How Intuitive Eating Can Improve Your Mental Well-Being
Written by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RDN, LDN
We all know that nutrition is important to health. However, did you know that your relationship with food can be even more important?
In this diet-focused society, many dietitians are moving away from the mainstream advice of “eat less and exercise more.” They recognize the harmful effects of intentional dieting, from regaining more weight than was lost to developing eating disorders.
So instead, these practitioners have joined an anti-diet movement that focuses on overall health and well-being rather than weight. One way to release the diet mentality and find true well-being is through intuitive eating.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a self-care framework made up of 10 principles designed to help you make peace with food, free yourself from chronic dieting, and rediscover the pleasures of eating.
We are all born intuitive eaters, but exposure to diet culture can cause us to look to external cues for how to eat and what we should look like. Intuitive eating reconnects us to our internal wisdom about eating.
Intuitive eating takes away a lot of the mental anxiety that can present around food and body image. To date, there have been over 100 studies showing the benefits of intuitive eating.
How intuitive eating can affect mental health
Intuitive eating can improve mental health by releasing guilt, helping you be kind to yourself, and overall focusing on the way you live, not how much you weigh. Studies show that mental health benefits of intuitive eating include reduced disordered eating, fewer episodes of binge eating, improved body appreciation and acceptance, more joy in eating, and greater life satisfaction.
Releases emotional guilt
Whether you have felt guilty after eating a certain food or “too much” food, intuitive eating reminds us that food has no moral value and that this guilt exists because of diet culture.
The thoughts and voices in your head that tell you that you are good for eating a salad or bad for eating a cookie are referred to as the “food police.” Using tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, you can learn to recognize these thoughts when they present and then either reframe them or simply let them go without attaching to them.
Intuitive eating also teaches us that there is no such thing as “perfect eating” and that being too focused on healthy eating isn’t healthy.
Helps you be kind to yourself
The principles of intuitive eating also remind us to be kind to ourselves. After all, what is healthy about criticizing yourself or feeling guilty? Once you realize these thoughts only exist because of diet culture it becomes even more clear that this is unhelpful.
It can be hard to be kind to ourselves but intuitive eating shows us that with practice we can learn to treat ourselves with unconditional self-compassion.
Focus on the way, not how much you weigh
Diet culture tells us that being thin is desirable. This suggests that what we look like is important and that we should eat in a way to promote this. It’s a way of thinking that puts all the emphasis on weight and looks, not true health, setting unrealistic standards for most.
Intuitive eating teaches us to respect our body as it is today. It shifts the focus from weight loss to overall health and well-being. It teaches us that health is more about the way we live than how much we weigh.
What you can do to start eating intuitively
If you think that you may benefit from improving your relationship with food and your body, then learning more about intuitive eating is a great place to start. For more individual guidance, consider working with a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. Check out some other resources below.
Unlearn diet culture and improve your mental health
Most people find that once they see diet culture they can’t unsee it. While it can take time to unlearn old ways of thinking about food and your body, it’s possible. One of the best parts of ditching the diet mentality is the newfound mental space and freedom that you will have. Rather than spending hours of your day thinking about food, you will now have more room for what matters most to you in life. I’m pretty sure that this is one thing you will not regret!
The bottom line, intuitive eating is helpful for mental health and well-being.
About the author:
Maria is a registered dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor based in Marblehead, MA. Maria takes a weight-inclusive approach and helps individuals rediscover the joy of food by helping them heal from chronic dieting and disordered eating. She loves to create Swedish-inspired recipes and will work with clients to find recipes and food ideas they enjoy. Maria is the owner of halsanutrition.com and teaches nutrition at Endicott College.
Check out @halsanutrition on Instagram or Maria's website halsanutrition.com for more!
Intuitive Eating - A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, 4th Edition, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Unapologetic Eating - Make Peace with Food and Transform Your Life by Alissa Rumsey
Gentle Nutrition - A Non-Diet Approach to Healthy Eating by Rachel Hartley, RD
Nutrition Counseling Websites:
Eating Disorder Support: