Dieting is not a new phenomenon, and it's not going anywhere. Advertisements about weight loss products and fad diets are inescapable but offer no long-term results (1). Intuitive eating, often coupled with the Healthy At Any Size (HAES) movement (you read that right, being overweight doesn't necessarily mean you are unhealthy), challenges the whole diet and nutrition industry. So what is intuitive eating? Intuitive eating is defined as being in tune with your body's natural hunger cues and includes a positive body esteem and an anti-diet approach. The technique was coined by two registered dietitians, and now you can even find a dietitian certified in intuitive eating to help you reach your goals!
Weight loss may take a back-burner approach in intuitive eating, however adopting this technique has been linked to long-term weight loss and positive body esteem (2). Intuitive eating is a learning process. You will learn how to tune in to what your body truly needs. It allows you to respond to your natural hunger cues and cravings without guilt or consequences (3). This technique is useful for chronic dieters or people that often hop from one diet to another searching for weight loss. Also, low-carb or ketogenic dieters may benefit from looking into intuitive eating. Satiety from high-fat foods is often a selling point for dieters seeking weight loss; however, it makes it difficult to tune in to what your body is hungry for if you are really hungry. Understanding your natural cues will allow you to discern hunger from boredom, stress, or fatigue. This may reduce overall caloric intake and yield sustainable weight loss. Intuitive eaters say they have removed the stress from eating, whether it be from obsessing over calorie counts, tracking macros, or feeling guilty for snacking or missing a gym day. Although the principles seem simple, it takes a lot to rewire your brain and flush out old habits! Try these five steps to intuitive eating from Lauren Fowler, RD LDN:
1. Listen to your hunger
This tip is easier than it sounds. When you are extremely hungry, it's easy to overeat or choose foods you wouldn't normally eat to fill that emergent hunger. Instead, try eating when you are only moderately hungry to see if you can observe the difference in choices that you make in these two hunger states.
2. Ask yourself what you want to eat, really!
This principle emphasizes that food is pure joy! Eating should be fun, so eat foods you enjoy, and don't eat a food you hate because you think it's good for you.
3. Notice how your body responds to food
Have you ever eaten a huge meal, only to be hungry 2 hours later? Or have you ever had a small smoothie fill you up all day? See how certain foods make you feel and make adjustments. If your breakfast doesn't hold you over more than 30 minutes, try adding more protein tomorrow.
4. Savor your food
Take the time to slow down and really enjoy your food. Again, eating is supposed to be pleasurable, not a chore. Take a moment at your next meal to really chew, analyze the flavors of your meal, and savor your food. It will bring awareness and mindfulness to your meal.
5. Trust your body
A key component of intuitive eating is body positivity, so trust that your body can do great things. Understand that what works for your friend may not work for you, and intuitive eating involves a healing process. Trust that your body is healing and will carry you through this transition.
(1) Ruden, D. M., Rasouli, P., & Lu, X. (2007). Potential long-term consequences of fad diets on health, cancer, and longevity: lessons learned from model organism studies. Technology in Cancer Research & Treatment, 6(3), 247–254. https://doi.org/10.1177/153303460700600312.
(2) Schaefer, J. T., & Magnuson, A. B. (2014). A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(5), 734–760. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.024.
(3) MPH, T. S., & EdD, S. R. H. (2006). Intuitive eating, diet composition, and the meaning of food in healthy weight promotion. American Journal of Health Education, 37(3), 130–136. https://doi.org/10.1080/19325037.2006.10598892