Intuitive Eating: A Self-care Eating Framework that Integrates Instinct, Emotion, and Rational Thought

Wellness is a vague term. It’s used by influencers, life coaches, homeopaths, and the media, but the definition of wellness is tricky to pin down. Using diet as a baseline for one’s wellness might seem logical, but considering wellness in the strict context of what you do or do not eat diet could point you to other thorny and equally ambiguous terms such as clean eating, fasting, and cleansing or detox diets. Thinking of wellness in these terms could lead one to lose touch with one of the basics of being healthy—listening to your body. This is where intuitive eating (IE), a self-care eating framework that integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought, comes in.1


Although IE’s online popularity has grown recently, the concept has been around for more than 25 years. In 1995, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, a pair of dietitians from southern California, published their first book on IE after watching their own clients struggle with adhering to the classical approaches for weight loss—food restrictions, counting calories, and physical activity.2 At the time, Tribole and Resch had been using the same approach that most health and nutrition experts were using, which held that body weight was of primary importance in evaluating and improving dietary health.2-4 Soon, they decided that more than a change in experts’ mindset was needed—the whole weight loss and dieting paradigm needed to be shifted, which led to the development of IE.

Posts on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok often imply that if you’re going to eat “clean,” it needs to be done in a specific way, such as only eating foods that meet the strictest standards of unprocessed freshness or growing your own produce. But IE isn’t about dismissing foods’ nutritional value or quality. This framework, which especially caters to people who have mentally or emotionally struggled with eating, focuses on understanding how food makes your body feel when the act is untangled from stress or shame.1,2


In a nutshell, IE works in two ways.1 First, by listening to your body. According to this framework, when you get in touch with the physical sensations, such as hunger or fatigue,, you will be better able to meet your biological and psychological needs. Second, by removing any obstacles or disturbances that would distract from this attunement. This may come in the form of affirmations, beliefs, or thoughts. For example, a common affirmation may be choosing to listen and obey your hunger cues rather than waiting until a specific time to eat.

In short, IE practices are nearly the opposite of “dieting.” Many weight-loss diet trends are unsustainable in the long term and may even do the body more harm than good. Research suggests that when dietitians and doctors support and encourage their patients to make sustainable improvements in their diet and physical activities, rather than make weight loss the sole metric of success, their patients achieve better health outcomes in the long-term.5  

The body needs food for energy, just like a car needs gas to drive.6 The body knows what it needs to run efficiently, and no one knows your body better than you. That’s why it’s important to listen to the cues your body sends you and respond to its natural hunger. Otherwise, it will find ways to keep reminding you, such as headaches, a growling stomach, or causing you to have constant thoughts or a preoccupation with food.1,6


Tribole and Resch grounded their framework for IE in 10 basic principles:7

  1. Reject the diet mentality. Toss out the dieting cookbooks and magazines—They offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Let go of what society tells you about weight loss and dieting. These reminders can prevent or distract you from engaging in intuitive eating practices.

  2. Honor your hunger. This tenet can be the toughest mindset from which to disentangle yourself. Listening to your body means honoring your hunger cues and re-establishing trust in them. If you feel hungry, keep your body fed with adequate energy. Delaying a snack or meal can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach that point, your intentions of moderate, conscious eating are pushed to the wayside.

  3. Make peace with food. Diet culture can make you feel like certain foods are off limits, but it’s time to stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Get rid of the “coulds” and “shoulds.” Denying yourself certain foods can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.

  4. Challenge the food police. Take away the moral value of food. It doesn’t have any. Trying to balance the scales of eating “good” for minimal calories or “bad” for splurging is a fight you will never win. Diet culture has created unreasonable rules about what is and is not “clean eating.” It takes practice, but you can tune out those negative taunts and guilt-provoking indictments.

  5. Discover the satisfaction factor. In complying with diet culture, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure of eating.7 When you feel comfortable honoring your hunger cues, the pleasure you derive from your food will help you feel satisfied and content. Though fullness can change from day to day, this is one of the first steps to understanding the right amount of food for you and when to decide you’ve had enough.

  6. Feel Your fullness. To honor your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire.7 In the beginning, it can be easy to tip the scales toward overeating. That’s why it’s important to be attuned to the signals in your body that tell you that you are full. Don’t be afraid to pause and take note of how the food tastes and your current hunger level.

  7. Cope with your emotions with kindness. IE takes practice. Early on, be sure to recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating.7 Treat these emotions like a friend – be kind, nurturing, and understanding.

  8. Respect your body. Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to squeeze into a size six, it is equally unreasonable (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size.7 Furthermore, it’s difficult to disentangle from the diet culture mentality if you’re overly critical of your body. All bodies deserve dignity.

  9. Movement—feel the difference. All movement is good movement, even if it’s not rigorous. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body rather than focusing solely on the calorie-burning effect of exercise. Reflect on how you feel from exercise.

  10. Honor your health—gentle nutrition. A common misconception about IE is that you can mindlessly eat what and whenever you want but honoring your nutrition is a key tenant of this framework. You can make choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters.3,5,7 Focus on progress instead of perfection.

What Intuitive Eating Is and What It Is Not

IE is not a tool for weight loss or weight gain. IE is not a strategy for losing or gaining weight. This kind of thinking leans more toward dieting.8 When following the IE framework, one of three things will happen—your weight will rise, fall, or stay the same. 

IE is not giving into every single food desire. A critical principle of IE is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, but that permission is not eating with reckless abandon.7,9 Rather, it is unconditional permission to eat with curiosity and nonjudgment. Moderation is key as well.6 This allows us to learn to how to make peace with food, remove its emotional power, and feel safe around all foods.9 

IE is not defined as only eating when you’re hungry and stopping the moment you’re full. This is a common and understandable misconception. Remember, all 10 principles of IE work together, including rejecting the black-and-white diet mentality that would turn the hunger and fullness principles into hard-and-fast rules.7,10 The main takeaway here is that IE is the exact opposite of the diet culture’s strict rules—it’s about learning to approach eating and food by listening to what our bodies and minds are asking of us.

You can practice IE if you’re following a nutrition plan to manage a health condition. People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, may need to tweak their eating to help manage their health. This is called medical nutrition therapy (MNT). Not only is IE compatible with MNT, it can also enrich it.10 An IE approach to MNT gives people guidance on gentle nutrition (IE’s 10th tenet) while adhering to necessary dietary requirements.11 In short, it can help people feel more autonomy within the guidelines they’re following for MNT.10*

IE is not just for people struggling with food addiction or restriction. IE is for everyone because all people can benefit from these tenets.* Most of these principles are applicable to everyone. Research has shown that IE is associated with less negative body image and disordered eating.12,13 Furthermore, this framework can be used to prevent the development of disordered eating and eating disorders. IE is about trying to do the best you can to take care of your nutritional needs, regardless of any mental or emotional issues (or lack thereof) one may have with food.10

*Consult with a licensed healthcare professional before engaging in IE or adopting a new change in diet, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions.

Closing Remarks

IE encourages people to listen to their bodies and remove any distractions that would hinder them from pursuing the IE framework. Though their groundbreaking philosophy emerged more than 25 years ago, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s 10-principle model has stood the test of time. Common misunderstandings that surround IE stem from taking any one of the 10 principles out of context; thus, for this framework to be most effective, it is important to recognize and adopt each tenet. The IE framework honors physical and mental health and encourages the concept that all bodies deserve dignity and respect.7

Wellness is not about dieting or how much one weighs or restricting certain foods. Rather, wellness is a holistic state of mental and physical well-being, which comprises many components of living. Each of us is unique, making the road to wellness a distinctly personal one. However, being in tune with one’s body and listening to and respecting its cues to optimally fulfill its needs is a universal concept from which each of us can benefit as we journey toward our personal states of wellness.


1. Tribole E. 17 Jul 2019. Definition of intuitive eating. The Intuitive Eating Pros website. Accessed 14 Sept 2021.

2. Mull A. 22 Feb 2019. The latest diet trend is not dieting. The Atlantic website. Accessed 17 Aug 2021.

3. O’Hara L, Taylor J. What’s wrong with the ‘War on Obesity?’ A narrative review of the weight-centered health paradigm and development of the 3c framework to build critical competency for a paradigm shift. SAGE Open Med. 2018.

4. Kolata G. Updated 2 May 2016. After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ their bodies fought to regain weight. The New York Times website. Accessed 28 Sept 2021.

5. Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018;102(1):

6. NEDA. Listen to your body. National Eating Disorders Association website. Accessed 17 Aug 2021.

7. 10 principles of intuitive eating. The Intuitive Eating Pros website. Accessed 17 Aug 2021.

8. Flores A. 2018. What does intuitive eating mean? National Eating Disorders Association website. Accessed 17 Aug 2021.

9. Anglin JC, Borchardt N, Ramos E, Mhoon K. Diet quality of adults using intuitive eating for weight loss – pilot study. Nutr Health. 2013;22(3-4):255-264.

10. Harrison C. Updated 28 Jul 2020. 6 Myths about intuitive eating – and what it can actually do for you. SELF website. Accessed 28 Sep 2021. 

11. Romano KA, Swanbrow Becker MA, Colgary CD, Magnuson A. Helpful or harmful? The comparative value of self-weighing and calorie counting versus intuitive eating on the eating disorder symptomology of college students. Eat Weight Disord. 2018;23(6):841-848.

12. Bégin C, Carbonneau E, Gagnon-Girouard MP, et al. Eating-related and psychological outcomes of health at every size intervention in health and social services centers across the province of Québec. Am J Health Promot. 2018.

13. Bruce LJ, Ricciardelli LA. A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women. Appetite. 2018;96:


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