Principles of Intuitive Eating

by | Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating seems to be a buzzword these days. In general, many people are looking into intuitive eating counseling options. Hoping to work with an intuitive eating dietitian. However, did you know that intuitive eating is an evidence based approach created by two dietitians? Their names are Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I’d highly recommend you read the book. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach

The best way to understand this concept is to understand the principles of intuitive eating (IE). In fact, we wrote a blog on this topic, so feel free to check it out here!  

Read on to find out more about the principles of intuitive eating! If you’re interested in working with an intuitive eating dietitian, please head to our contact us page. Courage to Nourish is a practice of eating disorder nutritionists that specialize in eating disorder recovery, intuitive eating and finding body peace. 


Principles of Intuitive Eating


Reject the Diet Mentality

One of the principles of intuitive eating is to reject the diet mentality. During intuitive eating counseling sessions, you might find yourself talking regularly about “diet culture” and the “diet mentality.” What exactly is diet culture and the diet mentality? Diet culture is a system of beliefs that idolizes thinness and equates thinness to health and morality. It puts certain foods on a pedestal and it demonizes other foods. There are many inherit problems in diet culture. Namely, stigmatizing medical care.

Dieting often increases shame around food and body. The diet mentality is the belief that dieting/food restriction will lead to better health. In reality, dieting leads to long term health consequences and disordered eating. The goal of intuitive eating is to support clients in letting go of dieting rules. And find their way back to listening to their body’s wisdom when it comes to feeding themselves. Some examples of this include: throwing out the scale and diet magazines, breaking food rules, no longer counting calories or macros, and giving permission to eat enjoyable food.

Honor Your Hunger


The next principle of intuitive eating is learning how to honor hunger. This means eating adequate fuel throughout the day in order to provide the body with nourishment. When first starting an intuitive eating journey, it’s possible to not feel very hungry. The body basically gets numb to the hunger feeling because it is used to feeling deprived. It can feel uncomfortable eating when not hungry, which is why it’s important to work with an intuitive eating dietitian. They can support clients with various coping tools and meal ideas. An intuitive eating nutritionist might recommend to eat every 3-4 hours and have multiple food groups at a meal.

Eating regularly and “enough” can also help people avoid bingeing or “overeating” later in the day. Diet culture blames the individual for bingeing. However, usually bingeing is caused by restriction throughout the day. This is a great topic to dive deeper into in intuitive eating counseling! 


Make Peace with Food


This is the point in intuitive eating counseling where we’re working toward decreasing judgments about foods. Foods aren’t inherently bad or inherently good. All foods provide us with some type of nutrition that our bodies can use for fuel. Making peace with food is especially difficult in a culture that is disordered. Likewise, this serves as a reminder that no single food or day of eating is going to make or break our health. In fact, more flexibility around food actually fosters more joyful and healthful eating. 


Challenge the Food Police

What (or who) are the food police? The food police can either be our peers or family members. It can also be that little voice in our heads that tries to dictate how we “should” eat. During intuitive eating counseling, it’s important to identify where the food police are coming from and how it can potentially harm us. Creating more rules around eating isn’t particularly helpful. Rules create guilt, shame, and stress. An intuitive eating dietitian will discuss ways to talk back to the food police.


Discover The Satisfaction Factor 

Food is fuel, yes. Moreover, food is also supposed to be enjoyed and savoured. It’s extremely important we eat food that tastes good. This takes some time and experimenting with various foods and flavors. It takes a great deal of permission because we may be re-introducing foods we previously labeled as “bad.” Please remember that everyone has cravings! We were born to eat food, so it’s a completely normal process to want certain foods.


Feel Your Fullness

It might be helpful to have a conversation with an intuitive eating dietitian about what fullness feels like in the body. Fullness isn’t only the absence of hunger. Fullness is a completely different sensation. It’s important to not only feel full, but to also feel satiated. What does this mean? Feeling satiated means that the meal we ate “hit the spot.” We ate something that we enjoyed, not only something that made us not feel hungry. Think about different signals that may signify fullness.

Please note: at times it is normal to eat past fullness. What scenarios may this occur? If the food tasted SO good we wanted more. Or in celebratory situations. Or if you’re with friends and family and are just munching. 


Cope With Your Emotions with Kindness

Using food as a coping tool is totally normal. It’s also normal that restricting leads to bingeing or a feeling of losing control. Many people label this as “emotional eating.” Part of intuitive eating counseling is finding ways to cope with emotions with kindness and compassion.

I like to use the metaphor of building a coping tool box. There are all sorts of wonderful tools, like a screwdriver, wrench, and hammer. Each have their own purpose. To demonstrate, you won’t get very far if you try to secure a screw with a hammer! If food is a coping tool, that should be just one of the tools in your box. The more you build up that tool box, the more like you are to use coping strategies at the appropriate time. 


Respect Your Body

Just like height, eye color, and hair color, our body size is determined by genetics. Diet culture tells us it’s easy to change our bodies. Consequently, this is absolutely something difficult to grasp. However, our bodies will fight to get back to our stepoint weight. Or maybe stay at our setpoint weight. We have some wonderful resources on our website that discuss body image. As well as exploring body image during your intuitive eating counseling journey! See below for resources and consider downloading our body image workbook. We talk a lot about body respect in this resource!


Check out the following Health at Every Size © (HAES) related blogs:

Rachel Hartley Nutrition

Eating Disorder Hope


Discussing body respect is also a great place to have a conversation about fatphobia and weight bias. Check out our blog on Weight Stigma in ED.


Joyful Movement: Feel the Difference

Movement is part of some people’s intuitive eating counseling journey, but it’s not part of other people’s. The goal of “joyful movement” is to find movement that feels doable, enjoyable and fun without any rules. Movement looks different for everyone! For example, some people find that it’s actually important for their mental health to take a break from movement. A break can help us to distance ourselves from any rules that surround movement. 


Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Gentle nutrition is the last of the principles of intuitive eating. It’s the last principle for a reason. Gentle nutrition means we trust our bodies to make food decisions for us. We trust that these decisions will make us feel at peace. For instance, sometimes we eat more desserts and snack foods. Other times we eat more veggies. Sometimes we eat more meals at home. Other times we eat out more. Gentle nutrition is remembering that one food decision, or one week of food decisions, won’t make or break our health.


Getting Started With Nutritionist Specializing in Eating Disorder

Courage to Nourish is a practice of eating disorder registered dietitians. We specialize in eating disorder recovery, intuitive eating, ARFID and body image counseling. We are located in College Park, Maryland, Columbia, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia. Also, we see clients virtually all across Virginia, Maryland DC, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Head to this link to learn more about our services. Please contact us to schedule a discovery call. You deserve full recovery and a team you trust. Also, sign up for our client or clinician newsletter!


Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD

Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD-S

Helping my clients cultivate meaningful connections and interests outside of their eating disorder is a true passion of mine. I like to think my clients and I are on a team to navigate recovery. I love working with high school and college students as well as athletes seeking to have a better relationship with exercise. I am a proud anti-diet dietitian and work with my clients through a Health At Every Size © and intuitive eating framework.

Body Image Workbook


The Body Image Workbook