What the Heck Is Intuitive Eating (and Should You Try It)?

woman at a table with a burger

Trendy diets are a dime a dozen, but when we heard about a nutrition philosophy that’s billed as an “anti-diet” diet, our interest was piqued.

It’s called intuitive eating. Here’s what you need to know about this refreshingly realistic and doable approach to food.

On a very basic level, intuitive eating is the idea that you should eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. Sound simple? It is. Instead of relying on complicated calorie counting or labeling entire food groups as off-limits, intuitive eating is about knowing how your body feels and works in relation to what you’re putting into it. Its goal, instead of weight loss, is for you to stop thinking about food in negative, restrictive terms.

Yes, you should still eat a balanced, nutritious diet, but proponents of intuitive eating posit that once you get in tune with what your body needs, you’ll gravitate toward those nutrient dense foods (with the occasional unhealthy indulgence).

Though the concept of eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full isn’t at all new, the term intuitive eating was coined less than 25 years ago in the book Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Tracy L. Tylka, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, came up with four pillars of eating intuitively: not labeling any foods as forbidden, avoiding emotional eating, trusting your body’s hunger cues to make food choices and choosing foods that taste good and make you feel good.

Sounds great, but does it work? The research is promising. One study at Charles Sturt University in Wales found that “intuitive eating is negatively associated with BMI, positively associated with various psychological health indicators, and possibly positively associated with improved dietary intake and/or eating behaviors.”

The bottom line: Intuitive eating is all about listening to your body. And yes, sometimes it’s going to tell you it needs a burger instead of a salad—and that’s OK.

sarah stiefvater
Sarah Stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...
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