There are 10 key principles of intuitive eating, as outlined by Evelyn Tribole, R.D.N, and Elyse Resch, R.D.N., the two nutrition experts credited with creating the framework.
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Let go of the idea that there’s a “perfect” way to eat. Instead, focus on honoring the body’s needs. Intuitive eating encourages individuals to forgo dieting and restrictive food rules, which can lead to an unhealthy focus on weight and appearance.
Harris recommends throwing out diet books and weight loss supplements, unsubscribing from weight loss memberships or food tracking apps and unfollowing social media accounts that promote diets and quick fixes.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Listen to the body’s signals and give it permission to eat when truly hungry. Ignoring hunger cues can lead to overeating or binging.
Harris suggests rating hunger levels throughout the day to help highlight variations between subtle hunger, pleasant hunger and unpleasant or urgent hunger. For many, simply eating at consistent intervals throughout the day and including carbohydrates in each meal, which are the body’s primary source of energy, can help reduce unpleasant or urgent hunger, she adds.
3. Make Peace With Food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods without judgment or guilt. Avoid restricting certain foods, as this practice can lead to overeating and subsequent feelings of guilt.
Harris recommends choosing one food that you’re currently trying to avoid and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and enjoy it. ”Be sure to choose a time when you’re not overly hungry, stressed or emotional. Commit to sitting down and mindfully tuning into the flavors and how the food feels in your body. Check in with your body, your thoughts and your emotions before, during and after eating. Continue this practice with this food until it no longer feels forbidden and you have more trust with how you eat it,” she says.
4. Challenge the Food Police
Stop labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Instead, focus on nourishing the body in a way that feels good. This principle encourages individuals to let go of deeply ingrained moral judgements about food.
“Begin to notice all the so-called rules around eating that pop into your head throughout the day,” says Harris. “Keep a list so you can see how prominent the food police are in your life, and practice challenging these rules one by one. Where did you first learn it? Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? Then practice reframing that thought into something more neutral. For example, you may shift the thought, ‘I shouldn’t eat carbs,’ to, ‘Carbs are my body’s primary source of energy and a part of a healthful diet that I can eat and enjoy.’”
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Eating should be a pleasurable experience. Intuitive eating encourages individuals to find joy and satisfaction in eating, which often comes from eating what you want, when you want and where you want.
“Instead of asking what you should eat, ask yourself what you would like to eat,” suggests Harris. “Then tune into all the sensory aspects of that food—the smells, textures, flavors and temperatures—without judgment. Whenever possible, carve out time to eat mindfully and enjoyably, maybe even setting the table in a way that’s pleasing.”
6. Feel Your Fullness
Pay attention to your body’s fullness cues, and stop eating when you’re satisfied rather than continuing to eat beyond being comfortably full. This principle teaches individuals to honor their body’s natural signals of hunger and fullness.
“Practice noticing what varying levels of fullness feel like in your body,” says Harris. “After your meal, rate whether you feel pleasantly or unpleasantly full. Keep practicing and non-judgmentally noticing what does and doesn’t feel good, as well as what activities or circumstances do and don’t support you to respect your fullness cues.”
7. Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness
Rather than using food as a coping mechanism for emotions like boredom or loneliness, intuitive eating encourages individuals to get to the source of the emotion and find healthier ways to deal with their feelings, such as talking to a friend, journaling or taking a walk.
“If you do end up emotionally eating, be compassionate and kind with yourself,” encourages Harris. “You’re building your self-care toolbox, as well as learning about and strengthening your coping tools.”
8. Respect Your Body
All bodies deserve respect and appreciation regardless of shape or size. Intuitive eating promotes self-care and body positivity rather than a certain weight or body shape. Accept and respect your current body without unrealistic expectations.
“Notice when you’re comparing your body to someone else’s, and remind yourself that your body is unique and worthy of respect,” recommends Harris. “Throw out clothes that don’t fit, as poorly fitting clothes often trigger downward body image spirals.”
9. Movement—Feel the Difference
Instead of exercising for the sole purpose of burning calories, intuitive eating encourages people to move their bodies in ways that feel good to them.
“Remind yourself that all movement counts, be it a gentle walk, stretching or even just a few minutes of activity here and there,” says Harris. “Start wherever you are, and build your movement practices slowly, safely and enjoyably.”
10. Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition
Intuitive eating encourages individuals to make food choices that honor their health and well-being without being overly restrictive or obsessive. Find a balance between nourishing foods and satisfying foods without imposing strict rules or restrictions on yourself.
Focus on slowly improving dietary aspects that merit attention, such as eating plenty of plant-based foods, high-quality protein or healthful fats, recommends Harris. Choose one thing you’d like to focus on improving, identify two to three steps you can take to boost that area of your nutrition, and begin practicing. Go slowly and remind yourself often that there’s no perfect way of eating.