The Science-Based Approach: Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating may be the key to a healthier life and a stable weight. According to an article in the British Medical Journal, sustained dietary restriction (eliminating one or more food groups) may not have sustainable weight loss or health benefits. Intuitive eating may be the solution.

What Does “Intuitive Eating” Mean?

Intuitive eating is the process of eating with mindfulness and intention. Instead of focusing on a particular diet or food group, a person trains themselves to consider their hunger, fullness and health cues more carefully. What it's not: eating intuitively doesn’t require the elimination of food groups or certain types of foods. The goal of intuitive eating is to understand hunger and satiety (that is, satisfaction). 

Only consuming food when we’re hungry, instead of when we’re bored, stressed, or tired, leads to a better understanding of the body’s needs. Also, choosing to stop when full reduces the chances of becoming overweight or continuing to gain. However, proponents of intuitive eating believe that this practice does not mix with any type of dieting or food restriction. While weight loss can occur with intuitive eating, losing weight is not the goal or focus.

Intuitive Eating's Origin

Registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch are the creators of the intuitive eating plan. In 1995, they published a book on the topic. They note that intuitive eating means a “self-care eating framework rooted in science and supported by clinical experience.” 

This type of eating program includes specific principles, according to its creators, including:

  • Honoring our hunger
  • Rejecting the diet mentality
  • Respecting fullness
  • Honoring our feelings 

The goal is to develop a healthier relationship with food and the interoceptive awareness accompanying understanding our hunger signals.

Intuitive Eating in Practice

To fully understand intuitive eating, it’s important to understand the context that surrounds it. This type of eating is meant to reset hunger cues naturally and not as a form of weight loss specifically. However, there is a focus on nutrition. While it's true that a person should eat "whatever they want" and the process of healing through intuitive eating strives to eliminate shame and the idea that some foods are "good" and others are "bad," there is also the intention that everyone should eat in a way that makes them feel good. And it's pretty unlikely anyone is going to feel good eating nothing but pizza. 

This type of approach uses parameters other than body size to measure health and wellness. Practitioners often stop weighing themselves for a while as they learn to listen to their body's cues in both hunger andhealth. It's possible to lose weight by eating intuitively, but that's definitely not the focus.

The Limitations of Intuitive Eating

There have been nearly 200 studies on intuitive eating in the last decade. And the results are exciting. Often, these studies look at this type of eating as an “antidote” to eating disorders and related pathology. Many studies have indicated the potential for better health markers and that's why this approach is what many call "the science-based approach to health."

Those looking strictly for weight loss were generally not successful with this program. Though it does seem that of those who do lose weight by eating intuitively, that loss may be more sustainable than with other plans. So we wonder if this is the solution to that 90% weight regain so many face.

No matter what kind of eating pattern or plan a person chooses, the goal should be health and wellness over weight loss. And definitely, people can be both healthy and overweight. But for those who want strictly to reduce their weight, intuitive eating may not be the best approach. For people who want to eat healthier and understand their body’s hunger cues, however, and for those for whom overcoming past restrictive eating patterns is important, eating intuitively may be just the right science-backed approach.  

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3/4/2021 4:25:08 PM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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