Why Intuitive Eating Works for Everyone: A Guide to Its 10 Principles

The growing awareness of intuitive eating (IE) is finally highlighting the fact that the healthiest, most effective diet for everyone is no diet at all. Decades of research have spelled out the dangers of diet culture. Not only are 90% of diets unsustainable beyond a two- to three-year time frame, but diet mentality results in unhealthy eating habits that can ultimately lead to weight gain. As an alternative, in 1995 dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch outlined a method of intuitive eating that focuses attention on the body's natural rhythms of hunger and satiation. In theory, we're born with the instinct to know when our bodies feel hunger, what foods we need for nourishment, and how much we need to feel satisfied.

Intuitive eating has been recommended for eating disorder recovery, weight control, and improved mental and physical well-being. Studies indicate that intuitive eating is associated with better mental health, improved metabolism, and decreased risks for both eating disorders and obesity. Here are the 10 guiding principles to Tribole and Reich's Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

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Everyone has formed food rules for themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously. But restrictive eating habits only exert a constant form of pressure on oneself that associates feelings of stress and anxiety with nourishing your body. "We've probably had some of these food rules since we were kids," says Heather Caplan, a dietitian practicing in Washington, D.C. "A lot of the work initially is unlearning those rules and challenging them. I always tell people, pick one rule to start with, and stick with that as long as you need to."

2. Honor Your Hunger

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In the same vein, suppressing hunger is an unhealthy and dangerous practice that conditions yourself to ignore your body's needs. Doing so attaches a sense of shame to your body's natural hunger cues.

3. Make Peace With Food

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Foods aren't "bad" or "good," nor "safe" or "dangerous." Assigning a value to certain foods also attaches shame and moral judgment to simple food choices. Evelyn Tribole says, "Eating today has become this idea that the food on your fork can either kill you or cure you. It's gotten to a point of almost religious fervor."

4. Challenge the Food Police

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Listening to your natural cravings won't result in binge-eating junk food out of control. In fact, most binges are the result of prolonged restriction. The Atlanticwrites, "Both Tribole and Bahr find that in the first week or two, new adherents of intuitive eating do sometimes binge on the things they had always tried to skip. But the two researchers say the vast majority of their clients quickly habituate to burgers or donuts and then crave the variety and nutrition represented by the 'healthy' foods they once used as punishment."

5. Respect Your Fullness

The impulse to indulge past your natural stopping point is also the product of restriction. The concept of a "cheat day" or "letting go" encourages you to gorge while you can. When you allow yourself to realize that you're always free to decide what and how much you eat, it becomes less appealing and more natural to stop when you're full before you become uncomfortable.

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

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Certain foods are naturally more satisfying to you depending on personal taste and your nutritious needs at the time. Intuitive eating increases your overall satisfaction with food by putting you in touch with your body's needs and your own taste preferences.

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

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Emotional eating is practically a universal coping mechanism in times of stress. Intuitive eating eases our reliance on food by detaching it from feelings of stress and anxiety.

8. Respect Your Body

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Intuitive eating is not a weight loss plan. Depending on how restrictive your current eating habits are, it is possible that adapting its principles could lead to weight gain. So what? In the same way that there are no "bad" or "good" foods, there are no fundamentally "bad" or "good" weights. As long as you're healthy, your body's nutritional needs come first. "The difference is perspective and flexibility," Tribole says. "It's not pass or fail."

9. Exercise — Feel the Difference

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Respecting your body's needs as a whole means maintaining a healthy level of activity. Because intuitive eating isn't part of a temporary diet plan, it's important you incorporate healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise. Without wild weight fluctuations and energy deficits from restrictive eating, your body's energy levels will be more stable, making it easier to incorporate the types of exercise most suited to your body into your lifestyle.

10. Honor Your Health

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Using your weight as a measurement of your health is inherently flawed and medically inaccurate. Your body sends you better indicators of your overall health through hunger cues, cravings, energy levels, and feelings of fullness. Prioritizing your health means listening to the body's natural needs, regardless of weight.

Ultimately, respecting your body is more important than controlling it. Recently, writer Jessica Knoll published an op-ed in The New York Times addressing how the "wellness" industry dupes women into believing the toxic tenets of diet culture. "I am probably never going to love my body, and that's O.K.," she writes. "I think loving our bodies is not only an unrealistic goal in our appearance-obsessed society but also a limiting one. No one is telling men that they need to love their bodies to live full and meaningful lives. We don't need to love our bodies to respect them."

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