Ditching Diet Culture and Embracing Intuitive Eating

Person with long curly hair sits at table eating bagel and drinking juiceWhat if I told you that you could feel healthy, satisfied, balanced, and never have to diet again? You might assume I was about to sell you on the latest and greatest fad food-and-exercise trend. With an abundance of dieting products all promising to be the diet to end all diets, it’s no wonder you might harbor a healthy dose of skepticism.

When I was introduced to intuitive eating, I was confused—eat what I want, when I want, and trust my body to do the rest? Yeah, right. This flew in the face of everything I learned growing up about nutrition, health, and exercise. How would I know when enough is enough? I realized I did not hold my body as a trustworthy source of information and knowledge. In my practice as an eating disorder therapist, and with a lot of personal reflection and learning, I have grown to love the philosophy of intuitive eating.

There are 10 main principles of intuitive eating. While they are all important, I will focus on a few I have found to be helpful in my life and as a therapist.

1. Diet is a four-letter word.

As in, Mom-will-wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap four-letter word. Intuitive eating asks us to reject the idea someone or something else can dictate what you eat. With few exceptions, most foods are good foods and can provide nutrition to our bodies. Rejecting diets allows the intuitive eater to place the focus back on their body—the vessel receiving this nutrition—and start to hone in on its cues.

2. Honor the body’s hunger and fullness cues.

Can you imagine if we had to regulate how often we went to the bathroom rather than trusting our natural “I need to go” signals?

Our bodies send us signals all day about our thirst, hunger, need for movement or stillness, and need for sleep. Can you imagine if we had to regulate how often we went to the bathroom rather than trusting our natural “I need to go” signals? This is what diet culture has taught us—to override the body’s signals in the service of external rules. We trust the body’s cues to go to the bathroom; an intuitive eater’s work is to extend that trust to fullness and satiety sensations. Even the types of foods our bodies want in a given moment can be heard if we learn to listen. To start on this path, take some intentional deep breaths before you sit down for your meal; make the meal environment welcoming and safe, with limited distractions; and stop about halfway through the meal to check in with yourself about fullness and satisfaction.

3. Respect emotions without using food.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of emotional eating. Food can be a numbing agent to help us through difficult emotions. Intuitive eating teaches us that emotion states are not solved through food. If anything, emotional eating delays coping with the emotion for later and adds the discomfort of having overeaten. By honoring the body’s hunger and fullness cues, we can check in with ourselves in times of distress to see if we need food. If not, we can turn to other, more productive coping methods. Sitting with uncomfortable emotions, journaling, music, or talking with a therapist or friend may provide the relief we seek through food.

I encourage you to consider how intuitive eating may impact your life, especially if you want to learn healthier ways to relate to your body and food. If you or someone you know struggles with chronic dieting, body image, or disordered eating, consider seeking out a therapist who can help you build trust in your body.


10 principles of intuitive eating. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mandy Beth Rubin, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

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  • Deanna

    May 1st, 2018 at 1:02 PM

    I love the concept of intuitive eating. If only it was so easy! Emotional eating is my weakness. Until I figure out how to do something else with my emotions, it will be my kryptonite.

  • Mandy Rubin LPC

    May 2nd, 2018 at 11:47 PM

    Deanna I completely agree that intuitive eating can be quite a challenge especially before we know how to manage our emotions effectively and compassionately. I encourage you to find a therapist in your area who may be able to help you try out new coping skills and a safe place to practice them.

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