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Practicing intuitive eating: NO food is off-limits

Practicing intuitive eating: NO food is off-limits

Learning that all foods have a place in a healthy lifestyle and that no food is off-limits is part of one of the intuitive eating principles, “Making Peace with Food”.  The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating were first introduced in the book, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole & Alysse Resch.

The first question that I often get when introducing the idea of Intuitive Eating to someone new is, “If I can eat anything, what happens if I start eating and can’t stop?

NOTE:  This post includes affiliate links which means that if you click through and purchase, I do receive some small financial benefit which helps me to continue to provide you with free content.    

Photo of book cover for Intuitive Eating book.

It’s actually the opposite that happens

It’s dieting and restricting foods that creates the food obsession, food cravings and the overeating. 

There is a super interesting study conducted around the time of WWII called the Minnesota Starvation Study.  In this study, a group of physically and mentally fit men were fed a regular diet for a period of three months.  This period was followed by six months of a restricted diet around 1600 calories per day, so that the men would lose approximately 25% of their current body weight.  And then the study concluded with a period of time where the men were again fed a regular diet.

Here’s what happened during starvation period…


  • Metabolic rate decreased
  • Sex drive decreased
  • Loss of strength and endurance
  • Increased fatigue

Mentally & Behaviorally

  • Food obsession with greater food cravings
  • Increased interest in talking about food and collecting recipes
  • Overeating and engaging in bulimic type behaviors
  • Exercised more so that they received extra food
  • More irritability and moodiness even advancing into behaviors of depression

Here’s what happened when restriction ended…

  • More intense physical hunger leading to behaviors of ravenous eating
  • Inability to stop eating, sometimes bingeing on 10,000 calories in a weekend

What I find most interesting…

This study took place over 70 years ago before the media circus that surrounds food and dieting today. This fact demonstrates that the behavioral response of these menu was triggered by an intense need to survive rather than influenced by the media, an additional stressor we must deal with these days in addition to our physical need to eat.

The men were fed around 1500 calories a day, about half of what they received during the first part of the study.  This amount is close to what many of us consider to be a diet rather than semi-starvation.

For more about this study and the effects I recommend this short article The Great Starvation Experiment, 1944-1945.  It’s super easy to read and some of the stories of the men’s behavior are shocking!

In this photo I choose to practice no food is off-limits and buy some ponche, a Peruvian drink similar to eggnog.

What does this mean for you as you begin your intuitive eating journey?

As you begin to allow yourself to eat again rather than restrict food, your body will begin to adjust.  It will begin to trust that it won’t be entering a starvation period (aka diet) again.  As you begin to practice that no food is off-limits, eventually your cravings for these foods will begin to ease and you will also begin to stop experiencing the need to overeat.

It’s easier to stop eating something to the point of satisfaction, knowing that when you are hungry or want that food again you can have it.

The principles work together

The principles of Intuitive Eating don’t stand alone, but rather they work together as a collective.  This means that as you work on making peace with food and begin to allow yourself to eat, you are also honoring your hunger and paying attention to your satisfaction.

So while yes, you can eat what you want, you are also eating mostly when you are hungry and stopping when you are satisfied.

The thing to remember here is that these principles aren’t black and white.  And there are times that you will eat when you aren’t hungry or eat more of a food than you planned but that’s ok.  The best thing to do in these circumstances is to first practice non-judgment and learn from the experience.

And REMEMBER…Your health isn’t ruined by one meal or even one entire day of eating but rather it’s influenced by the behaviors you engage in MOST of the time.

Choosing healthy and nutritious foods

Making the decision to take care of yourself and your body by choosing healthy and nutritious foods is part of Intuitive Eating.  Once you begin to listen to the signals from your body, you will begin to sense what your body needs.  You will experience cravings for healthy foods.

Have you ever had the experience of eating tons of restaurant meals, maybe on vacation and suddenly you are craving a salad or some other healthy meal? It happens, I’ve experienced it before.  And since committing to a lifestyle based in Intuitive Eating, I believe I sense it more frequently.   Yes, I still indulge and eat foods that I like, but I also am more in tune with what makes me feel my best and make choices aligned with that in mind.

At the end of the day, while no food is off-limits, food and nutrition does still matter and is a part of the Intuitive Eating lifestyle.

pin for pinterest

Back to that question from the beginning…

Intuitive Eating as a lifestyle doesn’t mean you can eat whatever, whenever and however much you want all the time.

YES it means…

♦ No food is off-limits!

♥ You’re granted permission to eat the foods you enjoy!

♦ You are allowed to eat when you want!

But, you also want to eat until satisfaction while following your hunger cues as well.  It’s about listening to your body and eating to feel your absolute best. 

What can you do to make peace with food and practice no food is off-limits?

Step 1 is to take some time to think about your favorite foods.  I recommend writing them all down in a list.  Then go back through the list and mark all the ones that you currently consider “off-limits” or you restrict.

Step 2 is to decide to eat one of the restricted or off-limit foods from your list. During the eating experience, it’s important to really focus on the experience of eating the food.  Do you enjoy it?  The taste? The texture?  Is it really a food you enjoy?  You may find that a food you think is your favorite isn’t really something you enjoy.

Step 3 is that if you find you really enjoy it, then give yourself permission to eat that food again.

Making peace with food may be especially difficult for some people and you may want some further guidance in working through some activities and unpacking some of the thinking around this topic.  If so, consider working with me in one-on-one sessions or this topic is also included in my introductory course to Intuitive Eating, Building Healthy Habits with Intuitive Eating for a Healthier and Happier Life.

For further reading on Intuitive Eating…


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