Six Questions Often Asked By Intuitive Eating Newcomers

When people decide to stop dieting, they often find their way to intuitive eating. This is a concept proposed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in their book Intuitive Eating. They define intuitive eating as “a process that unleashes the shackles of dieting [and] getting back to your roots–trusting your body and its signals.” People are drawn to this idea of intuitive eating because it seems like a simple way to reconnect with their bodies, make peace with food, and rediscover the pleasures of eating. However, once people read about and explore intuitive eating, they often find themselves frustrated.

Those new to intuitive eating are vulnerable and the diet culture attempts to lure them back in at every turn. They genuinely want to give up dieting, but the challenges of changing one’s approach to food can be overwhelming. While the book does provide general guidelines to intuitive eating as well as address some common concerns, newcomers often find themselves with more questions as they make their way through the 10 intuitive eating principles. These are some of the common questions that intuitive eating newcomers ask.

How do I Reject Diet Mentality?

Letting go of dieting can be scary for many people because, among other things, it provides structure, a sense of hope, and a bonding experience with fellow dieters. Tribole and Resch offer suggestions about how people can reject diet mentality.

  • Acknowledging the destructiveness of diets is the first step. People will not be able to give up dieting if they do not understand the damage it causes. Biological and health issues can occur (e.g., decreased metabolism, increased binges, and cravings) as well as psychological and emotional harm (e.g., eating disorders, lower self-esteem).
  • Diet mentality is sneaky and can show itself in subtle ways. A way to fight back is to remove anything diet-related from the environment including the scale, social media, weight loss subscriptions, cookbooks, food scales, food journals, and activity trackers.
  • Showing a little self-compassion can go a long way in rejecting the diet mentality. People often want to rid themselves of dieting in a few weeks, but this goal is unrealistic and perceived failures can lead to disappointment and negative self-talk. Self-talk should be positive and like what one might say to a child or a dear friend.

How Can I Tell When I’m Hungry or When I’m Full?

Many people have dieted so intensely that they have lost touch with their hunger and fullness cues. People can often identify feeling ravenous or stuffed but not the more subtle hunger or fullness sensations. Fortunately, these cues do return over time, but recognizing them initially can be a challenge. These are some of the more common hunger and fullness cues that people sometimes experience:

  • Hunger Cues: headache, stomach pain, empty feeling in stomach, feeling lightheaded, problems concentrating, feeling irritable/grumpy/cranky, feeling faint, thinking about food, nausea, low energy, shakiness or weakness, and stomach growling/gurgling/rumbling
  • Fullness Cues: fullness sensation in stomach, hunger cues fade, food does not taste as good, feeling calmer/relaxed/drowsy, more energized and alert, fewer food thoughts, less of a desire to eat, and feeling comfortable and content

How do I Deal With My Emotions so I Don’t Constantly Turn To Food?

Emotional eating is very common because people do not always have the coping skills necessary to handle their emotions. After years of turning to food to deal with feelings, intuitive eating newcomers frequently struggle to overcome emotional eating and may consider these three questions as a way to decrease how often they turn to food:

  • What am I feeling? Identifying the feeling is the first step in figuring out how to cope. For example, a person might feel tired, angry, or lonely.
  • What do I need right now? This can include sleep, expressing thoughts, companionship, etc.
  • How do I get that need met? This can be trial-and-error at first, but emotional eaters need to find another way to cope with feelings (e.g., take a nap, write thoughts down in a journal, talk to a friend).

Even though emotional eating is seen as negative, it is not the enemy. Emotional eating is a normal part of life, and people who do not diet use food to cope from time to time. The difference is that turning to food is not their only coping strategy.

Will My Set Point be Higher Than it has Ever Been?

Set point is the weight at which a person’s body feels most comfortable and maintaining that weight is done without any effort. Many people wonder how their set point may have been affected by dieting. Because of the complexity and individuality of the human body, there is no simple answer to this question. However, it is possible for dieting to increase someone’s set point. Dieting makes the body believe that there is a food shortage and slows down its metabolism to use fewer calories. When the diet ends and the person consumes more food, the body wants to prepare for the next “famine” by holding on to as many calories as possible resulting in an increased set point.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Intuitive Eater?

Like with set point, there is no clear-cut answer to this question because everyone is different. There are many factors that go into how long it may take someone to become an intuitive eater. First and foremost, the person has to be ready to hear the message of intuitive eating and fully embrace it. Other factors could be a person’s dieting history (i.e., duration, intensity) or how much the person has on his/her plate at the moment. For example, a person who has been dieting for 20 years and is grieving after the death of a loved one may take longer to become an intuitive eater than someone who has only been dieting for a few years and life is going relatively smoothly.

What About My Health?

The Intuitive Eating authors explicitly state that intuitive eating “does not mean you should disregard your health [and], in fact, respecting your body means taking care of your health.” Linda Bacon takes this one step further in her book Health At Every Size. She states that people often assume that there are health risks with being overweight, but the studies that suggest this does not take into consideration all of the factors that go into being healthy (e.g., stress, fitness, weight cycling). When those factors are controlled for, “increased risk of disease disappears or is significantly reduced”.


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Additional Reading:

Intuitive Eating
Intuitive Movement
Mindful Eating
Vacationing With An Eating Disorder
Vegetarianism, Veganism, and Eating Disorders
Eating at Restaurants While in Recovery from an Eating Disorder
10 Ways to Rebel Against Diet Culture

About the Author:

Deborah Raphael is an educational psychologist and a certified intuitive eating counselor. You can contact her through Facebook.


McCabe, R., McFarlane, T., & Olmstead, M. (2003). The Overcoming Bulimia Workbook: Your Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide to Recovery. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Bacon, L. (2008). Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, Inc.

Written – 2019