- Emma Nuttall
Why dieting is out and intuitive eating is in
How to heal your relationship with food
Research conclusively shows that most diets fail. Even if the dieter loses weight in the short term, they generally gain it back once they return to their regular pattern of eating. Significantly, 95-98% of people regain the weight over a 4-5 year period. Dieting reinforces the concept of restriction and food restriction is associated with a long list of adverse health issues. These range from nutrient imbalances and food preoccupation to malnutrition, unhealthy body image and disordered eating. Several studies have shown that restraint eating (dieting) may actually cause weight gain.
Intuitive eating has gained popularity in the last few years due to its health-centred focus and contribution to physical and psychological wellbeing. Intuitive eating programs aim to address a person's natural ability to regulate their food intake and cultivate a positive attitude towards food and body image.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based program designed by Dieticians; Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It aims to bring your focus back to the mind-body connection, using hunger and satiety cues to regulate eating. It involves listening to internal body signals and eating for physical rather than emotional reasons. Intuitive eating empowers individuals to eat when they are hungry and not label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
The program also promotes physical activity and gentle nutrition. Tribole & Resch instruct intuitive eaters to focus on how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. Exercise is scientifically proven to increase energy, reduce stress and stabilise mood. Tuning into these beneficial effects can increase your motivation to continue exercising.
An understanding of basic nutrition is encouraged to help you make food choices that honour your health. Honouring your tastebuds with food that tastes good is also important and intuitive eaters are reminded that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy.
Who is intuitive eating for and what are the benefits?
Intuitive eating is for anyone who wants to establish a healthy relationship with food and honour the uniqueness of their body. To eat for health while also enjoying the pleasure of a good food experience. To say goodbye to the misery of restriction and deprivation, and make peace with their healthy weight.
Cultivating greater body appreciation along with freedom from restrictive eating, food preoccupation and diet culture are just some of the benefits of an intuitive style of eating.
Can you lose weight from intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is not a weight loss program. There is no calorie counting, food plan or diet ‘rules’. Weight loss may occur naturally over time as you become more in tune with your physiological and psychological needs, however this is not the primary focus of the program. It is not recommended to approach intuitive eating with the aim of losing weight but with the intention of healing your relationship with food and learning to accept your body in the process.
Can intuitive eating help with binge eating?
Studies demonstrate that intuitive eaters are 40% less likely to display extreme weight loss control behaviours and less likely to experience chronic binge eating. It is also associated with lower levels of disordered eating behaviours.
Will intuitive eating make me gain weight?
Intuitive eating is about giving yourself permission to eat the things you crave. Although there is the possibility you may put on weight in the initial stages, once you have re-established the mind-body connection you are more likely to crave foods that are health-promoting. Research shows that intuitive eating is associated with improved dietary quality. One particular study demonstrated that eating for physical rather than emotional reasons was positively associated with fruit and vegetable intake.
During my teens and 20s, restriction and calorie counting featured high in my repertoire. I followed all the diet crazes and witnessed my weight yo-yo along with my mood. I now loosely follow an intuitive style of eating and have naturally reduced sugar-laden food and large portion sizes because I have learnt which foods do, and do not, make my body feel good.
My weight has remained relatively stable for the last 10-15 years however it's important to add that I exercise regularly and eat a nutritious diet that is high in both plant and whole foods and low in sugar and processed foods.
Where to start with intuitive eating
You can find the principles of intuitive eating on Tribole & Resch’s website.
You can also read their book; ‘Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach’ and accompanying workbook.
Disclosure: If you purchase via this link, I may earn a small commission. Please know that I only include resources I personally recommend and truly feel will deliver value to you.
How to listen to your body when eating intuitively
When we are disconnected from our body and therefore our biological hunger cues, we often spend too much time 'in our head', overthinking, analysing and ruminating. We may eat on autopilot, in response to negative emotions or according to the clock, rather than because we are experiencing genuine physical hunger.
Keeping a Food & Mood diary can be a helpful way of tuning back into your body. When you find yourself reaching for food, stop and check in with yourself. Are you physically hungry or are you craving comfort or an antidote to stress? If you find that you're not physically hungry, ask yourself how you are feeling in that moment and note down your thoughts and emotions. Over time, this will provide you with better insight into what is causing you to reach for food to soothe your negative emotions.
It can be helpful to make a list of non-food related strategies to deal with your emotions. For example – take a bath, exercise, ring a friend, or put on your favourite music.
Intuitive eating can take time but learning to listen to your hunger cues, re-establish your mind-body connection and give up ‘dieting’, can make a huge difference to your wellbeing. Your mental health, body image and self-worth may flourish as a result.
I am a Bachelor-qualified Nutritionist and would love to support you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight!
Read more about me (Emma) and my personal weight loss journey here.