3 Nov 2020
Should You Try Intuitive Eating?
3 Nov 2020
In the realm of health and nutrition, Intuitive Eating is generating a lot of buzz. From YouTube to Instagram to Tiktok, you can find mentions of this style of eating pretty much everywhere. You might have also noticed that people seem to be divided on Intuitive Eating. Some people sing its praises, while others have expressed their skepticism about whether this is a healthy way of eating. Perhaps this has left you wondering what exactly Intuitive Eating is and if it’s something you should try.
Intuitive Eating (IE) is an anti-diet approach developed 25 years ago by two American registered dietitian nutritionists, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The principles of IE took seed in the minds of these dietitians while they were working in their private practices. They began to see the flaws in diet culture when they worked with clients who wanted to lose weight. The same cycle was happening over and over in their offices. They would design strict meal plans for their clients to follow; clients closely followed their meal plans until they eventually met their weight loss goals.
However, within several months to a couple of years, these clients would end up needing help with weight loss once again. Many of them had gained back all the weight they lost and some had gained back even more than they had originally lost. Tribole and Resch started to wonder whether prescribing diets was really the way to help their clients become healthier. *Note: In this blog post, “diet” refers to a restrictive pattern of eating that is low in calories and/or excludes certain foods/food groups for the purpose of weight loss.
These ladies began looking at dieting culture with a critical lens. Does dieting actually work? Well, it turns out that a staggering 95% of all diets fail . What does this statistic make you think and feel? Is it reasonable to practice dieting, with failure rates this massive?
Let’s think about this from another perspective. Imagine you have a medical condition that needs to be treated with a medication or surgery (perhaps this is already the case for you). Now envision yourself in your doctor’s office, where they are explaining the treatment for your condition that they will use. Your doctor tells you this treatment is frequently recommended to patients with your condition – many people are using it. There’s just one catch: there’s only a 5% chance that it will work for you. Would you still sign up for the treatment?
If you would say ‘no’ in the scenario above, why might you be saying ‘yes’ to diet culture? Perhaps you have put yourself on diets throughout your life in an effort to lose weight, improve your medical condition, or just feel healthier. Did dieting help you to reach your goals? How long were you able to stay on your diet? After your diet was over, were you able to maintain the goals you’d reached?
After doing some reflection, maybe you’re realizing that dieting hasn’t actually helped you reach your health and wellness goals. Or, going off your diet might have caused your results to disappear. What will you do about this revelation? Will you continue to go on and off diets for years to come?
Tribole and Resch realized the futility of dieting as well. Using data from scientific papers along with their professional experience, they developed an alternative to dieting. And that’s how IE was born.
What is intuitive eating?
IE is built on the concept that we are born with the intuition required to meet our body’s nutritional needs. Think about how a baby eats. When they’re hungry, they cry to signal that they need to be fed. Then when they’re full, they simply stop feeding. No one is telling babies how to eat, yet they are able to get the nourishment they require to grow and develop.
Unfortunately, as we grew up, many of us received messages from family, friends, healthcare providers, and the media telling us there are “right” and “wrong” ways to eat. That there are “good” and “bad” foods. As a result, the idea of eating healthy becomes associated with deprivation and constant vigilance. You can’t just eat what you want when you want if you truly desire to be healthy – no way!
IE is a journey that takes us back to the intuitive eater we were when we were born. It’s all about learning how to trust your body; how to hear the messages it is sending you and respond to them. It’s a lifestyle that will grant you freedom from dieting culture, enabling you to meet your health and wellness goals and maintain them long term.
IE is made up of 10 principles that will take you through the process of rediscovering your inner Intuitive Eater :
1) Reject the Diet Mentality
Let go of the idea that you just need to try one last diet. Dieting disconnects you from your body’s signals and has a negative impact on your relationship with food. Shift your focus to developing healthy behaviours rather than losing a certain amount of weight.
2) Honor Your Hunger
Learn your body’s hunger signals. Then, honour your hunger by responding to these signals, feeding your body with adequate energy and carbohydrates. When you honour your hunger you are more likely to make conscious eating choices.
3) Make Peace with Food
Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Viewing certain foods as forbidden only leads to feelings of deprivation which often leads to uncontrollable cravings and binge eating. When you start to view all foods as morally equal, your tendency to overeat your forbidden foods will decrease.
4) Challenge the Food Police
The food police tells you that you are “good” or “bad” based upon whether you’re following the unreasonable rules of diet culture. This is the voice in your head that says negative things to you and makes you feel guilty for eating that piece of cake. Banishing the food police is a key step in the IE process.
5) Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Dieting steals away the pleasure and satisfaction of the eating experience. You will find that you feel more satisfied and content when you eat what you actually want in an inviting environment.
6) Feel Your Fullness
Learn your body’s fullness signals. Eat with intention so that you can observe the signs that show you are comfortably full. Part of honouring your fullness is giving yourself the foods you truly desire so that you don’t remain emotionally hungry after you are physically full.
7) Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Uncover the emotional triggers of your eating behaviours and come to terms with the fact that food cannot fix your feelings. Find alternative coping strategies to provide comfort and distraction. Learn how to deal with the source of your emotions.
8) Respect Your Body
Your here-and-now-body deserves respect. You don’t have to be a certain weight to give yourself the self-care you need. Develop self-care practices that will build your self-esteem and help you to love yourself.
9) Movement – Feel the Difference
Focus on how movement makes your body feel rather than on its calorie-burning effect. Say goodbye to militant exercise. You’re much more likely to stick with physical activities that you enjoy.
10) Honour Your Health – Gentle Nutrition
Gentle nutrition means eating in a way that honours your health, acknowledges your taste buds, and makes you feel good. You don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. Maintaining conscious eating habits over time is what matters.
At this point you might be thinking, “This all sounds well and good – but does Intuitive Eating actually work?” Currently there are more than 125 research articles  that show the many benefits of IE for different age groups and medical conditions.
Research has shown that when children are raised by parents who do not monitor or restrict their eating, they grow into adults who are less likely to engage in emotional eating and more inclined to eat to satisfy their physical hunger . Teenagers who score higher on the IE assessment scale have better body satisfaction and fewer mood problems . Adult Intuitive Eaters tend to eat a greater variety of foods and have a lower body mass index than their dieting counterparts . IE is also associated with improved blood pressure, blood lipids , and blood sugar control . In addition, IE has been used as a tool to overcome disordered eating behaviours, both food restriction and binge eating .
The evidence shows that IE is working for many people and it can work for you too! If you’re not quite sold on IE yet, over the next several months I will be writing a series of blog posts on each of the 10 principles.
 Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. New York: St. Martin’s Essentials. Introduction, pg xvii.
 Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. New York: St. Martin’s Essentials. Chapter 4, pg 46-54.
 Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. New York: St. Martin’s Essentials. Chapter 1, pg 1.
 Galloway A., Farrow C., and Martz D. (2010). Retrospective reports of child feeding practices, current eating behaviours, and BMI in college students. Obesity, 18, 1330-1335.
 Dockendorff S., et al. (2017). Intuitive eating scale: An examination among early adolescents. Journal of Counseling Psychology 59(4):604-611.
 Smith T., and Hawks S. (2006). Intuitive eating, diet composition, and the meaning of food in healthy weight promotion. American Journal of Health Education 37:130-136.
 Van Dyke N., and Drinkwater E. (2014). Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature reviews. Public Health Nutrition 17(8):1757-66.
 Willig A.L., et al. (2014). Intuitive eating practices among African-American women living with type 2 diabetes: A qualitative study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 114(6):889-96.
 Van Dyck, A., et al. (2016). German version of the intuitive eating scale: Psychometric evaluation and application to an eating disordered population. Appetite 105:798-807.
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