Feel overwhelmed trying to master all 10 intuitive eating principles at once? Get clarity on where to start instead with this beginner’s guide to implementing intuitive eating in a flexible, sustainable way.
- There are 10 major principles in intuitive eating
- Focusing on perfecting them all just keeps the diet mentality going
- Begin with 1 area most relevant to your needs
- Work with an intuitive eating counselor for guidance
- Build skills gradually with self-compassion
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is an empowering shift of focus to the internal cues, from external rules.
It helps you develop a healthy relationship with food and your body that focuses on honoring your natural hunger and fullness cues rather than following certain food rules or diets.
The goal of intuitive eating is increasing your awareness of your body’s internal information. It’s about reconnecting with and trusting your body’s innate ability to signal when, what, and how much to eat.
While food rules and diets can lead to restriction and rebellion cycles, with intuitive eating, you develop awareness of hunger, fullness, cravings, and satisfaction signals from your body and use these cues to guide your food choices without judgment. This anti-diet approach has been shown to improve body image, food freedom, some health markers, and healthier food behaviors over time.
Tried everything else? Want something different?
Let’s chat about your goals, your situation, and whether this approach is right for you.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Here are the 10 principles of intuitive eating:
- Reject the Diet Mentality – Stop dieting and trying to conform your body to unrealistic ideals. Make peace with your body at its natural weight and shape.
- Honor Your Hunger – Keep your body fed. Eat when you’re hungry and eat enough to feel satisfied. Learn your body’s signals so that you can truly give your body what it needs.
- Make Peace with Food – Stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. All foods fit in a nourishing diet.
- Challenge the Food Police – Question and let go of rules like “don’t eat carbs late at night.” Statements like these, negative self-talk, guilt and shame, and more are unhelpful in developing a healthy, joyful relationship with your food.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor – Notice how different foods make your body feel – satisfied and nourished versus too full or still hungry. Seek satisfying meals and meal experiences.
- Feel Your Fullness – Listen for signals that you’re full like a change to the taste of a food or feeling satisfied. Stop eating before feeling uncomfortably full.
- Cope with Your Emotions without Using Food – Food can be a coping strategy, but if it’s your only coping strategy, this won’t be satisfying. Build your toolbox of non-food ways to handle your feelings.
- Respect Your Body – Accept and appreciate all that your body can do, at any size. We do not have as much long-term control over our body shape or size as we’ve been taught. Work together with your body as an ally.
- Movement: Feel the Difference – Find joyful active experiences you enjoy that make you and your body feel better. Drop the all or nothing or calorie-burning mindset around exercise. Movement for health and to see how it feels, not to punish your body or to earn or make up for your food.
- Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition – Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. This is usually the last principle to work on, since aiming to include this too early generally leads to warping intuitive eating into another diet.
Do the Intuitive Eating Rules Feel Overwhelming?
Intuitive eating has incredible potential to help you develop a healthy and joyful relationship with your food and body. But many women feel intimidated at first, because the 10 principles that define this approach feel overwhelming, intimidating, or impossible.
The principles aren’t rules, like you have in diets.
You don’t have to memorize all these principles or try to perfectly implement them. That’s just a replica of the restrictive diet culture’s rigid rules, and it misses the flexible spirit of intuitive eating.
Forget Perfection - Start Where You Are
As an intuitive eating counselor, I don’t expect (or even want) clients to implement all 10 principles overnight. That’s contrary to the gentle essence of this compassionate approach.
Instead, we pick 1-2 relevant principles for you to start with based on your current challenges around food and body.
We can develop a personalized plan focusing there first, before gradually expanding skills in other areas when the time feels right for you.
How Do I Know Which Intuitive Eating Principles to Focus On?
It can be easiest to learn this process in a systematic way, whether on your own with resources or with an intuitive eating counselor like myself.
The easiest way is to figure out what your actual struggle is, and start working on the areas that resonate most with you and your situation.
Sometimes this is the one that feels easiest, other times it’s the one that will make the most impact to all the others.
I usually encourage the mindset first before moving to gentle nutrition so that you don’t find yourself deeper into diet culture.
Want a Personalized Recommendation on Where to Focus?
Identify your Intuitive Eating strengths and areas of potential growth, so you can understand where to focus. Book your Intuitive Eating Assessment and Consult Call today!
Examples of Choosing Intuitive Eating Principles in Real Life
As an example, Lila (name changed), thought she had a binge eating problem and wanted to focus on “Feel Your Fullness.”
When we talked, it was clear she was using food to cope with difficult emotions, and through discussion, she decided she wanted to start with the principle “Cope with Your Emotions without Using Food” before addressing other areas.
Jasmine (name changed) is a busy young professional who often ate while multitasking, if she ate at all. She often skipped meals because she didn’t feel hungry or because she felt too busy.
She knew she wanted to eat more regularly, and we started focusing on practical ways to do that. (This is an example of the principle “Honor Your Hunger”).
And Rachel (name changed) wasn’t sure she wanted to do intuitive eating. She felt like it was impossible to control herself around food, and that she wouldn’t be able to implement any of these principles except “Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition.”
After discussing it with her, we started working on adding some variety in her food choices (“Gentle Nutrition”), while experimenting with a new mindset. The mindset work focused gently on “Reject the Diet Mentality,” “Make Peace with Food,” and “Challenge the Food Police.”
How Does an Intuitive Eating Counselor Help?
In addition to helping figure out what areas to focus on and how to apply the principles to real life, as an intuitive eating counselor, I help with many other aspects of this journey:
- co-creating custom strategies with you for your specific situation, so you’re more successful
- helping give perspective, tips, and encouragement so you can make progress faster
- teaching you the why behind the principles so they make more sense and stick longer
Support from a counselor provides a helpful, non-judgmental check on diet mentality too. Sometimes we’ve been in it so long it’s hard to see where it may still be holding us back on making progress toward a truly healthy and joyful relationship with our food.
Overall, while intuitive eating is the natural way of eating, for most of us, it’s a skill that requires practice because over time, it’s been taught out of us. Diet culture has conditioned many of us, especially women, to judge ourselves harshly, ignore our cues, and try to exert impossible control over our bodies.
The more you practice intuitive eating, the easier it will get, and eventually, it won’t feel as intimidating or overwhelming. Instead, it will be life-giving, satisfying, and second-nature.
Ready to find out what your future relationship with food could look like?
“I’m really happy and excited about eating and appreciate it so much more than I used to. Thanks for helping me fully love something I already thought I loved.” – Client, not pictured
©2023 Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN
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