Intuitive Eating is a framework designed based on the evidence that dieting does not work for the majority of people. It's a self-care framework that helps people reconnect to their own body so they can take care of themselves in a way that truly aligns with them.
Intuitive Eating is something we draw from at Ease Nutrition Therapy. All of our clinicians are trained in Intuitive Eating - and truly practice what we preach. But Intuitive Eating has grown in popularity in recent years. So founder of Ease Nutrition Therapy, Shannon, has created this blog all about what Intuitive Eating is, what it isn't, and how to start practicing Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating isn't super complicated, but there's often a lot of nuance missed when it's usually written about online. This article will shed some light on the grey areas to help bring you clarity. Next stop - Intuitive Eating town...
What is Intuitive Eating?
Simply put, it's a framework created in 1995. Two Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Reach, looked to the weight science research and their own expereince working with people's relationships to food, and noticed that weight loss is rarely maintained.
They knew that ''dieting'' didn't work, so they starting working more flexible. Still based on curated meal plans but with ‘free food’ options meant their clients lost weight. However, the clients kept returning to their clinics. When left to their own devices they believed they had no self-control and entered back into the cycle of guilt.
Tribole and Resch then worked together to create Intuitive Eating. This focused on rejecting diet culture and tuning back in with the body’s natural signals by repairing the relationship to the body.
Since then 1995, there are almost 220 research studies looking at the Intuitive Eating framework. In fact, there’s been 15 studies published in 2022 alone.
The principles of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive Eating is made up of 10 principles. I like to think of these as little stepping stones on the pond that is your relationship to food. Once you jump off the final stepping stone, you're on solid ground and you have a healthy relationship to food.
The principles are based off the areas that people often struggle with in their relationship to food. Below is a picture of the 10 principles. Now, it's easy to read the names and think "Yes, I totally get it. Great, that's what I'm going to do."
But like most things, it's a lot more complicated and nuanced than this. The principles are more for the ease of naming different areas to work on. A skilled Intuitive Eating clinician has their own tools to help you with each of these.
Reject the Diet Mentality
Honour Your Hunger
Make Peace With Food
Challenge the Food Police
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Feel Your Fullness
Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness
Respect Your Body
Movement: Feel the Difference
Honour Your Health: Gentle Nutrition
How is Intuitive Eating different from just eating?
Why follow a framework at all?
This is something I've been asked in the past. But remember, Intuitive Eating isn't designed for people who are in a healthy and happy place with food. It's for people who might have been dieting for years, have disordered eating, or are struggling with an eating disorder.
The hope with Intuitive Eating is to give a sort of path towards a healthy relationship to food. It's not rules or anything like a diet plan - it's more bringing a tiny bit of structure. Something I hear from my 1-1 clients is that they've tried so many times to heal their disordered eating, but they had no clue how to go about it. Intuitive Eating gives that ''plan'' element. Which is why I really enjoy using it in my practice.
As for how Intuitive Eating is different from just eating; that's a good question. The funny thing about Intuitive Eating is that it truly is just ''normal eating.'' It's not a diet plan or a meal guide you eat like for life - it's also not fully all about food.
But what we know is that most people don't ''eat normally.''
Most people in the world eat in some sort of disordered eating. In fact, around 75% of women in the UK are estimated to have disordered eating. That's based on the statistic that at one time, around 75% of women are on a ''strict'' diet.
We are often asked ''what even is normal eating!?" - below is a table to give you an idea of what is normal vs. what is disordered.
The key thing to remember is that disordered eating is often normalised and expected in our society. In fact, often times disordered eating is encouraged under the guise of ''health.''
What is normal eating?
What is disordered eating?
No feelings of guilt or shame associated with food
Feeling guilty after eating
Flexible, balanced, and varied eating
Rigid, set ways of eating. Repetitive
Overeating sometimes and under-eating others - not intentionally
Eating the same amount in a regulated way - e.g. "I should eat x amount of calories per day''
Social eating, eating out at unplanned meals and times
Only eating pre-set and planned meals
Eating is a part of your life - sometimes you alter your eating patterns to accommodate life
Your life revolves around what and how you eat
You were born an intuitive eater, every diet chips away at your intuitive self
Children will let you know when they're hungry. And when they're full. But once this child goes on a diet (or is put on a diet by an adult), they start to lose the connection to their own body cues. They no longer feel intuitively connecting to their hunger and fullness signals. This is exactly what Intuitive Eating hopes to repair - your connection to yourself.
Most of my clients would say that they have no real idea when they're hungry or full. They know when it's extreme - when they're ravenous or stuffed. But not when they're slightly either. It might not sound like a huge deal to you, but these subtle signs are actually a big part of normal eating.
Think about it - if you can't trust your body cues, how can you trust your body with food?
Benefits of Intuitive Eating
It sounds great, right? Well, it doesn't just sound great - the science backs it!
Intuitive Eating has been associated with:
Lower levels of the following: depression, self-esteem issues, body dissatisfaction, unhealthy or extreme weight control behaviours and even binge eating.
Increased self-esteem, body acceptance, and interoceptive awareness
Increased pleasure from eating and variety of foods consumed
Better proactive coping and psychological hardiness
Lower blood fats and blood pressure
And as intuitive eating is inherently anti-diet it negates the negative effects of dieting.
Increased emotional eating, coupled with loss of self-trust and confidence
Rebound weight gain
Slowed down metabolism and a loss of muscle mass
Body preoccupation, with distraction from other personal goals
Dieting has been linked with increased risk of depression and disordered eating behaviours.
What our clients say about Intuitive Eating
"I have so much more headspace now that I'm not thinking about food 24/7.''
''I now actually enjoy food, and never feel like I should restrict myself."
"I feel really in tune with my body and really care for myself. I've even be promoted at work, but without killing myself in the process."
"My friends have even said they like me more this way. I have to agree with them!"
"I can really taste food now - I used to shovel it in to get it gone ASAP."
Common questions we're asked about Intuitive Eating
1. Will you lose weight with Intuitive Eating?
Truthfully, there’s no way of knowing how your body will change as you practice Intuitive Eating.
Stepping away from restrictive eating, your body wants to eat more and so you may naturally gain weight. Equally, after leaving a more regimented style of eating you may lose weight. Our clients often find that once they stop hopping on and off diets, they don't binge anymore.
We have a whole blog dedicated to weight loss and Intuitive Eating.
2. Is Intuitive Eating only for people with eating disorders?
Anyone can practice intuitive eating; it is returning to a natural pattern of eating. Intuitive Eating was not created as a treatment for those with an eating disorder but as a response to dieting and health. Anyone who has experienced diet culture, restrictive eating or who wants to work on their relationship with their body can practice Intuitive Eating.
In fact, a study on teenagers in America found that teenagers who scored higher on a scale of Intuitive Eating had lower rates of eating disorder behaviours and a 74% reduced chance of binge eating. So, intuitive eating may be best used as an intervention before an eating disorder develops.
With our eating disorder clients, we implement more structure in the early stages of support. Our blog on RAVES will give you an idea of what comes ''before'' Intuitive Eating.
3. Can you practice Intuitive Eating if you have an eating disorder?
Intuitive Eating wasn’t made specifically for those with an eating disorder. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be beneficial as part of a rounded treatment programme.