Eat whatever you want, whenever you want—for some, this is the ultimate dream. To a certain point, this is what intuitive eating is about, but in a more nourishing, holistic, and sustainable manner.
In a nutshell, intuitive eating is about listening to your body: Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Simple enough, right? You could say that it’s just normal eating, but with today’s diet culture, it takes time and effort to understand and practice it.
Intuitive eating is not a new concept—the term was coined in the ‘90s by dietitians and authors Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole—though you may have been noticing more of it on your feed lately. Here are a few things you should know about this non-diet approach to eating and enjoying food.
1. No, it’s not a diet.
You don’t have to avoid carbs or fat, count every calorie, or fast for a number of hours. There are no set restrictions when it comes to intuitive eating. So, no, it’s not a diet, but it gets lumped in with diet plans because a big part of it is unlearning diet culture.
Intuitive eating is a fairly simple concept yet hard to put it into practice when you grow up trying different diet plans. In this post, self-care and intuitive eating coach Jamie Amendell recounts how she used to obsessively count calories and how it took her years to unlearn this habit.
Arielle Calderon is a writer who lost 85 pounds in less than a year with the help of a points system-based diet program. Here, she writes about how intuitive eating helped her reevaluate her relationship with food.
2. Honor your hunger.
This is one of the key concepts of intuitive eating. The idea is that your body instinctively knows when it needs fuel, and you just have to pay attention to your hunger cues. Are you hungry or are you stressed? Are you hungry or are you feeling emotional? Are you hungry or are you bored? Are you hungry or do you think you should eat because you’re supposed to at this time of the day? As you are eating, are you still hungry or are you just used to finishing what’s on your plate?
Sometimes, it’s not one or the either—you can be both hungry and feeling or thinking a certain way. The key is to understand the nuances of your hunger cues. In this series, nutritionist and author Laura Thomas explains in detail what it means to listen to your body.
The more you listen to your hunger cues, the more this practice will come naturally to you.
3. There’s no good or bad food.
French fries, donuts, ice cream—there’s no “cheating” in intuitive eating because everything is fair game. No food comes with a “good” or “bad” label. Sometimes you just want to eat a bag of chips and call it a day, and that’s okay. The idea is that when you listen to your body, you can understand what it wants and needs at different points.
When you start eating intuitively, it’s likely that you’ll feast on all the things that you’re “not supposed to eat” because you spent so much time restricting yourself. But what intuitive eating says is that it’s also likely that your body will crave more nutrient-dense food afterwards.
In these posts, Jamie and Arielle talk about how they found “food freedom” with intuitive eating.
Now what if you enjoy a big meal and you really, really want dessert? What if you have a feast for one meal and want another feast for your next meal? It’s nothing to beat yourself up about, as Jamie explains in these posts.
When you listen to your body, you can trust that it’ll eventually balance itself out.
4. Every bite is to be savored.
Because of your busy schedule, you may often find yourself scarfing down your food without taking pleasure in it. Intuitive eating asks that you practice savoring every bite so you can appreciate all the flavors and textures on your plate. This helps your body digest properly and makes it easier for you to listen to your hunger cues. You can start with one meal or snack to leisurely enjoy without any work distractions or screen time—streaming that new show can wait.
Another perk of savoring every bite? It’s a great way to re-center yourself in the midst of a busy day.
5. Find a way to move your body that feels right to you.
Listening to your body includes letting it enjoy the physical and mental benefits of exercising. If you don’t enjoy working out, it might be because you haven’t found the perfect fit for you. HIIT circuit training and spinning might sound like fun for some people, while yoga and pilates might sound like the better choice for others. Or you might prefer sports activities over structured workouts. Even just walking around your neighborhood is a great way to get moving.
6. Most of all, it’s about accepting and loving your body.
With intuitive eating, you may gain or lose weight. It doesn’t promise weight loss like trendy diets do, which can be scary for some people.
But the thing is, diets don’t work for everyone—in fact, some studies say that they don’t work at all in the long run. So instead of stressing out about following diets, intuitive eating is about learning to accept and love the body that you were born with. This way, you can end the toxic diet-binge cycle and stop seeking validation from outside forces. You can start to enjoy food and feel free in your own skin.
With all the benefits of intuitive eating, it’s important to remember that this is just one approach to eating. You don’t have to follow it to the letter—you can take what feels right for you and combine it with ideas from other approaches. At the end of the day, it’s about figuring out what works best for your unique body.