What is a non-diet approach?

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Over the last few years, the way that we approach weight loss and diets has started to change as more and more evidence has emerged on how fad diets and quick fix weight loss gimmicks don’t actually work at all, long-term.  Some may even result in you gaining weight beyond your original starting weight [1], along with a multitude of other negative by-products, such as anxiety and a poor relationship with food.

I have supported thousands of clients with their weight over the years and firmly believe that ‘dieting’ is not required for good health and weight loss.  Eating is complex, it involves knowledge (food science, experience and rational thought), emotion (social connection, pleasure, coping mechanism) and instinct (hunger, fullness cues and basic energy needs).  Often, when people talk nutrition and diets, they forget to consider emotion and instinct which are key players in our eating experience.  Surely, we all want to enjoy food and good health?  But this can be difficult in a world where diet culture and body image ideals are everywhere.

I’ve seen that those people who have a relaxed, flexible approach to food, who honour their hunger and fullness cues and treat their body with respect, go on to achieve their health and wellbeing goals longer term.  They also feel happier in themselves!

What is Intuitive Eating (or a non-diet approach)?

The term intuitive eating was originally coined by two dietitians during the 1990s, named Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch when they realised that people, they saw in their clinics were struggling to maintain weight loss long term.  Intuitive eating is ultimately an evidence-based framework that anyone can adopt to help them heal their relationship with food and make peace with their bodies.

If you are someone who has tried ‘any and every’ diet at some point, the chances are even when you’re not ‘officially’ on a diet, you will still be trying to be ‘good’ and avoid certain foods and occasions.  The idea around starting to eat intuitively is reframing these thought processes and stopping the punishment/reward cycle which is caused by restrictions and then binge eating.

The Key Principles of Intuitive Eating

There are 10 principles of intuitive eating that Evelyn and Elyse initially developed (listed below) but various adaptations have been made over the years to make them as accessible as possible to different client groups [2,3].

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

This first step is really crucial to being able to embrace this new way of eating and living your life.  At the start of your journey, you need to be ready to walk away from ‘just one more diet’ believing that a new diet will be different this time.  Fully reject the idea that any form of restrictive diet will lead to the happiness you once thought and accept that there is another way.

2. Honour Your Hunger

Due to years of dieting, you may be very used to that feeling of hunger, and the lack of energy that comes with it. Now you need to keep your body fed and satisfied with balanced meals containing all the key food groups, otherwise you may end up back in the restrict/binge cycle again.

3. Make Peace with Food

This can be really tricky but trusting that your body will tell you what it needs, and that no food is off limits is a big step.  You need unconditional permission to eat in order to remove the feelings of shame and guilt attached to certain trigger foods.

4. Challenge the Food Police

The food police will look different for everyone, but it is a notion that is deeply entrenched in diet culture. It could be a firm belief that carbs are bad, that you can never eat cake, that snacking will make you fat, or a relative that comments on your eating choice.  It can be very hard to challenge these internalised beliefs, but this is an important step in unlearning the rules you may have imposed around food.

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

We are all so different and will all require different amounts of nutrition and energy on any given day.  This can depend on our age, activity level, sex, whether we are recovering from illness – the list is endless as to why our energy requirements might change from week to week.  Approach each day with an open mind and listen to your hunger cues.  Once you reach the point of feeling comfortably full and satisfied then consider that meal finished.

6. Feel Your Fullness

In order to feel and accept your fullness, you need to accept that you are giving yourself the foods you want and that are appropriate for that meal or snack.  When we were children, we were all very capable of listening to hunger and fullness signals and would simply stop eating once we reached this point.  Remember that if you find that you didn’t eat enough at a mealtime to satisfy the hunger, you are allowed a snack later!

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Starting an intuitive eating journey may bring up a lot of feelings, it might even feel wrong at first to be actively going against so many diet rules you have followed for so long.  First of all, try and recognise that this is common.  Trying to control how and what you eat for so long will take a lot of patience and compassion to untangle.  Many of us have food attached to certain emotions, like boredom, loneliness etc.  This can be a great opportunity to examine some of the emotions that come up that you may have normally tried to ignore or fix with food – getting to the root of this will benefit your life in a variety of ways.

8. Respect Your Body

What diet culture doesn’t tell us is that we can restrict and restrict some more, but we may never reach a certain weight or size.  We need to remember that our health, genetics, body shape, past experiences and dieting behaviours can all impact our weight.  You cannot look after a body you wish to have in the future.  You can look after your current body.  No matter your size at the start of this process, you deserve to treat your body with respect and dignity, and you deserve to eat.

9. Movement—Feel the Difference

Finding exercise that you enjoy is absolutely essential to sticking with it – get to know what you like!  As part of diet culture, you may have tried a variety of militant exercise regimes that require a lot more time, energy and commitment than you can give, so you end up feeling awful for not sticking to it.  Try to separate movement from weight loss, this is difficult we know, but choosing something you love will help create new associations with exercise, that you hopefully look forward to!

10. Honour your Health with Gentle Nutrition

This is all about choosing foods that make you feel good and feel right for your body at that moment – this won’t always mean choosing the healthiest option.  As part of this journey, you will be aiming to no longer demonise certain foods, so you can eat whatever sounds good. Choosing foods that nourish you might look different every single day and that’s okay.

What about Weight Loss?

For many of us, trying to lose weight or achieve a ‘healthy BMI’ can be a lifelong struggle. Once you start eating intuitively and following your body’s needs in such a different way, you may notice weight loss [4], however weight loss is not the focus or guaranteed.  With this approach, you may start to develop healthier habits by understanding your body’s natural appetite and hunger cues, which are entirely unique to you.  No more juice cleanses, zero calorie foods or cutting carbs.  You may no longer feel the need to binge as you will develop a neutral feeling towards all those off-limits foods, which in turn will stop a binge [5].  Therefore, in these circumstances some people experience weight loss.

The focus with intuitive eating is on both physical and mental wellbeing and food flexibility.

If you are finally ready to say goodbye to another diet and want to end the cycle of feeling like you constantly need to lose more weight, then get in touch to see if my non-diet style is a good approach for you.


  1. Dulloo AG, Montani JP. Pathways from dieting to weight regain, to obesity and to the metabolic syndrome: an overview. Obes Rev. 2015 Feb;16 Suppl 1:1-6
  2. Evelyn Tribole, Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, 2012. Griffin Publishing.
  3. Laura Thomas, Just Eat It, 2019. Pan Macmillan Publishing.
  4. Camilleri GM, Méjean C, Bellisle F, Andreeva VA, Kesse-Guyot E, Hercberg S, Péneau S. Intuitive eating is inversely associated with body weight status in the general population-based NutriNet-Santé study. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2016 May;24(5):1154-61
  5. Hazzard VM, Telke SE, Simone M, Anderson LM, Larson NI, Neumark-Sztainer D. Intuitive eating longitudinally predicts better psychological health and lower use of disordered eating behaviors: findings from EAT 2010-2018. Eat Weight Disord. 2021 Feb;26(1):287-294.

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