Intuitive Eating For You and Your Family

Intuitive eating is a flexible eating style that focuses on trusting and following physical hunger and satiety cues. These cues guide your body for when, what, and how much to eat. We're all born intuitive eaters; however, it's common to gradually stray away from these internal cues and allow external factors to sneak in and start controlling eating habits. Here's an in-depth look at Intuitive Eating, along with more tips

Intuitive Eating and Children

When it comes to children, intuitive eating is associated with positive physical and psychological outcomes, particularly when kiddos are given the freedom to recognize and respect their signals, without parents trying to control them.

When children are fully aware of physical sensations of hunger and fullness, yet receive messages from adults that they can't possibly be hungry or must eat everything on their plate before being excused from the table, it erodes trust in their body and autonomy. While strategies such as encouraging, bribing, or tricking may be well-intentioned, they end up increasing picky eating and escalating power struggles at the table.

Eating family meals is also correlated with a child's weight

Walk the Talk To Promote Intuitive Eating

A child's impulse to imitate is strong, so it’s important you act as a role model for your kids. Sooner or later, kids will do as you do. It’s no good asking your child to eat fruit and vegetables while you gorge on potato chips and soda. Let them see you eating a variety of different fruits and vegetables. If you don’t like a particular fruit or vegetable, by all means, NEVER, and I mean NEVER, tell your child that. Fake it!! If your child knows you don’t like it, they won’t want to eat it either!

In research, when mothers consumed more fruits and vegetables, they were less likely to pressure their daughters to eat, their daughters ate more fruits and vegetables, and the daughters were less likely to be picky eaters. 

Don’t Be the Food Police

Trying to control the food intake of a loved one can only lead to trouble, especially if the person has some disordered eating going on. It emphasizes thoughts, “I can’t be trusted with food,” and it teaches your loved one they need to rely on external voices to determine what they “should” and “should not” eat, and how much to eat. This can cause a lot of guilt around food, and it's impossible to view eating as a normal, pleasurable activity when the food police have a stronghold.

Stay away from phrases like, “maybe you want some more of this ‘healthy’ food,” or “you shouldn’t have dessert before dinner.” If you are concerned about your loved one’s eating habits the best time to confront them is when food is not present. It may be helpful to enlist the help of a dietitian.

Get Rid of the Scale

This doesn’t mean just hiding the scale. Actually, throw it away. To someone with disordered eating tendencies, the scale can become a way to determine how much to eat or how to feel (“good” or “bad” about themselves). Weighing can become an unhealthy obsession. The number on the scale is another way for individuals to look outside themselves (externally) for answers.

Don’t Comment On Appearance

This is true even if you think it’s a compliment. Something like, “you look healthy,” or even “you’re so thin,” can be twisted around and distorted in the mind of someone with an eating disorder. Try to avoid these comments at all times, even to the males in your life.

Keep a Wide Variety of Foods Around the House

Being an intuitive eater means figuring out what is being craved during times of hunger. The more variety available, the better chance the craving can be identified and satisfied. Keep various whole grains like bread, quinoa, and rice on hand. Also, keep fresh fruits and vegetables in the house. Meats, like deli cuts and ground beef and other protein sources like peanut butter and cheese, are important for specific cravings. Snack foods are a necessity, as well. It’s important to consider taste preferences and meal options while shopping at the grocery store.

Don’t Buy “Diet Foods”

These are very triggering and tempting to individuals with a dieting mentality. They feed into unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Plus, they are generally unsatisfying.

Make Peach With Food

Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Food is food. It has no moral value. Allow all foods into your diet and give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want. If you tell yourself you can't have or shouldn't have a certain food, you will eventually feel deprived; this deprivation builds into uncontrollable cravings and overeating. This overeating triggers guilt, which starts the cycle over again: deprivation or restriction --> cravings and overeating --> feelings of guilt.

All foods have nutritional value because every food is made up of carbohydrates, protein, and/or fat. These are the main nutrients needed for bodies to function properly, aka: macronutrients. By listening to and tuning into the body’s needs, these macronutrients will be consumed in an appropriate way. 

Start by choosing one or two items to focus on and you'll eventually find balance and develop long-term lifestyle habits, no diets required. 

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods


Center for Change. Dieting is Out; Listening to Our Bodies is In. Alice Covey, RD CD

Tribole E, Resch E. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. 3rd edition. New York: St. Martin's Griffin; 2012.

Tylka TL, Lumeng JC, Eneli IU. Maternal intuitive eating as a moderator of the association between concern about child weight and restrictive child feeding. Appetite. 2015;95:158-165.

Dockendorff SA, Petrie TA, Greenleaf CA, Martin S. Intuitive eating scale: an examination among early adolescents. J Couns Psychol. 2012;59(4):604-611.

Birch LL, Fisher JO. Development of eating behaviors among children and adolescents. Pediatrics.1998;101(3 Pt 2):539-549.

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