Why I'm Talking About Intuitive Eating

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Many of you have probably never heard of Intuitive Eating. Right? I hadn't until about a year ago and it was written in 1995 by 2 dietitians. Where have I been? In my previous job I had a pretty narrow focus for our specific patient populations and didn't get into many other nutrition topics during those 11 years. It wasn't a bad thing because you should focus in on your "niche" and continue to build on that knowledge but I knew I was missing out on some awesome nutrition stuff. When I started blogging a year ago, I connected with more dietitians on social media, which opened my eyes to parts of our field that I am not as or not at all familiar with. Intuitive Eating spoke to me the most and I'll share with you why. 

Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to wellness that involves connecting with your mind and body to determine what is best for you. Basically finding your "normal eating". Wait, what? No dieting? Exactly! You don't need restriction. You don't need willpower. You don't need guilt. You don't need to count calories, points, macros or anything else. You do need your intuition and some patience. Well, I'll be damned. 

We are born intuitive eaters. Babies and kids eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Sometimes they eat more often, sometimes they go longer periods without eating. Sometimes they eat a lot and sometimes just a little but they know what their bodies need. They are in control. Somewhere along the way we tend to lose our inner intuitive eater. We are focused on cleaning our plates or following a set of foods rules we or someone else creates for us. We are bombarded by diet messages and a culture that wants us to be thin. 

So if we are constantly seeing messages about dieting and told we need to lose weight or be a certain BMI by some health professionals, then why is this non-diet approach encouraged? Well while I can't say it is for everyone, I do think it can be beneficial for many, especially those that have a generally poor relationship with food and their body. Intuitive Eating puts more focus on the mental aspect as well as internal cues such as hunger, fullness, and what you actually feel like eating. It takes the focus away from external cues like food rules and restriction.

There have been a number of research studies done on intuitive eating with some really positive results, which is one of the many reasons I'm on board. Here is what the studies are showing about intuitive eating:

  • Less disordered and emotional eating
  • Higher self esteem
  • Increased well-being and optimism
  • Increased body appreciation and acceptance
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Lower Body Mass Index
  • Increased pleasure from eating

Here are the citations of the research studies on intuitive eating. It has also been shown to be a promising treatment for binge-eating disorder. 

One of the principles of the book is rejecting the diet mentality. This is a big one because there are so many things, ideas, and actions that can be considered diet mentality. Rejecting diet mentality means rejecting the thoughts and hopes that a new diet promises to you but fails to deliver. It also means no longer thinking that a diet is the only way to a better you. Chronic dieters can experience what the book refers to as symptoms of "diet backlash". These symptoms can include:

  • Cravings for "sinful" foods when thinking about going on a diet
  • Binging on food and having lots of guilty feelings when ending a diet.
  • Having a "last supper" mentality. This means increasing food intake, especially foods that you might "need" to give up before going on the next diet for fear you won't eat those foods again for a while. 
  • Social withdrawal - it's hard to be in social situations, out to dinner, birthday parties, etc if you are restricting your food intake or have lots of food rules. 
  • Sluggish metabolism - metabolism slows down with decrease caloric intake, especially the more severe the calorie restriction.
  • Eating disorders- repeated dieting can be a stepping stone to an eating disorder and it doesn't descriminate against which eating disorder, they are all possible. 

The "diet backlash" symptoms should be enough to say enough to dieting but we keep going back for more. One study done in 2007 concluded that dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain. Up to 2/3 of the people regained more weight than they lost. That is so crazy! 

I have found some benefit from working on Intuitive Eating myself, though truthfully I'm not 100% there yet. The reality is that it is also difficult and can be a process but it will be worth it! It has taken my constant focus and obsession away from food. It has allowed me to eat out and enjoy my food and company without feeling guilty. It has allowed me to be more positive about my body and where I am in my journey. It has allowed me to trust my hunger and fullness instead of the clock or how much food I think I need or don't need. It has also really made me think about how I talk about food with my child. My favorite chapter was Raising an Intuitive Eater: What works with Kids and Teens. I think every parent should read this chapter. 

This is just a start to the "What is Intuitive Eating" discussion. Honestly, I feel like I'm a little late to the game myself but better late than never. If you are interested, you can read about the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating. I'll post more about these coming up and how to incorporate the principles in your life. If you are looking for some more in depth information and resources, here are a few:

  • RD Real Talk Podcast - she just finished a series on the 10 principles as well as an interview with one of the authors
  • Food Psych Podcast - podcast about Intuitive Eating, eating disorders and Health at Every Size. 
  • Facebook group with Cara at Street-Smart Nutrition - she does a Facebook live chat about different topics dealing with Intuitive Eating and it's a great place to ask questions and get support from others. 

This is a program that I feel passionate about, though I'm still learning a lot about it. My husband asks me questions about it that I struggle to answer but I'm working on it. I'm excited to share more with you in the future. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you might have.