Intuitive eating: The non-diet diet

Anita Marlay
Special to the Lake Sun, USA TODAY NETWORK
We go on crazy diets that force us to limit our food intake even though we may still be hungry. Intuitive eating can teach you how to get back to eating naturally.

We are born to be intuitive eaters. Babies cry when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full. As frustrating as it is for parents at times, kids will eat or not eat depending on whether they are hungry, regardless if it’s mealtime. However, as we grow up, we listen less to our bodies and more to outside influences about food. We eat because the clock tells us it’s time. We believe we must clean our plates even if we are full or that dessert is a reward. We’re told that certain foods are good and others are bad. We go on crazy diets that force us to limit our food intake even though we may still be hungry. Intuitive eating can teach you how to get back to eating naturally.

Intuitive eating allows you to enjoy food without guidelines telling you what, when or how much to eat. Research has found that people who eat intuitively have healthier psychological attitudes, a lower body mass index, higher self-esteem, better body image and generally more satisfaction with life. Weight maintenance also is easier.

Intuitive eating is based on 10 principles –– not rules but guidelines that you can incorporate to help retrain your body. They are:

1. Reject the diet mentality. Don’t focus on your weight. Get rid of any diet books, and unfollow anyone on social media who promises quick weight loss. Two-thirds of people who lose weight regain it within a year, and almost all regain it within five years. Diets clearly don’t work.

2. Honor your hunger. Learn to feed your body adequately throughout the day. Not eating enough can fuel a drive to overeat, as well as cause you to make impulsive choices. You may need to relearn your body’s hunger cues.

3. Make peace with food. Give yourself permission to eat any food. Limiting yourself to certain food just leads to uncontrollable cravings. Then, when you do give in and eat it, you likely will eat larger than normal portions because you don’t know when you’ll get it again.

4. Challenge the food police. Ignore that voice in your head that says you are being good when you eat certain foods and bad when you eat others.

5. Feel your fullness. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show you are comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself if you are now full.

6. Discover the satisfaction factor. When you eat what you really want in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied. Make your eating experience enjoyable. Have a meal that tastes good to you, and you may find it takes less food to satisfy you.

7. Cope with your emotions with kindness. Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract and resolve your issues and ultimately get to the source of the problem. We all experience anxiety, loneliness, boredom or anger throughout life. Food doesn’t solve any of those issues and may make you feel worse in the long run.

8. Respect your body. Accept your genetic blueprint. Rather than criticizing your body, recognize it as capable and beautiful just the way it is.

9. Feel the power of movement. Forget crazy exercise regimens. Just move more. Focus on how you feel after being active rather than how many calories you can burn.

10. Honor your health. Make food choices that are good for your health. You don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters.

These also are good principles to teach children to help them develop a healthy relationship with food and weight.

The term “intuitive eating” was developed by a registered dietitian, Evelyn Tribole, in 1995. For more information about intuitive eating, visit

Creamy Chipotle Chicken Thighs

Serves 4

2 Tbsp canola oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed

½ tsp salt, divided

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

½ cup unsalted chicken broth

½ cup chipotle salsa

¼ cup reduced fat sour cream

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, and sprinkle with ¼ tsp salt. Cook, flipping once, until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil and onion to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is lightly browned and starting to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the broth, and cook, scraping up any browned bits, for 1 minute.

Whisk salsa, sour cream and the remaining ¼ tsp salt together in a small bowl. Add the mixture to the pan along with the chicken and any accumulated juices. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 5-7 minutes.

Nutrition Information: 273 calories, 18 g fat, 5 g carbs, 22 g protein, 474 mg sodium

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.