Intuitive Eating: Embracing a Healthy Relationship with Food


Intuitive eating, also known as the “antidiet,” is a nutrition approach that aims to promote healthy eating for everyone without the goal of altering the body, based on a model of body neutrality and individual respect, far from impositions, restrictions, and diets. Its principles advocate for nothing more than a balanced and flexible approach to nutrition.

While it doesn’t prohibit foods, it doesn’t encourage excessive consumption of those with poor nutritional quality either. Instead, it empowers individuals with information, acknowledging that everyone has the freedom to make their own choices. Moreover, intuitive eating does not promote obesity; rather, it respects every body, regardless of size, simply because they exist.

This approach does not promote the consumption of ultra-processed foods, but neither does it vilify them. Perhaps this moderation stems from its individualized perspective on nutrition. For someone recovering from an eating disorder, consuming a processed snack might signify progress. Intuitive eating also considers the circumstances of families with limited economic resources, understanding that they may have to prioritize affordability over optimal nutrition without feeling guilty.

The Essence of Intuitive Eating

By detaching health from being an “achievable merit” solely within an individual’s control, intuitive eating recognizes numerous factors beyond personal agency that significantly impact health, such as birthplace, socioeconomic conditions, and access to healthcare. It advocates for public health policies to ensure equitable access to well-being for all, irrespective of economic status.

This approach seeks to reconnect individuals with their innate intuitive eating habits—listening to hunger cues and stopping when satisfied. It emphasizes respecting one’s biological signals rather than suppressing them to pursue the elusive promise of thinness.

A truly intuitive eater cares for their body and health from a place of respect rather than fear, experiencing pleasure in food without guilt or using it as a reward or punishment. The model advocates for reconnecting with our bodies and managing food intake accordingly, based on nutritional principles. Its primary accusation might be that it promotes respect above all else.

Pros and Cons of Intuitive Eating

Despite its numerous benefits, intuitive eating may not be suitable in all circumstances. Like everything in life, it has its pros and cons. Here’s when it might not be recommended:

1. Eating Disorders: In individuals with eating disorders, hunger and satiety signals are distorted. Depending on the stage of recovery, intuitive eating may be entirely contraindicated. For instance, individuals with anorexia, who experience blunted hunger signals and early satiety, would consume very little if instructed to eat only when hungry and stop when satisfied. For these individuals, intuitive eating could impede their recovery and pose significant risks. Similarly, any form of mindful eating might be contraindicated, as they are already hyperaware and overly focused on food. For such patients, a more mechanized approach to eating is necessary.

2. Bariatric Surgery: Post-surgery, individuals undergo anatomical and metabolic changes, necessitating specific dietary considerations. Following bariatric surgery, adhering to a structured diet that provides essential nutrients and regulates macronutrient intake is crucial. Therefore, an intuitive eating approach could jeopardize the health of these individuals. Instead, they require guidance from a nutritionist specialized in bariatric surgery, regular medical check-ups, and in some cases, psychological support.

3. Diabetes (Type I and Type II): Regulating blood glucose levels cannot be managed through intuitive eating. It requires structured and precise dietary guidelines.

4. Digestive Disorders: Conditions such as ulcerative colitis require a more stringent and controlled nutritional approach.

5. Kidney Diseases: Patients with renal diseases must adhere to strict dietary restrictions, particularly concerning mineral control, such as potassium.

6. Cancer and Oncological Treatment: Cancer patients often experience malnutrition and loss of appetite due to treatments. Nutritional support must offer specific guidelines for recovery, sometimes even counteracting their lack of appetite. Encouraging them to eat only when hungry could exacerbate malnutrition and weakness.

In general, intuitive eating is not advisable when strict dietary guidelines are necessary for nutrient control or when hunger and satiety signals are distorted. While it’s a valuable tool for nutritionists, the individual’s specific circumstances must always be considered.

Conclusion: Embracing Intuitive Eating

For me, intuitive eating represents an ideal approach to fostering a healthy relationship with food and our bodies. It offers a pathway to alleviate concerns, body distortions, illnesses, and guilt associated with food. The beauty of this approach lies in its accessibility—it’s never too late to adopt it, even if one’s relationship with food and body image is severely damaged.