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Intuitive Eating: Should You Follow Your Gut Instinct?

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When it comes to intuition, why do most of us trust it for a host of big and little life choices, but ignore it when it comes to what we eat? Whether it is the assault of fad diets in magazines or “success stories” of friends who lost a lot of weight with a certain lifestyle change, there’s a lot that’s drowning out that little inner voice or instinct. Is it time you tuned out the noise and focussed on intuitive eating?

Have you ever listened to your “gut instinct” when it comes to eating? Chances are, like most people, you probably let your decisions be driven by logic or, in some instances, by the most compelling new research. Emotional eating, on the other hand, is something many of us understand all too well. So how do you move from following science and emotion to listening to what your body has to say? And does this “intuitive eating,” as it is called, really work?

Bringing Back Intuitive Eating

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably read up on and even religiously follow a “feed on demand” regimen for your little baby. In essence, what this means is you feed the baby when it is really hungry and needs to be fed, and not on some pre-determined schedule. The idea is to give the child the nutrition their body really needs by listening to their “intuition” and physical and physiological needs. Why then is it something we seem to forget as adults? The “Intuitive Eating” movement aims at recovering ground lost to stress eating and emotional eating. According to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of the book Intuitive Eating, intuitive eating requires you to become an expert on your body’s needs. If you do it right, you will be able to tell emotional and physical needs apart and stop worrying incessantly about what you’re eating. It combines healthy intuitive eating with exercise and a general change in your attitude toward food.1

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is more than just a diet regimen you follow to knock off pounds or eat healthy. Loyalists explain that it is more of a holistic change to the way you approach life in general. It is hard to suddenly tune into your intuition for food when you ignore it for every other decision in life. As some suggest, intuitive living goes hand in hand with intuitive eating.

Simply put, intuitive eating relies on food consumption based on satiety cues as well as physiological hunger. This is a departure from the emotional cues (like binge eating when you’re depressed or upset) or situational cues (scoffing cake and champagne at a friend’s birthday because you feel you “should” or “have to”) we are all conditioned to comply with.2

How To Get Started

To apply some of the wisdom of intuitive eating to your life, follow these simple tips drawn from the philosophy outlined in Intuitive Eating, and you should be on your way to a healthier style of eating.

  • Count on your intuition, don’t count calories. Stop dieting – it undermines the foundation of eating intuitively.
  • Respect hunger. Eat when your body needs it. Resisting the need for energy from food results in a buildup of excessive hunger and can cause you to overeat.
  • Don’t punish yourself over food. If you indulge, don’t beat yourself up over it. You need to stop pushing yourself to stick to a certain calorie intake and never busting it, and eating only as per a pre-set food plan. You don’t need to be perfect all the time. Just stay consistent in the long run.
  • Don’t try and fight off certain foods. If you make a certain food taboo, you may well find yourself binging on it after resisting the urge for a while. It is the allure of the forbidden fruit. If nothing is taboo, you won’t obsess over it that much.
  • Enjoy eating, reflect on your fullness. If you make the experience pleasurable and focus on enjoying what you’re having, you may even end up eating less but being just as satisfied. Think about what you’re eating. Pause mid-meal and see if you’re feeling full. If you are, don’t feel compelled to eat more.
  • Find other ways to acknowledge feelings. Emotional eating and stress eating arise from the lack of another outlet for your emotions or what you are feeling. Exercising or talking to someone can be a better way than reaching for a snack that probably isn’t even good for you.
  • Respect your size, whatever it is. Unless you come to terms with your body and its needs, whatever size it may be, you will fall back into the trap of dieting and calorie restriction.
  • Exercise. Fitness comes from both healthy eating and exercise. Working out can put you in a good frame of mind and keep you motivated.

Does It Really Work?

Intuitive eating is backed by more than just the faith or intuition that this should work. Hundreds of research hours have gone into understanding this adaptive eating style and the benefits it may potentially bring.

One study in particular sums up the primary benefit of intuitive eating. Researchers studied subjects who followed the traditional weight-loss approach versus the “health at every size” philosophy embodied by intuitive eating. And the results were stark. The test subjects who lived by the weight-loss principles, with diets playing a central role, saw 41 percent attrition at the six-month marker. Compared to this, those who were in the health-at-every-size group and, by extension, followed intuitive eating and size acceptance, only saw 8 percent attrition at the same point. They also were able to keep up a long-term change in behavior unlike the diet group that regained weight over the long run (as measured at the two-year follow-up. With reduced dieting behavior, better size acceptance, and heightened awareness of body signals and response to them, they also saw health-risk indicators improve.3 In other words, intuitive eating can bring you long-term results – because of the changes in your mindset and lifestyle which eventually become a way of life – as opposed to short-run quick fixes.

Hurdles To Intuitive Eating

With so much focus on intuitive eating, it can be easy to lose sight of the core principles that define this philosophy. As a thumb rule, if you need to seek the help of a professional to “guide” you to eat right, it isn’t intuitive by definition anymore! When you get a coach or professional to help you, you are relying on their intuition instead of your own.

As with any lifestyle change, intuitive eating may not be for everyone. If you find yourself slipping, as some people in one study did, you may not get the results you seek. Researchers in that instance found that over a six-week study, those who followed a traditional calorie counting/restriction approach to eating ended up losing more weight as a group than those who followed intuitive eating. This was because while the intuitive eating group started off well, they lost momentum midway, slipping up and even gaining weight. These findings are at odds with other research that has proven the effectiveness of intuitive eating over the long run.4

What this might indicate is that for intuitive eating to work for you, you need to truly commit to it, treating it not as a short-run weight-loss fix but as a lifestyle change. And that’s when you’re likely to really see results.

References   [ + ]

1.Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. Intuitive eating. Macmillan, 2012.
2.Avalos, Laura C., and Tracy L. Tylka. “Exploring a model of intuitive eating with college women.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 53, no. 4 (2006): 486.
3.Bacon, Linda, Judith S. Stern, Marta D. Van Loan, and Nancy L. Keim. “Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese, female chronic dieters.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 105, no. 6 (2005): 929-936.
4.Anglin, Judith C., Nadia Borchardt, Elizabeth Ramos, and Kendra Mhoon. “Diet quality of adults using intuitive eating for weight loss–pilot study.” Nutrition and Health (2015): 0260106015601943.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

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