The Intuitive Eating (IE) movement has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years due to its appealing, anti-diet and restriction-free mentality. Unlike its fad diet competitors, IE focuses on creating a positive relationship with food and practicing mindfulness when eating. Mindfulness stands on the principle of being present and self-aware when eating. Eating intuitively also looks like listening to your body and your hunger/fullness scale. In other words, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. Additionally, certain foods are not limited or restricted in IE; instead, the choice is left up to the individual.
What are Hunger and Fullness Cues and What They Mean
Our bodies work intensely to maintain homeostasis, or balance! In order to ensure that this balance is held constant, our bodies have countless indicators and mechanisms in place to signal our brains when something is not within normal ranges. For example, when your body slips into a stage of dehydration, our body signals a thirst mechanism to tell our brains to drink water!
A similar process occurs when we are hungry. When your blood sugar levels start to lower after a period of not eating, our bodies signal the release of a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is released and signals the brain that it is time to eat your next meal. Other signals of hunger include stomach growling, headaches, decreased energy, or trouble focusing. These are signs to pay attention to when deciding when to eat your next meal.
Fullness cues stem from the release of Leptin, a hormone secreted from fat cells in the body. Leptin tells our brains that energy levels are balanced in the body and that we do not need to keep eating. Indicators of leptin release, or fullness, include pressure or discomfort in the stomach, food becomes less appetizing, and the hunger signals are no longer present.
So, in Intuitive Eating, when hunger and fullness cues are referred to as guiding signals of when to eat and when to stop eating, this is what they mean!
Principles of Mindful and Intuitive Eating
Mindful eating focuses on incorporating more aspects of the individual than just diet, like balancing the food you eat with physical activity and meditation. Intuitive eating places emphasis on autonomy and freedom to choose when, how much, and what you eat. Incorporating mindful and intuitive eating looks like slowing down the pace of eating, by taking breaks during bites, chewing more slowly, taking a break to breathe and assess fullness. Additionally, removing distractions when eating, like the television and becoming aware of your body’s physiological cues for hunger and fullness are key elements to implementing mindful eating into your life.
Traditional fad diets place emphasis on rigid rules one what can and cannot be consumed. These restrictions have been proven to increase obsession with and binging urges in these individuals. Mindfulness and IE redirects individuals’ attention away from restrictive eating patterns and gives them control.
Why Intuitive Eating Works
You may be wondering, where is the validity in Intuitive Eating? If you give an overweight individual with a poor relationship with food the ability to eat whatever they want, won’t they continue to eat poorly?
Well, traditional diets make “bad” foods more desirable. When the restriction is removed, the individual begins to realize that eating french fries for every meal doesn’t feel good. Overtime individuals realize that they can separate emotions from food when the guild backlash is removed through eating intuitively.
Research strongly points to the effectiveness of structured dieting, or fad diets. In fact, these diets do not work for long-term weight loss or weight management unless they are strictly upheld, which rarely happens. Since IE rejects the diet mentality, there is some validity in that principle alone.
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association preformed a 6-month, randomized clinical trial with a 2-year follow-up of 78 obese female chronic dieters, which concluded that subjects assigned to a “health at every size” approach had more positive outcomes than subjects placed on a structured diet. The “health at every size” approach highlighted size acceptance and intuitive eating principles, which lead to positive outcomes such as weight loss or maintenance, physiological and behavioral changes.
Although not a lot of concrete research has been published on the validity of IE, the existing studies point to its effectiveness and positive outcomes. Additionally, IE has even been used as a positive treatment for individuals with eating disorders as a way to heal their relationship with food and alter physiological and behavioral barriers with eating.
The Bottom Line…
The benefits of IE tremendously outweigh the both the negative results of IE as well as the potential benefits of a fad diet. IE allows the individual to regain control of their relationship with food as well as release the negative emotion associated with eating. Eating mindfully and intuitively is a practice that can fit into anyone’s life and holds great potential for healing many individuals.
Looking to incorporate intuitive eating into your everyday practice and routine so that you no longer feel the struggles of dieting? Schedule a free call with Alli here.