Sep. 25. 2019
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

What is intuitive eating? Intuitive eating is a way of living, eating, and connecting with your body for your unique health.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating has roots in evidence-based research regarding the health benefits associated with intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is a framework for long-term health that uses behavior change, psychology, self-awareness, and intuition practices instead of restrictive diet plans or food rules to follow.

Happily, we’re seeing intuitive eating become more mainstream conversation as the rise of non-diet culture gains momentum. At Nutrition Stripped, intuitive and mindful living and eating is a cornerstone of our coaching process with clients and has been part of our philosophy as a company since day one.

Intuitive eating is a way of eating and living that’s unique to you — at its core, it’s a way of connecting with your unique food and body needs.


The term intuitive eating was founded in 1995 by two Registered Dietitians by the name of Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch — these two dietitians created a framework involving 10 principles for practicing intuitive eating.

The intuitive eating movement started prior to this coined terminology with practitioners such as psychotherapist Susie Orbach in 1978 with her work with the psychology of dieting in women, author Geneen Roth in the early 1980s speaking to emotional eating, and Registered Dietitian Thelma Wayler in 1973 started a weight management program that focuses on emotional eating and lifestyle changes for long-term health.

With the history dating back as early as the 1970s why has it taken so long for us as a society to take note of this style of living and eating? Diet culture, societal pressures, media exposure, body image, diet plans, and more have a lot to do with this.

Some keywords or phrases you might encounter when learning more about intuitive eating or practitioners of this philosophy are words such as intuition, intuitive eating coach, anti-diet, anti-diet culture, anti-diet dietitian, IE, HAES (Health At Every Size), and more. For the sake of this article, we’re exploring intuitive eating and the principles that make this concept up.

What Is Intuition?

What is intuition and what does it have to do with your habits around health and nutrition? A lot when it comes to the intuitive eating framework and in general living a life that’s more self-aware and connected to your body (mind-body).

Intuition is a core knowing, it’s a connection and self-awareness. You can’t out-think your intuition because intuition is not thought-based, it’s feeling-based. As soon as you think you can explain your intuition, it’s not your intuition.

As soon as you think about or explain your intuition, it’s not your intuition. Intuition is feeling-based and it’s a sense of knowing.

Self-reflection and practicing mind-body based strategies and techniques can help you tune into your intuition. We talk at length about these practices at Nutrition Stripped, from how to take care of yourself, setting boundaries, mindfulness strategies for your day, why diets don’t work, etc.

Being self-aware, connected, and reflective are key areas to exercise your intuition in order to apply intuitive eating practices into your life.

Health Benefits Of Intuitive Eating

There are hundreds of studies on multiple variations of intuitive eating, diets, Health At Every Size, and more physiochemical factors with dieting and eating habits. (1)

The mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits of using these principles can make a significant impact on one’s life. From improving self-esteem, body images, and overall quality of life to reducing anxiety and depression.

The retention rates of people following this way of eating and living are also much higher than those who are on a diet (2).vIn addition, some studies show lower body mass indexes, lower rates of emotional eating, lower rates of disordered eating, and improved cholesterol levels.

The 10 Principles Of Intuitive Eating

Tribole and Resch developed these 10 principles of intuitive eating as a framework to practitioners and people alike to implement intuitive eating. The original 10 principles can be seen here, the descriptions of each of these principles below are our interpretation of their principles.

Reject the Diet Mentality

We’re constantly influenced and inundated with magazines, celebrity nutritionists diet books, films, celebrity-endorsed products, blogs, social media accounts and more claiming we: 1) need to lose weight, 2) can do it with XYZ plan or product, or 3) fill in the blank with any false hope around weight loss and instant health.

Rejecting the diet mentality is a way of being aware of the diet culture that surrounds us in the media and even in conversations with friends. Failing because you’ve tried a diet and the results didn’t actualize or last, isn’t your fault. Diets are full of broken systems, intuitive eating allows you to discover your own unique way of eating.

Honor Your Hunger

Hunger is your physical body’s way of sending you a message that it needs nutrition, energy, and nourishment, so listening to that message is key. Honoring your hunger, feeding your body diverse foods and adequate macronutrients can help stabilize your blood sugar and keep excessive hunger at bay. When you honor your hunger, you’re exercising the trust muscle and practicing listening to the messages your body is sending you.

Make Peace with Food

Giving yourself permission to eat, not demonizing food or food groups, not labeling or criticizing certain foods as “good/bad/clean/dirty” is a key factor in intuitive eating. When you give yourself permission to enjoy any food you like, you’re taking away the scarcity and urgency factor with eating, knowing those foods can always be available to you.

Often if you have a list of foods in your mind that you can or can’t have, the ones labeled “can’t have” are those that can create intense feelings of deprivation, cravings, guilt, shame, that can lead to binging behaviors.

Challenge the Food Police

It’s important to call out your inner food police, otherwise known as part of your ego that has created all of these rules, beliefs, and regulations around food. Anytime you catch yourself saying this food is “bad” or “good” or XYZ label, gently call it out which can take away the power of this thought.

You don’t need to yell at your inner food police, nor criticize yourself for having those thoughts, or judge those thoughts — call it out, gently observe and recognize it, reflect on those thoughts with curiosity, and then move forward or add some corrective mantras and phrases that can help you the next time they come out.

Respect Your Fullness

Honor your physical body, if you feel full, recognize the fullness you feel as a way your body is sending the message that you’re done eating right now and are no longer hungry. When you observe the signs and signals your body sends to you about your hunger, you’ll begin to trust and learn your unique levels of hunger and fullness.

Discover the Satisfaction Factor

We’ve said this from day one, but the food is far more than nourishment on a cellular level, it’s social, tradition, culture, fuel, enjoyment, creative expression, and pleasure. To promote the many ways food plays a role in our lives and allowing ourselves to derive satisfaction from food is an important part of learning to trust your body. Discovering the satisfaction factor by experiencing the many roles food plays in our life is key.

Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

Can you check-in with yourself to know when you’re using food as a coping mechanism? Food is often used as a distraction from feelings, as a comfort blanket, as a salve for problems, or as an attempt to resolve issues. With intuitive eating, we learn to honor our feelings without using food. 

There are many ways we can honor our feelings without using food, from allowing ourselves to feel that emotion or feeling, expressing that emotion or feeling in other ways such as talking with a professional or a friend, etc. Emotional hunger should be addressed, but not with food — instead of with patience, with inner work, and with building your self-awareness. 

Respect Your Body

Body respect. We all are unique human beings from a genetic blueprint point of view. Just as you’re born with a certain number of hairs on your head, you’re born with a genetic makeup that will express your physical body in certain ways that are unique to you.

If you find it challenging to find respect and express gratitude towards your physical body, it may pose a challenge to steer away from the diet mentality. Respecting your body size, shape, and expression is one of many pillars to your health that show up in your wellbeing. Think of all the ways your body can show up for you, allow you to do, allow you to think, and be.

Exercise—Feel the Difference

Moving our body in a way that feels good can help you shift your focus from goal-oriented exercise to feeling good in your body. Instead of engaging in exercise solely for the reason to burn calories, look a certain way, etc., exercising to move your body in a way that feels good can leave you energized, more awake, more connected with nature if exercising outside, and improve cardiovascular health.

Honor Your Health

Health is a practice. Taking daily actions over time are the things that build your health, wellbeing, and habits around eating and living. By applying a gentle and loving perspective to yourself and your lifestyle choices, you focus more on progress and practice over perfection or “doing it right”. 

Who Is Intuitive Eating For?

The principles of intuitive eating can be used by a large group of people.

Just like with anything else, intuitive eating does not have to be approached with an “all or nothing” mentality. Everyone is different, our personalities, tendencies, habits, strengths, and weaknesses – they all vary. Because of this, the way we all approach intuitive eating and implement it into our lives will differ as well.

If you have exhausted all methods of dieting, read every nutrition book out there and still find yourself struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with food, exploring intuitive eating may be particularly right for you.

Intuitive eating is for you if the message behind this way of eating resonates with you. If you would like to take control of your body and your relationship with food, this is a great way to do just that.

As with any way of eating and living that feels right for you, listen in and also know when to reach out for professional help when you need support.

Examples Of What It’s Not — Is It The Same As Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is based on a practice that encourages the person to be fully aware of the food experience from food selection and production to using all your senses in the food experience.

Mindful eating can be part of intuitive eating but intuitive eating goes further into respecting your body both with physical cues and adopting a neutral/non-judgemental lens through nutrition and whole-body health.

Further, intuitive eating is not:

  • Is not about the absence of counting calories, tracking macros, and/or counting points on a program on certain days or certain times of the year.
  • Is not a “cheat day”.
  • Is not aligned with any food rule-based program with the intention of weight loss.
  • Is not another diet. It’s not black/white, pass/fail.
  • Is not reliant on an expert to tell you what you should feel.
  • Is not about only eating “clean foods” and not eating “bad foods” — IE is food neutral.
  • Is not about the pursuit fo XYZ.
  • Is not about intuitive eating certain percentages of the time, 80/20 for example.

How To Start Intuitive Eating?

In addition to the guidelines of the 10 principles above, here are 4 beginning steps you can take if it feels right for you.

1. Work with a professional

We highly recommend checking out the IE database for certified practitioners in Intuitive Eating. Our NS Wellness Coaches and Registered Dietitians observe these principles but we are not formally certified in IE. Work with a dietitian and health care provider you trust and can support you on your unique health journey.

2. Start fresh and set boundaries

Just like we talk about with setting boundaries on your social media and media consumption overall to help improve your mental/emotional wellbeing, the same goes with food and diet culture consumption.

If you consume blog content, follow certain brands, companies or people on social media that don’t contribute to a more positive outlook on your life, or educate you on new perspectives, or in general, if they’re simply toxic for your emotional and mental health, then just unfollow.

3, Trust your body

We have a free workshop coming soon in October 2019 that will support you not only in this area, but multiple pillars, so be on the lookout by signing up for our newsletter here!

Until then, use the simple question of “what do I want to eat?”. Trusting your body and leaning into your inner expert and intuition is a key part of intuitively eating for your unique lifestyle. When you begin to trust your body by answering the question with foods you really want to consume, feelings of satisfaction can increase.

Exercising this trust muscle takes love, patience, curiosity, and a lot of self-reflection.

4. Connect with yourself

Self-care is how we take care of ourselves and connect with ourselves. As you begin to explore the principles of intuitive eating, it’s important to also explore a bit within yourself. Are you able to acknowledge and accept your hunger cues? Does stress interfere with your decision-making process?

Take some time to connect with yourself and notice where you need support. If stress is a major component in your life, focus on stress management and nurture your relationship with stress. Once again, everyone is different. Use this time to realize where you need self-care and what self-care looks like for you. Once accomplished, the implementation of the principles of intuitive eating will go much smoother.

Need Support?

  • The Intuitive Eating Book. This book, written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995.
  • The Original Intuitive Eating Pro. The website of Evelyn Tribole has more information about intuitive eating. In addition, they have a database to connect with you IE practicing Dietitians.
  • Geneen Roth. Her website features helpful articles, books, and videos.
  • Ellyn Satter Institute. Ellyn Satter promotes an idea called “eating competence,” which has many principles that overlap with intuitive eating.
  • NS Shop. We have some books listed here that may also support you in learning more about intuitive eating.