The key principles of intuitive eating

By Gabrielle Morse

Dr Megan Rossi in a lab looking through a microscope

Intuitive eating is an empowering approach for food and movement, it is researched to improve our relationship with food, our bodies and movement. Intuitive eating provides multiple tools including regulating your hunger and appetite, elements of mindful eating, rejecting diet culture and looking to move your body for enjoyment. 

It is important to know that intuitive eating is not intended as a weight loss tool;  instead, it is a sustainable, life-long approach to eating and moving your body for enjoyment. Intuitive eating has been shown to improve body appreciation and satisfaction, as well as  self-esteem and positive emotional functioning. Positive emotional functioning relates to having the tools to regulate emotions with strategies which are more healthful, instead of using food to cope with emotions. Intuitive eating helps you to look after yourself with compassion and kindness; this likely explains why intuitive eating is felt to improve mood, compared to restrictive diets which are well researched to increase depressive symptoms. 

This article will explore what intuitive eating is, the science behind it and its 10 key principles.  

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is a concept that was first published in a book in 1995 by two experienced eating disorder dietitians called Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s based on their experiences supporting clients and has over 100 scientific studies to date which show its health benefits:

  • improved well-being
  • reduced risk of eating disorders
  • improved blood biomarkers, e.g., blood sugar and cholesterol 

Tribole and Resch define intuitive eating as “A self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It’s a personal process of honouring your health by paying attention to the messages of your body and meeting your physical and emotional needs. It’s an inner journey of discovery that puts you front and centre.” 

The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. These pillars of health reflect what intuitive eating aims to help people achieve. It’s not about weight loss; aiming to change your weight is counteractive to intuitive eating, although it may happen when following its core principles. At its core, intuitive eating is about finding ‘authentic health’. This is the journey of being able to “achieve a healthy relationship with food, mind, and your body”.

The 10 principles of intuitive eating

These core principles explore either “cultivating attunement” (connecting with your body’s signals and experiences) or “removing obstacles to attunement”.

Picture of woman buying into diet culture

1. Reject the diet mentality

The diet mentality can be described as a mindset where people are caught up in thoughts of particular diet plans, diet programmes, restrictions and particular eating rules. This way of thinking interferes with your body and mind connecting with your genuine eating experiences. 

Picture of woman choosing not to honour hunger

2.  Honour your hunger

Hunger is the fundamental signal intuitive eating aids you to reconnect with so you can develop and move forward to your authentic health. Hunger is a natural signal your body needs nourishment through food. After several attempts at restrictive diets (known as chronic dieting), we can become out of sync with our hunger cues. Ignoring hunger creates a biological cascade where we’re both psychologically and physically craving food which can lead to overeating. 

Finding a balanced relationship with food

3.  Make peace with food

Tribole and Resch have the perfect quote on this fundamental principle: “You can’t make peace with your eating by declaring a war on your body or the foods you put into it”. It’s a powerful statement highlighting the importance of removing judgement from eating to help you find your balanced relationship with how you eat, drink and move your body. 

Woman accepting food policing without challenging the rules

4.  Challenge the food police

Chronic dieting can instill many “food rules” such as “carbs are bad”, “I shouldn’t eat X food, it is full of Y”, “I can’t eat now”. These food rules can make you feel policed by food, and trapped in the diet mentality. Challenging these thoughts and following the other intuitive eating principles ultimately reconnects us with our body’s ability to nourish itself.

Picture of unfinished plate due to person honouring their fullness

5.  Respect your fullness

As with hunger, our body signals when it’s full when we’re physically and psychologically satisfied. Understandably, we can be out of sync with this after chronic dieting, especially if we’ve not yet found how to honour our hunger. 

Two people sitting down, eating pizza and laughing

6.  Discover the satisfaction factor

Food is so much more than the macronutrients it provides, and food should be just as much about enjoyment as it is about nourishment. Denying the pleasure experienced from eating is denying yourself the whole experience of life and can hold you back from your health goals. Allowing yourself to feel satisfaction from eating is a powerful tool. 

Picture of person honouring their emotions through journaling without the need for food

 7.  Honour your feelings without using food 

Many of life’s events have food and drink at their core, e.g. celebrating birthdays, religious or cultural festivals, or perhaps having a cup of tea with some biscuits or a glass of wine after a tough day. We use food and drink as part of celebrating and pick-me-ups. Having food to soothe emotions isn’t wrong. For some, food might be the only coping mechanism for difficult emotions, and it can be liberating to explore other tools to cope with a range of feelings. 

Two women hugging

8.  Respect your body

Genetically, our body size and shape are predetermined and trying to change this is going against our biology. It is entirely possible to have health at all sizes, remembering that health relates to sleep, stress, quality of our relationships, mood, enjoying movement (and so much more!), not just our weight. We can respect our body for the functions it allows us to complete, such as hugging our relatives and allowing us to stand and cook for friends. Respecting your body is equally about treating yourself with compassion, as this is known to help us make nourishing and satisfying food choices in the long term.

A woman sitting down, cross legged with her workout gear on

9.  Exercise — feel the difference

Connecting with how your body feels when moving, and dropping the thoughts of calorie burning, is liberating. Having a goal of losing weight isn’t a long-term motivating factor for moving more and can demoralise us from doing so if the scales don’t shift how we want them to. Changing this mindset and feeling the difference goes a long way to helping you find your authentic health. Also, did you know that exercise encourages diversity within our community of microbes in our gut!

Photo of person having a meal practising mindful eating

10.  Honour your health with gentle nutrition

Gentle nutrition is about honouring your body and making progress rather than achieving perfection. It’s the consistency and overall pattern that counts. This is the final principle because focusing on nutrition at the start of your journey can hold you back from the other vital steps. This step is sometimes thought of as the paradox of intuitive eating, and people assume you can’t have this and the other 9 principles in your life – you can!

Authentic health can integrate with health guidelines and your own specific needs, e.g., allergies, improving your gut health, managing diabetes, and more. You’re still in tune with your body’s hunger, fullness, and satisfaction signals. You’re in a place where you can be free from anxiety about achieving health while being in touch with the rhythm of your body. 

Getting support with intuitive eating

This article was authored by Gabrielle Morse. If you’d like to incorporate intuitive eating into your life, or need support with a symptom or condition, you can book an appointment with Gabrielle or any member of our specialist team here.

Note: If you’re having eating disorder treatment from a team or are seeing a therapist, please check with them first. They’ll already know your background, your struggles, and if it’s right for you. Your well-being is the top priority.


A list of studies published on intuitive eating –


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