Intuitive Eating

April 19, 2023 5 min read

What is intuitive eating and when is it the right approach for your patients?

Do you have patients who struggle to consistently follow your food advice? Perhaps they experience emotional or out of control eating experiences or they have spent many years trying to lose weight, only to gain it all back?

It is not their motivation or willpower that’s to blame. Intuitive eating can help these patients remove the stress around food and learn to work with their body again so eating becomes peaceful. Here’s how to tell if intuitive eating might support your patient. What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to improve our relationship with food and body. It supports connecting back with one’s body to guide eating, self-care and emotional needs, rather than following rules. Patients are empowered to trust their body as their number one guide while food and self-care knowledge may help support their choices.

As food is a basic need, we are all born instinctively knowing how to eat. Our bodies remain capable of eating intuitively into adulthood. However, in our culture we are surrounded by many shameful food and body messages which take away our trust in our bodies. Overtime, we can begin to trust food rules in place of our own internal cues causing a disconnect between body and mind.

Benefits of intuitive eating

Intuitive eating was first introduced by two dietitians in 1995 based on available research at the time. In the past (nearly) 30 years there are now hundreds of studies directly looking into intuitive eating1.

From the research, we see intuitive eating is shown to have many positive physical and mental health benefits including1:

  • Lower blood pressure and triglycerides and higher HDL cholesterol
  • Reduced binge eating and emotional eating
  • Less suppression of thoughts, feelings and needs
  • Improved body appreciation and acceptance
  • More stable weight
  • Increased emotional coping skills and psychological hardiness
  • Higher self-regard, wellbeing and optimism
  • Higher overall life satisfaction!

Long term research on behaviour change interventions show positive improvement with or without weight loss. The health effects are longer lasting and with less risk of harm when the focus is moved away from weight loss2 such as with an intuitive eating approach.

How does intuitive eating work?

A core component of intuitive eating is removing the guilt and shame so many of us experience around food and our body. The process of reconnecting back with our intuitive eater involves as much unpacking of food and body ideals that are keeping us stuck in a place of body distrust and shame as it does re-learning to connect back with the body.

The principles of intuitive eating

The intuitive eating framework is made up of 10 principles which all work to either let go of the stress, guilt and shame we feel around food or to improve our connection and awareness with our body.

The 10 principles are3:

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honour your hunger
  3. Make peace with food
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor
  6. Feel your fullness
  7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
  8. Respect your body
  9. Movement - feel the difference
  10. Honour your health - gentle nutrition

How to tell if a patient may benefit from intuitive eating

They feel stressed around food

Feeling stressed around food is not healthy and it doesn’t support long term healthy behaviour change. A sign that a patient may benefit from an intuitive eating approach is if they appear overwhelmed around food or experience guilt and shame related to food or their body.

Always on a diet (or about to start a diet)

If you notice a patient is always searching for the next diet, it is a sign that they have not found a way to eat that supports their health and life. Intuitive eating can support them to develop a connection with their body so they can find satisfaction from food and free themselves from the diet cycle.

Weight cycling

We know weight cycling is not good for our health but this is often where dieting leads us. If a patient is experiencing weight cycling and likely the emotional rollercoaster that goes along with this, it may time to explore a weight neutral way of working together towards healthier behaviours.

Emotional or erratic eating

If a patient experiences out of control eating when trying to stick to food advice, it’s a sign they are not eating enough for their body or they are not finding satisfaction from eating. Intuitive eating can support them to properly nourish their body with satisfying foods and explore any other underlying emotional triggers.

How to bring up intuitive eating with a patient

If our patients have spent years in a diet cycle and disconnected from their body, they may not be ready to give this up yet. However, if we feel food is stressful for a patient, we can gently let them know there is another way we can approach healthy eating.

To start, we can be to let them know that their body is not wrong. Many people have internalised messages that their body is working against them however the symptoms they may have been experiencing such as food cravings and obsession, out of control eating, fatigue and low motivation are actually a sign their body is working. This is a natural response to when food is restricted or controlled.

You may like to recommend an approach that works with their body rather than feeling in a fight against it. One that allows food to have a supportive role in their social life and emotional needs in a way that feels good.

If a client does not feel ready for an intuitive eating approach, but you sense a disconnect with their body is bringing up disordered eating behaviours, providing some gentle further reading or listening opportunities that aims to take the blame off their body and explore food in a more positive way. Continuing to empower them in their body and relate symptoms back to the amazing work their body is doing can support building self confidence and trust.

Resource suggestions

  • 5 steps to get started with intuitive eating e-book - Food Life Freedom
  • Intuitive Eating 4th Edition, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, 2020
  • Food Psych Podcast, Christy Harrison
  • Happy Fat, Sophie Hagen
  • Anti diet, Christy Harrison
  • Reclaiming body trust, Hilary Kinavey & Dana Sturtevant
  • Gentle Nutrition, Rachel Hartley

If you need further support to work with someone you feel may benefit from intuitive eating, you can reach out for intuitive eating supervision here.

Wrap up

Intuitive eating empowers patients in their eating and self-care by building trust and acceptance with their body. If you notice a patient is feeling stressed around food, displaying disordered eating such as emotional eating or is always on a diet, intuitive eating may be a supportive option to develop not only healthy eating behaviours, but also a healthy and supportive mindset around food.

Author Bio:

Emma Townsin is a UK Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor and owner of She works with clients helping them to improve their relationship with food and to nourish their bodies without stress or guilt.

You can connect with Emma online


Facebook: Food Life Freedom