While social media has helped popularize this relatively new way of eating, it’s also spread some myths that could be holding you back from cutting out food rules, listening to your body, and finally feeling good about food.
So, what is intuitive eating?
It’s an eating framework developed by dietitians that allows you to stop dieting and learn to honor your health through a positive relationship with food and your body. It’s essentially learning how to tune out the external rules that dictate how you’re “supposed to” eat and learning to tune into the internal cues your body gives you about what, when, and how much to eat and move.
But, if you’ve been under the impression that intuitive eating is the “hunger and fullness diet” or the “eating whatever you want whenever you want it” diet, you wouldn’t be alone. “I think one of the biggest components of intuitive eating that gets forgotten is logic,” says Kristi Ruth, RDN, CNSC, LDN. Practicing each principle of intuitive eating teaches you how to eat in a way that combines intuition with logic and nutrition to truly feel your best and take care of every aspect of your health.
Knowing this, intuitive eating dietitians are adamant that this way of eating that is versatile. Here are the most popular reasons people think intuitive eating won’t work for them, according to intuitive eating dietitians who help clients overcome these hurdles every day.
Myth 1: “I need to lose weight before I can start intuitive eating”
“People think that they need to lose weight first before they can eat intuitively,” says Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, a northern Virginia-based dietitian who helps women stop dieting and find confidence with food. “In reality, what I find with my clients is they often dig themselves into a deeper hole by trying restrictive and extreme approaches to dieting rather than fixing their relationship with food first.”
Social media perpetuates this myth, with the “what I eat in a day” reels almost exclusively featuring influencers in smaller bodies, which skews the reality of body diversity within the intuitive eating community, and the “how I lost x number of pounds with intuitive eating” Tiktoks.
The best time to start your intuitive eating journey is right where you are, no matter what weight you are. If your weight truly is above your body’s healthy and happy number, then learning to cue into and honor your body signals and have a healthy relationship with food is the best way to get to your body’s unique preferred size.
Myth 2: “I’ll only eat sweets and junk food—and that’s not healthy”
“Intuitive eating means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, including those you may consider ‘junk food.’ If you’re used to restricting food, it may feel like you can’t trust yourself around certain foods,” says Kristin Draayer, MS, RDN.
This initial refeeding phase of all of your previously “off-limit” foods doesn’t last forever, and it can help you learn and appreciate how different types of foods actually make you feel. “Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and incorporating your favorite foods on a regular basis can lead to less obsession and drive toward food, and will ultimately result in a balanced eating pattern,” says Draayer.
It’s not just experience that makes intuitive eating dietitians so sure that balanced eating will happen over time. Research has found that people who scored higher on the intuitive eating scale eat more fruits and vegetables than those who scored lowest and were more likely to diet.
Myth 3: “I’ll just gain weight”
Regardless of what the scale says, when you begin your intuitive eating journey, you can expect three possible outcomes when it comes to weight: you lose weight, you gain weight, or your weight stays the same. If you’ve been on and off diets, experience weight cycling, or have an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise, your body is likely not at the weight it naturally wants to be at.
Research has found that taking a weight-neutral approach to health can actually improve health markers, intuitive eating scores, and diet quality.
“It’s tough to unlearn the idea that you have complete control over your body, but once you do, you get to focus on health outcomes without making it about weight, build healthy relationships that aren’t based on appearance, and reconstruct your self-worth around things that aren’t in flux over the course of a normal life,” explains Tori Martinet, MS RD, intuitive eating and gentle nutrition dietitian at Tori’s Table.
Myth 4. “If I’m not on a diet, I overeat”
If you’re asking yourself how you’ll know when to stop eating if you’re not counting, measuring, and tracking, you may have lost track of what comfortable fullness feels like—and that’s okay! Intuitive eating can help you get those cues back and learn how to honor them so you know when you’ve had just the right amount of food.
“It’s common for many people to have lost or ignored hunger and fullness cues for so long when in diet culture that their body has learned to override them,” explains Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, creator of Bucket List Tummy. “When learning to make peace with food and allowing yourself to eat foods unconditionally, your body will relearn its own self-regulation again, and you can (re)build trust around hunger and fullness again,” Schlichter adds.
If the idea of letting go of all structure and relying on your body signals sounds too scary, or you don’t know how to identify the signals yet, basic guidelines are allowed and many intuitive eating dietitians encourage them in the beginning. “It sometimes helps to have structure in the beginning as you relearn hunger and fullness cues, and learn to tune in to what your body wants and needs, and then slowly extrapolate to letting your body guide you,” Schlichter explains.
Myth 5: “I can’t eat whatever I want, I have a health condition”
If you have any sort of food or diet-related health condition, you may feel like dieting is all you’ll ever be able to do, but that’s simply not true.
Eating peanuts when you’re allergic to peanuts isn’t going to feel good, and giving yourself an allergic reaction isn’t part of intuitive eating. Being mindful of medical food restrictions or how certain nutrients affect your body can be part of your intuitive eating journey.
“Intuitive eating should be looked at as more of a lifestyle that allows you to be more in tune with your hunger cues, honoring your health, and find satisfaction from a variety of foods,” says Haley Bishoff, RDN, owner of Rūtsu Nutrition.
If you do have a medical condition and aren’t sure how intuitive eating can fit in with your needs, working with an intuitive eating dietitian that specializes in your condition is highly recommended.