Sadly, being intuitively in sync with your nutritional needs can seem complicated and challenging in today’s world. How did so many of us come to be afraid of food?!?
Intuitive eating has been popping up all over the place, and you might have questions. That’s what we’re aiming to answer today, starting with:
When it comes to food, can you trust your cravings, or should you stick to a more structured plan?
Two dietitians created the idea of intuitive eating. Advocates say that it can support physical and mental health while allowing you to let go of food restrictions.
But is intuitive eating healthy?
In this dispatch, we’ll cover what intuitive eating is, how you can practice it — if you choose to — and whether the science says it’s healthy.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a nonrestrictive approach to food that centralizes self-trust. It’s focused on honoring your body’s cravings, respecting basic nutrition principles, and rejecting diet culture.
And yes, a number of studies back up the intuitive eating approach.
One recent study suggests that we have the innate ability to choose foods based on our nutritional needs. For example, if you are low in magnesium, your body may crave whole grains and dark leafy greens, which are naturally rich in magnesium.
Intuitive eating is about prioritizing individualized nutrition and finding a healthy balance with food.
How do you practice intuitive eating?
There are 10 core principles of intuitive eating, from Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND, the founders of intuitive eating:
1. “Reject the diet mentality”
Intuitive eating recommends letting go of diets altogether.
While many people turn to diets to improve health, research suggests that dieting can cause an unhealthy relationship with food, new health issues, and weight gain.
Around 97% of dieters wind up at a higher weight than when they started dieting.²
2. “Honor your hunger”
Rather than ignoring hunger signals and trying to postpone eating for as long as possible, the intuitive approach is to eat when you’re hungry.
Doing so can help you build trust with your body and food while balancing cravings.
We’ve all had the experience of getting too hungry and reaching for a quick sugar or carb fix. When you ignore your hunger signals, it may be more difficult to hear what your body is really asking for and strike a balance between taste and nutrition.
3. “Make peace with food”
With intuitive eating, all foods are on the table except for true allergens. Are you wondering whether it wouldn’t be “better” to avoid certain foods, like white bread or cookies?
Here’s the thing: When you’re “not allowed” to eat something, it becomes irresistible. Restriction can lead to overeating, binging, or even an eating disorder in some cases.
By making peace with all foods, erratic eating patterns might naturally decrease.
Most of us have a voice in our head that labels certain foods as “good” or “bad.” That voice probably came from pervasive diet culture, and few of us are immune to it.
By instead viewing all foods as morally neutral, Tribole and Resch say we can rewire that voice, improve mental health, balance cravings, and enjoy many different foods.
5. “Discover the satisfaction factor”
When you’re excited about a meal, your mouth waters, your body produces digestive enzymes, and your system gets ready to break down your food.
By eating foods you enjoy, intuitive eating advocates say that you’ll feel more satisfied and be less likely to eat more than your body truly wants.
6. “Feel your fullness”
Intuitive eaters focus on respecting their hunger and their fullness. Chewing, pausing, and breathing during meals might support you in identifying when you’ve had enough food.
By noticing your fullness, you may be able to avoid overeating.
7. “Cope with your emotions with kindness”
Food can’t fix emotions.
While it feels good in the moment to self-soothe with something sweet or salty, Tribole and Resch speak about the inefficacy of using food to cope with feelings. What can you do instead?
Feel your emotions head-on. Breathe. Cry. Journal. Stretch. Talk to a friend. Go for a walk. Do anything you need to process your emotions without using food.
8. “Respect your body”
Everyone has a natural set point when it comes to weight. While it’s possible to improve fitness and health, we can’t change our genetics. And yet, many people try to diet down to a size that’s unrealistic for them. Intuitive eating says that health can exist in a wide range of sizes and that we should practice loving and accepting our natural bodies.
Practicing positive self-talk, limiting social media, and joyful movement may support you in respecting your body.
9. “Movement — feel the difference”
Intuitive eaters reject diet culture, but they don’t reject exercise. Moving your body in a way that feels good is a key part of the intuitive eating approach.
Doing an exercise you love helps release stress and strengthen your relationship with your body.
10. “Honor your health — gentle nutrition”
While all foods are on the table when you’re an intuitive eater, so is nutrition.
The last principle of intuitive eating encourages you to develop an understanding of nutrition and include nutritious foods in your meals. It’s all about balancing taste and health while letting go of perfection.
One processed meal or snack won’t “ruin” anything — as diet culture suggests — but that doesn’t mean you want to ignore vegetables altogether.
Is intuitive eating healthy?
While it might seem like intuitive eating is a slippery slope into a steady diet of potato chips and ice cream, research suggests the opposite.
One study on soldiers who had never been on a diet showed that after they were put on one, they developed a preoccupation with food and new health issues.³
Another study from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that intuitive eaters consume more fruits and vegetables than the average adult.⁴
A third study says that intuitive eaters may have lower body mass indices, experience less psychological stress, and display less disordered food behavior.
Research shows that intuitive eating can be a healthy approach, but the only person who can tell you what’s best for you is your physician or licensed nutrition professional.
What does intuitive eating look like?
If you’re curious about intuitive eating, you may want to experiment with the 10 principles in this article.
Not ready to go all in but want to dip your toes in the water? Here are three quick intuitive eating tips to get you started:
How do you feel before and after each meal?
Keep a journal for one week, and notice if certain foods make you feel better or worse, physically and emotionally.
Are there any foods you restrict?
Notice if there are any foods you’ve taken off the table and why.
Focus on chewing, pausing, and breathing at each meal.
This may help you strengthen your intuition and notice your true hunger and fullness signals.
If intuitive eating isn’t serving you after 30 days, it may not be the right approach for you.
Do you consider yourself an intuitive eater?
Is it something you want to experiment with?
We would love to hear from you in the comments below.
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