Intuitive eating: A ‘non-diet approach’ to making food choices


Katlyn Campbell/Iowa State Daily

Intuitive eating is a method of food consumption that focuses on having a healthy and natural relationship with food.

It can be challenging to develop healthy eating habits, especially in college. Students are faced with demanding schedules and tight budgets, as well as toxic messages about body image that circulate on social media.

This is where the concept of intuitive eating comes into play.

Having gained popularity from social media in recent years, intuitive eating has piqued the interest of a growing number of people.

Intuitive eating focuses on trusting one’s body to make food choices that feel good instead of following diet cultures and outside influences. The idea behind it is that a person’s body instinctively knows what it wants and needs.

Although similar practices have been applied for decades, the term “intuitive eating” was officially coined in 1995 by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. At that time, Tribole and Resch published “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works,” a book that contains the 10 principles that serve as the foundation of this lifestyle.

“Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating that really focuses on having a healthy relationship with food and your body,” said Rebecca Harken, dietitian for ISU students with dining plans. “It’s more of a framework that comes from a place of self-care and curiosity rather than judgment.”

Harken has worked as a dietitian for over three years and started in her current role in July. As a dietetics student at Iowa State, she began to employ intuitive eating in her own life. Now, Harken has knowledge from both her personal and professional experiences that she has been able to share with the students she aids.

“The great thing [about campus dining] is you have so many options, and it is all you care to eat,” Harken said. “But then it’s like, ‘How do we navigate that? How do we know what our body actually needs?’”

One of the common misconceptions about intuitive eating is that it is not intended to be a diet specifically used for weight loss. In fact, according to Tribole and Resch’s book, the first principle of this lifestyle approach is “Reject the Diet Mentality.”

The other pillars of intuitive eating are entitled as follows: “Honor Your Hunger, Make Peace with Food, Challenge the Food Police, Discover the Satisfaction Factor, Feel Your Fullness, Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness, Respect Your Body, Movement—Feel the Difference and Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition.”

More information on this framework can be found in the original intuitive eating book or on the intuitive eating website.

“It’s not a quick, easy fix,” said Alison St. Germain, a student wellness dietitian at Iowa State, said. “The biggest thing is for people to recognize that we have to work on relationships with people, and so we need to continually be working on our relationship with food and our body.”

This relationship between food and one’s body image is something St. Germain describes as a lifelong journey. Additionally, St. Germain noted that “anybody can use intuitive eating, whether you’ve had an eating disorder or not.”

Prior to her current position, which she has held for a year, St. Germain was an associate professor of clinical science for 10 years at Iowa State. Her career in dietetics began 28 years ago, and she is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with students who do not have dining plans.

“We get down to basics,” St. Germain said. “We talk about the five food groups—carbohydrates, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy—and I encourage [my clients] to choose at least three of the food groups with each meal.”

Ultimately, intuitive eating encourages individuals to regain touch with their intuition surrounding food and their health.

“We’re born intuitive eaters, which means as an infant, we eat when we’re hungry, [and] we stop when we’re full,” St. Germain said. “Things get messed up along the way.”

Jaden Yoder, a freshman in dietetics, has noticed some positive differences since incorporating intuitive eating into her life.

“My all-around health is better,” Yoder said. “Just the fact that I know I’m nourishing my body is really important to me. Knowing that I’m getting what I need and practicing good habits now is going to help me better help future clients.”

Alyssa Martin, Joyful Eating intern and a senior in dietetics, currently works alongside St. Germain. Part of her internship entails sharing her knowledge of intuitive eating and Health at Every Size® framework with the ISU student population.

“I think [intuitive eating] is all about making those long-term, sustainable habits that will carry on with you for the rest of your life,” Martin said.

Individuals interested in learning more about intuitive eating can visit the ISU student wellness website, and students wishing to get in contact with a campus dietitian can complete this survey.