Finally, a diet that’s for everyone! If you feel like you have been on a diet your whole life, always trying the newest way to drop those pesky pounds, intuitive eating may be just the ticket to getting you off that merry-go-round. Likewise for those with a strained relationship with food, and even people who just find that they dip into the Doritos a little too often.
Intuitive eating is not a fad diet. In fact, it’s really just a healthy way that people should eat. Learning to eat this way is simply evolving your relationship with your body and mind, and listening to it on a deeper level. Really listening, and honestly answering, are keys to intuitive eating.
What’s on the menu? Literally anything. But, do you actually want it? That’s the question. With intuitive eating, how you eat is just as important as what you eat.
What Is Intuitive Eating? How Does It Work?
Some people go into the forest to hear the quiet, soak up the peace, and go inside of themselves. This is a lot of what intuitive eating is all about: Checking in with yourself, letting your internal awareness of hunger and then of fullness, inform your eating habits. In this way you can improve your body image, quality of life, and more.
How does intuitive eating work? Eat like you give a damn. That’s about it. Buy the best quality foods you can, choose your meals based on what your body is asking for, cook with care, eat with gratitude, and stop when you’re satisfied. With intuitive eating there are no restrictions on the time of day you can eat, or what your macros look like. Hunger is wholeheartedly honored; the intuitive eater does not starve themselves.
Letting yourself get to the point of ravenous hunger will only make you eat way too much, or the wrong thing, or both. But one real and lasting consequence of letting yourself go crazy like that is eroded trust in yourself, which is a horrible feeling. Intuitive eating consciously builds trust in yourself, while fad diets have a tendency to do the opposite. With restrictive fad diets, ultimately the dieter is the one who shoulders the blame for failing, and their low self-image is only reinforced.
Intuitive eating involves stopping when you’re satisfied, and making the experience itself satisfying too. For example: spending 10 minutes eating your sandwich on the balcony in the fresh air is probably more enjoyable than hovering over the sink for a 30 second snarf, amiright?
For many, intuitive eating can help get a handle on emotions. According to the American Psychological Association, “Twenty-seven percent of adults say they eat to manage stress and 34 percent of those who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress say this behavior is a habit.”
What Intuitive Eating Is Not
Heavy restrictions of any sort are not a part of intuitive eating:
- Militant schedules that have you eating every 3 hours.
- Only eating during a tiny window of time each day.
- Diets that remove whole food groups from the equation.
- Calorie restriction of any kind.
Intuitive eating is not diet culture. It’s not another way to think of your body as the enemy. Intuitive eating does not pit you against your body in any way, quite the opposite: it invites you to partner with it.
Can You Lose Weight Eating Intuitively?
You certainly can, and many do. But research shows the real effect of intuitive eating is generally healthier attitudes toward food and better self-image. I think this might be a result of the heightened awareness and the trust that we begin to feel in ourselves when we make choices that reflect our true values.
Though research on intuitive eating is relatively new, and mostly focused on women, researchers are seeing generally healthier psychological attitudes, lower body mass index (BMI), and weight maintenance… though weight loss doesn’t seem to be as prevalent.
I personally know someone who dropped about 40 pounds doing nothing but eating mindfully, so I know it’s possible. I really believe that our bodies are always seeking balance, and where we each need balance is a bit different. If there is weight to be lost, getting in tune with the habits that got you there, and breaking those, can’t help but release you of the weight you’re not meant to carry. It just makes sense.
But first and foremost, this is about listening to your body and heightening your awareness of how foods make you feel. When your actions are in alignment with your body, magic will start to happen.
Does Intuitive Eating Actually Work?
One of the most important benefits of intuitive eating is heightened psychological health. Studies confirm less depression and improved self-esteem, quality of life, and body image. Intuitive eating seems to be easier to stick to than fad diets, and at the same time it shapes healthier behaviors and attitudes toward food. In fact, those whose eating habits are centered on intuitive eating are less likely to display behaviors associated with disordered eating.
A Brown University study of 104 overweight women concluded that mindfulness training reduced craving-related eating by 40 percent. A Columbia University scientific review found that mindful eating often results in at least one benefit for metabolism or heart, such as better glucose levels, lower cholesterol or improved blood pressure.
When Intuitive Eating Does Not Work
If eating mindfully “isn’t working” for you, take stock of what the goal is. If you’re trying to lose weight, you may need to do more than this. Incorporate some aerobic and weight training into the mix, and see what happens.
But if you’re really just trying to eat more mindfully, and find yourself seemingly failing at every turn, take heart: In one study, it took some participants 15 tries to make any headway on mindful eating. But for many people, it took 38+ attempts before their habit reshaping efforts began to pay off.
I would also add that similar to exercising to kick-start weight loss, the reasons for out-of-control eating may be deep-seated. Emotional and disordered eating can be born of some really tough issues that can’t necessarily be remedied by just trying to be more mindful. Could a therapist, coach, or counselor help, in addition to the work you’re doing around intuitive eating?
What Does Intuitive Eating Look Like?
Intuitive eating is a constant conversation between you and your body. Asking what it needs, and providing that. As you move into this process you may find that a lot of changes need to be made. Don’t let it get overwhelming; you’re just learning. Remember: 38+ attempts.
“Maybe the goal is to eat more vegetables, because that carries all the healthy stuff our bodies need. If the outcome is reducing personal shame or guilt, getting you to stress less about your diet or getting you to not diet, those are all excellent goals. That will make you healthier even if it doesn’t make you thinner.” – Dr. Traci Mann, University of Minnesota psychologist and author of “Secrets From the Eating Lab”
Intuitive eating involves getting curious about you and your habits, so it’s time to start asking questions. Since it’s a process of getting in tune with your body, you may need some mechanical ways to remind you until it feels more natural. JillFit.com offers a great suggestion to set an alarm on your phone every 3 hours, like so:
These aren’t eating times, these are check-in times. Inquire within, ask if you’re hungry. Take stock of where you’re at, just observe. Do you want to eat? What are you craving? Is your belly rumbling or could you go another hour before you’re actually hungry? Are you peckish because you’re bored, wired, or tired? Are you actually just thirsty?
Other easy ways to embody intuitive eating:
- No phones at the table.
- If it’s a ready-made meal or to-go order, take a moment to personalize it. Add avocado, tomato, onions, a dash of this, a sprinkle of that, whatever you have that sounds nice.
- Use the good china.
- Put your fork down between bites.
- Use snack plates instead of dinner plates.
“How will eating this make me feel?”
Cravings do happen, and this isn’t the same as hunger. By stopping for a moment to survey how eating this will make you feel, you have a chance to change course. Or, to not change course at all and go full steam ahead. If you’re craving a cookie, for example, and eating one will make you feel absolutely delightful, eat that cookie! But be honest with yourself when you ask how five cookies will make you feel.
With intuitive eating, you have unconditional permission to eat whatever you want. No food is off limits, unless your body says otherwise. It pings a very primal part inside us when we can’t have something, particularly food. Perhaps this is because food is so fundamental to our existence. Whatever the reason, denial only leads to binge eating and guilty feelings later.
Intuitive eating invites you to begin trusting yourself to make the right choices for you. Depending on where you’re at in your journey, this might take some time, but it’s important to keep going. You deserve to feel the confidence that comes with knowing you’re in control.You are 100% worth the effort and care that this will take, so keep at it.
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