This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.MORE INFO
Menu Close

Diet trends come and go. In recent years we’ve seen the adoption of Atkins, intermittent fasting, paleo and keto, to name just a few. Some of them work, for a time at least, but if they’re based on deprivation or prohibition can they really be sustainable? Don’t we always want what we can’t have?

Perhaps it’s time to let diets go and instead listen to our bodies, reconnect with our appetites and rediscover the joy that is eating. A growing number of people are rejecting a contemporary diet culture that feels oppressive and anxiety-inducing in favour of another way. That way is known as intuitive eating.

But despite its recent popularity, this anti-diet approach isn’t new. It was nearly 25 years ago that registered dietitian nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch came up with the model and released their book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. However, only recently has there been an embrace of the approach that today has been validated by more than 100 research studies.

‘It’s fun to be part of the cool kids now,’ says Tribole. ‘It’s about time. But as a result it can create confusion, which can create harm, so that’s why I like to be clear about what intuitive eating is and what it isn’t.’

So what exactly is it? ‘Well, you don’t count anything, you don’t count macros. It’s not about pass or fail. There is no cheat day. You listen to your body,’ says Tribole. It’s as simple as that … or is it?

Intuitive eating is comprised of ten principles, the first of which urges the rejection of the diet mentality. Many are already on board with that.

From there, it’s about listening to your body. Do you feel hungry or full? Do you have enough energy or are you in need of carbohydrates? It’s about learning to trust in the signals from yourself.

But the principle that’s been jumped on is eat what you want. This is about making peace with food and giving yourself ‘unconditional permission to eat’ what you want, how much and when.

‘People always say, “If I ate whatever I wanted I’d be eating pizza at every meal,”’ says Resch, who calls herself a nutritional therapist. ‘But my response is that once you legalise something, once you make it perfectly legitimate, after a while, in a process called habituation, it doesn’t have that shiny golden light to it, because it’s now part of what you can have forever.’

Diet culture has created rules and restrictions, and to eat intuitively these need to be broken down so that, in the longer term, the approach will also be nutritionally beneficial. ‘Eventually, when all foods are permitted and you’re at peace with all these foods, you end up having very balanced eating. When people diet, so many foods are restricted, then they get off their diet and binge on all the foods they weren’t allowed,’ says Resch.

‘The thing is that eating well actually feels good, so who doesn’t want that?’ adds Tribole, asserting that when you eat what feels good, you’ll choose what’s best for your body.

However, perhaps the greatest benefit of intuitive eating is psychological. Removing restrictions means you can’t fail, so there’s no beating up on yourself, no anxiety around food and no shame. ‘The greatest purpose is to heal one’s relationship with food,’ says Resch, who in the development of the philosophy considered all the psychological reasons behind why dieting doesn’t work.

Research has shown that intuitive eaters experience increased self-esteem and wellbeing, better body acceptance and appreciation, an enhanced ability to cope emotionally and greater joy in eating.

‘Intuitive eaters have more interoceptive awareness,’ says Tribole. ‘That’s their ability to perceive physical sensations that arise within the body. Some are obvious: a full bladder, heart rate, feeling sleepy, hungry, full. But every emotion has a physical sensation, so when you start listening to the messages of your body, it’s a profound treasure trove to get your needs met both psychologically and physically.’

Resch agrees, adding: ‘When you eat intuitively, you feel better physically because you’re nourishing yourself throughout the day, you’re not overfilling yourself, you’re listening to which foods works with your body and which don’t.”

As you might have guessed, intuitive eating is not an approach designed for weight loss. Some people will lose weight, others may not. It’s the increased well-being that accompanies the journey to eating more mindfully and with satisfaction as your driver.

Tribole sums it up: ‘Intuitive eating is a path to body liberation and food liberation. It’s the path to freedom.’