The ten Principles of Intuitive Eating are a non-diet, self-care framework that help to heal your relationship with food and your body.
The principles work together to promote trust and body awareness, helping you say goodbye to yo-yo dieting and embrace a healthier, happier relationship with food.
In this post, I’ll give you an in-depth look at the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating and explain why they are so important. You’ll learn how to start implementing them into your life today, so you feel more at ease with your eating habits.
Ready to dive in?
Want to learn even more? Make sure to download my free beginner’s guide to the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.
Table of Contents
The Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating Overview
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating are:
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Feel Your Fullness
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
- Respect Your Body
- Movement – Feel the Difference
- Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
A Background on the Principles of Intuitive Eating
The ten principles of intuitive eating provide a framework for learning to listen to and trust your body in one of two ways: they either help to cultivate attunement to internal biological cues or remove barriers and attunement disruptors.
The principles work together to build body awareness, also known as interoceptive awareness. Interoceptive awareness is the ability to sense and perceive what is happening in the body, including hunger and fullness.
It’s important to note that the principles are just guidelines to be incorporated into your life as they fit, NOT rules. They are meant to be applied in a way that is flexible to meet your unique needs and lifestyle, not in a way that is rigid or prescriptive.
While it is understandable that you may want to initially turn principles into rules after following rigid diet rules for so long, the goal of Intuitive Eating is to develop an adaptive relationship with food rather than rigidly adhering to a set of rules.
If you’ve dieted for many years or struggled with disordered eating or an eating disorder, these principles might feel unfamiliar and unattainable at first.
Learning how to incorporate these principles into your life takes time and self-compassion, but it’s definitely worthwhile!
Keep reading to learn more about each principle, how to incorporate it into your life, and common problems or barriers people run into.
Intuitive Eating Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
Rejecting the Diet Mentality is the first and most fundamental principle of Intuitive Eating.
This principle is about rejecting the false hope of quick and permanent weight loss and conforming to unrealistic societal body standards and instead focusing on building a healthier relationship with food and your body.
Instead of approaching eating from a place of restriction, control, and shame, Intuitive Eating is about nourishing your body driven by self-care, respect, and body acceptance.
Ditching the diet mentality lays the foundation for the rest of the principles. Holding on to the hope of weight loss impedes your ability to be an Intuitive Eater.
What is the diet mentality?
The diet mentality stems from diet culture, which is a set of beliefs that perpetuates the idea that thinness is desirable and leads to health and happiness while stigmatizing and pathologizing fatness.
It promotes a binary view of food, dividing it into “good” and “bad,” and creates an illusion of control over your weight through restrictive eating and intense exercise.
It promotes the belief that weight is a direct measure of your health and worth.
In reality, health is a lot more complex than weight alone. Body diversity exists. Genetics plays a role in body size and shape, and healthy body weights can vary widely among individuals.
Why is This Principle Important
Dieting may seem like the solution to our weight problems, but the truth is, it doesn’t work long-term for many people. It’s also associated with weight cycling, also known as yo-yo dieting. Yo-yo dieting is not only frustrating, it is also associated with many negative health effects independent of weight (1, 2, 3).
Dieting can also lead to other negative effects, such as preoccupation with food, increased food cravings, binge eating, body dissatisfaction, reduced metabolism, decreased bone density, reduced energy, and more.
And let’s not forget the damaging effects that come with pathologizing bigger body types, such as weight stigma, shame, oppression, and poorer health outcomes. Rather than leading to weight loss or better health outcomes, this kind of thinking has proven ineffective and harmful.
If that weren’t enough reason, there are ways to improve health, regardless of weight changes.
Incorporating more movement, eating nutrient-dense foods, getting adequate sleep, managing stress, getting preventative health screens, abstaining from drug and alcohol use, and building/nurturing social connections are all great ways to support overall well-being.
So, how do you ditch the diet mentality?
How to Incorporate It
Reflect on your experience with dieting. Here are some questions to help get you started:
- What diets, meal plans, or “wellness programs” have you tried? Did you lose weight? Did you gain the weight back? How long did it take? Why wasn’t the plan sustainable? Do you want to be on a diet for the rest of your life?
- In what ways has dieting and obsessing over food and weight loss impacted your life?
- How much time, energy, and mental space has dieting taken up? Is that how you want to spend your time and energy?
- What do you hope to accomplish by losing weight? Does losing weight actually help achieve that outcome? Can that outcome be achieved in other ways?
- In what ways does dieting serve you? Why do you come back to it? Are there other ways to meet these needs that don’t contribute negatively to your life?
- In what ways does diet culture or the diet mentality show up in your life? Can you reduce it?
Rejecting the diet mentality is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s completely normal and understandable for you to desire weight loss and dieting while also wanting a new way of eating and living that improves your relationship with food and body.
Remember, you’ve lived in a society entrenched in diet culture and fatphobia for your whole life. These beliefs and practices run deep. It’s not easy work.
You can work to let go of the diet mentality while still acknowledging and accepting the parts of yourself that may still cling to it.
Have self-compassion and patience. Don’t give up if you’re struggling. You can’t fail at Intuitive Eating. Each experience is an opportunity to learn more about your body.
Intuitive Eating Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
The Second Principle of Intuitive Eating is ‘Honor your Hunger.’ This principle is about becoming attuned to and honoring your body’s internal biological hunger cues rather than relying on external factors or attempting to ignore or suppress them.
It’s important to note that Intuitive Eating is not the hunger-fullness diet, and honoring your hunger is not a food rule.
Instead, this principle is about tuning into and honoring your internal body cues with flexibility.
It’s perfectly okay and normal to eat for reasons other than true hunger from time to time, such as eating practical hunger when you know you won’t have access to food for a while or eating as a means of social connection at celebrations or holidays.
Why This Principle is Important
Ignoring or suppressing hunger leads to feeling out of control around food, intense cravings, extreme hunger, and binge eating. It can also lead to poor energy, irritability, decreased focus, and more.
Honoring your hunger by eating consistently and adequately helps you to feel satisfied and nourished and provides you with stable energy throughout the day.
The benefits of tuning into hunger cues include:
- Increased attunement to hunger and fullness cues. The more you start eating in response to hunger cues rather than external factors, the easier it becomes to sense them.
- Increased confidence around eating. Once you get used to tuning in to your internal cues, you’ll second guess your hunger and/or food choices less, knowing that your body genuinely needs nourishment.
- A greater sense of freedom. Once you start honoring your hunger, you won’t feel constrained by your diet anymore.
- More time and brain space to invest in more important things. Using internal cues to guide eating means less measuring, weighing, and portioning food which frees up a significant amount of time. It also means less preoccupation with food, which means more energy to focus on other things that matter to you.
- More stable energy throughout the day. As you become more in tune with your body, you learn what foods and eating schedule makes you feel best.
- More enjoyment around meals. When you eat based on internal cues, you pay more attention to how food makes you feel versus eating based on a diet rule. This leads to a more satisfying experience.
- Fewer cravings. When you honor your hunger and fuel your body adequately, cravings tend to subside.
- Less overeating. Similarly, when you eat before you’re ravenous, you’re better able to stop before you’re stuffed.
- Less stress around meal times. When you’re less preoccupied with food thoughts and learn to trust your body, meal and snack times become less stressful.
How to Incorporate It
If you’ve been dieting, tuning out, or suppressing your hunger for a long time, it’s common not to be able to feel hunger cues until you’re at a point where you are starving. However, it is definitely possible to get them back.
Start by setting a flexible and gentle routine of adequately nourishing your body with satisfying meals or snacks with all three macronutrients every 3-5 hours.
Then, check in with your body before you begin eating. Take note of how you’re feeling. It may be hard at first if this is not something you’re used to.
You might start by noting more obvious things, even if they aren’t related to hunger. This is getting you to practice checking in with your body and building interoceptive awareness. It will get easier with practice.
Do you notice any signs of hunger? Such as:
- Lower energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thinking about food
- Growling stomach
- Mood changes
Signs of hunger are different for everyone. Take note of what you feel.
Hunger and fullness are typically the two principles people think of most when they hear about Intuitive Eating. While Honoring your Hunger is a key principle, it can be difficult for people to start practicing and may not be the best principle to start with.
Diet culture teaches us that we can’t trust our body cues, that hunger is a bad thing, and that we should try to suppress, control, or outsmart our body cues.
So, it’s understandable that when people first hear about Intuitive Eating, it can feel out of reach or like something that only works for others.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “If I ate intuitively, I would eat ‘junk’ food all day, every day, and never stop.”
Most of us are born with an innate ability to sense hunger and fullness, and we don’t question it as children. But years of dieting, living with diet culture messages, eating distracted or rushed, or past trauma can cause us to disconnect from our cues.
Many people don’t even know what hunger feels like until they are in a place of extreme hunger. So, trying to eat in alignment with hunger and fullness cues can feel really jarring or unattainable.
While being able to tune into your hunger cues is the ultimate goal, it may be helpful to start with setting up a consistent, nourishing, and flexible eating pattern first. An Intuitive Eating dietitian can help with this.
Intuitive Eating Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
The third principle of Intuitive Eating is Make Peace with Food. This means treating all food in a neutral way and dropping labels such as “good” or “bad” and “healthy” or “unhealthy.”
It means accepting that ALL foods have a place in a healthy diet and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.
We all know that broccoli has more nutrients than a cookie, but that doesn’t mean that eating cookies will ruin your health. Nutrition is A LOT more complex than that.
This process is about letting go of judgment and exploring food with a curious and open mind.
Why This Principle is Important
Both hunger and mental food restriction increase the reward pathways for food. This means that it makes food more enticing.
When certain foods are off-limits or deemed “bad,” it leads to stronger cravings, loss of control around food, or feelings of guilt and shame around eating.
It creates a scarcity mindset because you’re telling yourself you’re not going to eat it again, you need to stop, or you should eat less.
Once the food rule is broken, it can also lead to “what the hell” eating… or more scientifically known as the abstinence violation effect.
This is where you tell yourself, “well, I already broke the rule. I may as well go all out and start over tomorrow (or next week or at the new year)”
As an example, if chocolate is your favorite food, but you tell yourself it’s bad and you shouldn’t be eating it, it’ll lead to stronger cravings for chocolate. If you give in and allow yourself to eat the chocolate, it may lead to binging because, “what the hell, I already ruined my diet today.”
Making food off-limits also leads to a less satisfying experience. For example, if you really want a bowl of ice cream after dinner but instead have a bowl of plain yogurt with berries as an alternative, it likely won’t satisfy that ice cream craving.
You may go searching for another healthy alternative and then another. By the time it is all said and done, you’ve eaten more than if you had allowed yourself the ice cream in the first place, AND you’re still not satisfied.
Conversely, giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and incorporating your favorite foods on a regular basis can lead to less obsession and drive towards food.
This is called habituation. While it may feel exciting to try forbidden foods at first, over time, you may find that some foods lose their appeal. This happens when the novelty of eating certain foods fades (4).
It’s also possible that you discover you don’t even enjoy certain foods that you once thought you couldn’t control or trust yourself around.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still enjoy certain foods and want to eat them, but there’s not that intense control and obsession over them.
Instead, it becomes a more neutral experience, empowering you to regain control and giving you the ability to make food choices that truly reflect your own wants and needs.
How to Incorporate It
While this principle tends to be the most exciting, again, it’s not usually the principle to start with.
If you’re still in the depths of restriction, it’s going to be really hard to make peace with food because there is still going to be a sense of desperation around food.
Before making peace with food, you want to make sure you’re eating adequate and balanced meals, managing stress, getting adequate sleep, and meeting your basic needs. If you’re unsure how to do this, an Intuitive Eating Dietitian can help.
If you’re ready and in a good place to make peace with food, start by making a list of all your forbidden foods. Choose just one food on the list to start incorporating into your diet. It can help to start with the least intimidating one.
Choose a time and place when you are going to eat that food. Make sure to choose a low-stress day and make sure emotions aren’t strong that day.
Also, make sure you’ve had adequate meals throughout the day and that you’re not too hungry. You can pair the food with a meal or have it after a meal.
Check-in with yourself before eating. How are you feeling? Eat the food mindfully. Notice the tastes, textures, flavors, etc.
Continue to incorporate this food into your diet on a regular basis. Try to keep the brand and flavor the same, as this will allow habituation to happen sooner. If you introduce a new flavor, it becomes a novel experience again.
This can be hard to do. Don’t feel bad if you still have some lingering restrictions in place. As a society, we’re conditioned to view food as bad; changing that perspective doesn’t happen overnight. Practice patience and self-compassion. It will get easier over time. If you need extra support, reach out to an Intuitive Eating Counselor for guidance.
Intuitive Eating Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police
The fourth Principle of Intuitive Eating is ‘Challenge the Food Police.’
The food police are all the internal thoughts and dialogue that assign moral value to the food, establish rigid food rules, and spark negative feelings and punishment for eating your favorite foods.
These voices stem from and are normalized and reinforced by societal and cultural messages, past dieting experiences, family dynamics, and comments from friends and family.
Examples of the food police include:
“I have to eat a veggie with every meal”
“I can’t have that cookie. Sugar is so bad for me”
“I’m so hungry and low energy, but I can’t start eating until noon”
“I can’t believe I just binged. I feel so fat and disgusting now. I can’t eat as much tomorrow now”
It’s okay to have food preferences or thoughts about food. The problem is when they turn into rules and make you feel bad about yourself or lead to punishment or compensation.
The key is to have non-judgemental awareness and self-compassion that help you meet your needs or adapt to challenging situations. For example:
“Eating a veggie with my meals helps to keep me fuller longer and provides my body with many healthy nutrients. I feel better when I eat more veggies, but I don’t need to stress if I can’t eat a serving at every meal”
“I understand why I ate so much food tonight. I didn’t eat as much as normal today and felt ravenous by the end of the day. It’s okay that it happened. It doesn’t make me a bad person or ruin my health. If I try to compensate for it tomorrow, the same thing may happen again”
Why This Principle is Important
The food police reinforce food rules and prevent you from becoming an Intuitive Eater.
Your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all interconnected. What you think will shape how you feel, which in turn drives what you do.
The food police are cognitive distortions (unhelpful thoughts) you have around food that can keep you trapped in harmful patterns.
Your thoughts around food can cause feelings of guilt, shame, frustration, or hopelessness.
These negative emotions can then lead to restrictive eating, binging, eating in secret, being distracted from the present moment, punishing yourself, purging, or other unhelpful or destructive behaviors.
The good thing is though, with practice, we have the ability to reprogram our brains.
To break free from the food police, it’s important to recognize and challenge these thoughts with a non-judgemental awareness and begin to restructure them in a more caring and flexible way to meet your needs.
This can help you break the diet cycle and become a more intuitive eater.
How to Incorporate It
Take note of some of the negative thoughts you notice around food or body image. Are there any trends or themes?
Identify a negative thought you have around food or body and write it down.
- Is this thought true?
- Is it helpful?
- Is it unhelpful or harmful?
Then write down three alternatives that are realistic, positive, and more helpful.
For example, “If I eat this pizza with my family, I will be unhealthy”
- Is this thought true? No. No food in isolation will make you unhealthy. Pizza consists of crust which is bread, and provides the body with carbohydrates and energy. The sauce is tomato-based and provides micronutrients. The cheese has protein and calcium. None of these foods alone are bad, and they aren’t bad in combination.
- Is it helpful? No, this thought is not adding any benefit to my life.
- Is it harmful? Yes, it’s causing stress and worry over eating and taking me out of the present moment with my family.
Three alternative thoughts:
- This pizza will satisfy my craving. I can enjoy it without guilt, and I will no longer have the craving.
- Instead of worrying about what I’m going to eat when I’m out with my family, I can be present in the moment and focus on making memories with them instead.
- Eating pizza will not cause me to be unhealthy.
Changing your brain doesn’t happen after just one time. Noticing and reframing negative thoughts takes practice over time. It can be easy to feel disheartened if you’re struggling in the beginning, but it does get easier with time. It can help to have a support system.
Additionally, it can be hard to reframe negative thoughts when you are in the heat of the moment. Those moments can be tough enough, and a lot of times, you don’t have the capacity to come up with an alternative thought.
Instead, it can help to come up with alternative thoughts before or after the situation when you’re in a more relaxed state.
Intuitive Eating Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The fifth principle of Intuitive Eating is ‘Discover the Satisfaction Factor.’
This principle encourages people to pay attention to the pleasure and satisfaction that food brings rather than focusing solely on nutritional value.
This can include savoring the taste, texture, and aroma of food, enjoying the social experience of eating with others, feeling the nostalgia or cultural connection of eating family recipes, and so much more.
The authors of Intuitive Eating refer to satisfaction as the hub of Intuitive Eating. Each of the principles leads to a more satisfying and enjoyable eating experience.
Why This Principle is Important
Food is meant to be enjoyed!
Unfortunately, for many people, enjoying good food brings on feelings of guilt or shame. Dieting strips away the joy of eating.
When you focus on finding an alternative, whether low-cal, low-carb, or any other trend, you lose the ability to truly find satisfaction with your meals.
It can lead to feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction with your meals. You may find yourself searching for something more, even though your body no longer feels hungry.
Let’s be real; no matter how hard you try to convince yourself, keto ice cream is no replacement for Ben and Jerry’s.
How to Incorporate It
Make your next meal more satisfying. Ask yourself what you truly want to eat. Sensory qualities to consider include:
- Taste This is the most obvious quality of food when considering what is satisfying. The taste of food can range from sweet to salty, sour to bitter, and everything in between.
- Texture The texture of food can also have a big impact on how enjoyable it is to eat. Foods can be crunchy, chewy, creamy, smooth, or have mixed textures.
- Temperature Are you craving something hot or something cold? This may be influenced by the weather!
- Aroma The aroma of food is often a strong predictor of how it tastes. The scent of food can whet your appetite and make it more appealing.
- Appearance The appearance of food can also play a role in how satisfying the experience is. Food that looks appetizing and visually appealing is more likely to be enjoyed. Also, consider the colors on your plate. If the plate is all beige, it might be a little boring. Throwing in some color can make it more appealing.
- Volume Does something light and airy sound appetizing, or are you craving something heavy and filling? Would you like a large portion of food or a small portion? This will be influenced by your level of hunger and when your next eating opportunity will be.
Other qualities that can affect the satisfaction of a meal include:
- Level of hunger
- Cultural or personal significance
- Social factors
….and so much more! What makes a meal a satisfying experience for you? Brainstorm all the qualities! Of course, most meals won’t meet every quality, and that’s okay. But are there one or two aspects you can add to make your meal more satisfying?
What you find satisfying and enjoyable may change as you start becoming more of an intuitive eater. The food you once thought you loved may become less desirable as you habituate to it. Keep an open mind and explore different foods, restaurants, cuisines, and cooking styles.
Eat mindfully and pay attention to the sensory qualities of food. Being curious about new tastes and textures can help you discover new sources of satisfaction.
Intuitive Eating Principle 6: Feel Your Fullness
The sixth principle of Intuitive Eating is ‘Feel your Fullness.’
This principle is about learning to tune into and honor your fullness. Take notice of when you reach the point of comfortable fullness, not overly stuffed, and not just barely satisfied.
It’s important not to turn this into a rule.
It’s perfectly normal to occasionally eat past comfortable fullness, especially when enjoying a delicious meal, eating food you don’t get to have often, or eating while socializing.
Eating past the point of comfortable fullness on occasion is a part of normal eating and nothing to feel guilty about.
Intuitive Eating is meant to be flexible. The key is approaching the situation with curiosity and compassion instead of judgment.
Why This Principle is Important
Learning to feel your fullness helps you to know how much food your body needs to feel your best and will lead to a more satisfying eating experience.
For example, comfortable fullness isn’t just the absence of hunger. If you stop eating when hunger subsides, you’ll likely find yourself searching for more food in a shorter amount of time.
Conversely, It’s also not eating to the point of feeling stuffed, which can be quite uncomfortable. This can happen out of habit, when you’re physically or mentally restricting your food intake, or if you’re eating distracted.
How much food you need to feel full will vary depending on many factors, such as the time and size of your last meal, the type of food you’re eating, your initial hunger level, and more.
How to Incorporate It
Different portions and combinations of food will vary in how long they keep you full.
For example, a big bowl of iceberg lettuce with no toppings or dressing might fill you up in the moment, but before you know it, your stomach will be growling.
Conversely, a peanut butter sandwich might not take up much space in your stomach but may keep you satisfied for a few hours.
Experiment with different combinations and potions of food.
Keep a food journal and write down what you ate, you’re level of fullness at the end of the meal, and how long it kept you full and satisfied.
Were you reaching for food in an hour, or did it keep you satisfied for 4 hours? What experience was most satisfying for you?
Remember, this isn’t about judging your eating habits. It’s simply a way to explore and discover what works best for you.
By paying attention to how different food combinations make you feel, you can create meals that leave you feeling nourished and satisfied.
Before attempting to adopt this principle, it’s suggested that you practice principle 2, ‘Honor your Hunger,’ and principle 3, ‘Make Peace with Food,’ first.
If you’re waiting until you’re ravenously hungry to eat, it’s going to be really hard to stop when you’re full.
Similarly, if you’re telling yourself you shouldn’t be eating a certain food, it will make it difficult to tune into your fullness cues. The food will be more desirable and difficult to stop eating.
Intuitive Eating Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Do you turn to food when bored, angry, sad, or lonely?
The seventh principle of Intuitive Eating is about fostering a healthy relationship with food and emotions, promoting self-awareness, and strengthening emotional well-being.
Emotional eating isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can be part of a healthy relationship with food. It’s normal to eat for comfort, distraction, celebration, or connection on occasion.
However, it can become a problem if food is the only coping tool for emotions. It can lead to feeling out of control or binge eating or causes feelings of distress or guilt.
This principle of Intuitive Eating is about bringing awareness to what you are feeling and finding more tools and coping strategies for your emotions.
This principle is also about taking away the stigma and shame of emotional eating that diet culture has created.
Guilt should not be part of enjoying a celebratory dinner or enjoying a cold and creamy bowl of ice cream while watching your favorite movie after a long and stressful week.
Why This Principle is Important
Emotions are not something that can be avoided or shut off. They are a necessary part of the human experience and provide us with clues as to what we need.
Turning to food may provide a temporary comfort or distraction from what you’re feeling, but ultimately it doesn’t address the root cause. It’s just going to delay it, make you feel even worse later, or potentially make the emotions stronger and harder to deal with.
By learning to identify and cope with emotions in a healthy way, you’re able to address your needs and experience a greater sense of emotional and overall well-being.
Taking care of yourself mentally is just as important as taking care of yourself physically.
How to Incorporate It
Next time you notice yourself reaching for a snack in the absence of true hunger, take a moment to pause and check in with yourself. This isn’t a commitment to stop eating. You can still choose the snack if you desire.
Ask yourself two questions.
- “What am I feeling?”
This may be hard to identify if you’re not used to it. It can help to refer to a feelings wheel. If you’re still having trouble identifying the emotion, you can label it as uncomfortable instead.
- “What do I need?”
What will help you deal with the feeling? It’s okay if you don’t know or if you’re not ready to deal with it. Sometimes a distraction from the feeling is the correct answer in the moment. Write down a few things that would help you in that moment. Choose an option that feels the most suitable.
Sometimes, it may be having the snack even though you’re not hungry, and that is okay. Other times, you may decide that journaling, calling a friend, going for a walk, or watching funny videos may be more effective.
Before working on Principle 7, it may be helpful to make sure you’re eating enough and you’ve made peace with food.
Both physical and mental food restriction can lead to loss of control eating, which can feel like emotional eating. Additionally, hunger can cause emotions like irritability, impatience, anger, etc.
A lot of times, people will think they are emotionally eating, but once they heal from the deprivation and restriction, the emotional eating tends to dissipate as well.
Intuitive Eating Principle 8: Respect Your Body
The eighth principle of Intuitive Eating is ‘Respect Your Body.’
Diet culture creates a negative body image by promoting the belief that ‘thinner is better’ and that changing your body through diet and exercise is the way to achieve self-worth and acceptance. Society idealizes unrealistic and unattainable appearance ideals.
In contrast, Principle 8 of Intuitive Eating is about treating your body with respect and care by meeting your needs, no matter how you feel about your image.
It’s a common misconception that this principle is about loving every part of your body at all times, but it actually doesn’t even necessarily mean loving your body at all.
It’s normal to have days where you don’t like your appearance. In fact, it’s common to have more bad body image days than good when you first start practicing Intuitive Eating.
Loving your appearance all the time isn’t a realistic expectation.
Additionally, changing the narrative from ‘I hate my body’ to ‘I love my body’ isn’t actually that helpful.
While it’s nice to feel confident in how you look, this keeps your attention and self-worth on appearance and how you look to the outside world.
When self-worth is determined by appearance, there is a higher risk of disordered eating and poorer mental and physical health.
Instead, this principle is about accepting your body as it is, appreciating all it can do, acknowledging your strengths, and accepting and accommodating it’s limitations.
It’s about showing your body care through gentle nutrition, intuitive movement, getting adequate sleep, buying clothes that fit your body, and so much more.
Why This Principle is Important
The foundation of Intuitive Eating is body acceptance. If you didn’t feel like you needed to change your body, you likely wouldn’t be restricting your food.
You have to heal your relationship with your body to heal your relationship with food. When you practice body respect, it becomes easier to practice the other Principles of Intuitive Eating.
Appreciating, accepting, and caring for your body is key to becoming an Intuitive Eater.
Research has found that body and weight dissatisfaction and appearance comparisons lead to disordered eating and poor mental and physical health outcomes.
Intuitive Eating, on the other hand, has been consistently associated with higher body appreciation, lower objectification, less body shame and dissatisfaction, less social comparison, less disordered eating, less stress, and higher quality of life (5).
When you let go of the constant pursuit of changing your body through restrictive dieting, you’re able to finally enjoy food without obsession or guilt and redirect your energy to time to things that truly matter to you.
How to Incorporate It
Start to shift your focus to all the things your body can do rather than just focusing on appearance.
By acknowledging and honoring your body’s capabilities, you’ll feel more satisfied with your body, and it can help to move away from self-objectification (evaluating yourself based solely on how you appear instead of internal qualities like personality, abilities, or values).
This can lead to improved body image, less anxiety, shame, and self-loathing. It can also be protective against disordered eating and exercise (6).
Reflect on the following functions your body performs and what you appreciate about them:
- Senses (hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell)
- Physical activity (running, playing sports, lifting weights)
- Self-care (sleeping, eating, hygiene)
- Creativity (writing, drawing, dancing)
- Health (regulating body temperature, healing from injuries, breathing)
- Communication (speaking, gesturing, sign language, hugging a loved one)
Next time you’re feeling too focused on your appearance, come back to this list and remind yourself of all the amazing things your body can do for you and how it enriches your life.
Even though you may be working on improving your body image, unfortunately, fatphobia and cultural appearance ideals are rampant in society. This can be really difficult to see and hear.
The good news is that you can actively limit your exposure to these. Take note of where it shows up in your life and make a plan for reducing it. For example:
- Unfollow social media accounts that promote harmful appearance ideals: Instead, follow accounts that promote body neutrality, intuitive eating, and self-compassion.
- Report diet ads and request not to be shown those types of ads: Many social media platforms allow users to report harmful advertisements and request not to be shown similar content in the future.
- Turn off TV shows that idealize the thin ideal or promote fatphobia: Look for shows and movies that celebrate body diversity and promote body neutrality.
- Seek out body-positive communities: Surround yourself with people who support and celebrate body diversity. Join online communities where you can connect with others who share your values.
- Read body-positive literature: There are many books, articles, and blog posts that promote body neutrality. Reading these materials can reinforce your own beliefs and values and provide you with a sense of community.
- Challenge cultural appearance ideals in conversations: If you hear someone making negative comments about bodies, speak up and challenge those views. Open up dialogue in a respectful way.
By limiting your exposure to unrealistic beauty standards, you can create a more empowering and uplifting environment for yourself and cultivate an attitude of respect and appreciation for all bodies, including your own.
Intuitive Eating Principle 9: Movement – Feel the Difference
The ninth principle of Intuitive Eating is ‘Movement – Feel the Difference.’
This principle is about finding movement that you enjoy and that makes you feel good rather than exercising to shrink or change your body.
Diet culture often frames exercise as a means of weight loss or building muscle to improve your physique. Many people link exercise solely to changing your body, and as a result, it often coincides with the diet cycle.
This can cause people to engage in inconsistent exercise patterns (only when they are on a diet) or to view exercise as a chore.
In reality, exercise isn’t really even a good tool for weight loss, although, for the sake of brevity, I’m not going to get into the science here.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a purpose for exercise or movement.
There are so many health and lifestyle benefits of exercise, regardless of weight. Such as:
- Improved self-esteem and body image
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Improved respiratory function
- Improved mood
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Improved cognition and memory
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases
- Increased focus
- Better energy
- Improved immune function
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased productivity
- Increased bone density
- Better balance and coordination
Enjoyable movement doesn’t have to be going to the gym or going for a run (although it certainly can be).
Forms of enjoyable movement can vary greatly from person to person or even change through various points of your life. Some examples of enjoyable movement include:
- Physical therapy for an injury or pain management
- Mind-body exercises like yoga
- Outdoor activities like gardening, going for hikes, or walking your dog
- Playing team sports
- Martial arts
- Rock climbing
The key is that it should not be viewed as something you have to do. Instead, it’s about listening to your body and finding movement you enjoy and that makes you feel good.
Of course, you’ll have days where you don’t want to do anything. Some days, it may be better to choose rest. On other days, you may feel better moving your body despite not wanting to.
Just like with tuning into your internal hunger and satiety cues, you’ll start to discover patterns of movement and rest that work best for you and your body.
It’s important to note that intuitive movement doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding structured exercise plans or never pushing yourself. It just means being in tune with your body, not overdoing it, finding a balance, and enjoying the process.
Why This Principle is Important
When you exercise to change your body or because you feel like it’s something you need to do, it can feel like just another item on your to-do list. It begins to feel like a chore, and you may dread it. It’s not an enjoyable experience, which can lead you to be inconsistent.
Additionally, If exercise has always been coupled with a weight-loss diet, you may only incorporate exercise into your life when you’re on a diet. It becomes all about the calorie burn instead of the benefits or how it makes you feel. Again, this can lead to inconsistency and negative feelings surrounding movement.
On the other extreme, if you adopt the toxic fitness mentality of “no days off” or “no pain, no gain,” it can lead to tuning out your body, overexercising, burnout, and injury. It may also be associated with negative feelings like guilt for missing a workout or not “pushing” yourself hard enough.
Remember, rest is just as important as movement, you don’t have to go all out for a workout to have benefits, exercise shouldn’t be ‘punishment,’ and there actually are valid reasons for taking days off.
How To Incorporate It
Make a list of all the reasons you exercise or move your body that have nothing to do with weight loss. What’s important to you?
For example, cardiovascular exercise gives you the energy to keep up with your kids. Lifting weights allows you to carry all the groceries inside in one trip. Yoga relaxes your mind at the end of a stressful day and helps you to sleep better.
Make a list of all the reasons movement is important to you that don’t involve changing your appearance. Come back to this list every time you feel yourself getting pulled back into exercising for weight loss/body changes.
Make sure you’re fueling your body properly for exercise. You may have some lingering diet culture thoughts that you should exercise fasted. Not only is this a myth, but it can also hurt your performance and make exercise less enjoyable.
Exercising without carbohydrates is like trying to power a device with a weak battery. Just as a device needs a strong battery to function properly, our bodies need glucose from carbohydrates to fuel our muscles and provide us with energy during physical activity.
Without enough fuel, you will feel sluggish, have low energy, and struggle with endurance, which makes exercise super frustrating and unenjoyable.
On the flip side, you also don’t want to eat a big meal loaded with fiber and fat right before an intense workout. This can upset your stomach and won’t give you the best energy boost.
A registered dietitian can help you determine how to fuel properly before a workout to feel your best.
Intuitive Eating Principle 10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
There is a misconception that Intuitive Eating is just about eating what you want when you want. If you look up Intuitive Eating on Instagram, you see a lot of cookies, donuts, and pizza.
To be fair, after years of restrictions, shame, and demonizing foods, this probably is the most exciting aspect of Intuitive Eating.
While giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, honoring your hunger and fullness, and finding satisfaction and enjoyment in eating without guilt are important aspects of Intuitive Eating, nutrition is important as well.
The tenth principle is about incorporating nutrition knowledge in a way that makes you feel your best and most energized while also being satisfying and enjoyable. It’s about melding your outer nutrition knowledge with your inner body awareness.
Why it’s important:
Nutrition is important. Eating nutrient-dense foods is an act of self-care. It’s a way to energize, nourish, and respect your body.
However, a lot of times, nutrition is viewed through a diet culture lens, in which certain foods are demonized, and others are put on a pedestal.
The world of nutrition through a diet culture lens is confusing, inflexible, and non-personalized.
There is a lot of contradicting advice, fear-mongering, inflexibility, complexity or over-simplification, guilt, and rules.
Instead, gentle nutrition is flexible, satisfying, personalized, and rooted in self-respect. Mental health is just as important as physical health for overall well-being.
Gentle nutrition recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all in nutrition. We all have different genetics, health conditions, preferences, goals, activity levels, and more. Intuitive Eating honors these differences.
We also know that no food in isolation is bad for you. One meal, day, or even week of eating is not going to ruin your health (given you don’t have a food allergy or certain health condition such as Celiac Disease).
What really matters is your overall pattern of eating over time, which should include a balance and variety of food.
When nutrition is seen through a diet-culture lens, it strips away the joy and satisfaction of eating.
Food serves more purpose than just providing us with energy and nutrients. It also plays a role in our social connections, nostalgic memories, cultural traditions, and overall satisfaction.
How to Incorporate It
Gentle Nutrition is the last principle for a reason. Nutrition can only be gentle once you’ve healed your relationship with food.
If you’re not eating enough, your body won’t function properly. You’ll experience more hunger and cravings, which may lead to binge eating.
If you still view food as “good” or “bad,” this principle may be turned into another food rule.
That doesn’t mean you can’t start working on gentle nutrition until you’ve gone through all the other principles, but it’s important to be aware of them and not turn gentle nutrition into inflexible food rules.
With that being said, incorporating gentle nutrition is about adding in nutrient-dense foods rather than taking out foods, which promotes sustainability, flexibility, and satisfaction in eating.
Gentle Nutrition is not about eating perfectly all the time. There is no right or wrong way to incorporate gentle nutrition, and “healthy eating” is going to look different for everyone. For this reason (and for simplicity and not turning this already way too long post into a whole book), I’m not going to get into all the details of nutrition here.
However, examples of Gentle Nutrition may include:
- Eating a side of carrots and hummus with your sandwich because the heart-healthy fiber keeps you fuller longer, keeps you regular, and provides a satisfying crunch.
- Pairing carbohydrates with protein and fat to stabilize blood sugar with diabetes.
- Setting a timer to remind yourself to eat because a medication you take knocks out your appetite, and you know eating regular meals helps you feel your best and not binge eat at night.
- Eating some gummy bears on a long run because the quick-digesting carbohydrates provide immediate fuel without upsetting your stomach, so you improve your run performance and endurance.
- Avoiding gluten from a place of self-care because you have Celiac Disease and you know the effect it can have.
- Honoring your craving for potato chips as a snack and pairing it with a low-fat cheese stick for some protein and cucumber slices for some micronutrients and fiber to be more filling and provide you with more stable energy.
It’s important to be mindful of the line between incorporating gentle nutrition and turning it into a strict rule.
Food rules are often based on diet culture and can be rigid, inflexible, and typically aren’t grounded in science. They can lead to binge eating, missing out on enjoyable experiences, or guilt and shame when broken.
On the other hand, food preferences are flexible, based on taste, culture, internal knowledge, and personal experience. They’re a way of enjoying satisfying meals and snacks, respecting your body, and finding what makes you feel your best.
It can be challenging to differentiate between a food rule and a food preference. A food rule is something you feel like you have to do or should do and is often something you’ve heard from an external source, like an influencer or magazine article.
On the other hand, a food preference is based on your own taste preferences or how certain foods make you feel. It’s based on internal knowledge and is flexible, allowing for experimentation and adaptation.
To determine whether something is a food rule or preference, consider whether it’s based on internal or external factors, whether it’s flexible or inflexible, and whether breaking the rule causes feelings of guilt or anxiety.
Here is an example:
- Food rule: Sugar is bad and must be avoided at all costs.
- Food preference: A high-sugar snack causes my energy to spike and then crash, and I don’t feel my best after consuming it. On the other hand, fruit is high in sugar but also has beneficial fiber and micronutrients that make my body run efficiently. If I pair fruit with protein and/or fat, it makes a satiating snack and gives me stable energy.
Should the Ten Intuitive Eating Principles be Followed In Order?
While the principles flow and build on each other in a nice order, they definitely do not need to be followed in order. Again, they are not rules, and there’s no right or wrong way to practice Intuitive Eating. You don’t have to perfect one to move on to the next.
Everyone’s journey with Intuitive Eating is unique and may require focus on different principles at different times. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach and should be adapted to your individual needs, goals, lifestyle, and concerns.
Who Created the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating?
The Principles of Intuitive Eating were developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995 in their first rendition of the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works.
It has since grown into a whole movement with over 200 studies validating the efficacy and thousands of registered dietitians, therapists, and other healthcare practitioners trained to be Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating PDF
Want to learn more about the 10 Intuitive Eating Principles?
Download my free Beginner’s Guide to Intuitive Eating to help you get started. It includes a concise summary of each principle and even more practical tips on how to implement them in your daily life.
Keep it handy as a reference and start your journey towards a healthier relationship with food.
Final Thoughts and Next Steps
I hope this blog post has provided you with a good understanding of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating and how they can help you develop a healthy relationship with food and your body.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your journey and really dive into Intuitive Eating, I’d love to help you along the way! I offer one on one nutrition and intuitive eating counseling services to help you find food freedom.
My one-on-one services are tailored to your specific needs and concerns. We work to develop a plan together that will help you achieve your goals and fit into your life. Whether you’re looking to break free from the diet cycle, overcome emotional or binge eating, or stop hating your body, I’m here to help.
I also understand that everyone’s preferences are different, and it can help to explore other options as well. Check out my blog post on how to choose an Intuitive Eating coach that’s the best fit for you. You can also check out the Intuitive Eating Counselor Directory to find other counselors trained in Intuitive Eating,
If you’re not quite ready for one-on-one counseling but still want to learn more about Intuitive Eating, check out these other blog posts on Intuitive Eating and Body Image:
- Intuitive Eating for Weight Loss [Everything you Need to Know]
- Overcome Bathing Suit Anxiety – Tips from an Intuitive Eating Dietitian
- Intuitive Eating Before and After [What to Expect When You Start Intuitive Eating]
- Why Intuitive Eating Doesn’t Work: An Expert’s Perspective
- Intuitive Eating Hunger Scale [+Free PDF]
I believe everyone deserves to have a healthy relationship with food and their body, and I’m here to help you achieve that. Reach out and let me know how I can help! I’m happy to answer any questions.
Kristin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetics with a concentration in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has experience conducting systematic reviews and writing and evaluating scientific literature in peer-reviewed journals. She has a goal of making evidence-based nutrition information accessible and easy to understand.