Intuitive Eating vs Diet Culture

It feels as though almost every day a new diet surfaces that is ‘guaranteed’ to help people lose weight quickly or is portrayed as the only acceptable and moral way to eat. However, restrictive diets can actually cause weight gain, nutrient imbalances, hair loss, decreased sport performance and fitness. Not to mention the emotional toll it can take, making us obsess and feel guilt about our food choices. As a dietitian and nutritionist, I’m constantly being asked by both clients and friends to describe my ‘ideal diet.’ While I do believe that what we eat is important, even more important is how we eat. My favourite approach to eating is based on tuning into your body and how food makes it feel. This approach is called intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating is not a diet, but a philosophy that promotes a healthy relationship with food. It relies on strengthening your body’s natural signals of hunger and satiety to regulate what you eat.  It is a non-judgmental way to approach food and your body, instead of focusing on strictly weight loss. 

Question to think about: If a food did not influence your weight, how would you eat differently? 

10 Main Principles of Intuitive Eating

  1. Reject the diet mentally.
    • Diet culture tries to offer us quick fixes to keep us in a permanent cycle of body dissatisfaction and food obsession.
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  2. Honor your hunger.
    • This is paying attention to things such as level of hunger, if hungry, and when hungry. 
  3. Make peace with food.
    • Restrictions can cause food deprivation.  Food deprivation can cause bingeing.
    •  Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. 
  4. Challenge the food police. 
    • Pay attention to biased and harmful thoughts regarding food and the body. 
    • Your self-worth is not related to how you eat.  
    • There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods.
  5. Feel your fullness.
    • Pay attention to level of fullness, satiety, and reasons that usually cause you to stop eating. 
    • This principle focuses on whether it is your head or body that determines if you stop eating.
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor.
    • This means not being scared to try new things, having satisfaction in food preferences, respecting hunger and satiety, decreasing ingestion rate, and decreasing disinhibition.
  7. Cope with feelings without using food.
    • Eating can only calm emotions short term. 
    • Be aware of what your body/soul needs, and find ways of meeting those needs. 
  8. Respect your body. 
    • Don’t compare your body and respect diversity.
  9. Exercise-  Feel the difference.
    • Move in a way that feels good to you.
  10. Honor your health- Gentle nutrition.
    • Include the food groups and try new foods.
    • Don’t get swept up in the latest trend.
    • Find balance.


3 Questions to ask yourself when deciding to eat:

Do I really want to eat this?

Will I enjoy this now or later?

How will my body feel if I eat this food now? 

This approach helps get rid of the “I shouldn’t be having this” thought and helps overindulgence that may occur in the future. 


The Bottom Line 

It is important to give yourself unconditional permission to eat, while also tuning into your body’s signals. Pay attention to physical cues such as hunger pains, irritability, lightheadedness, stomach growling vs emotional cues such as boredom, anxiety, stress, etc. Food should be used to address physical cues and to properly fuel and nourish your body. Aim to choose foods that ultimately make your body feel good. 


If you’d like more support in adopting an intuitive eating style, contact our Okanagan-based, nationally recognized dietitian and nutritionist.


This post was written in collaboration with 3rd year dietetics student Cassidy Blackwin.