Principles of Intuitive Eating and How Behavior Science Can Help

A headshot picture of Christine Byrne.

Before Christine became a dietitian, she spent nine years working as a journalist and recipe developer, first as a food editor at BuzzFeed, then as the features editor for Self, then as a freelancer for over four dozen media outlets. She’s written thousands of articles and hundreds of recipes. She’s also appeared as a guest on Good Morning America, New York One, and the Meredith Vieira Show. You can learn more about her work here.

In today’s world, navigating diets, meal-tracking apps, restrictive eating plans, and fad foods to understand what’s healthy for our bodies poses a challenge.

We often find ourselves stuck in a cycle where we try new things that fail to work or achieve the desired effect. This cycle of confusion and frustration makes navigating the world of “healthy” eating overwhelming.

Intuitive Eating offers a solution by actively engaging us in exploring questions to establish peace in our relationships with food and our bodies.

Understanding Intuitive Eating

A picture of snacks and vegetables with two hands illustrating a choice between the two.

When practicing Intuitive Eating, you learn to actively listen to your body’s hunger signals and respond appropriately. Think of it simply: eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. It also means mindfully enjoying the flavors, textures, and smells of your food without guilt or judgment.

Intuitive Eating encourages practicing self-compassion regarding your eating habits and removes the restrictive sense many diets impose. It prompts you to honor your hunger, make peace with food, and challenge the diet mentality. This approach emphasizes trusting yourself and recognizing that everyone has unique needs and preferences for what they eat.

The 10 Principles Of Intuitive Eating

So, how does one become an intuitive eater? There are ten established principles of Intuitive Eating. They help you unlearn the diet mentality, develop trust in yourself, and make peace with food.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

That means ditching the all-or-nothing mindset that many diets impose and allowing yourself to indulge in food without guilt. People telling you how to lose weight quickly are only after a quick fix without considering the long-term consequences. That’s why rejecting the diet mentality and trusting your body is vital.

2. Honor Your Hunger

Eat when you are hungry, rather than waiting until your hunger becomes overwhelming and extreme so you make choices out of desperation. Do not ignore your hunger signals, and understand that eating when you are hungry is OK.

3. Make Peace With Food

Allow yourself to eat whatever you desire without judgment or guilt. Learning how to make peace with all kinds of food is essential and not label them as “good” or “bad.”

4. Challenge the “Food Police”

The “Food Police” represent the negative thoughts in your head, which typically don’t originate intrinsically but rather reflect diet culture, social pressures, and shame absorbed from your surroundings. These negative thoughts about food can damage your relationship with it.

Therefore, it’s important to actively challenge that voice in your head. Recognize when these negative thoughts arise and understand their origins, so you can release them. This way, they won’t disconnect you from listening to your body.

A woman eating a strawberry out of a plate of vegetables.

5. Respect Your Fullness

Stop eating when satisfied rather than pushing yourself to eat more. That will help you become more mindful of how much food your body needs and allow you to make peace with how much food you eat.

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Savor each bite and actively enjoy the food’s taste, texture, and smell without guilt or judgment. If a meal doesn’t satisfy you, don’t feel obligated to finish it – either set it aside for later or dispose of it if necessary. Identify foods that satisfy you completely with just one solid bite because you enjoy them perfectly.

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

It is essential to recognize your feelings and understand that it is OK to feel those feelings. Avoid turning to food to deal with difficult emotions or challenges in life; instead, practice self-care and take a break from food.

8. Respect Your Body

Respect your body’s size, shape and abilities regardless of what others may say. It is essential to accept yourself for who you are rather than trying to fit into an idealized version of “perfection” that culture imposes on us today.

9. Exercise – Feel the Difference

Exercise should bring enjoyment, not serve as punishment or an obsession. Trying to “burn” off a meal or obsessing over calories burned in a workout often feels unfulfilling because it’s not a realistic approach to the purpose of exercise. Start thinking of exercise as movement – whether it’s joyful, intense, a walk in nature, or climbing stairs. These are all ways you actively give your body something to move for. Each movement triggers a remarkable cascade of hormones and heartbeats, making your body feel different ways. Notice the difference in movements and enjoy yourself while doing it ☺.

10. Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition

Actively make decisions about food that honor both your physical and mental health. This involves striking a balance between nourishing yourself with healthy foods and occasionally indulging without guilt or judgment. The key to Gentle Nutrition is to start reincorporating nutritional science only after you have worked through the first 9 principles and can honestly say that your relationship with food and your body is healed. Ensure that looking at nutritional values, facts, and labels won’t trigger you back into the restrict-binge eating cycle. If you can confidently say that you can reincorporate nutritional science while still prioritizing listening to your body, then you’re ready for Gentle Nutrition.

How To Get Started With Intuitive Eating

After reading out the above Principles of Intuitive Eating, it is a process of learning, unlearning and relearning; it takes time and effort to become an intuitive eater. 

To get started, begin by taking the time to understand your relationship with food. 

– How does food make you feel? 

– What triggers your cravings? 

– Are there any emotional or social aspects that influence how you eat? 

These questions can actively help you gain insight into your eating habits and foster a more positive relationship with food.

Once you identify the causes of your eating habits, it’s important to actively replace the negative aspects of the diet mentality with principles of Intuitive Eating. For instance, if counting calories or tracking macros causes anxiety or stress, replace these habits with more mindful practices like savoring each bite or focusing on how the food makes you feel.

Lastly, be patient and gentle with yourself during this learning process to become an intuitive eater. Adapting to new eating habits might take time, but it’s important to recognize that progress comes in many shapes and forms. If you slip up, don’t get discouraged; simply pick yourself up and continue your journey to becoming an intuitive eater.

Behavior Science – An Added Layer to Help with Intuitive Eating

Another helpful approach involves using techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Behavior Science aims to identify and understand the behavior patterns behind our relationship with food and the body, including the thoughts, emotions, and feelings driving these behaviors and attitudes. We then develop strategies to change them, positively impacting overall health. When executed well, behavior science appears simple on the surface, but the depth of the questions and their sequence can profoundly reshape your conscious and unconscious world to align with your body’s needs, your true self, and your dearest values.

At Way, we use a Behavior Science technique called the “Magic Wand” question, a powerful behavioral tool. In the Way app, we adapt it to help you imagine what finding peace with your food and body would feel like and look like, what you’d notice around you, what you’d eat, and how you’d feel about your body. We call this your “Peace Point”, the core of everything we do at Way – every Session, Pathway aims to bring you closer to your Peace Point.

Moreover, we use mindful breathing techniques alongside Behavior Science to shift our bodies into the parasympathetic nervous system, easing us away from the sympathetic nervous system. This calms us down, facilitating self-exploration around our relationships with food and the body.

Incorporating the principles of Intuitive Eating and Behavioral Science into our eating approach enables us to listen to our body more easily, enhancing confidence and connection in our relationships with food and our body. This not only benefits our physical health but also boosts our emotional and mental health, following the principles of Intuitive Eating.

Get Started!

At Way, we combine both approaches to actively create an interactive experience. This experience naturally arises from exploring questions with the focused goal of helping Way members find peace in their relationships with food and their bodies. Our app uniquely blends intuitive eating with behavior science and mindfulness, incorporating short, sweet, and easy mindful breathing techniques in Way. We eagerly anticipate continuing our mission to help everyone find balance in their lives, enabling them to enjoy their journey to health.