If you’re reading this right now, you’re probably curious about Intuitive Eating and already have a hunch that diets don’t work.
And when I say “don’t work” I mean that they make us unhappy, the results don’t stick and they sabotage our relationships with food and/or bodies.
Does that sound about right?
If that resonates with you, keep reading. I’m going to break down the best eating and health approach for anyone who’s completely OVER dieting.
I wish someone told me that diets are useless before diving headfirst into the world of “wellness,” detoxes, cleanses, and random food restrictions during and right after college.
If someone explained to me earlier on that learning to love my body and stop punishing myself for eating the foods I loved, I could have started to heal my relationship with food and start LIVING sooner.
But now, I get to teach YOU about Intuitive Eating and how you can escape from diet prison forever.
So, what is Intuitive Eating?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about eating whatever you want. It goes A LOT deeper than that.
Intuitive Eating is a holistic health approach developed by Evelyn Tribole MS, RD and Elyse Resch MS, RDN.
It’s based on the idea that if we can achieve health when we let our bodies run the show, instead of tracking foods to attain and maintain a certain weight or a specific physique that our bodies can never sustain. Embarking on an Intuitive Eating journey means creating a healthy relationship with food, your body, and your mind by completely detaching oneself from the diet mentality.
I know you’re reading that and thinking… wait so I just listen to my body and eat whatever it tells me to?
Kind of, but it’s not that simple.
The “rules” for Intuitive Eating
Spoiler alert: There aren’t any rules!
I’m going to level with you: Dieting is easier than intuitive eating. Why? Because there are a set amount of rules to follow and it’s very clear. Don’t eat this. Just eat that. Expect this result in 21 days. That’s all a diet is.
Intuitive eating is more about listening to internal cues, rather than following external rules.
It looks different for everyone (and that’s the point).
The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
This means making a conscious effort to stop viewing food as good or bad. It means to reject the idea that you have to be on a diet or working to lose weight no matter what size you are. Once you get in this mindset, you’ll start to see how diet culture is everywhere. It sucks. But letting go of it is incredibly liberating!
2. Honor Your Hunger
The diet mentality that we’re working to reject tells us to not eat when we’re hungry or stop eating before we’re really full because diets make us restrict ourselves, right? With intuitive eating, we stop this and instead honor our hunger. Hunger cues are a biological function that tells your body when it needs more fuel.
3. Make Peace with Food
Ever feel like you’re at war with food? Like every meal is an anxiety-ridden experience? You’re worried about protein, carbs, calories and fat… and you question if what you’re eating is really good for you. Making peace with food puts an end to this. Instead of worrying about every bite, you TRUST that your body will tell you what foods it likes and doesn’t like — not just in terms of taste but in terms of what makes you feel good.
4. Challenge the Food Police
The food police is that little voice in your head that tries to tell you when you can and can’t eat. Or reminds you that you can only have dessert if you don’t drink a glass of wine. The food police is the reason why you always buy “skinny” lattes at Starbucks. Well, it’s time to shut that voice up! These rules mean nothing when your body runs the show.
Do you know what’s amazing about challenging the food police? Once that voice is gone, you have no reason to “break” your rules and fall off track, therefore you’re less likely to.
5. Respect Your Fullness
From what I’ve learned about Intuitive eating, the concept of fullness is discussed as a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the fullest you could possibly feel. Respecting your fullness means developing a sense of your own fullness levels and deciding on whether you want to eat more or stop eating at a point of comfortable satiation most of the time–not because you ‘should,’ but because it feels good. Once you become aware of your body’s fullness levels, you’ll realize that eating past the point of being full ALL the time is simply uncomfortable.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
This is one of the more difficult factors of intuitive eating, but basically, it means learning what foods actually satisfy you. There’s a lot to be unlearned here, because you could find that something like a bag of chocolate chip cookies was only satisfying to you when you weren’t “allowed” to have them. That’s what happened to me during my intuitive eating journey! After a few months of this practice, I reached for the cookies at work and realized… they actually tasted HORRIBLE. Learning what satisfies you for real takes time, practice, and mindfulness.
7. Honor Your Feelings
This one is HUGE. So many readers in my audience struggle with emotional eating. I used to too, and to this day I still feel “hungry” when I’m either really stressed or really happy. Intuitive eating encourages us to find other coping mechanisms in addition to food. That could be learning to sit with sadness, talking to a friend, doing something creative, going for a walk — whatever works for you.
8. Respect Your Body
I think this one is my favorite principle. Respecting your body = accepting your body and knowing that your self-worth has nothing to do with your size. Intuitive Eating helps us get to the size our bodies were meant to be, where they’re most comfortable. That could be smaller or bigger than where you are now, and it’s up to you to find that love from within. My natural weight is higher than what I wanted it to be years ago… but loving my body is so much easier and more fulfilling than constantly trying to weigh less to no avail.
9. Exercise – Feel the Difference
Many think that when you eat intuitively, you give up exercise. Hell. No! When you practice intuitive eating, you practice exercise you enjoy doing, not exercise with the purpose of looking a certain way. That means doing exercises or movements makes you feel happy and good, not like you’re punishing yourself or bored. Maybe running was never your thing. Great! Try something else that you WILL like and it doesn’t matter how it affects you on the outside, just how it makes you feel on the inside. For me, that’s snowboarding and hiking.
10. Honor your Health (Gentle Nutrition)
No, intuitive eating doesn’t mean giving up on health. Gentle nutrition means making food choices that are both healthy and tasty. Overall your food choices should make you feel well. There’s no falling off track with intuitive eating. There’s no “good” or “bad” food, just food with different purposes. Some foods fuel you and provide your body with nutrients. Some foods are eaten for pleasure. Both are necessary and both can be delicious. Eating fruits and veggies never has to be boring… and I hope my recipes and meal prep inspiration prove that!
I want to point out, there’s a reason why gentle nutrition is LAST.
This is about your relationship with food.
A lot of people tell me they don’t know what’s healthy.
Diet culture is to blame because it induces a FEAR of food and a lack of trust in ourselves. Intuitive eating does the opposite. And eating healthy is so much more simple than the nutrition and diet industry makes it out to be. Ignore the noise. Eat your fruits and veggies daily. You’ll feel great if you listen and tune into your body.
My intuitive eating story:
Something changed in me a year and a half after graduating college.
It was about the same time when I realized I no longer wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
I realized looking good according to society’s standards didn’t really matter. Looking “hot” didn’t make me a better human. Restricting foods didn’t make me enjoy my life more.
Basically, I realized life is too short to care SO MUCH about my appearance and that confidence comes from within.
I stopped wearing so much makeup. I stopped spending $400/month on clothes I didn’t wear. And I stopped destroying myself over eating two slices of pizza.
I relaxed. And don’t think I gave up.
My Intuitive Eating story is different from the others that I’ve read. Most of the stories involve a phase where a former dieter eats whatever she damn pleases for weeks until realizing that her body actually craves healthy foods.
I always ate “unhealthy” foods. Even when dieting. I’m sure you have too.
The shift for me was taking the focus off calories and portions and on saving money for doing stuff I cared about instead.
I started cooking, and I kind of knew that if I was making it myself at home, I couldn’t feel guilty about it. Even if it was something I formerly considered “unhealthy.”
When I started cooking, I stopped caring about the “good” and “bad” of food and started caring about if what I was eating made me feel satisfied without wanting to take a nap after lunch.
I was actively trying different meals, searching for what made me feel energized and satisfied without feeling a trace of guilt or sadness, or regret.
Cooking and meal prep helped me reconnect with my food and my body. And after six months of cooking 70% of my meals and ENJOYING food, I ate out at restaurants (instead of feeling guilty about it) my body has remained the same size (a size I’m so comfortable with) for years. Nothing needs to be fixed. I have no intention of trying to change my body anymore.
It comes down to TRUST.
Intuitive Eating is not about eating whatever you want it’s about eating what your body needs and being able to hone in on that WITHOUT your brain getting in the way to question your decisions.
Sometimes your body needs a huge bowl of veggies. Sometimes it needs pizza and sushi.
I love the intuitive eating approach because NO food is off-limits. And when you allow yourself to have anything you want, the former rebellious appeal of junk food disappears. Because you can have it anytime.
And when you free your mind from all the diet BS that’s been stuck in your head for years, you’ll find that you can use that precious brainpower for other things.
Like upgrading your career.
Being a better partner/parent/friend.
Picking up a new hobby. Or starting a business, like I did.
For me, intuitive eating has made food FUN instead of something to fear. And that’s what I want you to feel as well. I want you to feel confident in your food choices and know that they’re YOUR business only. You get to make up the rules.
How meal prep fits in with Intuitive Eating
I get this question a lot, and I understand the skepticism.
Meal prep is perceived as a very rigid way of eating, but I just don’t see it that way. Especially when you combine the practice of meal planning with intuitive eating.
Here at Workweek Lunch, the purpose of meal prep is to give yourself easy access to the foods that make you feel your best during your busy workweek when you barely have time to think about showering.
At Workweek Lunch, meal prep is NOT about dieting or weight loss, or being rigid.
I believe that meal prep helps you build trust with food.
By making meals yourself every week, you can really test and experiment with different foods intentionally instead of making decisions on the fly. You can also get excited about your food because um, YOU MADE IT! That’s something to be proud of!
I always encourage people to prep the meals that they need quickly, want to save money on or are too lazy to cook from scratch.
That could be a fast breakfast when you’re out the door, a hearty lunch at work (that’s less expensive than a Chipotle burrito bowl), or a fast dinner when you’re just too tired to turn the stove on.
Meal prep is about making your life easier. It’s giving yourself one less thing to worry about when you already have so many other things to focus on.
ALSO. Another misconception about meal prep is that you have to prep every meal. Nope.
You could prep three meals in advance for a week to cut down a little on cooking time. You could just prep meals for the weekend to save money. It’s up to you. Not me or a diet plan.
My meal prep habit has nothing to do with weight loss. It has everything to do with the freedom I want in my life. I started doing it to save money to travel. I do it now so I can spend more time building my business.
That’s freedom right there. And it goes hand in hand with the mental freedom from the food police and freedom from diet culture that the intuitive eating approach provides.
Meal prep = money and time freedom.
Intuitive eating = freedom from food stress and anxiety.
Both support a positive relationship with food.
By the way, many meal prep sites are geared toward weight loss, and so far Workweek Lunch is the ONLY one that provides neutral recipes. Check out more free recipes (that are totally neutral when it comes to healthism) here.
How to start practicing Intuitive Eating
- You’re probably not ready to adopt all principles of Intuitive Eating right off the bat, and that’s okay. Because this is a long-game approach to food that you’ll develop over time.
- Intuitive Eating is less about eating whatever you want and more about shutting up that part of your brain that freaks out whenever you see a cookie.
- The best way to start is by writing down all of your beliefs about food and health. Then throw them out the window. Literally. Intuitive Eating means UNLEARNING everything that’s been told to you about what foods are “good” and “bad” and that you have to lose weight or constantly work out to be healthy.
- Awareness. Become aware of how your body feels after eating certain foods and try to ignore your thoughts. You know, the ones that say “but this cookie is full of sugar.” Or, “you better load up on vegetables first or else!”
- I know this can seem scary, but when you are ready to really start – it’s important to eat just whatever you want at first. And it’s normal to gain weight in this period because you’ll be focusing on foods that you’ve been depriving yourself of or restricting for so long. But then after awhile, those foods won’t excite you so much because they’re not off limits. It’s not special anymore and your body will naturally gravitate toward healthier foods and your weight will level off where it’s supposed to be. It can be scary at first, but TRUST THE PROCESS.
At the end of the day, intuitive eating means eating like a regular human being. It’s a journey that will never end because what your body needs will change as you get older. The sooner you accept that you will have a happier, healthier life if you become aware of what your body needs and honor that, the better.
And here are some of our other favorite Intuitive Eating resources!
- Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Big Girl: How I Gave up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller
- The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner
- Anti-Diet: Reclaim your Time, Money, Well-Being and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating by Christy Harrison