Should We Be Eating Intuitively?
There is a lot of confusion about what intuitive eating actually is.
You have probably seen some gurus on instagram haranguing about how if you just listen to your body, you’ll will instinctively know how to maintain a healthy weight and achieve your fitness goals.
This is not intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is a non-diet, weight-neutral approach to eating that is designed to help individuals break the cycle of chronic dieting. It was developed in 1995 by two US dieticians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who championed 10 principles of intuitive eating:
Reject the Diet Mentality
Honour Your Hunger
Make Peace With Food
Challenge the Food Police
Respect Your Fullness
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food
Respect Your Body
Exercise- Feel the Difference
Honour Your Health
It is a nutritional intervention aimed at restoring a healthy relationship with eating; it is NOT designed to help you lose weight.
It is a movement that is backed by evidence. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and removing unnecessary rules and restrictions is inline with flexible dietary strategies which are associated with lower depression, lower anxiety and less overeating. Rigid dietary control strategies, on the other hand, are associated with food cravings, increased mood disturbances, higher concern with body shape and more binging episodes.
It is an effective intervention when used in specific cases that it was designed for. If you are someone who suffers with a negative relationship with food and you are victim to the binge/restrict cycle, then intuitive eating is likely to be a suitable approach for you. If your preoccupation with food is overpowering, forget dieting and fix your outlook on food first. Come to terms with your weight and body-image, before you seek to improve upon them.
What about mindful eating? Same same but different?
Mindfulness is defined as ‘a state of mental functioning through which individuals are consciously aware of their surroundings and their engagement with the environment’.
Increasing internal attentiveness using mindfulness-based interventions can reduce habitual responses such as overeating. Higher levels of specific mindfulness components (act with awareness, non judgement and non react) have been associated with less bingeing.
Again, it is an approach to eating designed to address maladaptive eating behaviours, not to elicit fat loss.
So what about if you do have weight loss or physique-oriented goals?
Proponents of intuitive or mindful eating will often reference the literature that shows an association between dieting and negative psychological outcomes. It is true. Dieting can have an adverse impact on mood, self-esteem, cognition and eating behaviour. Yet the research is typically done on restrained eaters who follow arbitrary food rules and engage in haphazardous dietary practices in order to lose weight. How many of these people are guided by evidence-based practitioners? Ones who are empathetic, understanding and can effectively communicate the relevant principles to help individuals achieve weight loss in a sustainable and flexible manner?
We need to acknowledge that these negative psychological outcomes are a result of shitty dieting practices, not fat loss itself. In fact, many people experience vast improvements in wellbeing once they establish a healthy weight. Dietary restraint, when engaged in appropriately, does not lead to increased levels of eating pathology and can be a beneficial strategy for those looking to control their weight.
How can we incorporate intuitive and mindful eating practices into our eating behaviours, whilst moving towards specific goals?
At Flex Success, we practice Informed Eating.
Informed Eating is not a diet. It is having the knowledge to manage your nutrition in a way that leaves you physiologically and psychologically healthy throughout life. It is eating in accordance to your goals, no matter what they may be, and understanding how to adjust.
Informed Eating is a learned skill.
It is empowering. It is control. It is autonomy.
Stayed tuned for a follow up blog post which will dive deeper into this concept.
Diet Smart. Not Hard.