Intuitive eating is an approach to eating and weight management that is based on becoming more attuned to the body’s natural signals of hunger and fullness. Rather than keeping track of portions, or calories, or carbs, intuitive eaters know the exact amount of food they need because they know how to listen to, and successfully use their internal signals.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating, which is also knows as attuned eating, mindful eating, normal eating, wisdom eating, conscious eating and non-dieting, is intended to create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and is a popular treatment for disordered eating and eating disorders.
Traditional weight loss dieting programs are typically ineffective in producing consistent long-term weight loss and maintenance. In addition to being ineffective, dieting often results in psychological distress and disordered eating behaviors. This dieting paradox has led to interest in non-dieting approaches to health and weight.
Intuitive eating requires a complete break from the belief that we need some find of plan or formula to be successful at eating and weight management. It is not easy to do, because it is so vitally different from how we are brought up eating, but it is well worth the effort.
Principles of Intuitive Eating
There are several guiding principles to intuitive eating.
Honor Your Hunger
Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat.
Challenge the Food Police
Food is not good or bad and you are not good or bad for what you eat or don’t eat.
Respect your fullness
Listen for the signals of comfortable fullness, when you feel you have had enough.
Reject the Diet Mentality
Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. The diet mentality is the idea that there’s a diet out there that will work for you. Intuitive eating is the anti-diet.
Make Peace with Food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.
Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
Emotional eating is a strategy for coping with feelings. Find ways that are unrelated to food to deal with your feelings, such as taking a walk, meditating, journaling, or calling a friend.
Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
In our compulsion to comply with diet culture, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence — the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience.
Respect Your Body
Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size.
Exercise and Feel the Difference
Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise.
Does Intuitive Eating Work?
Research about intuitive eating was sparse in the 1990s, but the more people experience success, the more the scientists are taking notice, and in the recent years, we are seeing significant research confirming intuitive eating works.
Those Eating Intuitively Have Significantly Improved Health
No surprise that this improved health was accomplished without significant weight loss, since much research shows health can be improved without weight loss.
People Better Determine What Foods They Like and Dislike
Now that you’re not eating based on external signals, you are able to explore food and figure out what you like and don’t like. Often times, you’ll find that some of the “forbidden” foods you might have binged on in the past, you realize you don’t even like.
Improved Cholesterol Levels
Intuitive eaters have been found to have lower triglyceride levels, higher levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and lower cardiovascular risk. One of the possible reasons for the improved cardiovascular health of intuitive eaters is the improvement in the inflammation marker, C-reactive protein (CRP).
Intuitive Eaters Have Higher Self Esteem
This same research, published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, also indicated that intuitive eaters have higher self esteem, are more optimistic and have better coping abilities.
You’ve stripped away the guilt you once attached to eating certain foods and have learned to trust your body. You know that what you eat does not define you. Your overall self-confidence increases as you learn to trust yourself and live an unapologetic life. You don’t feel like you owe anyone else your health or your body.
Lower Stress Levels
In my opinion, this is the most important benefit of eating intuitively. One of the most notable transformations demonstrated in studies that look into intuitive eating is with the psychological health indicators such as better body image and lower incidence of depression and anxiety. This in turn can help with obtaining better, more consistent sleep patterns.
Intuitive Eaters Have Lower BMIs
Women who accept their bodies and eat intuitively have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than those who diet due to body dissatisfaction.
Overall Mood Improves
You don’t feel guilty eating foods you were once fearful of and you don’t let food affect your mood anymore. You know how to properly fuel your body and are able to discern what makes you feel good physically and mentally.