Intuitive Eating III: Food is Never the Enemy

woman eating sandwich

Contributed By: Amber Sullivan UGA Dietetic Student


- What is Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is the art of listening to your body and eating whatever it desires whenever it desires it. Most importantly, intuitive eating is not a diet.

- Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality

The first step to intuitive eating is to disregard everything you've learned about nutrition from diet culture. No more counting calories, eating certain foods and feeling bad about it, or classifying foods as good and bad. And obviously, no more dieting, that's over and done with.

- Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger

The second principle of intuitive eating is listening to your hunger cues. This entails eating when you feel hungry despite what time it is and stopping when you feel full to avoid feelings of discomfort.

Principle 3: Make Peace with Food

The third principle of intuitive eating is being able to make peace with food. In other words, giving yourself permission without conditions to eat what you want to avoid feelings of deprivation. Deprivation of any kind when it comes to food can lead to uncontrollable cravings and episodes of binge eating. These cravings stem from the act of denying yourself the ability to eat the food that you have prevented in your diet. This causes the restricted food to be extra special. When you eventually break the diet by eating the forbidden food, you end up overeating due to fear of restriction once you resume your diet. 

The act of overeating after breaking a diet rule of restriction is called rebound eating. Rebound eating can manifest in many different ways:

    - Last Supper Eating: binging on certain foods that are going to be restricted before starting a diet.

     - Food Competition: trying to out-eat someone else; this can occur with siblings, having a big family, and/or eating in large group settings.

     - Return Home Syndrome: Eating a lot or binging on a particular food due to not having access to it; coming home from college; coming home from vacation.

     - The Empty Cupboard: Not having enough or constant food in the house due to busy schedules, not having enough money, etc. This causes food in the pantry to be special and can lead to periods of overeating.

     - Captivity Behavior: Obsessing over a specific food due to not having access to it.

     - Once in a lifetime: Overeating a specific food because you feel like this is the only time you'll ever be able to eat it; vacation or visiting a foreign country.

     - Depression-era eating: Some people who experienced the Great Depression hold food in high regard due to there not being enough when they needed it. Some fear that there won't be enough food or that certain items may become unavailable. Ideas like "clean your plate" appeared and were passed down through the family.

     - One last shot: similar to once in a lifetime but less severe. This is your one chance to eat this food for an extended period due to circumstances; it occurs when eating at a friend's or eating food that has been sent as a gift.

     - Anticipation of food restriction: caused by planning to go on a diet, moving to a different place that may not have that food, going on a long trip or vacation to a foreign country or area without the specific food.

For chronic dieters, making peace with food can be difficult. For most chronic dieters, breaking a diet is associated with feelings of guilt and binge eating. The way to get rid of guilt is to stop dieting (first principle) and give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods. This means no longer classifying foods as good or bad, eating the foods you desire, and eating without regard to previous meals eaten. In giving yourself permission, there is no longer any emotional attachment to food. No more guilt. Food becomes just food. The tricky part of making peace with food for chronic dieters is overcoming the fears that they've accumulated over the years from instances of rebound eating. These fears include:

     - Not being able to stop eating: Some chronic dieters fear overindulging themselves once they stop restricting foods. However, habituating or making a food an everyday staple in your diet takes away the novelty and reward associated with forbidden food. As a result, there's no need to overindulge out of fear of this being your last time eating that food.

     - I've tried it before: Other chronic dieters have "tried" this before, but they actually didn't give themselves full permission. The permission they gave themselves was just temporary and hadn't really made peace with food.

     - Self-fulfilling prophecy: If you go into making peace with fears of failing or that it's not going to work because you're going to overeat, then you're going to overeat. Your mind is powerful, so to fully make peace with food means letting go of your fears associated with food and overeating.

     - I won't eat healthy: Many people who have finally made peace with food balance their foods while including foods that aren't as nutritious and that they enjoy eating in moderation

Making peace with food is hard; it's not an easy task. It takes a lot of patience and actively trying to disregard all of the food rules learned through dieting. To fully come to peace with food, you have to get rid of your dieting mentality (Principle I and Principle III go hand in hand). However, beware the I can eat whatever I want, as much as I want, whenever I feel like it mentality. Though these thoughts abide by principle one, they completely ignore the second principle of intuitive eating, honoring your hunger. If you feel full or satisfied, then there's no physical reason to eat, and eating when feeling full may cause you physical discomfort. If you decide to eat without physical hunger, provide yourself with full permission and recognize what emotion you may be feeling (boredom, joy, sadness, anger) and process it with your dietitian, therapist or in your journal. It is okay to eat when you are not physically hungry! Intuitive eating at first may seem complicated, especially to chronic dieters. But, once you understand your body and listen to its needs, it becomes second nature.

Tip: Here are Five Steps to Help You with Making Peace with Food

1) Start by noting and realizing foods that appeal to you.

2) Now write them down or keep a mental note of those foods, which ones you eat, and which one you have restricted yourself from eating.

3) Then try one of the foods you've denied yourself from eating.

4) Note whether or not you actually like the food. If you do continue to eat it and give yourself access to that food.

5) Once you've made peace with one food. You can make peace with all the foods you've deprived yourself of.




Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. Fourth Edition ed., St. Martin's Publishing Group, 2020.