Debating Diets: What is intuitive eating?

Thinking about starting a new diet? While the amount of information available can be overwhelming, it’s possible to find a diet that is safe, suitable and effective for your lifestyle.

Sarah Keyes, assistant professor in the Physician Assistant Program and certified lifestyle medicine specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, discusses what you need to know about “intuitive eating.”

Q: How does intuitive eating work? What are the principles behind it?

A: The basic premise of intuitive eating is that we all have the ability to cultivate an attunement to what our biological and psychological needs are via the physical sensations and cues we are sent by our bodies and minds.

egg-meal-breakfast

There are 10 principles:

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with food
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Respect your fullness
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor
  7. Honor your feelings without using food
  8. Respect your body
  9. Exercise – feel the difference
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition

Intuitive eating holds that what we eat is not as important as our relationship with food and our body and that relationship is challenged by the diet and weight-focused culture in which we live.

Q: What sets intuitive eating apart from traditional dieting?

A: Intuitive eating rejects dieting outright, but also does not make masked diet-culture claims about being a “lifestyle change.” Intuitive eating is paralleled by the paradigm shift that a person can be healthy at every size (HAES) and thus, the focus should move from what and how we eat to honoring and respecting our hunger, fullness, satisfaction, body, health and engaging in movement.

Q: Are there any known mental health benefits?

A: Yes. A recent study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion demonstrated positive psychological-related variables among women who struggle with weight and body image. There are other studies with similar conclusions. In a review published in 2014, the authors concluded intuitive eating helps participants develop a healthier relationship with food and resulted in improved blood pressure, lipids, and other markers of cardiorespiratory fitness independent of weight loss.

Other benefits included decreased depression and anxiety, increased self-esteem, and improved body image. The idea is that when a person stops restricting through dieting, the mental energy spent on thoughts like “I just don’t have the willpower” or “I fail every time” may be channeled elsewhere.

Q: Is there anyone who should avoid intuitive eating?

A: Intuitive eating is for everyone, but if you are struggling with food, your body, and your mental health, you should seek professional help before trying to incorporate intuitive eating on your own.

Q: What kind of physiological changes or side effects should be expected?

A: Those who practice intuitive eating can expect to struggle at first with enacting the principles in our diet and weight-focused culture. There is nearly constant messaging in our culture about weight loss and how, what, and when to eat. Once we become aware of these messages and attempt to resist them, there can be resistance from our friends, family, and even ourselves.

Seeking out a professional who is well-versed in intuitive eating can be a helpful resource. You can also check out the Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Q: What else should people know before considering intuitive eating?

A: There are tons of great resources for intuitive eating and HAES. Check out the resources above as well as podcasts like Food Psych by Christy Harrison and Comfort Foods (if you are a parent and interested in introducing these concepts to your child).

Intuitive eating is a dynamic process, not an end-goal. Every person is different and will have a unique experience after enacting each principle, but it can be expected that pursuing intuitive eating results in a long-lasting and sustainable relationship with food and your body.

 Additional Resources

Learn more about intuitive eating.

See more from the Debating Diets series.

-By Nicole Blanton

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