What Is Intuitive Eating?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on April 21, 2023
3 min read

Intuitive eating is a simple idea. It means that you make peace with all types of food. Unlike traditional diets that restrict or ban certain foods, intuitive eating requires you to stop looking at food as “good” or “bad.” Instead, you listen to your body and eat what feels right for you.

You might think this means you just eat whatever you want, anytime you want. That’s not the case. Experts say intuitive eating means tapping into your body’s natural ability to tell you when you’re hungry or satisfied.

When you eat intuitively, you also let go of the idea that you need to lose or gain weight so you can look a certain way. The idea is to help you focus on foods that work best for your overall physical and mental health.

Reject diets. Following strict rules around food may not help you lose weight over the long run. If the diet doesn’t work or you’re unable to keep up, you may look for a newer, better diet and start all over again. When you restrict foods, your body may not get the nutrients it needs to function at its best. And for some people, frequent dieting could lead to an eating disorder.

Eat when you’re hungry. Trust your body and give yourself permission to eat when it lets you know you’re hungry. Eat a variety of foods to make sure you get the nutrients you need. Don't ignore your hunger pangs until they overwhelm you. Instead of choosing foods that make you feel good, you're likely to eat whatever you can get. You’re also more likely to overeat this way.

Pay attention to fullness. When you eat, pause frequently to check in with your body. Think about how the food tastes and assess your hunger levels to see if you need more. And take time to savor the experience of eating. When you feel satisfied and happy, you’ll know you’ve had enough.

Choose foods that make you feel good. Depriving yourself of certain foods can trigger serious cravings and even lead to binge eating. Eating intuitively is about choosing foods that satisfy both your health needs and your taste buds. Moderation is key. One bite of chocolate won’t make you gain weight overnight. But what and how you eat over time affect your health.

Respect your emotions. Eating to satisfy emotions like anxiety, loneliness, anger, or boredom won’t fix the problems that are causing these feelings. If you find yourself doing this often, talk to a therapist to sort out your feelings.

We need more studies on intuitive eating. But some research has found that while those who consistently eat intuitively may not lose weight, they tend to have lower BMIs (body mass indexes) and better mental health.

It may not be for everyone. For some health conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, your doctor may ask you to cut back on certain foods to manage your condition. If you plan to try intuitive eating, tell your doctor about it first.

If you’re not sure how to start eating intuitively, see a registered dietitian or a nutritionist to come up with a meal plan that works for you.