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Intuitive eating: a new relationship with food, or another fad diet?

Updated Monday, 8 January 2024

Dr Sinead Eccles explores the relationships between food, diets, and intuitive eating.

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Have you ever dieted? Ever food restricted? Ever thought about being thinner? Ever compared yourself to others? If you answered yes to any of those, this article is for you.

You might have different reasons for reading this article. It could be that you have heard about ‘Intuitive Eating’ and want to learn more, or it could be that you really want a change and are tired of your relationship with food. To connect with your body and become friends with it again can be life changing in so many ways .

How is our relationship with food formed?

Eating behaviour shown on social media platforms appears divided, with many influencers sharing their exercise and restrictive eating behaviours and others showing how they indulge in food. 

A current trend that populates social media is ‘What I eat in a day’. Again, social media appears divided with some showing very restrictive eating behaviours whilst others showing how they indulge in foods that would be classified as less healthy.

It’s possible that you might be very impressed by the fitness enthusiasts, but also love those that indulge in foods and embrace their curves. This results in a confusing mindset about what lifestyle is optimal. Do you start one more diet or do you love yourself for the size you are? Those who are unhappy with their weight will often gravitate more towards restrictive eating and exercise plans, as the desire to lose weight is stronger than the acceptance of the body that they have. Comparing ourselves to social media influencers, family, work colleagues and friends can result in ‘fat’ shaming ourselves.

In fact, the desire to be thinner will result in many of us engaging in a diet at some point in our lifetime. Despite there being a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of diets, one in four will diet in their lifetime. According to a poll conducted in the UK, the average person will diet 126 times in their lifetime, with the typical diet only lasting only six days before being abandoned. Fad diets fail because they can be hard to stick to.  

You are stuck in a diet loop known as the dieter’s dilemma.  You have the desire to be thin, you embark on the next diet, it’s tough to stick to and cravings kick in, and you give in only to gain the weight you lost at the beginning. What’s worse is that the only thing you have lost is a little more of your self-esteem.

Obesity: the reality

Let’s talk numbers for a minute and not the numbers on the scale for a change. 

The facts and statistics about diet products and obesity shed some light on to the reality of our health.   The global market for weight loss products and services is predicted to grow from $254.9 billion in 2021 to $377.3 billion by 2026.   However, it is also estimated that 2.7 billion adults will be overweight, over 1 billion affected by obesity, and 177 million adults severely affected by obesity by 2025. This conflicting information is staggering and demonstrates that weight loss products are not addressing the obesity epidemic that is being faced on a global level. 

Obesity is also an increasingly common problem in Northern Ireland. The latest data shows that one in four adults (27%) and around one in 16 children (6%) are living with obesity in Northern Ireland.  A report that examines a whole systems approach to obesity prevention in Northern Ireland was published in 2023.  The report comes as the Department of Health prepares to draft a new obesity prevention strategy in 2024 to replace its predecessor, ‘A Fitter Future for All 2012-22’.

We are unique

However, everyone’s relationship with food is a very personal one and not one that should be compared to others. Everyone is unique in their own bodies and that uniqueness should be celebrated.

The good news is that there appears to be a shift to a mindsight that rejects the notion of the diet culture and embraces body acceptance.  Health practitioners, such as dietician Christy Harrison, have labelled themselves as anti-diet dietitians. Harrison is the author of Anti-Diet and host of the Food Psych podcast that talks about the diet culture and the impact it has had on our overall health. 

The diet culture pretends to be about promoting health and wellbeing but instead actually causes harm.  Striving to be healthy is a concept that is generally accepted, however, when you try to be stick to a strict diet, you ultimately fail and are left back at square one.  This impacts negatively on how you feel about yourself and can lead to any subsequent diet failures becoming more difficult to accept. Will one more diet work? Or should you embrace the size that you are?

A little bit of brain science

You have three brains, the head brain, the heart brain and the gut brain, and they all communicate with each other. When you get anxious or nervous your brain sends a signal to your stomach and your heart and that’s when you feel your heart rate increase and experience an uneasiness in your stomach.

There is a biological reason why dieting is so difficult.  Your brain is pre-wired to seek out rewards and pleasure, and what’s more rewarding than your favourite meal, a tasty dessert, or an indulgent snack? 

Studies using different methods, such as the eye tracking method (Castellanos et al., 2009), the attentional blink paradigm (Piech, Pastorino & Zald, 2010) and dot probe tasks (Placanica, Faunce & Soames Job, 2002), to test what people focus on have found that people’s attention is biased toward food stimuli when they are calorie deprived.

Moreover, brain imaging studies have found increased activity in areas relevant for attention when calorie deprived individuals are shown images of palatable foods compared to images of water or non-palatable foods (Stice, Burger, & Yokum, 2013). 

Therefore, when you are hungry your brain is activated to seek out food.

So, what do should you do? You want to lose weight and be healthier, but when you restrict food all you can think about is food.  What a difficult position to be in.

What is intuitive eating?

There is a way to address your own individual eating behaviour through ‘intuitive eating’. Intuitive eating was first introduced in 1995 by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and involves developing a connection with one's own internal cues of hunger, fullness and satisfaction, and using those cues to guide food and exercise choices (Bruce & Ricciardelli, 2016; Tribole & Resch, 2012).

Intuitive eating recognises that individuals are unique and that once they connect with their body and recognise their own internal hunger cues, they will make food choices that will promote their own health (Tribole & Resch, 2012).

Intuitive eating is not a list of instructions of what to eat and there are no food police labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  It puts you in the centre and encourages you to explore how you feel when you eat.  There are only foods that will nourish you more or nourish you less.  However, as everyone is different those foods will be unique to each individual. 

Unlike the diet culture, intuitive eating is about honouring your hunger.  Prioritising one's internal cues is the foundation of intuitive eating, which is further emphasised by ten principles outlined by Tribole and Resch, including rejecting the diet mentality, making peace with food, honouring your feelings without using food, respecting your body, and honouring your health, among others (Tribole & Resch, 2012). 

Importantly, an intuitive eating approach argues that, when people can release their diet culture beliefs, they become free to make choices according to their bodies' needs, ultimately resulting in health improvements and more peace with their bodies. 

Overall, the shift from dieting to intuitive eating will challenge how the food you eat makes you feel. The challenging part comes from untraining yourself to all the ‘diet’ advice that exists out there. It encourages you listen to that wonderful body and brain of yours that is always trying to communicate with you.  So, start small, from a place of kindness and acceptance and allow yourself to heal from the ‘diet’ mentality.


It appears that ‘intuitive eating’ is not another fad diet. The concept of rejecting the diet culture and heading towards the ‘intuitive eating’ world where body acceptance and inner peace are the priority is attractive. Now might be a good time to challenge yourself in a new way, by ditching the diet books and learning more about intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating: how to get started

1.Plan to prioritise your own health.

2.Resist from starting another diet.

3.Read material on Intuitive eating.

4.Read the article on Brain health (this will help you along the way)

5.Celebrate your body, you are unique and wonderful.

6.Keep a food journal and write about what time you eat, what you eat and how you felt before and after you eat.

Intuitive eating and wellbeing: keep exploring

Find out more about intuitive eating and wellbeing from these free courses.



Average person will try 126 fad diets in their lifetime, poll claims | The Independent (Accessed: 08 Jan 2024)

Fad Diets Food Fact Sheet. Available at: (Accessed: 4 January 2024).

Our new poll reveals why fad diets should be avoided in 2020 | Diabetes UK Available at: (Accessed: 4 January 2024).

UK adults spend £20,000 on weight loss tactics over a lifetime ( Available at:,in%20ten%20investing%20in%20slimming Accessed: 04 January 2024

Global Weight Loss Products and Services Market 2021-2026 ( Available at: 04 January 2024

World Obesity Federation Prevalence of Obesity. In: World Obesity Federation. Accessed 12th January 2024.

A whole systems approach to obesity prevention: a rapid synthesis of evidence to inform the Northern Ireland Obesity Prevention Strategy Project Board. Available at: (Accessed: 08 Jan 2024)

Castellanos, E.H. et al. (2009) ‘Obese adults have visual attention bias for food cue images: evidence for altered reward system function’, International Journal of Obesity, 33(9), pp. 1063–1073. Available at:

Piech, R.M., Pastorino, M.T. and Zald, D.H. (2010) ‘All I saw was the cake. Hunger effects on attentional capture by visual food cues’, Appetite, 54(3), pp. 579–582. Available at:

Placanica, J.L., Faunce, G.J. and Soames Job, R.F. (2002) ‘The effect of fasting on attentional biases for food and body shape/weight words in high and low Eating Disorder Inventory scorers’, The International journal of eating disorders, 32(1), pp. 79–90. Available at:

Stice, E., Burger, K. and Yokum, S. (2013) ‘Caloric deprivation increases responsivity of attention and reward brain regions to intake, anticipated intake, and images of palatable foods’, NeuroImage (Orlando, Fla.), 67, pp. 322–330. Available at:

Bruce, L.J. and Ricciardelli, L.A. (2016) ‘A systematic review of the psychosocial correlates of intuitive eating among adult women’, Appetite, 96, pp. 454–472. Available at:

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin


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