By: Erin Kukura, MS, RD
UCSD Recreation Dietitian
Are you sick of dieting? Tried all the latest diet trends out there and yet feel even worse about yourself and your body? Then I encourage you to try something different, Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating is something that you may have heard about recently, but it has been around for quite some time. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, two dietitians, wrote the book Intuitive Eating in the early 1990’s after observing their clients continuously struggle to lose weight while dieting.
What’s wrong with dieting you ask? Well dieting has only been shown to promote weight loss in the short-term but, it has quite the opposite effect in the long-run. In a review of studies that followed patients long-term, dieting was found to be a predictor of weight gain, with up to two-thirds of the participants regaining more weight than they lost (Mann, 2007). Dieting has shown to be ineffective for long-term weight loss, not to mention the severe emotional toll that ensues with each dieting cycle.
Take a second to reflect on how dieting has interfered with your life. Have you noticed your weight trending up over the years, even though you’ve tried numerous diets? Do you find yourself chronically tired and experiencing blood sugar swings and excessive cravings for sweets? What about your social life, do you avoid or cancel social situations and worry about what other people think about your eating behaviors or your body? Are you preoccupied with what you can and can’t eat, feel guilty if you eat a “bad” food, or find yourself alternating between deprivation and overeating behaviors? These are just a few of the many consequences of dieting and, luckily, there is another option, learning to eat intuitively.
Intuitive eating is comprised of 10 principles that connect you to your physical and psychological needs to heal your relationship with food and quit the dieting cycle. A few of the principles relate to challenging the diet mentality or thoughts and food rules that might currently dictate your eating habits. You begin to view food as morally equivalent and separate yourself and your worth from feeling “good or bad” based on what you did or did not eat.
Secondly, eating in a way that is nourishing, means bringing awareness to your body by tuning in and honoring your hunger and fullness cues. How can you feel energized if you wait to eat until you’re famished? Likewise, how can you concentrate if you’re feeling incredibly full? Noticing hunger cues and eating foods that keep your energy and blood sugars balanced can help alleviate some of the over-eating and binging behaviors. So often, many people blame their overeating behaviors on willpower. In reality, primal hunger oftentimes drives our innate urge to overeat because the body thinks that it is starving. Intuitive Eating helps to gain more awareness of these cues and eat in a way that is nourishing rather than punishing or rigid.
Learning to cope with your emotions without food is essential to separating food behaviors from your feelings. Our relationship to food is incredibly complex and oftentimes our behaviors around food are largely driven by emotion. Take for example, snacking while bored, at work, or while studying; or eating mindlessly after a long day as a way to de-stress. Now, to some degree this is normal human behavior. However, when you’re only coping strategy is to use food in some way to numb, distract, or cope then it becomes a deeper issue. This is the part that really delves into the psychological component of what is driving our eating behaviors and learning to use other coping strategies when experiencing uncomfortable emotions.
Taking notice of hunger and fullness cues, removing food judgments and rules, and learning to deal with feelings without food, can transform eating to a more enjoyable, or, dare I say, a satisfying experience! The authors describe this element as the “satisfaction factor” and that it is the core of eating intuitively. Think about a time you had a craving for something and deprived yourself or ate the same boring meal because you felt you had to. What ultimately happened? When you craved a cookie did you let yourself eat the cookie and move on? Or, did you eat the cheese stick, fruit, nuts, cereal, still find yourself craving the cookie, and end up eating 5 cookies and then feeling guilty? This journey is about allowing yourself permission to have all foods and honoring what is satisfying. At times a burger may be satisfying, likewise, a salad may hit the spot. As you learn to make peace with food, your body will naturally be guiding you to what is going to satisfy you.
Which brings us to the last few principles which are centered around self-care, moving your body, and healthful eating behaviors. Because our eating patterns are much more complex than simply “eating for fuel,” how we choose to eat, and take care of ourselves is often much deeper as well. These principles help to really round out how essential healthy behaviors are including finding activities that keep your body moving, getting adequate rest, play and connection with others, understanding that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and eating mostly whole types of foods are associated with better health outcomes. However, in order to get to this place, you have to work through the previous principles to truly make peace with food and build the mind-body connection.
As you do the work of honoring your hunger and fullness cues and give yourself permission to eat all foods you’ll find you have more energy, food chatter won’t take up so much of your brain space, you’ll feel more satisfied and find you can turn down foods you once felt out of control around. Likewise, you might notice that you enjoy the fun foods and no longer experience guilt or shame when you do eat these. There are no rules, no “good” or “bad” ways of eating.
Lastly, intuitive eating is evidence-based, here are just a few of the findings showing the benefit. There have now been over 90 studies to date, backing up the science behind Intuitive Eating (Tribole, 2012). Those who identified as Intuitive Eaters have lower BMI, triglycerides, emotional and disordered eating behaviors compared to non-Intuitive Eaters. (Tribole, 2012).
If this sounds equally comforting and terrifying at the same time that’s understandable. I encourage you to take some time to think about your current relationship with food and if you would like it to be different.
If you’d like assistance on your journey to well-being or feel that you would like to improve your relationship with food, contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mann, T, Tomiyama, AJ. Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatments: Diets are not the answer. (Am. Psychol.) 2007. April; 62(3); 220-33.
Tribole E, Resch E. (2012) Intuitive Eating. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin