Is "Intuitive Eating" the Future of Dieting?

The latest trend in dieting is really not a diet at all. There's no promise of weight loss, and it's certainly not for everyone. But by shifting the overall focus from weight to wellness, intuitive eating may be the path to better overall health.

I hadn't heard a word about intuitive eating until yesterday, but while reading through my news feed, I got fixated on this headline from The Atlantic: The Latest Diet Trend is Not Dieting.

Those words spoke to me. And if you've spent most of a lifetime trying to lose weight and never quite reaching or maintaining your goals, it may speak to you, as well. The article is worth a complete read, but in short, the idea of intuitive eating is that you eat when you're hungry. You don't deprive yourself of the foods you love, and you don't stress about it. If this doesn't sound like a recipe for weight loss, you may be right. But intuitive eating works because it doesn't restrict you from eating what you like.

Think about it for a second. We tend to want what we can't have, it's just human nature. Put me on a restrictive diet, and I'm suddenly in the mood for lasagna. Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays, so I'm going to want Chick-Fil-A exactly one day a week -- yup, on Sunday. We want to have the things that are out of our reach, or that we're told not to have. And with diets, the "last supper effect" leads us to put undue importance on the foods we can't have -- which can often lead to unhealthy binge eating.

But what happens when you're told you can have the foods that are usually off limits with a traditional diet? Researchers Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch are Southern California dietitians have studied intuitive eating for some time, and it rarely means people adopt a lifestyle of eating unhealthy foods.

From The Atlantic:

"...new adherents of intuitive eating do sometimes binge on the things they had always tried to skip. But the two researchers say the vast majority of their clients quickly habituate to burgers or donuts and then crave the variety and nutrition represented by the 'healthy' foods they once used as punishment."

It sounds to me like they're finding out people really like salads, when they aren't forced to eat one. They're finding out people really don't want pizza and ice cream all the time, except when it's a vice and something we're supposed to deny ourselves.

Intuitive eating can do a lot for your mental health, as well. By eating what you like and responding to your body's hunger, you can finally take the stress out of your relationship with food; and finally get away from the emotional stigma attached to overeating. But as a lot of diet pill ads might say, Wait, there's more! Young women can improve their body image, according to preliminary research. And there is mounting evidence that the weight rollercoaster -- that is, constantly losing and then gaining weight -- does more harm than good.

Intuitive eating isn't a cure-all, nor does it mean you can stuff yourself silly at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Among the 10 tenets of intuitive eating, one is to Honor Your Hunger. Yes, you really should eat something when you're hungry. But it seems the inverse would also be true: Don't eat when you're not hungry. One of the problems I've always faced in my relationship with food is the "clean your plate" rule. It seems most kids of my generation were told to eat, because there were "starving kids" on some continent or other. But if you're eating intuitively, you know when you're full and shouldn't force it.

You also don't want be a couch potato. It's not necessary to hit the gym, but it is necessary to stay active. Walk the dog, head downtown and walk around. And maybe while you're there, enjoy a good meal -- without restrictions.

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