Hi there! I’m Rachael Hartley, a private practice dietitian and food/wellness blogger based out of Columbia, SC. On my blog, Avocado A Day Nutrition, I share whole foods recipes and inspiration for a happy and healthy life!

I am so very excited to be sharing on Zen and Spice, a blog I LOVE written by a dietitian I have so much admiration for! One of the best things about being a dietitian blogger is joining this incredible community of professionals who are so willing to share knowledge and support. In fact, that’s how this idea for a post swap came about – through the two of us chatting over email about mindful/intuitive eating resources and private practice!

Since Emily blogs quite a bit about mindful eating, we thought it would be helpful for you lovely readers to learn a little bit about intuitive eating, a different, but equally helpful method for building a healthy, trusting and sane relationship with food. Many of the practices are the similar, and I actually use a combination of the two in my practice.

Intuitive eating is based on the idea that becoming attuned to your body’s needs is the best way to achieve and sustain a happy, healthy weight that’s right for you. Unlike diets, which force you to stick to a list of “good food” and avoid what’s “bad,” intuitive eating doesn’t label. Rather than deprivation, intuitive eating encourages you to eat when you’re hungry, and until you’re satisfied. Intuitive eating celebrates the pleasure of eating, not tasteless diet foods. With intuitive eating, you’ll eat mostly nutritious foods because they make you feel awesome, not because they make you skinny.

When you practice intuitive eating, you have permission to eat anything that you want.

Woah. Scary, huh?

[Tweet “With intuitive eating, you have permission to eat what you want. @RHartleyRD”]

If you’re a chronic dieter, the idea of trusting yourself around food might sound completely absurd…but also kinda freeing and maybe a little intriguing. Most of my new clients come to me after years of yo-yo dieting. They’ve know logically that restrictive diets don’t work. They’re sick and tired of calorie counting and deprivation, yet at the same time, they don’t trust themselves enough to completely give up diets.

Intuitive eating is one of those progress, not perfection kind of things. No one reads a book or goes to a coaching session and leaves a perfect intuitive eater. It’s normal to struggle as you rebuild trust in yourself. Still, the more fully you commit to intuitive eating, the more successful you will be.

Interested in intuitive eating but scared to take the leap? Try these three exercises I use in my practice for newbie intuitive eaters.

Ditch Diets

The first of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating is “reject the diet mentality.” It’s number one for a reason. If there’s any glimmer of hope that there’s another better diet just waiting to be found (there’s not), it’ll prevent you from fully embracing intuitive eating.  

Of course, ditching diets is easier said than done. To help my clients fully come to grips with the ineffectiveness of diets, I have them do the following exercise.

First, write a list of every diet you’ve tried on a sheet on paper. Yup, every, single one, even the crazy, made up ones that didn’t have a name. Then for each diet, write down the negative effects you personally experienced. Think about how you felt, how it affected your social life, and how it worked within your lifestyle. Maybe the diet left you feeling tired and cranky and you were constantly fighting with the people you love or maybe the restrictive list of foods made it impossible to have a social life. Write down every little negative you can think of.

Now, take a look through that list. Is that how you want to live your life? Can you possibly do the things that bring you joy while experiencing all those negatives? Maybe you’ve been telling yourself a diet worked because you lost a lot of weight and that you just didn’t have the willpower to stick with it. But looking at those negatives, do you really think you were the problem, or was it an unsustainable way of life?

Next, write down the positives of each diet. The only catch? It can’t be how many pounds you lost! Because what does it matter if you lost 20 pounds on Atkins if you gained back 30. Instead, think about things you did like about following the diet, whether it’s how you felt, foods you enjoyed or aspects that fit within your lifestyle. 

Looking back at those benefits, you should be able to identify things you can work into your eating habits. If you felt good about the environmental benefits of veganism, but can’t live without cheese and eggs (I can’t!), you could focus on a flexitarian eating pattern emphasizing local foods. If you found meal delivery systems convenient, but hated the tasteless diet food, you could try out services like Blue Apron or Plated. This, my friends, is called creating a eating pattern that works for you, NOT a diet.

Meal Time Chill Pill

For chronic dieters, meal time can be stressful. To eat intuitively, it’s important to be in tune with your body, but if you’re feeling stressed, your body’s needs are clouded by anxiety.

[Tweet “If you’re feeling stressed, your body’s needs are clouded by anxiety. @RHartleyRD”]

Get in the habit of taking 5 minutes before eating to de-stress with progressive muscle relaxation or a brief meditation. If you’re at work or don’t have much time, try a brief breathing exercise. I like to breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7, and breathe out for 8. Calmer and more centered, you’ll find yourself much more in tune with your body and better able to make decisions about what and how much to eat.

Hunger Scale

One of the hardest things for newbie intuitive eaters is learning to recognize the physical signs of hunger and fullness. After ignoring those signals for years with deprivation and binging, you might not even know what hunger and fullness feels like.

Before, halfway through and after eating, rank your hunger and fullness level on a scale of 1-10. At first, it may be difficult to hone it down to one number, but the more you practice, the easier it will be to identify the subtle differences between satisfaction, stuffed and starving.


Now I want to hear from you! Do you consider yourself an intuitive eater? What practices and exercises helped you become a more intuitive eater? Are you still struggling with diets? If so, what scares you most about intuitive eating?


  1. Ive eaten intuitively for about 25 years now (!)
    Key for me starting was simply paying attention

    1. Yay, good for you! :) When you really start to pay TRUE attention to how foods make you feel, you don’t want to eat junk!

  2. […] 3 Ways You Can Start Eating Intuitively Today via Zen & Spice – Trusting yourself with food can be daunting. These are 3 things you can do to teach yourself to eat based on physical hunger. […]

  3. I had food issues throughout high school and college. All of the grown ups around me were constantly on a diet of some sort, so I adopted the mindset that dieting and restricting were the only ways to maintain weight. Thankfully my eyes were opened after I actually gained weight from following the fad diet at the time. I swore off diets from then on.

    I’ve never known the term ‘intuitive eating’ before but it perfectly describes how I eat now. Sometimes I want Fritos and coke, but the majority of the time I crave a balanced mix of healthy foods. I never deprive myself of something I truly crave, but I can eat ‘unhealthy’ things in moderation.

    1. I’ve grown up around friends and family dieting of some sort as well. It sounds like you are well in tune with your intuitive eater!

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