions such as your laptop or phone. Pay attention to your body’s signals and aim to satisfy your hunger without overstuffing.

Best intuitive eating workbook and journal

The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole

This practical workbook helps you to understand your current relationship with food and develop healthier habits. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

The Mindfulness Journal by Barrie Davenport

Mindfulness is closely linked to intuitive eating. This journal helps you build the practice of mindfulness into your everyday life to support your intuitive eating efforts.

Where to buy: Amazon


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Lauren Farrell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.


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