So how do you know if you’re doing intuitive eating right?

Beware of podcasts, books or programs that talk about intuitive eating (or mindful eating), but also claim to help you lose weight.

The point of intuitive eating is to relearn how to eat based on your bodies appetite cues, something you were born with, but may have lost through dieting, food restriction, weight loss pursuits or just living in a world where many people eat for reasons other than hunger.

Intuitive eating is about reconnecting with the pleasure of eating and fostering a calm relationship with food and body. Intuitive eating also involves learning to eat in a way which nourishes your body adequately.


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If a person loses weight through eating more intuitively, this is a SIDE EFFECT and not everyone’s weight will change. Weight loss is not, and should not, be a goal of intuitive eating.


Eating to appetite is about meeting your bodies energy and nutrients needs, not a marker for body size. Not everybody is meant to be thin (or thinner than they are) and some people when they have consistent access to adequate food will be in larger bodies. In addition, if you have lost and gained weight a number of times, you may have changed your bodies set point to a higher weight. If you feel this is you and you struggle with your current body and feel losing weight is the only way you’ll ever feel better, or be healthier, then I urge to seek help from a Health At Every Size/Non-Diet practitioner.

As the intuitive eating approach becomes more and more popular, I am hearing more people express that intuitive eating “didn’t work” for them. In most cases, this is because they have used intuitive eating as a means to lose weight and they didn’t lose weight, or “enough” weight. 

If you’re practising intuitive eating for weight loss, you are doing the “intuitive eating diet” or “hunger-fullness diet” and not actually practising intuitive eating; and as we all know – DIETS DON’T WORK!!

So how do you know if you’re doing intuitive eating right?

  • You feel calmer around food
  • You spend a lot less time thinking about food
  • You are learning to enjoy all food without guilt
  • You are starting to notice appetite cues and are learning to trust them
  • You sometimes eat less as you realise you’re not that as hungry, or you’re full
  • You sometimes eat more as you realise you need more food
  • You are starting to get more pleasure from food and may even find yourself craving things you never thought you would

For most people, it can time for these changes to start happening and many, if not most, people will need to address how they feel about their body as a key part of learning to eat intuitively. If you are focused on weight loss, you will continue to see your body as a problem and this will prevent you from truly learning to trust your body with food again.

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Chocolate is not unhealthy.

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This is something I often say to my clients. It’s very common for people to feel they “have a problem” with chocolate (insert other sweet food). When I ask my clients what they feel the problem is, the answer is often along the lines of “it’s bad for you” or “I eat too much of it” or “I need to lose weight”.

Let’s start with “It’s bad for you”…

No one food on its own is bad for your health. Eating 50g (or even 200g) of chocolate is not going to adversely affect your health, eating 10kg of chocolate in one sitting – if it were possible – would likely put you in hospital and quite possibly kill you! But so would eating 10kg of broccoli or drinking 10L of water in one sitting. The point being, it’s “the dose the that makes the poison”. 

This is when my clients might tell me “but I can’t just stop at 50g of chocolate, once I start, I can’t stop”. While there may be a number of reasons for this, one of the key reasons is labelling chocolate “bad” and trying to restrain yourself from eating it. At some point, restricting your eating nearly always leads to over-eating or binging, this has been well documented and if you have ever tried to control food intake through restriction, you’ll know what I am talking about.

Emotional hunger is another reason and this can be complex and often needs to be addressed with a skilled practitioner such a dietitian or psychologist who works in a weight neutral and non-diet space.

One of the biggest paradoxes with our dieting world, is that restricting food often leads to over-eating whereas allowing yourself to eat what you want when you feel like it, actually makes it easier to decide you’ve had enough. After all, when something is available all the time, we cease to be as excited by it and after a while, we may even lose interest. There are many biological, physiological and psychological reasons for this, which are explained in the books listed here.

In addition, when something tastes good and brings pleasure, why on earth do we insist this is bad for us? I think we can blame diet culture for this.

With respect to “I eat too much of it”…

When I ask my clients “what makes you think you eat too much?” The answer is usually to do with the sugar or fat content (or calories) and the idea that you can’t possibly lose weight eating chocolate. This is where it’s important to separate health from weight loss. There is clear evidence that shows people do not need to lose weight to see improvements in their health and in fact, focusing on weight loss often leads to poorer health. Click here for research. These facts aside, it is possible to eat chocolate and be a weight that is right your body.

If you can learn to separate your eating habits from weight loss, you can learn to enjoy chocolate, really enjoy chocolate, no guilt attached and still improve your health. The Non-Diet or Intuitive Eating approaches can help you with this. Separating your eating habits from weight loss can be difficult and you may need help from a skilled practitioner.

Lastly, I would like to argue that enjoying chocolate (insert other sweet food) is actually healthy. The ability to enjoy eating without fear, guilt or anxiety is pivotal to having a healthy relationship with food and your body. Having a healthy relationship with food and your body is vital for your overall health. Research shows time and time again, that the better your feel about yourself, the more likely you are to engage in healthy behaviours be they related to eating, being active, social or your mental health.

Thanks for reading and as always, I’s love to hear your thoughts on Facebook! The Moderation Movement.

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out

Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
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How to avoid going overboard with food this holidays… Hint – don’t restrict!

As a dietitian, at this time of year, a common question from clients is how to go about managing the extra food around the Christmas/New Year period.

With Christmas, New Year and summer holidays fast approaching, many of us find ourselves at more social gatherings with an abundance of food and alcohol. You might also find yourself doing more cooking or baking. While this shouldn’t be a problem in terms of nutrition, health or eating intuitively, diet culture makes it seem like a problem.

What do I mean by diet culture? Diet culture is the idea that certain foods are bad for you or fattening, that to keep your weight in check (or to lose weight) you must eat less, or at least not too much. The thought that if you do “indulge”, you need to restrict or be careful the next day or do more exercise, is also part of diet culture.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it pretty much always leads to over-eating the very food you think you shouldn’t be having too much off. You restrict until you’re faced with the food, at a party, at a friends house, at the office and you find yourself thinking “stuff it, one won’t hurt…”. Because you’ve been restricting the food, the food not only looks more appealing, but the pleasure centre in your brain goes nuts over the taste and you find yourself wanting to keep eating. This is part of the “I’ll get it while I can” or “last supper” effect, where you think you may as well eat as much as you can now and then you’ll “be good” tomorrow. Sound familiar?

For many people, this drive to keep eating reaffirms the belief you can’t be trusted around certain food, or that you are “addicted” to sugar*. However, it may actually be the restriction that it the issue, from a physiological and psychological standpoint.

If you’re someone who tends to restrict how much you eat after you’ve eaten too much, there’s a very good chance you’re messing with your appetite regulation. Not eating enough during the day and then getting to the point of being too hungry is a sure way to increase your risk of over-eating at some point, usually in the afternoon or evening. If the food available happens to be food you’re trying hard to limit, you’ll most likely find it next to impossible to not overeat that food. When you do overeat, you then feel terrible about yourself, that you’ve “failed” or been “bad” – this is part of the psychological trauma of diet culture.

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What if there were no restrictions on any food? No diet culture telling you sugar is evil or that you shouldn’t eat that if you want to lose weight? What if at the time of eating you could calmly assess your appetite and desire for the food and then enjoy eating the food to the point of satisfaction? This is what intuitive eating is all about.

Eating to satisfaction involves the pleasure of the food itself and feeling comfortable in your body afterwards. Your decision about how much to eat is influenced by having acknowledged satisfaction and not wanting to feel uncomfortably full or sickly. When you know you can enjoy the food in question whenever you feel like it, having less in the moment is an easier thing to do. 

This may sound like an impossibility to some of you, but what is required is letting go of, or loosening your grip on, food restriction and on diet culture. If you’re not dieting or restricting food, you’re less likely end up over-hungry and vulnerable to over-eating and while the pleasure centre in your brain will still be activated by food (as it’s designed to), it won’t go as nuts. This, combined with attunement to satisfaction and the knowledge you can have more of the yummy food later, is what will allow you to feel calm around food during periods such as Christmas.

Another aspect that must be acknowledged in all of this, is how you feel about your body. Diet culture thrives on you feeling bad about your body and ultimately how you feel about your body underpins the need you feel to diet or restrict food. You can’t effectively address your problems with food until you start addressing how you feel about your body. For most people, the body stuff is toughest work and you may need help from a skilled non-diet dietitian or therapist who works within the Health At Every Size paradigm. Let us know if you need help finding one.

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Intuitive eating is not a state of perfection

Intuitive eating is not a state of perfection where everything you do around food is as it “should” be.

If you have a few days where you don’t eat much fresh fruit or veg or fruit, this doesn’t mean you’re failing at eating intuitively, it just means you didn’t eat much fruit or veg.

Likewise, if you happen to eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies the past few days this doesn’t mean you’ve perfected eating intuitively, you just ate more fruit and veg.

If you find yourself over-eating at a meal this doesn’t mean you’re not listening to your appetite cues, quite the contrary as you’re aware of your fullness. This also doesn’t mean you’re failing at intuitive eating, it just means you ate past comfortable fullness.

Recognising you’re full and stopping doesn’t mean you’re being good, it just means you wanted to stop eating.

Suddenly finding yourself starving to realise you missed a meal doesn’t mean you’ve stuffed up with eating intuitively – you simply had other things on your mind, or more pressing issues and you didn’t get a chance to eat.

None of the above examples are right or wrong or good or bad, they are just examples of how our eating can vary depending on your current situation, environment, weather, mood etc.

HAES dietitian

You can be an intuitive eater and experience all of these scenarios. In fact intuitive eating is a very fluid state, it can change day to day or it can look very similar, often it sits somewhere in between.

The difference between the intuitive eating mentality and the diet mentality is the intuitive eater doesn’t judge the eating experience as good or bad, or right or wrong. Without the judgement, shame doesn’t arise which makes it easier to stay attuned and trust your body around food.

Judgement creates shame and shame can disconnect you from listening to, and trusting, your body with food. When this happens, eating intuitively can feel impossible. If you’re struggling with self judgement and shame (feeling bad), please look for a non-diet approach dietitian who identifies as a HAES (Health At Every Size) practitioner.

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Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to restrict food? Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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Food is neither “good” nor “bad”

Eating sugar does not make you a bad person and enjoying a brownie is not going to harm your body in any way. Just as drinking green smoothies or munching on activated almonds is not going to make you a better person or give you the key to health.

Food can be eaten for nourishment and pleasure, or it can be eaten just for pleasure.

Thinking about food as either “good” or “bad” is so engrained in our thinking that it’s almost impossible for many people to enjoy some types of food without feeling guilt or shame that they’ve done something wrong. You should only feel guilty if you do something bad or hurtful, for example stealing the brownie or punching someone in the face to get the brownie. We experience shame when we feel bad about ourselves. Why should we feel bad about eating something that tastes wonderful and gives us pleasure?

A large part of what drives this notion of some food being “bad”, or at least “not good enough”, is a culture which is deeply fat phobic, obsessed with losing weight and food as the holy grail to health. Green smoothies, “superfoods”, quitting sugar and elaborate looking salads are all examples of the virtuosity that surrounds our health obsessed culture. It’s not that any of these foods or ideas are wrong – I love a fancy salad – it’s that they take what it means to eat well to the extreme. While this may work well for some, for many it’s way too time consuming, doesn’t fit in with a busy work and/or family life and it can (and does) lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Personally, I’d rather eat my greens along side some quiche or fish, than pop them in a smoothie and a meal of steak, potato and regular vegetables can be just as nutritious as a fancy salad with sprouted grains, cultured vegetables and activated almonds – no I didn’t just make that up – these meals exist.  Our culture’s obsession with this type of eating has lead many of clients to feel that many traditional basic meals aren’t good enough or that one of the world’s most nutritious foods – the potato – is somehow bad for health. You can read my post on potatoes and potato chips here.

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We must stop labelling food as either “good ” or “bad”

Surely it can’t hurt to call some food “bad”?

While intellectually you may be able to recognise that enjoying, let’s say ice-cream, is ok, continuing to label such food as “bad” or “unhealthy” can elicit the feeling of guilt and shame around food choices as discussed above and will only continue to fuel the widely held, but misplaced, belief that certain food is “bad” or should be avoided. While some people can brush this off, many find themselves in negative and obsessive thought patterns about the food and themselves. When we feel badly about ourselves and when we are consumed with thoughts about food, we are less likely to take the time to tune into our true needs and desires and treat our bodies with care. We are more likely to fall into the diet mentality trap of “who cares, stuff it, I deserve it, I’ll be good tomorrow”. This diet mentality trap inevitably leads to overeating the so called “bad” food and may be followed by feelings of guilt, shame and unhappiness with self and often swearing to never eat that food again! This is what I mean by an unhealthy relationship with food.

What if chocolate (insert other sweet or fatty food) was just chocolate, much like a carrot for most people is just a carrot. What if you chose to eat chocolate simply because you felt like the taste of chocolate in that moment. How much would you need to eat to satisfy your taste for it and feel truly satisfied afterward? This is something you may need to experiment with and I know there will be people reading this who are thinking “but I’d eat the whole block”. If this is you, what might happen if you experimented with taking some time to sit and savour that chocolate (or other food you’re prone to overeat), consider the smell, flavour and texture of each piece as you go, how does the chocolate taste and feel in your body? However, before you do this, you may need to loosen your grip on the idea chocolate is “naughty” or a “guilty pleasure”, because as long as you continue to place a moral value on the food, you’ll run the risk of the “forbidden fruit” effect – the natural human desire to want what someone tells you you shouldn’t have. While all this sound easy enough in theory, actually changing your mindset can be very challenging and this is where you may need help from a non-diet approach dietitian.

Is it ok to refer to some food as good?

This really depends on the context. If you’re using the word good to refer to good quality produce or just tasty food, then I think it’s ok to say good, but if you’re using good to mean you’re “being good” for choosing it, or it’s nutritionally superior, then we run into trouble. All food offers some nutrition and choosing to eat a salad over a cupcake does not mean you’re being a good person. Also, if only certain types of food are labelled good, then it’s natural that some food will be seen as bad, or not so good. While this may seem fairly benign on the surface, it perpetuates the diet mentality mentioned above and sets up the unhealthy relationship with food that can lead to disordered patterns of eating, and even eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

For example, if you find yourself thinking “I was good last night” because you said no to dessert, you could find yourself prone to overeating on another occasion. This overeating occurs as you feel you “deserve it” having been “good” the night before; so why not go the whole hog this time? The outcome; you eat more for the sake of eating than really enjoying the food, this leaves you feeling not only uncomfortably full, but upset with yourself and saying, “I’ll be good tomorrow” or “I’ll start again on Monday” and so the cycle goes. This is the all too common diet cycle that people with a diet mentality experience over and over and over and over…

You can start to let go of the negative feelings you experience with food by starting to change the way to think and talk about food. One important step is to change the language you use. You could try using the word nourishing to replace “good” and fun food or play food to replace “bad”. Note; many foods people consider bad, such as burgers, pizza, chips are also very nourishing as they contain the vital nutrients fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Typically, nourishing food is the food you choose to eat when you are physically hungry; fun (or play) food you might choose to eat primarily for the taste and hunger may not present. It must be noted that even fun or play food provides some nourishment, it’s just that if we only ate these foods, we would miss out on some important nutrients and we would probably feel a little blah after a period of only eating chocolate, ice-cream, cake, lollies, crisps etc.

Eating can be and should be both a nourishing and pleasurable experience.

Bon appetit!

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healthy eating dietitian

Healthy eating encompasses listening to our appetite and eating food that satisfies us when we feel hungry and being able to recognise when we’ve eaten enough.

Healthy eating is the mindful enjoyment of any type of food without needing to worry about calories or body weight.

Healthy eating is also sharing food with others over a meal, celebration or just to keep someone company.

Healthy eating is sometimes eating fruit and sometimes eating sweets.

Healthy eating includes sometimes eating when not hungry and sometimes eating more than you need.

But most of all, healthy eating is having a positive attitude to food and eating where there is enough nutritional variety but also where food can be eaten purely for the joy of eating!

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