Find Your Eating Intuition

By Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

One of the things I am very thankful for is that I have a great on/off switch button when it comes to eating. In the U.S., we get very much caught up in carbs, fat, protein, and every facet of what we’re eating. I am certainly not immune to this – especially as a registered dietitian. After all, what we use as food is important.

But putting aside the question of what to eat for a moment, one of the most helpful methods I have found to maintain a healthy weight is knowing when (and when not) to eat. Simply put: I eat when I’m hungry and I stop eating as soon as I feel satisfied. I don’t think much about this process at all. And in between meals and snacks I really don’t think about food.

Trusting Your Inner Voice to Eat Right and Be Healthy

Yes, I feel lucky to have such a good built-in on/off switch for eating. So often people I hear from do not have this inner mechanism of knowing when and when not to eat. But the good news is that there is now an entire specialty within the nutrition field devoted to helping people to reconnect to their hunger and satiety switches. It is called “intuitive eating.”

I’ve written about intuitive eating before, but I think it is worth talking about more often. I believe that intuitive eating really helps people gain (or often re-gain) a connection with their bodies and their food in a healthy way.

It’s hard to believe that anything could quell a late-night “Rocky Road” craving besides the cold, creamy stuff. But with enough practice, intuitive eating techniques can kill that mindless urge to eat. When the urge to eat strikes, try counting your breaths up to four (innn, one, innn, two…) and then ask yourself: Am I hungry, or am I eating for some other reason? In practicing this kind of meditation every day, eating eventually becomes a choice rather than a thoughtless habit.

The underlying premise of intuitive eating is that you learn to respond to your body cues because we are all born with the wisdom needed for eating intuitively. This may sound simplistic, but it is rather complex.

Our hunger and satiety cues are often clouded by years of dieting and food myths that abound in our culture. For example, “Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full” may sound like basic common sense, but when you have a history of chronic dieting or following rigid health rules about eating, it can be quite difficult.

Below is a summary of the 10 principles from the book, “Intuitive Eating.” I think they can go a long way toward eliminating bad feelings about food and, ultimately, to helping you maintain a healthy weight. Of course exercise and making wise food choices are still essential to reach that goal, but practicing intuitive eating can play an important role as well.

10 intuitive eating principles
1. Reject the diet mentality. Throw out the diet books and magazines 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 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 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, binge eating. When you finally give-in to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in overeating followed by overwhelming guilt.

4. Challenge the “food police.” Scream out loud “no” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” because you’re eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The “food police” only monitors the unreasonable rules that dieting regimens have created. It’s housed deep in your psyche and it 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 to the body signals that tell you when you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or snack and ask yourself how the food tastes and what your current fullness level is.

6. Discover the “satisfaction factor.” The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our pursuit of thinness and health, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence – the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. The pleasure you derive from eating can 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 than you thought to feel satisfied.

7. Honor your feelings without using food. Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger mechanism and each has its own forms of appeasement. Food won’t satisfy any of these feelings. It may comfort you for the short term, distract from the pain or even numb you. But food won’t solve your problems. If anything, eating for emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of your emotions 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 want to squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have such expectations with regards to your body size. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape. Respect your body, so you can feel better about who you really are.

9. Exercise and feel the difference. Forget over-the-top exercising. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus on how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect. If you focus on how energized you feel after working out, it can make a big difference throughout your day.

10. Honor your health. Use gentle nutrition. Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds 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 whatever you like. It’s what and how you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress not perfection is what counts.

Katherine Brooking, MS, RD is a registered dietitian, expert contributor to numerous television programs and writer. She has appeared on The TODAY Show, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Early Show on CBS, Good Morning America Health and many others. She covers health and wellness topics in SELF Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and New York Daily News. For more information go to

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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