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Intuitive Eating Journey

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Intuitive Eating 101

Intuitive eating is the process where we learn to use our bodies cues, intuition and natural wisdom to make choices surrounding food. 

The journey to intuitive eating follows 10 principles.  These 10 principles are intended to be followed in order. Trying to skip steps or start out of order will likely drive you even further into diet thinking. 

10 Principles of Intuitive eating: 

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make Peace With Food
  4. Challenge The Food Police
  5. Discover The Satisfaction Factor
  6. Feel Your Fullness
  7. Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Movement-Feel The Difference
  10. Gentle Nutrition

While all of this aspiring jargon sounds like an easy sell for anyone wanting to build body trust, feel better physically and emotionally, and radically change the world- there’s a catch. 

That catch is this: Most of us have spent most of our time on planet earth unlearning every physical and emotional cue that our body has to tell us.  

We look at steps such as: feel your fullness and think no brainer.  I’ve felt full a million times!  

But what does that really mean?  

What if I told you there are about a dozen levels of both physical and emotional hunger, and all are valid and important to understand our body?  Suddenly honoring our hunger seems to feel a little less clear cut. 

We can utilize tools such as an intuitive eating hunger scale to map out how our bodies are really feeling as we move throughout each meal and each hour of the day. 

In other words- there is WAY more to learn about our relationship with food than starting when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re full. 

Let’s kick this journey off by exploring what intuitive eating is NOT!

Why Intuitive Eating Doesn’t Work

Intuitive eating sounds really simple. TOO simple.  People are ready to jump in, rush through the steps, and get right back to the part where they believe we’ve got a solid list of do’s and don’ts. 

There are two things that westernized culture LOVES.  These include: 

  • A list of rules when it comes to foods we can and can’t eat
  • Linear processes that get to an end result

Why? Americans are OBSESSED with control. Systems and rules make us feel safe. 

By embarking on the intuitive eating journey, we’re making it loud and clear we’re ready to ditch the diet for good!

But intuitive eating is not linear.  And it doesn’t have any hard and fast rules. This throws new intuitive eaters through a major reality shift.  

Here’s the reasons intuitive eating won’t work: 

  • Your treating it like a diet
  • You desire an end result that yields a smaller body
  • You’re expecting the process to be linear
  • You don’t embrace challenges with kindness
  • You’re desperate for “progress” which isn’t what intuitive eating is about
  • You have a loud eating disorder voice that disrupts your bodies internal cues

There are some people who should NOT be using intuitive eating.  This mainly consists of those experiencing an eating disorder where hunger and fullness cues are deeply skewed. 

If this is you, consider working with a HAES dietitian to develop a carefully constructed eating disorder recovery meal plan. 

Intuitive Eating Meal Prep

This is actually kind of a tough one in the intuitive eating world because so much of what we teach focuses on unconditional permission to eat.  Many translate that to enjoying whatever they want whenever they want and as much as they would like.  

This is all great- and really i’m all for it!  But how can we truly know what we want AND have access to it when we want it if we don’t plan ahead in some cases. 

Meal prepping in intuitive eating actually INCREASES our ability to eat intuitively as we will have a greater variety of options.  

Using our hands to get creative with food is also another excellent way to connect with the food and TRULY get the most nourishment out of the full experience. 

Here are some things that can help with intuitive eating meal prep: 

  • Keep a running grocery list.  Write down what you’re craving on the grocery list as it comes to you. 
  • Keep a well stocked pantry of dried goods and spices
  • Chop up veggies as soon as they come home from the grocery
  • Give everything a spot.  This includes potatoes, meat products and candy bars. 
  • Keep a running list of your favorite meals and snacks
  • Take 20 minutes or so each week to prepare some of your favorite staple snacks. Some of mine are homemade trail mix and granola, salsa and hummus.   
  • If you enjoy salad, keep salad mix on hand. This can either be something prepped yourself or store bought. 
  • Keep a veggie tray on hand if you’re too lazy to chop them. 
  • Keep frozen meals in the freezer for days you don’t feel like cooking. 

Sometimes, it’s difficult to think about preparing meals as being congruent with intuitive eating.  Here are some things to remember when it comes to intuitive eating meal prep so it doesn’t turn into a diet: 

  • Veggies will probably always lose if we’re looking for a convenient in the moment choice. This isn’t because we desire them, but sometimes because chopping a head of broccoli sounds a lot less enticing than grabbing a ready made bag of chips. 
  • We can have a plan for meals and snacks without having rules. Our plan can also easily change if our body tells us that isn’t what it wants right now.  
  • Having a variety of foods to choose from IS allowing food freedom.  This includes fresh produce, salads as well as cookies and ice cream. 
  • Having a grocery list is not like having a set of rules. It’s about honoring our emotions about food from one grocery trip to the next so we can keep the variety alive in the home. 
  • You can ABSOLUTELY get things that are not on your grocery list. Again, it’s about guidelines. 

Challenge The Food Police

When you are thinking about beginning meal prep during your intuitive eating journey, this is a KEY time to challenge the food police!

What does it really mean to challenge the food police?  Here are a few things to know: 

  • The food police is YOUR inner critic.  
  • Imagine a stop sign or say “no” loudly when the food police tries to mess up your meal prep with ideas of “good food, bad food, healthy food, or unhealthy food.”
  • Practice food neutrality 
  • Dismiss diet talk

Following these guidelines will really help you on your journey to intuitive eating while doing meal prep. 

Trust Your Body

Intuitive Eating For Athletes

Our bodies are experiencing new sensations and physical limits as an athlete.  Intuitive eating for athletes should recognize that: 

  • The body is changing. Thus our previous experience with how food makes our body feel may also be shifting. 
  • The new sensations we feel around hunger and fullness as we enjoy our sport might be different than what we are used to. Embrace it. 
  • It may be necessary to explore foods in a new way when we’re heavy into a sport.  For example, we might need a pre and post meal snack which could feel unfamiliar.  Embrace the feelings in the body. 
  • Explore different food combinations pre and post meal such as proteins and carbs, proteins and fats and in varying quantities. Be honest with how these choices fuel your performance and make your body feel before and after a workout. 
  • Think of starting a new workout routine like making a new friend.  We’re not sure exactly what “fits” yet.  We shouldn’t expect the relationship to be exactly the same as our other relationships.  We will have to try new foods, new meal times, new quantities to see what fits. 
  • Exercise means that we need to up our food intake.  However, the body might not be receptive to this right away.  
  • We may experience extreme hunger as we increase exercise.  This is okay to honor

Intuitive Eating For Teens

  • Teens are caught in a weird place between independence and dependence on parents.  Teens need the opportunity to eat intuitively while still relying on others to meal prep and grocery shop. 
  • Ask your teen what their likes and dislikes are.  These likely could have changed since childhood.  
  • Keep all food favorites in the house so teens can practice making their own food choices
  • If a teen says they don’t like something- ask why.  Is it the way that it’s cooked?  What is the food paired with?  Often there are easy solutions for this that aren’t explored and and the food isn’t accepted
  • Introduce new foods frequently. Taste bodies change as the body changes. 
  • The teen knows their body best!  Sometimes they may feel ravenously hungry, while other days may feel less hungry.  Let both of these states be explored as long as it is safe to do so (for example no rapid weight loss)
  • The body IS going to feel unfamiliar. Try to explore these new changes with curiosity rather than associating them with being good, bad, healthy, unhealthy or holding any type or moral value.
  • Let teens help with grocery lists and/or shopping
  • Don’t demonize foods. 
  • Recognize and honor the social connections that come with food

Intuitive Eating during Pregnancy 

This can be a tricky one. SOOOOO much of diet culture messaging attaches our value as a woman to the ability to keep their body EXACTLY THE SAME while producing a human being. 

Nevermind that we literally grow an entire organ (the placenta) in order to harness our new tiny human. 

Here are some tips for intuitive eating as the body changes rapidly: 

  • Hold two balls of thought about sensation at once.  Nausea can make us feel like we don’t want to eat ANYTHING for days.  However, eating certain foods will calm the nausea.  We have to explore new ways in which our body responds to food. 
  • Honor extreme hunger without limits
  • Don’t restrict foods just because they don’t seem “conventional” (unless of course it is a non food product that is not safe to consume.  
  • There is no normal in pregnancy when it comes to eating and what our body craves.  Don’t try to make old habits fit an evolving body. 
  • You don’t have to eat vegetables, or anything else that might sound repulsing for that matter!  
  • Ask yourself what your body needs RIGHT NOW frequently.  Don’t base your decisions on previous choices or food rules. 
  • It’s important to remember that not everything about pregnancy is going to feel “good.”  That doesn’t mean our body isn’t doing exactly what it’s supposed to!  We often get trapped in feeling like comfort must be achieved at all times.  This might not be a reality during all parts of your pregnancy.  
  • Consider not weighing yourself or asking your provider to refrain from letting you know weights. Many providers will use pregnancy as an opportunity to practice weight centricism which can disrupt your relationship with food.

Eat Normally

What it means to “eat normally” is continuously changing as we go through our lives in our bodies.  Our bodies are NEVER the same, even from one day to the next. So our eating should not be either. 

What it means to eat normally will be very different for: 

  • Bodies that are growing
  • Pregnancy
  • Differences in activity level from one day to the next
  • Temperature
  • Food environment (what’s available, travel, financial security). 
  • Appetite

Eating normally IS intuitive eating. This means its HIGHLY variable from one person to the next- essentially solidifying that there is no true “normal eating.”

When we start to place rules and restrictions around eating- we can be assured that our eating is no longer normal.  Thus efforts to mimic someone else’s “normal eating” will always sway you into disrupted eating.

Can You Eat Intuitively And Lose Weight? 

I always tell my clients during the first session- When you begin your intuitive eating journey one of three things will happen. You will either lose weight, gain weight, or your body weight will stay the same. 

The goal of intuitive eating is NOT weight loss.  In fact, to be on a trajectory of shrinking your body will most certainly result in being unsuccessful with intuitive eating.  

But CAN you lose weight with intuitive eating?  Absolutely!  The important thing is that we are allowing our body to reach its genetic blueprint for body weight. 

We shouldn’t be concerned with seeing some weight loss during intuitive eating unless the weight loss is very rapid (more than 2 lbs per week). 

So many of us are so out of touch with our body before we begin our intuitive journey that we are constantly engaging in: 

When we let go of these restrictions, we may find our bodies changing.  It’s okay for weight loss to be a part of our intuitive eating journey. But it should NEVER be the goal.  

Intuitive Eating Overeating

Overeating is one of the scariest things you are likely to experience at some part of your intuitive eating journey. 

As we introduce restricted foods into our lives for the first time this can feel unfamiliar. Our of control. 

We are learning to connect with our bodies and our bodies are learning what it is like to experience a wide spectrum of food choices without limits. 

Our bodies have natural defense mechanisms in place to keep us from restricting food.  Thus, once food is provided without limits, it needs to familiarize itself with the territory!

This can last for several weeks or several months. It WILL feel unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable.  But that does NOT mean you are doing anything wrong. 

Instead of trying to repress these emotions and once again place limits on your food, embrace the emotion.  Here are some things that can help you to move through “overeating” as we learn intuitive eating. 

  1. Move through each emotion. Say the way you are feeling out loud or keep a journal. 
  2. Fact check yourself.  Did you truly overeat?  Or did you stop when you were full? Where were you on the hunger fullness scale? 
  3. Don’t compare the standard for what YOUR body needs to what you see others consuming.  The term “overeating” is subjective and doesn’t truly exist except for when it comes to bypassing our own internal cues. 
  4. If you do overeat, walk through the experience with grace.  Retract on the experience and think about when you started to feel the first signs of fullness. 
  5. There are no wrong answers. Everything is an opportunity to learn more about our body. 

Intuitive Eating PDF

Intuitive eating is an assortment of very simple concepts that can seem very unfamiliar. 

The most common phrase I hear when I start working with people in their intuitive eating journey and we discuss unconditional permission to eat is “but… how do I do that?”

People are drawn to the idea of a golden map that tells them exactly what, where, when and how much to eat that will be the ultimate key to eat normally. It’s ironic how if we were to say this out loud-it’s easy to see how contradictory those ideas are!

This is why I’ve created this easy to use intuitive eating PDF. It outlines the principles of intuitive eating in a snapshot view!  Download this free intuitive eating PDF to get: 

  • A synopsis of the 10 principles of intuitive eating 
  • Key points from each principle of intuitive eating
  • Helpful tips for intuitive eating at different stages of change in the body
  • Guidance through your intuitive eating journey

This intuitive eating pdf is a great tool to download, put in the kitchen, or share with your friends to help you make peace with food

Intuitive Eating FAQs

What Are The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating?

1. Reject the diet mentality 2. Honor your hunger 3. Make Peace With Food 4.Challenge The Food Police5.Discover The Satisfaction Factor
6. Feel Your Fullness 7.Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness 8. Respect Your Body 9.Movement-Feel The Difference
10. Gentle Nutrition

Can You Eat Intuitively And Lose Weight?

Yes. But it is never the goal of intuitive eating. Making weight loss your reason to intuitively eat will ensure you do not achieve true food freed. Those that intuitively eat will either lose weight, gain weight or their weight will remain the same.

What Does Intuitive Eating Look Like?

Intuitive eaters honor both their physical and emotional hunger and practice food neutrality to achieve food freedom.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Intuitive Eating?

We will begin to see intuitive eating choices in about 6 months of consistently implementing the practice. To be a solid intuitive eater, you should expect it to take about 2 years. Intuitive eating is a cumulation of learning and unlearning and the process is not linear.

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!