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Your modern guide to intuitive eating

A philosophy and practice that emphasises a more mindful approach.

Your Modern Guide to Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and for good reason. So many of us grew up with, quite frankly, weird relationships with food.

Whether we've been yo-yo dieting for decades, laughing as we say things like "diet starts Monday!", or dealing with more serious eating disorders, there's a lot of desire to reject the diet mentality and try something new.

But what is intuitive eating, exactly? Will it just mean we end up eating junk food every day, or will this non-diet diet actually be the key to sustainable weight loss? Or is it actually not about weight at all, and just an opportunity for us to throw out the diet books, make peace with food, and learn how to improve our psychological health and overall wellness?

Ahead, we break down everything you need to know.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is an approach to nutrition and eating that encourages people to listen to their body's internal cues, including hunger and fullness, in order to make food choices that support overall health and well-being [1].

Unlike all the other diets, intuitive eating is a philosophy and practice that emphasises a more mindful and instinctual approach to eating, rather than relying on external diets, restrictions, or rules. It's all about learning to respect your body and listen to your internal wisdom.

Intuitive eating has been found to help improve people's relationship with food and body image, reduce the risk of disordered eating habits, and promote long-term sustainable health.

However, it's important to note that intuitive eating may not be suitable for everyone, and individuals with specific medical conditions or dietary needs should consult with healthcare professionals for personalised guidance.

When was intuitive eating invented?

Intuitive eating was developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and first introduced to the public in their 1995 book "Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works" [2].

The concept of intuitive eating was a response to the diet culture that was prevalent at the time and remains so today. Tribole and Resch's approach aimed to promote a healthier and more balanced relationship with food, focusing on listening to one's own internal wisdom, and rejecting whatever new rules the food police were promoting.

Since its inception, intuitive eating has gained popularity as an alternative to traditional dieting and weight loss programs. It has been embraced by many individuals and healthcare professionals as a means to promote a more positive relationship with food, body image, and overall well-being.

The science behind the benefits of intuitive eating

There are many reported benefits to intuitive eating, both physical and psychological.

Psychologically, intuitive eating has been associated with lower levels of eating disorder behaviours like binge eating, emotional eating, and restricted calorie intake. It's also linked to improved body image and self-esteem, regardless of body size [4].

People who practice intuitive eating may also develop better emotional regulation skills, as they learn to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger. Furthermore, it encourages using non-food coping mechanisms to deal with stress, which may contribute to lower stress levels.

Some people who eat intuitively also find that it can improve their relationship with food, as it helps to reduce obsessive thoughts around food and eating, as well as guilt and anxiety around certain foods. This can lead to a more enjoyable eating experience.

Interestingly, although intuitive eating is inherently an "anti-diet", some research suggests that intuitive eaters are more likely to maintain a stable weight over time compared to those who engage in restrictive dieting and weight cycling [5].

One of the reasons is that by engaging in mindful eating practices, people are more likely to stop eating when they're full, to feel satisfied for longer, and to be more attuned to what their body tells them.

Intuitive eating is a rejection of diet culture that allows people to eat without restriction. However, it also emphasises the importance of making food choices that honour one's health and well-being. This often leads to a more balanced and varied diet, and some studies have found that intuitive eaters tend to consume more fruits and vegetables compared to those on restrictive diets [5].

What are the 10 principles of intuitive eating?

  1. Reject the diet mentality: Ditch the diet books! Intuitive eating encourages people to let go of the constant pursuit of diets, weight loss, and rigid food rules.
  2. Honour your hunger: To honour your hunger means to eat when you're hungry, and to listen to your body's signals of physical hunger.
  3. Make peace with food: Intuitive eating means enjoying all foods without guilt or judgment. It's all about savouring the foods you love, without labelling them as "good" or "bad."
  4. Challenge the food police: This principle involves silencing the inner critic or negative thoughts related to food choices and body size.
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor: This one is all about your taste buds. It's paying attention to how food tastes, its texture, and satisfaction that different foods provide, and aiming for meals that are both enjoyable and nourishing.
  6. Feeling full: Intuitive eating involves recognising when you are comfortably full and stopping at that point, rather than overeating or undereating due to external cues.
  7. Coping with emotions without using food: Instead of using food as a primary means of dealing with emotions, intuitive eating encourages finding alternative coping strategies for emotional situations.
  8. Respect your body: This principle encourages people to appreciate and respect their bodies as they are, rather than striving for an unrealistic or unhealthy ideal.
  9. Exercise for fun and well-being: Intuitive eating promotes physical activity as a way to feel good, as well as the health benefits it offers, rather than as a means of punishment.
  10. Honour your health with gentle nutrition: While intuitive eating allows for the enjoyment of all foods, it also recognises the importance of making food choices that support overall health and well-being [3].

Can you lose weight by eating intuitively?

Intuitive eating is not primarily focused on weight loss as a goal. Instead, it promotes a holistic and mindful approach to eating that emphasises listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues, respecting your body, and fostering a healthy relationship with food. The primary objective of intuitive eating is to improve your overall health and well-being, rather than to lose weight.

However, some people do experience weight changes as a result of intuitive eating. For some individuals, this may involve losing weight, maintaining their current weight, or even gaining weight, depending on their body's natural set point and their previous eating habits.

Here's how weight changes can occur with intuitive eating:

Weight stability

Many people find that intuitive eating helps them maintain a stable weight over time. By tuning into their body's hunger and fullness signals and eating in response to physical cues, they may naturally balance their energy intake and expenditure [6].

Weight loss

If you've been in a cycle of dieting and overeating, you may find that intuitive eating helps you lose weight as you break free from this cycle. Weight loss, if it occurs, is usually gradual and sustainable [5].

Weight gain

On the other hand, if you're going into intuitive eating after a period of significantly restrictive eating, you may find that you experience some weight gain. As you begin to eat in response to your body's signals, you may initially consume more calories than before.

It's important to note that weight changes with intuitive eating are highly individual and not guaranteed.

If weight loss is your primary goal, it may be more appropriate to work with a health coach or registered dietitian who can develop a personalised weight management plan that aligns with your specific needs and goals. Weight changes should always be approached in a way that supports your overall health and well-being.

Weight loss is more than eating habits

At the end of the day, weight loss is a complex process that can be influenced by a combination of factors, and eating habits are just one component of it. Your food choices are just one part of the puzzle to consider.

Your level of physical activity, both in daily activities and active exercise, will also play a role, as will your genetics, metabolism, and hormonal levels.

On top of that, many people have health conditions that can impact weight, or take medications that contribute to weight gain or make weight loss long-term more challenging. Stress and mental health conditions play a role, as do sleep hygiene and a number of environmental and social factors, like the accessibility of healthy foods.

Successful long-term weight management often requires changes in behaviour, which includes setting realistic goals and seeking support from healthcare professionals or support groups. If it all seems overwhelming and you don't know where to begin, Juniper's Weight Reset Programme can be a great start.

Within the program, our health coaches help guide members to create healthy habits. With ongoing support from dietitians, as well as health education, meal plans, clinically proven medication, and more, Juniper isn't just about losing weight. Rather, the program aims to deliver long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes that will have members feeling good about life and confident in their bodies.

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