Intuitive eating: The non-dieting approach

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If you’ve tried many diets before and, like many others, just ended up putting all the weight back on, then maybe you might want to consider putting your calorie-counting and food-journaling ways behind. Fortunately, there is a new trend in town, and it might be just what you have been looking for. It’s called intuitive eating. 

There is an increasing number of people who are turning their back on typical diets. From trying to figure out which diet would work best for them to having to sacrifice the foods that they enjoy, many people have given up on trying numerous weight-loss diets that don’t bring the results that they are looking for without making them feel miserable and hungry. In fact, according to Janet Polivy, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto (Canada) who was interviewed by Fitness magazine, not only can chronic dieting affect a person's psychology and cause moodiness or anxiety, but people also tend to binge both before they begin a diet and after it fails.

While medical experts continue to study the different types of diets, as well as their potential advantages and side effects, some people are choosing to turn to non-diet approaches to eating. One of them – intuitive eating – has gained a lot of popularity. In short, intuitive eating is about having a good relationship with food. It’s about discovering how different foods and eating habits affect you, and learning how to listen to cues from the body and appreciating food without feeling guilty afterwards. 

There are 10 principles of intuitive eating. 

The first one is about rejecting the diet mentality. It starts by throwing out the diet books, calorie journal and magazine articles and all the lies that led you to believe that you could lose weight quickly and easily through some trick. 

The second approach to intuitive eating is learning how to honour your hunger. This principle is about feeding yourself whenever you feel hungry and keeping your body biologically fed with the amount of energy, carbohydrates and nutrition that it needs. 

The third principle is about making peace with food.  Enough with the food fight and stop punishing and depriving yourself. It is no secret that the more you tell yourself you shouldn’t or aren’t allowed to do something, the more you want to do it. The same theory applies to food. In fact, according to experts, depriving yourself of a food that you want can lead to uncontrollable cravings, which can then result in binge eating and feeling extremely guilty. If you feel like eating something, do it. 

The fourth principle of intuitive eating is about rejecting all the unreasonable rules and guilt-provoking accusations that dieting has created. Yes, you can eat that piece of cake and no, you won’t regret it afterwards.

The fifth approach to intuitive eating is to respect your fullness. This principle is about recognising the signs telling you that you are full and no longer hungry. One way to do this, according to nutritionists, is to pause in the middle of the meal and ask yourself, does the food taste good, are you still hungry, are you still eating because you are hungry or because it’s dinner time? This principle goes hand in hand with principle two because just as it is important to eat when you’re hungry, it is also important to stop when those hunger cues are no longer there. When you recognise the feelings of hunger and fullness, you’ll be less likely to overindulge.

The sixth principle, discovering the satisfaction factor, is about learning how to appreciate the taste, texture and every single bite of food, as well as the environment in which you are eating, and enjoying the eating experience. This habit, according to experts, can help you feel more satisfied and content after a meal, as well as help you eat less. To put this into practice, Evelyn Tribole, one of the authors of The Intuitive Eating Workbook and several studies on intuitive eating, recommends starting with just one meal a day. “Make it a sacred time in which you eat without distraction,” she said. 

Many people eat when they are bored, lonely, stressed or sad. The seventh principle of intuitive eating is, therefore, about finding and working on ways to comfort, distract and take care of yourself without having to use food as a way to fix your feelings. One should eat for physical, not emotional reasons.

The eighth principle is about respecting, appreciating and accepting your body without being over-critical, punishing yourself or having unrealistic goals. Some people have a naturally fast metabolism and some people always stay skinny no matter how much they eat. However, you can learn how to feel better about your body by taking care of it and exercising regularly, which is what principle nine is about. However, intuitive eating is not about punishing your body through hard-core, military workouts, but rather about focusing on being active, feeling energised and powerful, and enjoying an activity while appreciating and noticing the difference that it brings. 

Finally, the tenth principle is about honouring your body with good nutrition, by eating what makes you feel good and healthy. In other words, eating intuitively should still involve more vegetables and fruits than chocolate cake. However, you shouldn’t beat yourself up every time you have ice cream or a snack.

This approach seems to work on many people, who stated that they felt healthier and happier. In fact, according to researchers at Brigham Young University (USA), the people who scored high on an intuitive-eating scale during a study not only had less anxiety about food and enjoyed their meals more but, surprisingly, they also had lower body mass indexes! But that’s not all. Intuitive eating has also been linked with improved cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and reduced markers of inflammation, as well as with mental benefits such as improved body image, lower levels of depression and better self-esteem.

“Intuitive eating is an attunement of mind, body and food. It’s an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food – where you ultimately become the expert of your own body,” Laura Hartung, a registered dietitian, told the University Health News Daily. 

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