Intuitive Eating Is the No-Diet Solution to Good Nutrition
Intuitive Eating, and its core, is relatively simple. The approach to eating (do not call it a diet) takes into account something that the vast number of trendy diets—including Paleo, keto, and Whole30—do not: how you feel about eating.
To help explain, Kim Yawitz, R.D., gym owner in St. Louis, MO, presents the following scenario: You’re going to a Super Bowl party. Rather than fasting all day to bank calories for the AYCE-experience of Super Bowl party food, Intuitive Eating would have you honor your hunger and fullness cues throughout the day.
So, at the party, if you were following Intuitive Eating, you would grab some vegetables said buffet when you feel hungry, and you also have a few bites of each of your favorite foods as you watch the game. As Yawitz puts it, there’s no need for mental calculations about how much you can eat without blowing your diet. You trust yourself to eat the foods you enjoy in amounts that don’t lead to overeating.
“You don’t beat yourself up if you end up too full, nor do you vow to exercise tomorrow to work off the calories,” says Yawitz. “Knowing that Intuitive Eating is about progress over perfection, you return to your normal routines after leaving the party.”
Ahead, a deep dive into Intuitive Eating and what you should know about the level-headed eating practice. (FYI: Intuitive Eating is capitalized and not to be confused with “mindful eating” or “eating intuitively” which is definitely a part of Intuitive Eating but not the whole regime, says Yawitz. Learn more about the 10 principles behind Intuitive Eating at IntuitiveEating.org.)
What is Intuitive Eating?
“Intuitive eating is a rebellion against diet culture at a time when many people are fed up with dieting,” says Yawitz, adding that studies have shown that most diets don’t work, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying time and time again.
In fact, Yawitz adds, in a large 2020 study, 75 percent of subjects had dieted at least once but nearly eight times on average. “Those who’d yo-yo dieted the most reported significantly higher rates of depression than those who’d made fewer attempts at weight loss.” As Yawitz points out, it’s not exactly known: Intuitive Eating by name has formally been around since 1995, but interest has spiked in the past few years. “In a 2019 survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents expressed an interest in learning more about it,” she says.
So what exactly is Intuitive Eating?
“Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to nutrition. Unlike the rules and restrictions that are common with popular diets, Intuitive Eating is based on 10 principles designed to improve your relationship with food and your body,” says Yawitz.
Above all, Intuitive Eating encourages you to reject the diet mentality and any notion that you have to eat or look a certain way to be healthy, says Yawitz, noting that in place of that you’ll honor your hunger and fullness cues, make peace with food, challenge “food police,” enjoy food and the experience of eating, practice self-compassion in the face of difficult emotions, respect your body, and move in ways that feel good.
What are the benefits of Intuitive Eating?
As you may have gathered, following this M.O. when eating is good for you, physically and mentally. “Studies have linked Intuitive Eating with higher self-esteem, better body image, and a lower likelihood of engaging in disordered eating behaviors,” says Yawitz. “In one study, those who followed the principles more closely had 74 percent lower odds of binge-eating over eight years compared to those who followed them loosely or not at all.”
Are there any drawbacks to Intuitive Eating?
Like any set of dietary guidelines, not everybody is going to be 100 percent on board with the program. “Many Intuitive Eating critics say things like, ‘I’d eat nothing but junk food,’ or ‘I’d never eat a vegetable again.’” Still, so long as you don’t, you know, eat French fries and Oreos all day, you should be in good shape. Additionally, Yawitz says that there’s some evidence that Intuitive Eating can actually improve diet quality by promoting body awareness and reducing binge and emotional eating.
“Some critics also question Intuitive Eating’s strong anti-diet stance, considering 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese,” says Yawitz. “For many people with obesity, modest weight loss can decrease the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic health problems.”
Bottom line: “It’s a beautiful thing to love your body no matter what size it is, but it’s also important to take steps to preserve your long-term health,” says Yawitz. “If you’re considered overweight or obese, your doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons of Intuitive Eating based on your labs, your medical history, and your goals.”
What should you know before you try Intuitive Eating?
If you’re ready to try Intuitive Eating for yourself, note that it’s not going to be easy from the outset. “Intuitive Eating can feel uncomfortable and even a little scary at first, especially if you have a long history of dieting,” says Yawitz. “Be patient with yourself and remember that Intuitive Eating gets easier with time and practice.”
To that point, Yawitz always recommends working with an Intuitive Eating-certified counselor for at least a few months, until you feel confident practicing the ten principles on your own. Either way, take a deep breath, walk around your block, and ask yourself if you still really want that afternoon chocolate chip cookie pick-up after all. That little experiment may surprise you.