The Ultimate Non-Diet: Intuitive Eating

“A woman knows by intuition, or instinct, what is best for herself.” Marilyn Monroe

We just finished a three-part series on trending diets—check out Part 1 on raw food and keto diets and intermittent fasting, Part 2 on DASH, Mediterranean, and flexitarian diets, and Part 3 on the paleo diet, Whole30, and volumetrics. Today we wanted to flip the script a bit, and look at an approach to eating this is not only NOT a diet, but is actually anti-diet. Intuitive Eating encourages you to listen to the expert who knows more about your body than any book or meal plan or diet program ever could: yourself!

Before we get started, a quick caveat: We’re huge endorsers of healthy living and eating well, but we aren’t professional scientists or nutritionists. Always consult your doctor before starting a new diet or changing your lifestyle in any way. And whatever eating regimen you do decide to explore, never underestimate the power of sleep and exercise!

What Is Intuitive Eating?

 

The lowdown: Listen to your body. And love it.

Intuitive Eating is fundamentally about rejecting the diet mentality that is so pervasive in society. As Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works write, “Dieting not only does not work, it is at the root of many problems. While many may diet as an attempt to lose weight or for health reasons, the paradox is that it may cause more harm.” Tribole and Resch cite rising rates for both eating disorders and obesity (including childhood obesity), despite the fact that there are more diet foods available than ever before. They describe the detrimental psychological effects of associating anything non-nutritious with guilt, of cycling between starvation and the (biological) urge to eat—“the battle of the bulge and the indulge”and of feeling the pressure to diet from the media.

In Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—And What We Can Do About It, Harriet Brown also expresses deep skepticism about the pervasive push to diet, even though  “your chance of maintaining a significant weight loss for five years or more [from dieting] is about the same as surviving metastatic cancer: 5 percent.” Discussing our cultural obsession with weight, she writes, “If all this body angst made people healthier and happier, maybe we could argue that the end justified the means. But it doesn’t. Instead, many of us spend a lot of waking hours on a hamster wheel of self-loathing.”

Enter Intuitive Eating to toss all that self-loathing out the window. Tribole and Resch encourage you to listen not to the “diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently,” but rather, to yourself. “Intuitive Eaters march to their inner hunger signals, and eat whatever they choose without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma,” they write. It comes down to knowing your body, trusting your body, and listening your body. When you do those things, you’re also showing love for your body.

The Principles of Intuitive Eating

 

The 10 inspiring principles of Intuitive Eating include:

  • “Honor your hunger.” Eat when you’re hungry. Starving yourself is likely to lead to overeating—rooted in a biological need for sustenance.
  • “Make peace with food.” Food is not the enemy; don’t ban it. Again, doing so may lead to overeating regardless of intentions. Biology is a strong force!
  • “Challenge the food police.” Hell yes. Like the Fashion Police, the Food Police can … do something we’re too classy to print. 😉 Don’t let anyone tell you if you should be eating a snack. They don’t know what your body is telling you.
  • “Honor your feelings without using food.” If you’re a human, you’ve probably eaten out of boredom, anger, anxiety, or another heightened emotion. And you’ve probably learned, or been reminded, that food doesn’t fix any of those problems. “If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run,” Tribole and Resch write. “You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.”
  • “Respect your body.” It’s the only one you have! Treat it right.
  • “Honor your health.” Read the next section for more on this one.

(All 10 principles are worth reading through carefully. Also if you’re curious about the difference between Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating, check out this article.)

As Tribole and Resch note, “Reconnecting with your internal wisdom about eating—wisdom that’s been with you from birth, will lead you to a life of freedom from negative thoughts about your food and your body. … All you need is the voice of your inner world. You’re the expert—please don’t forget that!” We love that #bodypositive message! 💕

So, You Can Eat Anything?

Nutritionist Michelle Gallant of Harvard University Health Services explained to The Cut that a common misconception about Intuitive Eating is that you can eat whatever you want. Writer Melissa Dahl notes, “The point of intuitive eating is to eat what your body truly wants by figuring out what kinds of things make you feel best. It’s a subtle shift in thinking: It’s not that you can’t have burgers and fries. It’s just that if you’re really paying attention to how your food makes you feel, you won’t want to eat junk all the time.”

“Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well,” Tribole and Resch advise. “Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. … It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.”

Does Intuitive Eating Work?

A 2015 scholarly review out of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, found that “intuitive eating was associated with less disordered eating, a more positive body image, greater emotional functioning, and a number of other psychosocial correlates that have been examined less extensively.” Another Australian article reported, “Extant research demonstrates substantial and consistent associations between intuitive eating and both lower BMI and better psychological health.”

Bodily health starts with a healthy relationship with what you put in your body. That may be intuitive, but it’s important to remind yourself!