With holidays in full swing, your mailbox may be overloaded with tips and  tricks on how to prevent weight gain happening almost inevitably over the festive season. Many of these recommendations focus on self-control and avoidance of high calorie foods. But if you, like many of us, do not possess enormous amount of willpower, restricting certain foods may make things worse by creating a vicious cycle of overeating and dieting, also known as yo-yo dieting.

Intuitive eating is a totally different approach to healthy eating. You probably have a friend or two who claim that they eat “whatever they want” and still manage to keep their weight under control. Their secret may be in their ability to enjoy every bite without guilt and stop eating when they are not hungry anymore. These are habits of an intuitive eater.

Research shows that those of us who eat intuitively are less likely to eat for emotional reasons or be overweight. A recent study published in Appetite looked at how intuitive eating relates to body mass index (BMI) in 2287 young adults.

The study showed that:

– males were more likely to trust their bodies in telling them how much to eat than females

– those males and females who used intuitive eating were less likely to suffer from eating disorders

– females who stopped eating when they were full were less likely to diet and binge eat than those who ignored the satiety signals and kept eating

The study concludes that intuitive eating with its focus on internal regulation of food intake seems to be a more effective strategy for adults to lose or maintain weight than traditional dieting principles focusing on restriction.

Intuitive eating is not only for adults. Children are wonderful intuitive eaters with an innate ability to regulate intake of food. To help them preserve this amazing gift, parents can use authoritative feeding strategies and division of responsibility in feeding. Read Division of responsibility works and Your parenting style matters.

But a behavior that is natural for kids may be hard to master for grown ups who have not been paying enough attention to their hunger-satiety cues for many years. Intuitive eating is a skill and, as any skill, it may require time to master. But if you are ready to consider learning it, here are the basic rules of intuitive eating borrowed from the website of the founders of Intuitive Eating movement, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.

2. Honor Your Hunger Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

4. Challenge the Food Police Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created . The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

8. Respect Your Body Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.

9. Exercise–Feel the Difference Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.

10 Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.

What are your thoughts on Intuitive Eating? Are you following any of these rules already?


Denny K., Loth K., Eisenberg M., Neumarl-Sztainer D. Intuitive eating in young adults. Who is doing it, and how is it related to disordered eating behaviors? Appetite, Volume 60, January 2013, 13–19

Rolls, B. J., Engell, D., & Birch, L. L. (2000). Serving portion size influences 5-year-old but not 3-year-old children’s food intakes. J Am Diet Assoc, 100(2), 232-234.