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Intuitive Eating

What is intuitive eating? How does it work? Follow along as we break down this thoughtful way of eating.

Multiple hands with forks reach for food at the center of the table
Tori Stengel, Dietetic Intern 2021
Monday, July 25, 2022

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating (IE) is a practice created in 1995 by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch to originally help patients recover from eating disorders. The main idea behind IE is to enjoy meals and snacks by honoring internal bodily cues and gentle nutrition, instead of using external signals or rigid food rules to drive meal and snack choices. Oftentimes we depend on particular diets in order to feel comfortable in our bodies. Fad diets, supplements, and exercise regimes can be used to modify how we look, but these might mean restriction in the foods we enjoy, relaxing activities we participate in, and even how much time we spend thinking about food. By focusing on how we look, we might be ignoring the signs our body is sharing that indicate fatigue or hunger. By opening our mindset to focus on enjoying the food presently, we lift those restrictions and can improve our self-image. 

Fad diets work by providing strict guidelines in order to lose weight quickly. It is not a sustainable way to manage weight and can result in regaining the weight after discontinuing the program. By removing these guidelines, we allow room to enjoy foods and promote long-term retention of healthy behaviors surrounding food like practicing moderation, eating a variety of different foods, and balancing nutrition with physical activity.  When thinking about IE, it’s important to consider that the actions matter more than physical outcomes. This eating strategy is meant to improve our relationship with food rather than modify our weight. With that in mind, this strategy is focusing on self-care and respecting our bodies. We can still move and nourish our bodies without restriction or excessive rules.  

Although not everyone has an eating disorder, studies have shown that IE has improved individuals’ relationships with food and body image. This supports the idea that all foods can fit into a healthy diet and that all shapes and sizes can be healthy. With the sheer amount of media coverage on dieting, it’s challenging to listen internally rather than to others telling us how to eat.

Person with their hands on their stomach

Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating

  1. Reject diet mentality: You do not have to restrict what you eat in order to be healthy.
  2. Honor your hunger: Eat when you feel hungry.
  3. Make peace with food: All foods can fit into a healthy diet!
  4. Challenge the food police: Avoid judgmental comments regarding food on your plate and others.
  5. Respect your fullness: It's ok to not finish your meal! Get a to-go container and enjoy it later.
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor: Take the time to enjoy your food. It's fuel but also tasty!
  7. Honor your feelings: Find healthy ways to express your emotions and relieve stress.
  8. Respect your body: Focus on what your body can do rather than how it looks.
  9. Movement: Find physical activities that are fun for you!
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition: Moderation is key when it comes to deciding what to eat.

Each principle in IE is meant to address one aspect behind behaviors we might have that don’t allow us to listen to our internal hunger signals. For example, sometimes we push ourselves too hard while exercising because we have an expectation that a certain distance, weight, or time spent on an activity will result in weight loss or muscle gain. Although we may need to push ourselves in order to improve, exerting ourselves to exhaustion doesn’t keep us healthy.

Person with a beet, pepper, tomatoes, and pea pod in their hands

What does research say about intuitive eating?

It’s important to note that intuitive eating isn’t meant to change your weight. It varies per person, but some may experience weight changes. The research shows there is very little physical change in a person’s weight but a greater impact on their mental health and wellbeing. In some instances, individuals can even see improvement in biological markers for health such as lower triglycerides and blood pressure.

How can I tell if I’m hungry or full?

Before we can explain hunger and fullness cues, we first have to define them. Hunger is a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by a lack of food in addition to wanting to eat. Satiety, or fullness, is the suppression of hunger after eating. Hunger and appetite are different in that we might still want to eat even if our bodies don’t want any more food.  There are two types of signals our bodies give us to tell us to eat: psychological and physical. Psychological signs of hunger include thinking about food, irritability, and difficulty focusing. Physical signs of hunger include shakiness, headache, feelings of emptiness or an ache in the stomach, and stomach growling. Both of these types of signals indicate that there is a need for nutrients and that we need to begin finding food to eat. Fullness cues generally include a disinterest in food and a sensation of fullness in the stomach. A good question to determine fullness is to rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to ten; one being starving and ten being absolutely stuffed. We want to stay within a range of 3 to 6 within this scale.

A challenge with following hunger and fullness cues is our environment. Maybe we only have a break in the middle of the day and aren't hungry then. Maybe we eat according to what time it is, or we see an advertisement that has appetizing food in it. Sometimes we are simply tired or thirsty instead of hungry. All of these factors can influence our appetites which in turn override listening to our hunger cues. Although we can’t always follow IE realistically in our daily lives, we can still use it to guide eating snacks to stave off hunger until we are better able to nourish ourselves. 

How can I get started?

A great place to start is by asking yourself “Am I hungry?”. Begin recognizing those psychological and physical signs of hunger and gauge if you’re hungry for a meal or a snack. Maybe you could eat something, but you're not hungry enough for a meal.  The next step is to check in while eating and ask “Am I still hungry?”. Sometimes we keep eating because there is food left on our plates. It’s ok to have leftovers. As you improve reading your cues, you’ll get better at portioning out foods to prevent as much waste. 

Mindfulness is another great way to start getting in tune with those hunger/fullness cues. Another great place to start is one mindful meal each day (no phone, TV, reading, other distractions, etc)  Other strategies include putting cutlery down between bites, using a hunger scale of 1 to 10 before meals, and making sure you’re well rested and hydrated. With a hunger scale, we want to stay within the range of 3 and 6. Adjusting to this style of eating can take time, so have patience with yourself! In summary, IE is a strategy to eating meant to improve our relationship with ourselves and food. It allows us to eat food for fuel and pleasure instead of focusing on nutrient content. 

Following IE practices allows us to think about the things we truly value rather than worrying about body shape. It allows us to prioritize our health while also allowing mental space for other activities like spending time with friends and family or studying for an upcoming test.


Keirns, N. G., & Hawkins, M. (2019). Intuitive eating, objective weight status and physical indicators of health. Obesity science & practice, 5(5), 408–415.

Pike, A., RD. (2020, June 19). The Science Behind Intuitive Eating. Retrieved May 10, 2021, from

Robinson, E., Blissett, J., & Higgs, S. (2013). Social influences on eating: Implications for nutritional interventions. Nutrition Research Reviews, 26(2), 166-176. doi:10.1017/s0954422413000127

Warren, J. M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272-283. doi:10.1017/s0954422417000154