What is your relationship with food? Do you berate yourself for indulging a food craving or eating something unhealthy? Do you have a list of forbidden foods? The intuitive eating approach to health and wellness, an alternative to dieting and a way to eat healthfully and mindfully.

Make Peace with Food: Intuitive Eating

Diets don’t work. Dieting to lose weight requires monitoring and restricting food choices and keeping appetite under control. In fact, the success of dieting lies mainly in self-control or will power. Research shows that over time, restrained eating is actually associated with weight gain. In addition, for many people, chronic dieting has led to an unhealthy relationship with food. Rigid food rules, such as forbidden foods, emotional eating, overeating and disordered eating, are all of result of a constant worry about food. Many fitness enthusiasts may fall into this category. Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to health and wellness that can help individuals make peace with food and themselves.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is a lifestyle approach that emphasizes creating a healthy relationship with your food, mind and body. There are three core principles:

  1. Eat for physical rather than emotional reasons. Find ways to comfort yourself without using food. Food does not fix feelings of anxiety, loneliness, boredom or anger. Because eating does not solve problems, it is advisable to deal with the source of the emotion. Try this mindfulness activity for emotional eating the next time you turn to food for comfort
  2. Rely on internal hunger and satiety cues. Honour your hunger. Eat when you are hungry and tune into when you are full. Being too hungry may lead to overeating or making choices that aren’t in line with your body’s needs at the time. Get in touch with your body and listen to your internal signals.
  3. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Respect your body and feel good about who you are. Rebuild trust with yourself and food. Get away from labelling food as “good” or “bad” and having a list of “forbidden” foods. Enjoy eating your food.

Exercise is encouraged as part of the intuitive eating lifestyle with less emphasis placed on burning calories and more on feeling the benefits of exercise, such as improved energy levels. To further change your relationship with food, explore all ten principles of intuitive eating

Discover satisfaction

Satisfaction is the hub of intuitive eating and is a result of eating with attunement. It involves:

  • being mindful when eating
  • enjoying the taste, texture, aroma, volume and temperature of food
  • the physical feeling of pleasure through eating

We were born with all the wisdom needed for eating intuitively. However, we have learned to ignore our innate signals and forgotten what true hunger feels like. Intuitive eating skills can be learned—it is a matter of getting in touch with your body and respecting what it is telling you.

Characteristics of intuitive eaters include the following:

  • improved self-esteem and well-being
  • improved nutrient intake
  • lower body mass index
  • less thinness idealization and disordered eating
  • better awareness of hunger and satiety cues

Intuitive eating has grown in popularity over the years and now has numerous studies proving its efficacy and validity.
Intuitive eating is a process that one engages in over time. It happens gradually as old beliefs about food, nutrition and eating are challenged, unlearned and replaced with new ones. Set out with these four tips to start eating intuitively from one of our NMT dietitians.

article revised December 2018

Colinda Hunter

Registered Dietitian

Colinda (BPE, BSc HEc (Nutrition), RD) is a registered dietitian who shares her knowledge of food and the science of nutrition to promote optimal health and wellness. As a nutrition educator with Alberta Milk she develops nutrition education resources and programs for health educators.

Article posted on June 19, 2012

The Expert Says

Intuitive eating is a lifestyle approach that emphasizes creating a healthy relationship with your food, mind and body. Colinda Hunter, RD