This article was originally written by the Sequence clinic team (now known as WeightWatchers Clinic).

Moving towards intuitive eating

Published July 14, 2023

If you think of the word intuition, you may think of that feeling you get in your gut. Perhaps it’s that hunch that has no thought or reason. It’s a bit hard to explain, but you know you have it. You may say it’s sort of like an instinct. But, when it comes to food, your past experiences may not always make you feel that you can trust your instincts. Some members, e.g., say it’s because they used to turn to food for comfort or they ate more when feeling bored or stressed — can you relate?

Now at WeightWatchers, you may still find it hard to follow your intuition about food. If you are on an anti-obesity medication (AOM), the new challenge may be that you’re actually not as hungry as you’re used to. Or you might even feel that your sense of appetite is dulled or that some foods just don’t seem very appetizing.

So why should you care about having intuition with food? When you’re on a weight loss journey, learning to hear and follow your intuition can help you to build trust with yourself again. It places you in the “driver’s seat” when it comes to food choices. It can help you to let go of the restriction and feel less pressure to follow certain food rules. Instead, the support of the medication can help you to take more opportunities to check in with when you want to eat, what you want to eat, how you are eating, and when you are feeling satisfied.

What other ways can intuitive eating help you? You may feel:

  • increased confidence
  • reduced stress around food choices
  • empowerment that you understand your own body

With this, you might have some questions. Let’s talk about this some more.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is one approach to eating, without the traditional “dieting” aspect. The National Eating Disorders Association defines intuitive eating as “trusting your body to make food choices that feel good for you, without judging yourself or the influence of diet culture.” In other words, you reject the “restrictive diet” mentality – instead you make peace with all types of food, learn to listen to your body, and choose the foods you think are right for you.

Can I use intuitive eating for weight loss?

Intuitive eating doesn’t actually involve weight loss. It’s about building a healthier relationship with food, rather than a tool designed to help you lose or gain weight. It’s about reconnecting with your own intuition to guide you on what you eat and how much to eat. It’s about building healthy habits that will last you a lifetime (not just to lose the weight and be done with it).

Ultimately, it’s a movement. You move towards letting go of those internal battles you have with food. It can be used to help you move towards a balanced eating lifestyle where you’re at peace with your inner food voice. As a result, you may strengthen your initial thoughts on food, connect your mind to your body, and sustain healthy habits.

Whether it’s maintaining a comfortable weight range that allows you to do the things you want to do, feeling content with food choices, letting go of food tracking or calorie counting, or feeling great in your own skin, with intuitive eating you can set the tone for your success!

If I want to lose weight, can I still practice intuitive eating?

The short answer is no. The long answer is that it can also depend. It depends on your long term goals and how you want to maintain a healthy weight. Intuitive eating and weight loss do not traditionally work together because weight loss generally involves a thought process of choosing foods that would help you lose weight. The whole point of intuitive eating is to avoid using food as a way to change the body (i.e. weight loss). Instead, you use it to guide you in making choices in response to your physical cues and essentially what you are craving. In a traditional weight loss program, some may say that their intuition is a little voice in the back of their mind. It tells them to choose food that is “better”, usually something lower in calories or perceived as healthy. Now with the help of some weight management medications, some may say that they can gain the ability to practice intuitive eating. That thought process of restriction or hearing that voice in the back of their minds tends to fade. Instead, the freedom to choose all foods is liberating and the feeling to be in charge of how much to eat is empowering.

Now, intuitive eating may not be for everyone, especially if you have a difficult time feeling full and satisfied. It is probably best to practice intuitive eating after being on weight loss medication for at least two months. After this period, you may notice that you are becoming more in tune with your new hunger and fullness cues. Reconnecting with your body cues can help you feel more confident as you work towards maintaining your weight loss in the future.

How do I start?

First, stop viewing food as “good” or “bad.” Chances are you’ve tried some type of diet in the past. They either did not give you the results you wanted or were too hard to keep up with. You might’ve then found yourself moving into an endless cycle of new diets. Instead, tell yourself “I am in charge of my food choices and food is fuel.

Second, listen to your body and eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full (and satisfied). At WeightWatchers, we know that changes in appetite can make it harder for you to gauge hunger and fullness at times. But, believe it or not, your body is still giving you these cues. When you’re experiencing mild hunger, you may feel symptoms like stomach growling and lower energy. The hunger cues can progress to symptoms like headache, feeling cranky, irritable, and trouble focusing if you do not respond to the earlier cues. It is ideal to plan ahead at the first sign of hunger, which is usually when you start to think about food and want to eat. This may take some time to practice and you can do this by rating your hunger and fullness level on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being starving with symptoms like low energy, dizziness, or weakness and 10 being overly full with symptoms like feeling sick). When you’re at 5, you are comfortable, neither full or hungry. When it drops to 4 (usually thinking about food and wanting something), this is when you should start planning your meal or taking that snack break. You want to avoid long gaps of time where it drops down to a 1, which can lead to overeating. As a result, this leaves you feeling overly full and sick (at a 10).

Lastly, practice choosing foods you feel work best for your body and taste buds. This might sound like an excuse to eat whatever you want and whenever you want, but that’s not really the case here. The focus would be eating a variety of foods that will supply you with nutrients your body needs to function properly. For example, eating a large plate of pasta can lead to discomfort, bloating, and sluggishness; whereas eating a medium plate of pasta paired with a side salad helps you to feel full and satisfied but doesn't weigh you down. At the same time, they should be foods you enjoy and will keep you satisfied. All foods can fit!

How do I learn more about this?

If you’re ready to move towards intuitive eating, check out How to Practice Intuitive Eating for some key tips!

Need more guidance?

You’re not alone. These habits may take time to build and we can work together in helping you set realistic goals that you feel are right for you.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be regarded as a substitute for guidance from your healthcare provider.