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Is Intuitive Eating a Good Plan for Weight Loss?

Yvonne Mahl, MHSC, RDN, LDN, IFNCP

Published in Weight Loss

6 min read

November 17, 2023
Hands holding cutlery, cutting into an open-face vegetable sandwich on a white plate
Hands holding cutlery, cutting into an open-face vegetable sandwich on a white plate

You might have heard the term “intuitive eating” surge in popularity in recent years. It seems to be all the buzz, but what is it exactly?

The goal of intuitive eating is to reconnect to your body and make nutritional choices that feel good to you. This contrasts with the essence of diet culture and fad diets, which often impose restrictions on what, when, and how much to eat. That’s because intuitive eating isn’t a diet.

So what are the health benefits of this eating pattern? Is it true it can help with weight loss?

In this article, we’ll dive into more detail around the principles of intuitive eating and reasons you may want to consider incorporating it into your life, whether your goals are to develop a healthy relationship with food or even lose weight.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

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Intuitive eating is a holistic approach to nutrition and well-being that encourages you to listen to your body and trust your internal cues when it comes to eating. Rather than focusing on calorie counting or strict meal plans, intuitive eating encourages you to eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied, and make food choices based on your own preferences and nutritional needs.

This non-diet approach to eating promotes a healthy relationship with food by emphasizing mindfulness, self-awareness, and the removal of rigid diet rules.

Registered dietitian nutritionists Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND, first presented this concept in their 1995 book, “Intuitive Eating.” The book has since been updated in several editions, and the practice has caught on widely, especially among anti-diet proponents and body acceptance movements.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

In the world of nutrition and wellness, the concept of intuitive eating has gained significant recognition for its empowering and liberating approach to food. Here are the 10 foundational principles of intuitive eating that may guide you towards a healthier, more mindful relationship with your body.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

First and foremost, intuitive eating rejects the concept of dieting. Instead, it asks you to shift your mindset to say no to diets, creating the space for you to discover your body’s innate intuition. You can then make a practice of rejecting the diet mentality that keeps you in a yo-yo dieting loop.

2. Honor Your Hunger

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Learning to recognize and interpret your own body’s signals to give yourself what you need is the second foundation of intuitive eating. Learning your body’s cues is also a chance to get curious about how your hunger levels fluctuate with physical activity, hormonal changes, and learn how to eat in a way that works for you.

3. Make Peace With Food

Instead of depriving yourself of calories you need or foods you love, intuitive eaters try to reframe notions of “good” and “bad” foods, and instead think of food as nourishment that carries your body through life and gives you energy each day.

Showing excessive restraint around food can lead to overeating, or even eating disorders such as binge eating or anorexia, which can require professional guidance to overcome.

4. Challenge the Food Police

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The “food police” can refer to your own inner critic, or even people around you who may have a habit of constantly reminding you of what they think is “healthy” or not. If you find yourself surrounded by anyone like this, it’s okay to set boundaries by doing what you believe is right for your body and, if you feel like it, sharing the rules you’ve set for yourself. 

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Humans are wired to find pleasure in eating—both from what we’re eating and from who we’re eating with. Food fulfills one of our basic needs, and if we don’t meet this need, we may lack energy, and we certainly won’t feel our best.

By rediscovering the joy that food can have, whether through intuitive eating or having dinner with family or friends, we may feel more content after eating and may not even need as much as we think we do.

6. Feel Your Fullness

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Eating slowly and mindfully can increase your awareness of the taste of your food and how your hunger level changes as you eat, so you not only enjoy your food more but recognize when you’re full. Slowing down in this way, and limiting distractions can also help prevent scenarios in which you overeat.

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Emotional eating is something nearly all of us have done, whether out of stress, anxiety, boredom, or another emotion. Often, however, it may make you feel worse by adding disappointment, guilt, and other negative emotions to those you’re already feeling.

Try confronting the emotion, or finding another activity that soothes you and do that for twenty minutes. Go for a walk, call a friend, and then ask yourself if you still want the food you’re craving.

8. Respect Your Body

A woman in black workout gear, with hand on hips exercising outdoors
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The relationship each of us has to our body is a complex one—and unfortunately, many cultural ideals of what your body should look like can be unrealistic, leading to self-criticism and lower self-esteem. When you eat intuitively, you nourish your body out of gratitude for all that your body does for you each day and throughout life. 

9. Exercise for Enjoyment

Once you begin to feel gratitude for your body, moving it in ways that feel good to you will come naturally. It might require some experimentation to find what kinds of physical activity bring you joy, but by shifting the focus away from trying to look a certain way, movement can become another source of joy.

10. Honor Your Health

A person in a yellow robe, holding a glass canister of berries and yogurt in one hand and wooden cover in the other
Source: Unsplash

Most of all, when eating intuitively, you’ll be honoring your health. While intuitive eating doesn’t give you unconditional permission to give into whatever your brain thinks you want (also known as cravings), by learning to tune into what your body is asking for, you’ll be able to honor that by giving your body what it needs.

Benefits of Intuitive Eating

A white box against a backdrop of food with text that reads the Benefits of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating can be worth trying on almost any health journey. Here are some of the main benefits of taking this approach to eating and implementing it into your lifestyle.

Improved Relationship with Food

Because you’ll be shifting your focus from counting calories (both consumed and burned) to your body’s inner sensations, you’ll come to recognize and trust your hunger cues. You’ll also learn how other factors, such as your energy and mood, can alter those cues, leaving you in the driver’s seat so it’s less likely you’ll feel “out of control” and regret your decisions later.

Enhanced Body Image

Cultivating a relationship with your body in order to understand and then give it what it needs will help you to feel more embodied. In turn, this can lead to self-acceptance and an appreciation for the body that is uniquely yours.

Reduced Emotional Eating

If weight loss is your goal, or even if you want to cut back on unhealthy habits like snacking when stressed, practicing intuitive eating can help you to differentiate true hunger from emotional eating. You may try keeping a journal of the emotions you feel when you experience cravings to uncover the motivations driving your food choices. 

Empowerment and Autonomy

Intuitive eating can be empowering for anyone and especially if you’ve become hyper-focused on calories or restricting certain foods as a result of dieting. It is important to note, however, that if you are or suspect you are dealing with an underlying metabolic imbalance, including gut dysbiosis, diagnosing or ruling out these conditions with a clinical practitioner is essential to protecting your health.

Intuitive eating should not be attempted in place of this guidance, and you should always consult a dietitian or nutritionist before making significant changes to your diet.

Is Intuitive Eating Effective for Weight Loss?

Man in a kitchen adding olive oil to a green salad
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The intuitive eating method isn’t designed to help you to lose weight—but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used as part of a weight loss lifestyle plan. Just take the results of a recent review, which analyzed results from 10 individual studies and found that intuitive and mindful eating strategies did have a noteworthy effect on weight loss

However, the caveat here is that these weight loss results were no greater or less than that of other diets that were tested. These findings suggest that while intuitive eating was not necessarily created for weight loss, it can be considered a practical approach to maintaining a healthy weight in the long-term for some people. 

All of this is to say that intuitive eating is not a weight loss strategy and should not be seen as one, but it can be a worthwhile approach to developing and sustaining healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with your body, which can have lasting positive impacts on your health.

As with any dietary or lifestyle changes you may make, an intuitive eating approach should be used alongside a deeper exploration of any current imbalances or other health conditions that may alter how you perceive hunger and satiety and make food choices. If you believe you may need guidance or assistance, be sure to consult a registered dietitian or nutritionist for support.

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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.

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