INTUITIVE EATING: The Good, The Bad, And What To Do Instead

Intuitive eating has been around for decades and was made popular 1995 when the book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works came out.  Since then millions of people have embraced the ideas and principles of intuitive eating.

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating was developed as an approach to help people break free from dieting.  It was meant to help break people from their negative relationship with food.  You can read about it in more detail here.  According to benoursihed.org

An intuitive eater is defined as a person who makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating.

The main idea behind intuitive eating is to follow your hunger cues.  Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.  Nothing is off limits and you can eat what you want as long as you are listening to your “intuition”.  Although nothing is off limits, intuitive eating coaches encourage you to choose healthy and nutrient dense food over “junk food” most of the time.  If you want that piece of cake or brownie thought, you can have it.

Intuitive eating is not a diet. In fact, supporters and intuitive eating coaches pride themselves in calling intuitive eating an “anti-diet”  Counting calories, macros, weighing and measuring food, meal plans, and limiting certain foods are all discouraged.

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Can you see why so many have switched to an intuitive eating lifestyle?  It sounds amazing, right?   Eat what you want, when you want, without ever having to feel hungry or diet again.  No more counting calories or restricting the foods you love.  No wonder so many people have jumped on board and support the philosophy of intuitive eating.

If you want to know more on the specifics of intuitive eating, please click here.  Our purpose is to evaluate the science behind intuitive eating and determine if it lives up to its claims.  Is it something you should consider, continue doing, or abort completely? Let’s find out.

 

WHERE INTUITIVE EATING WENT RIGHT

Intuitive eating was developed to help individuals break free from unhealthy eating behaviors and to develop a better relationship with food.

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It’s a fact, and proven by a number of different studies that restrictive diets increase the risk of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.   Restrictive diets have also been linked to increased levels of psychological stress, depression, and anxiety.

The association of restrictive or rigid diets with mental health and eating disorders sparked the intuitive eating philosophy.

Intuitive eating coaches stopped telling people they had to lose weight, limit certain foods, and eat a certain way.  Instead, they told them they could eat what they wanted as long as they listened to their own body’s signals and needs.

The freedom that intuitive eating provides can improve body satisfaction and psychological stress associated with dieting as well as improve overall self-esteem, mood, body image, and emotional health.  

Intuitive eating is also an effective treatment for binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, and depression.

Science seems to agree with the intuitive eating.  The “non-diet” philosophy can improve self-esteem, body satisfaction, and mood while reducing psychological stress and the risk of eating disorders.

 

WHERE INTUITIVE EATING WENT WRONG

Intuitive eaters are taught to “reject the diet mentality”.  They claim that diets don’t work, never have, and that science shows that if you do lose weight, you cannot keep it off.  This sounds like music to the ears of people that have struggled with their weight for years. A weight is lifted off their shoulders (not literally) when they fins our they no longer have to restrict food, count calories, or try and reduce their weight.

The problem is these claims are completely inaccurate.  It’s true that losing weight and maintaining it is difficult.  In fact, studies have estimated that only 20% of people are successful at long-term weight maintenance. Although it is challenging, the claim that diets don’t work and weight can’t be maintained long-term is a flat out lie.

An analysis of multiple studies showed that weight loss maintenance is possible and more successful than most of us have come to believe.

The best study to date on long-term weight maintenance looked at participants in the National Weight Control Registry.  The average participant in the registry lost 72 pounds and had kept it off for 5 years.  Weight loss and weight maintenance are possible.  To read more about how to lose and maintain weight loss and what the common habits were among registry participants click here.

If you are happy with your body, your weight, and curves, then does it really matter if you lose weight?  Do you have to be thin if you are happy with the way you look now? Is there more to excess weight than just your emotional health?

Obesity and excess weight have been directly linked to risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, fatty liver disease, arthritis, and emotional problems.  The good news is that a mild 5-7% of body weight reduction can significantly reduce your risks for these diseases.

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Although intuitive eating can improve your relationship with yourself and food, it doesn’t help you lose weight. A few different studies have confirmed this. In fact, a couple of studies have found that those following an intuitive eating lifestyle actually gain weight.

Emotional and psychological health is important but so is your physical health.  Optimal health can only be achieved at an optimal weight and unfortunately, intuitive eating is not going to get you there.

 

THE PERFECT COMBINATION

Let’s look at what we know so far.

Restrictive or rigid diets

  • Increased risk of eating disorders
  • Unhealthy relationship with food
  • Emotional and psychological stress
  • Weight loss if calories are reduced
  • Improved health due to weight loss and a healthier weight

Intuitive eating

  • Improved body satisfaction and image
  • Better self-esteem
  • A healthy relationship with food
  • Little to no weight loss and often weight gain

Can we take the positives weight loss from reducing calories while also benefiting from the emotional health benefits of intuitive eating?

The answer may be a flexible dieting or a combination of calorie restriction and intuitive eating.

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Weight loss requires a calorie deficit.  Flexible dieting (often referred to as if it fits your macros, IIFYM) is a style of eating that allows you to eat what you want when you want as long as you meet your calorie and macro-nutrient needs.

As with intuitive eating, nothing is off limits.  If you want a piece of cake or a slice of pizza, then go for it.  The difference is that you do it within a well-defined plan.  When you have that cake or pizza, you may have to eat less at the next meal in order to stay under your calorie limit.

This allows you to still eat what you want within moderation while still maintaining a calorie deficit resulting in weight loss.

There is actually a good amount of research on the benefits of flexible dieting.

Similar to intuitive eating, flexible dieting has been found to reduce the risks of eating disorders, binge eating, depression, anxiety, and improving self-esteem.

Unlike intuitive eating, flexible dieting is not weight-neutral.  If calories are kept below maintenance, weight loss with long-term maintenance is achieved.

Flexible dieting

  • Improved body satisfaction and image
  • Better self-esteem
  • A healthy relationship with food
  • Weight loss if calories are reduced
  • Improved health due to weight loss and a healthier weight

 

SUMMARY

The message of intuitive eating is important.  Self-acceptance, self-awareness and developing a healthy relationship with food.  But Obesity is a disease and is a threat to your health and quality of life.  It requires more than just a philosophy and your intuition to treat.

What else in life do you leave up to your intuition and desires?  Goals are accomplished by following a plan.  You must have self-discipline, persistence, consistency, and work to reach any worthwhile goal. Nothing in this life worthwhile comes easy.

Intuitive eating leaves out a plan for weight loss.  If you want to eat how you want without feeling guilty and are happy with the body and weight you are currently at, then intuitive eating may be exactly what you need.

If you want all the above as well as reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, then you need a plan.

Flexible dieting provides that plan.  There is structure, rules, and guidelines to follow which still allow you to eat what you want without restricting certain foods and still lose weight.

I followed flexible dieting and monitored my calories and macros for 2 years straight.  Through this process, I developed a very good intuition about how much I need to eat to maintain my current weight and body fat.  For that reason, I have been following intuitive eating for the last year and it has worked great for me.  I no longer need to weight and measure everything like I did when I was tracking my macros.  But,  I also have no specific weight or physique goals and am currently happy with maintaining where I am at.

Build a foundation through flexible dieting and if you are happy with your current situation, intuitive eating may be perfect for you.

If you found this helpful, agree, or disagree, please let me know.  Comment below.  Share with friends and on social media.

Tag me @taylor_crowther on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

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