In a post-keto world, any diet that offers the freedom to eat what you feel like feels revelatory. And that’s precisely why a philosophy called “intuitive eating” is taking off. It sounds simple enough, but does it mean that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want? The short answer: yes… Though that might end up looking a bit different than you imagine. Here, a primer on how to approach food from an intuitive perspective, and how that might drastically change what’s on your plate.
What is intuitive eating?
First of all, it’s not a new concept. Intuitive eating was developed by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who published Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works in 1995, and there have since been scores of studies supporting the practice’s efficacy. “Intuitive eating is an evidence-based, health-promoting framework which supports individuals to tune in to their bodies’ internal cues for hunger, fullness, pleasure, and satisfaction,” says Jess Rann, RD, from the London Centre for Intuitive Eating. “It falls under the non-diet paradigm, which aims to help anyone who wants to pursue well-being from a weight-neutral perspective, via health-promoting behaviors rather than weight loss.” This means that it has nothing to do with discipline, will power, or deprivation—essentially breaking the wheel of dieting.
The 10 key principles, as established by Tribole and Resch, are as follows:
- Ditch the Diet Mentality
- Honor your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Feel your Fullness
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Understanding Emotional Eating
- Respect Your Body
- Joyful Movement
- Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
OK, but what does this mean in practice?
The coolest thing about intuitive eating is that there is no one-size-fits-all regimen. It’s about listening to your body—what makes you feel healthy and energetic versus what makes you feel sluggish, bloated, or otherwise less than your best. Those foods can be different for everyone—some might get revved up on red meat, others on red berries. But the idea is that if you let your body guide you to what it needs most, your weight will stabilize, your energy levels will improve, and you’ll feel more balanced overall. “Generally, people feel better physically and emotionally giving up on diet rules and eating in a flexible way that still values fruits and vegetables, but without the morality,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, author of the book Body Kindness. “Fries aren’t ‘bad.’ They are a choice option for a food you might like to enjoy. Kale isn’t ‘good.’ It’s another vegetable choice option. You could have salmon and kale at lunch and burger and fries at dinner and these are morally equivalent choices.”
How is this different from mindful eating?
While mindful eating similarly involves taking the time to savor and appreciate the nourishing qualities of everything you put in your mouth, intuitive eating encourages a deeper examination of not only how you feel when and after you eat, but also why you’re eating: Is it because you’re stressed out? Tired? Angry? Depressed? Or genuinely hungry because your body needs fuel?
“We teach people to respect and appreciate the body that they have now, rather than the body they might be x-pounds away from.”Jess Rann
Also key, says Rann, is letting go of preconceived notions—not only about the relative merits of foods, but about what your own body should look like, and about what you should be doing in order to be a certain shape: “We teach people to respect and appreciate the body that they have now, rather than the body they might be x-pounds away from.” For Rann, that starts with encouraging clients to take a critical look at tools that might be holding them in a diet pattern—including calorie trackers, scales, and even people they follow on social media. “I’ll often remind them that if the thought of not counting your steps brings you out in a cold sweat, that’s a sure-fire way of telling that your relationship with it is probably a bit dysfunctional.”
What if your intuition tells you it wants nothing but pizza?
Don’t worry: Practitioners find that when allowed to eat whatever their hearts desire, people ultimately gravitate towards healthier choices. “One of the most common misconceptions around intuitive eating is that it’s anti-health or that we are telling people to just eat doughnuts all day,” Rann says. “And people can eat doughnuts (or whatever other food they like) all day if they want to. But intuitive eating doesn’t stop at giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat all foods. Once we have worked on bringing foods down onto a level playing field, we start to see clients moving towards a more varied pattern of eating, because they’re tuning in to what makes their body feel good.”
In other words, it might take some time, but eventually that pizza will just be one of an infinite number of choices you might make, but you’ll probably err on the side of nourishing, vitamin-packed, whole foods—because you’ll want to feel the way you feel when you eat them.
“People seem to embrace feelings of “spiraling up,” which is where one positive self-care choice generates a positive emotion and the good feelings lead to another self-care choice that also feels good,” says Scritchfield. “This upward spiral of energy and happy mood makes you more open and connected to the people who matter and the world. This provides an immediate reward with small effort and the mind says, “more please!”