What Is Intuitive Eating Definition And Meaning?

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intuitive eating definition cover image with two registered dietitians

I recently conversed with two wonderful Registered Dietitians Hayley and Michelle about the definition of Intuitive Eating and much more!

Here’s my take on our conversation. In this post I’ll draw from our interview to answer commonly asked questions like:

  • What is the definition of intuitive eating?
  • Does intuitive eating really work?
  • What an intuitive eater eats in a day (if can’t feel hunger cues)?
  • How do I deal with a poor body image that prevents me from listening to my body and eating intuitively?
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To download MP3 of Eating Enlightenment podcast of this conversation, click here

About Hayley: Hayley is a dually licensed dietitian and psychotherapist with 8 years experience working with clients with eating disorders. Hayley also has 12 years experience as a dietitian and 10 years experience as a therapist. She is the owner of Hayley Miller Nutrition.

You can learn more about the services of Hayley and Michelle their website at http://hayleymillernutrition.com/

Hayley’s Instagram @ https://www.instagram.com/hayleymillernutrition/

About Michelle: Michelle is a masters level Registered Dietitian who works with clients from a Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating lens. She believes that all foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle, feel good, and that eating well can be really simple and fun! Michelle has experience working as both a chef and registered dietitian in residential eating disorders treatment, and has additional experience counseling clients in the private practice setting.

You can learn more about Michelle at https://www.michellepillepichnutrition.com/

Michelle’s Instagram @ https://www.instagram.com/michellepillepichnutrition/

Resource List

Books Mentioned:

What Is Your Intuitive Eating Definition?

I was curious to hear about what my guests thought about intuitive eating. What was their intuitive eating definition?

I asked this question to Hayley, around minute 13.

Hayley’s Definition of Intuitive Eating

  • Reject The Diet Mentality
  • Make Peace With Food
  • Respect Your Body

So health at every size is where you reject the diet mentality. Intuitive eating is also avoiding any of the stereotypical diet culture beliefs like you have to lose weight to be healthy. Intuitive Eating is more about helping the person understand where their body naturally lands when they’re feeding themselves and giving themselves permission to eat.

And in terms of how to make peace with food, something we often talk about is “What are your nutrition needs? How can you honor your health?” Getting more in touch with hunger fullness cues and respecting your body to the point where you accept the weight your body lands at.

So that’s a little bit of the intuitive eating and make peace with food part, at least to the point where you discover the satisfaction factor and get up to date with your hunger cues. And part of intuitive eating is following a meal plan. It’s very important too to put weight loss on the back burner and not using BMI, not using ideal body weight, as ways to measure success. None of those things that include any individual differences when it comes to weight and size. You need to feel the difference.

Below is an image of what are commonly considered to be three hallmark principles of Intuitive Eating. Very similar to Hayley’s intuitive eating definition!

Does Intuitive Eating Really Work?

This question was inspired by real feedback I got from you.

In the new year I sent an email out asking “What’s your biggest struggle around food?”

I got a few responses along the lines of – “does intuitive eating really work?”

Paraphrasing slightly, one person wrote “It’s crazy to think that if I make peace with food I’ll eat normally. I’m truly addicted. I’m not normal. I need rules. I want to know more about health at every size stuff (haes?) does that stuff really work?”

(If you’d like me to ask or address your question in a future podcast or article, you can submit your question anonymously here).

Since you wrote, I figured I’d ask Michelle about her thoughts. A little bit before minutes 22 Michelle says …

Michelle‘s Thoughts On How Intuitive Eating Works

  • Intuitive Eating is Revolutionary
  • Make Foods Morally Equal Not Different
  • Trust Your Physical Feelings
  • Work With A Registered Diatitian

I think that people in general are so afraid of the short term that they have a hard time conceptualizing the long-term. Because when you’re used to a life of dieting and following these external rules or regulations or whatever you hear, then when you eliminate those food rules then yes, it might feel kind of crazy and out of control for a little bit. As you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, you will go through some emotional eating periods – but this time without guilt or automatic habits. This is the messy middle part that will then lead you to intuitive eating.

You know, one of the intuitive eating principles is make peace with food. And make peace with food means putting everything on a level playing field. And what I like to talk about a lot with clients is once everything is accessible at the same level, then those foods lose their emotional power over you – you are free to choose your own relationship with food, whatever that may be, based on how you feel and what you find out for yourself. So at the very beginning, foods still have that power and it will feel hard and complicated and kind of crazy.

And that’s why hopefully you have a registered dietitian to work with professional guidance, even just reading the intuitive eating book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, if that’s the only thing that you can access. And then it’s about trust in the process and just knowing that this end goal is possible, you’re having professionals, research and literature point to this as a sustainable way of life.

What An Intuitive Eater Eats In A Day (if can’t feel hunger cues)?

Around the 15 minute mark I ask about the possibility of beginning to become an intuitive eater if you don’t feel hunger cues or are afraid of eating intuitively.

See, a crucial part of learning the health at every size approach is listening to your body so you know when you are hungry and full.

But what if you can’t feel your body or can’t follow your hunger signals? Does this mean that you cannot become an intuitive eater?


For the listener listening, how do they know if they’re feeling their hunger cues or not feeling their hunger cues? Or do you need the help of a professional? What does an intuitive eater eat in a day, in the beginning of their journey?


  • To figure out if you can feel your hunger cues or not, ask yourself “Do I get hungry every few hours?”
  • If you don’t feel hunger cues, then you need to follow a flexible eating schedule
  • By following a flexible eating schedule, you can learn to ask yourself, “How do I actually know the subtle signs of hunger?”

Well, I think the first thing you could ask yourself is, “Do I get hungry every few hours?” Generally, people who are in tune with their hunger feel like eating every three to five hours, three to six hours, depending on how much they ate. Time wise this means that all humans should eat at least three balanced meals a day. And then snacks in between when you get hungry.

So if you’re not getting hungry three times a day every day, or you’re not feeling a little bit empty or low energy and you’re like, are you getting a headache? And you’re like, “Oh yeah, I must be hungry.” If you are feeling hungry a few times a day then you can become an intuitive eater.

However, if you don’t have any cues all day, all the time then you can’t really start with intuitive eating cause you need to start getting back into asking yourself, “How do I actually know the subtle signs of hunger?” So those are things we talk about and study so you can learn your hunger cues. And you’re not always going to get your hunger cues. But you can learn to hear that your stomach’s rumbling and you are ready to eat.

If you are just beginning the intuitive eating journey and can’t feel your hunger well, one important strategy is to eat regularly during the day no matter what.

How Do I Deal With A Poor Body Image That Prevents Me Eating Intuitively?

Now this question is a bit more advanced. As you get into intuitive eating you first start to listen to your body and question diet culture. You then begin unrestricting. These are all major milestones.

As you do these things your relationship to food will change. Binge eating will go down. Urges will decrease.

But you probably won’t be satisfied. I mean, you’ll be thrilled at the changes your making and how you are naturally eating healthier than ever…

But you’ll still have troublesome thoughts. That’s right, intuitive eating is not a magic pill. You’ll still have difficult thoughts. You’ll start to realize these negative thoughts are the things responsible for your occasional binge or bad day.

And so then you come to body image, which can seem to be the source of these negative thoughts. How do you transform your body image? Is this even possible?

I ask this question to Michelle around minute 29 …

Michelle On Body Image

  • Question back to when you had your ‘ideal body’. Were you dieting or in a torturous cycle?
  • You don’t need to love your body, but you will benefit by tolerating your body.
  • As you make peace with food you will have more headspace to live your best life.

I think it’s really important to remind people to think back and question what cost were you achieving the “ideal body” because people tend to have selective memory about body at different points throughout their life. And they remember, “Oh, I love the way I looked!” but do they remember the torture diet cycle that they were in at that time?

As for body image, I don’t really counsel people on how to love their body. I always tell my clients, my goal is just to tolerate your body. And really my goal is for you to not think about your body because that’s gonna open up your mind to so many other things.

You’ll have so much more brain space for things that are more important. Chances are when you feel better around food, you’re going to care less about what your body looks like and you’ll just be able to focus on the more valuable things in your life, your relationships, your career, your charitable causes, whatever it is that is really important to you.

Great thanks for reading this article! If you’d like to read another article of mine about Intuitive Eating principles, please check out “Another 10 Intuitive Eating Principles

If you have feedback, please comment below or use this anonymous form.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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