Intuitive eating isn’t a diet. It’s an approach to eating that encourages you to listen to your body and recognize signs of hunger and fullness.
There’s no calorie or macro counting or portion control. It’s a way of eating that doesn’t aim for weight loss.
Some people lose weight with this approach, some gain weight, and others stay at the same weight.
Rather than adding or cutting out specific foods, intuitive eating focuses on improving your overall health with guiding principles.
The 10 key principles below encourage a peaceful relationship with food and making choices that support your physical and mental well-being.
The body of research into intuitive eating is small but growing. The approach emerged from dietitians’ experience working with patients.
At ZOE, we know a one-size-fits-all approach to health and nutrition doesn’t work. In fact, our scientists have found that how your body responds to food is unique to you.
With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn how your body responds to different foods, as well as which “good” and “bad” bugs are living in your gut. We’ll also provide personalized nutrition advice to help you become attuned to your body’s signals.
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What is intuitive eating, exactly?
Intuitive eating originated in 1995, when two dietitians were considering why so many of their clients successfully reached their weight loss goals, then regained weight over time.
The approach integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It focuses on having a healthy relationship to food and paying attention to physical and emotional hunger cues.
An important underlying concept is “interoception.” This refers to an awareness of your physical sensations that allows you to respond appropriately.
For example, when your stomach growls, you might interpret this as hunger, while having a dry mouth can mean that you're thirsty.
There are 10 core principles of intuitive eating. In this article, we’ll explain what they are and how you can adopt them.
1. Reject the dieting mentality
The dieting mentality involves eating based on rules. Most diets encourage false hope and promise drastic, unsustainable weight loss.
Try avoiding endorsements for diets — especially those claiming to help you lose weight quickly and easily — in books, magazines, websites, and on social media.
2. Honor your hunger
Honoring your hunger means listening to your body’s need for energy. If you wait until your hunger is overwhelming, you’re more likely to overeat or reach for less healthy choices.
Recognize your hunger cues and respond to them. If you’re hungry, try to be compassionate and nonjudgmental.
Make sure you have nutritious snacks handy. You might opt for nuts, hummus and carrots, or peanut butter and apple slices.
3. Make peace with food
A healthy, calm relationship with all foods allows you to eat in a way that makes you feel good.
A restrictive mindset, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of deprivation, uncontrollable cravings, and guilt.
Giving yourself permission to eat less healthy foods can mean you’re less likely to overeat them with feelings of guilt and self-judgment later. This can help you avoid fixations and cravings for less healthy food.
4. Challenge the food police
There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Labeling foods like this can cause you to feel good or bad, morally, for eating those foods.
There’s room for all foods in a healthy diet.
5. Discover the satisfaction
Find foods that help you feel satisfied and satiated. Eating should be an enjoyable experience.
So, before going on autopilot and grabbing the nearest sandwich at lunchtime, think about what you’re in the mood for and what will satisfy you.
6. Feel your fullness
Trust your body to tell you when you’re no longer hungry. Be aware of the signs that you’re comfortably full.
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7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
Emotions play a big role in our eating behavior.
It’s normal to turn to comfort food when you’re upset, stressed, or lonely. But it’s important to recognize the underlying cause — and that food probably won’t address it.
Observe how you relate to your negative emotions. How else can you respond? Try to find an activity that relaxes you, like journaling, painting, or going for a walk.
8. Respect your body
All bodies are unique, and this is a good thing. Weight and body shape are complex.
Your size and shape are worthy of respect, no matter what they are.
Try to resist comparing yourself with others or spending too long thinking about measurements like clothing sizes.
9. Find pleasure in movement
It’s helpful to enjoy exercise, just like eating. If you dread your exercise program, you’re less likely to keep it up in the long term.
So, forget militant routines and focus on moving your body and being aware of how it feels.
Choose an activity that you find pleasure in — one that makes you feel stronger and more energized and resilient. It might be a walk, a gentle swim, yoga, or dancing.
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition
Choose foods that support your health, give you pleasure, and make you feel good. You don’t need to have the “perfect diet” all the time.
It’s what you eat over time that matters, not any specific snack, meal, or day of eating.
Does the research suggest benefits?
Research supporting intuitive eating is limited, but there’s some evidence that it can benefit both mental and physical health.
A 2014 review found links between intuitive eating and a lower body mass index, as well as improvements in blood pressure and blood fat levels.
In terms of mental health, a recent review of the research found that intuitive eating could benefit body image, self-esteem, and well-being.
In one 8-year study, scientists tracked the eating habits of 1,491 participants. They found that intuitive eating led to fewer unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors, such as skipping meals or taking diet pills.
However, the research doesn’t show that intuitive eating necessarily leads to weight loss. And it may not always improve diet quality.
Are there any risks?
You may think intuition is automatic, but intuitive eating does require effort.
It can take time to tune into your body’s signals and adapt to a new mindset. At first, it can be difficult to build the mind-body connection.
Intuitive eating is an approach that encourages you to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness signals. It also involves choosing foods that make you feel good and energized.
Taking this approach means focusing on flexibility rather than restriction.
There are 10 key principles that aim to help you foster a calm, nonjudgmental relationship to food, activity, and your body. The aim is to enjoy what you eat.
So far, researchers have arrived at positive findings. The evidence suggests that intuitive eating can promote mental health and healthy eating habits.
It may also improve some measurements of physical health, like blood pressure and blood fat levels.
This approach isn’t designed to help you lose weight but to build a positive mindset about eating that helps support your health.
Still, getting into intuitive eating can take time, and it might not be for everyone.
Eating-related and psychological outcomes of health at every size intervention in health and social services centers across the province of Québec. American Journal of Health Promotion. (2019). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29986603/
Definition of intuitive eating. (2019). https://www.intuitiveeating.org
Intuitive eating and its psychological correlates: A meta-analysis. The International Journal of Eating Disorders. (2021). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33786858/
Intuitive eating longitudinally predicts better psychological health and lower use of disordered eating behaviors: Findings from EAT 2010–2018. Eating and Weight Disorders. (2021). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40519-020-00852-4
Mindful eating and common diet programs lower body weight similarly: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews. (2019). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12918
Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: Literature review. Public Health Nutrition. (2014). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23962472/
The influence of mindful eating and/or intuitive eating approaches on dietary intake: A systematic review. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2021). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212267220313903
The Intuitive Eating Scale-2: Item refinement and psychometric evaluation with college women and men. Journal of Counseling Psychology. (2013). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23356469/