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Back to basics - the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

What are the principles, what is my take on them, and one thing you can do to explore each of them for yourself!

person with shoulder length curly blond hair wearing a denim jacket, eating a sandwich with joy at the beach, eyes closed

1. Reject the Diet Mentality*

This first principle of intuitive eating is the foundation underlying all the other principles: understanding that weight-loss diets don't work long term, and that the diet industry has lied to us and us hooked with false promises of weight loss and the lure of a diet or meal plan that will eventually work. In the meantime, diet mentality will make you feel like a failure whenever a diet stops working and you regain your weight. It puts the responsibility on you and gaslights you into believing there is something wrong with you. Let me assure you that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with you and your body! It's just that the diet culture messages drown out our self-compassion, our self-believe and our acceptance of diversity. Understanding that the pursuit of thinness originates in racist and patriarchal oppression and has nothing to do with health will provide you with the fire in your belly to ditch diet culture thinking for good!

What you can do: Reject these messages by throwing out diet books and unfollowing diet proponents on social media to free yourself from diet culture for good. Observe how bodies are portrayed on TV and the media. Educate yourself about Health at Every Size® and a non-diet approach to health (check out my resources page for some great starting points!)

*(Diet mentality is the hugely problematic belief that being in a thin or small body is a prerequisite for happiness, health, acceptance, moral superiority and health. Let me tell you now that that is a) not the case and b) an oppressive system based on racism and patriarchy.)

2. Honour Your Hunger

Hunger is often seen as something negative, as something we should ignore. We are worried that we may never stop eating if we ‘give in’. The fear of hunger is real, because we are being told that we shouldn't be hungry.

We often also don’t really know what our internal hunger cues are. Do you know when you are hungry? What does hunger feel like for you? If you come from a place of dieting or disordered eating, your hunger signals might be muted or not very clear to you.

What you can do: Eating regularly will help you understand your hunger cues better and also curb cravings and binges. You need to keep your body fed, otherwise a very strong drive to eat will kick in and you are likely to feel out of control around food. Deprivation is powerful; make sure you honour your hunger by listening to your internal signals and feed your body when it needs to be fed and with enough food to sustain your.

brick wall with iluminated red letters saying 'Eat what makes you happy'

3. Make Peace with Food

Don't make food the enemy and instead give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you like. This can be scary as you may feel you will only be eating those ’forbidden’ foods for ever more. The 'unconditional' part is really important: if we give ourselves pseudo-permission (e.g. 'I'll eat that now, but will be better tomorrow' or 'It's ok to eat that because I am going to the gym later') we won't be making peace with food at all, we are just finding ways to compensate for eating.

Restricting certain foods can lead to feelings of deprivation, which in turn can lead to cravings and binge-eating. Restriction can be physical (i.e. not having something around) or mental (having negative thoughts about something or feeling guilt and shame for eating something you think you shouldn't eat).

What you can do: Allow all foods into your life and know that you can eat them guilt-free if you choose to have them. Remember that foods don’t have a moral value, they cannot be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they are just foods. Start noticing when you or others label foods and explore if you can make those labels more neutral (see my blog on Food Neutrality for more information).

4. Challenge the Food Police

The food police is the voice in your head that tells you that you have been 'good' or 'bad' for eating something. It uses unreasonable food rules that have been created by diet culture and that often get ingrained in us during childhood. Remember that our parents and wider social network are also surrounded by diet culture rules, and therefore not to blame for using them and using diet messages.

The food police makes you feel guilty and ashamed for breaking these rules. It's important here to understand that most of the food police's rules are based on things that are not true, and it's crucial that we meet the food police with a curious and inquisitive attitude. Why do I think that? Where does that belief come from? How does that thought serve me?

What you can do: You can start on reframing your mindset by changing your language around food, eating and our bodies, and by shutting down that critical voice through non-judgmental questioning.

several layers of yellow police tape saying Police do not cross in black capital letters

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

We don’t just eat in order to fuel our bodies. We also eat for pleasure and social connection, for emotional and celebratory reasons. Some of us can find that challenging, especially since we have learnt that eating for pleasure is ‘indulgent’, ‘greedy’, ‘frivolous’. Eating what you really desire, taking pleasure in eating, eating enough to be comfortably full are all aspects of satisfaction you can explore for yourself. Beware of 'air foods' that don't give you much in terms of energy and nutrition, add foods rather than anything take away, and make the eating experience pleasurable and enjoyable.