Goodbye diets, hello intuitive eating

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Sick of the yo-yo dieting cycle? Intuitive eating is a healthier approach to food that removes the guilt and judgment.

If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s another restrictive diet promising to help you shed kilos ‘fast’. Luckily, intuitive eating – an approach to food that goes back to basics – doesn’t do any of those things.

Nothing is banned, and it isn’t about weight loss. In fact, intuitive eating could be described as an ‘anti-diet’. So, how does it work?

What is intuitive eating?

The philosophy behind intuitive eating is that you trust your body and listen to cues to eat what’s best for you. This means being non-judgmental about food, and ignoring or disregarding what you might have learnt from a culture of dieting and striving to be thin.

The aim is to break out of dieting patterns and embrace your body’s natural signals around food – like mindfulness for your appetite. This includes recognising when you’re full, savoring the experience of eating, and finding healthy ways to deal with emotions rather than eating for comfort.

“Intuitive eating means being aware of the food you are eating,” explains Bupa’s Corinne Tighe, an accredited practising dietitian. “An intuitive eater has awareness around the smell, colour, flavour, and texture of their food. They enjoy eating and are aware of their own eating habits. They are particularly good at assessing their hunger and fullness cues – which is something not a lot of us are skilled in.”

Another plus about intuitive eating is that you make peace with food, instead of constantly judging it (not to mention judging yourself for eating it). And when a particular food is no longer banned, your desire for it can fade away.

“It creates a very positive association with food because there is a realisation that no food is good or bad,” Tighe says. “That rids us of feelings of guilt or fear, which can cause a negative association with food.”

It’s important to understand that intuitive eating isn’t about excessively eating whatever you feel like. As one participant in an intuitive eating study, published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, says: “You can have what you want when you want. You just have to pay attention to when it doesn’t feel good anymore and stop.”

According to the creators of the intuitive eating approach, there are 10 principles of intuitive eating:

1. Reject the diet mentality

Get rid of books and magazines that promote diets, and think critically about what every new diet promises vs what it delivers.

2. Honor your hunger

By eating when you’re hungry, and not letting yourself get to a feeling of excessive hunger.

3. Make peace with food

Permit yourself to eat anything you want, to prevent feelings of deprivation that can lead to over-eating.

4. Challenge the ‘Food Police’

By saying ‘no’ to rules like being ‘good’ for eating a salad or ‘bad’ for eating a burger.

5. Respect your fullness

Look out for signals from your body that show you’re satisfied and pause during meals to check in on this feeling.

6. Discover the satisfaction factor

Set up an environment where you can enjoy the pleasure and satisfaction of eating.

7. Honor your feelings

Without using food by finding other ways to be comforted when you’re experiencing negative emotions.

8. Respect your body

Acknowledge the role your genetics play in the size and shape of your body.

9. Exercise

Just to move and see how it feels to be active without counting calories or ‘burning off’ food.

10. Honor your health

Eat what you like, the taste of that also makes you feel well. No one has the perfect diet, but it’s what you do over time that matters. If you’re looking to break up with dieting and take a healthier approach to food, intuitive eating could prove helpful, Tighe says.

Is it worth trying intuitive eating?

“The positivity around eating is one of the most valuable aspects of intuitive eating,” she says. “Other aspects which are beneficial to health include shifting the focus to foods you can have rather than foods you can’t, and increased enjoyment when eating. When you are aware of your hunger and fullness cues, you may eat less – which means you can achieve your weight-management goals.”

A challenging aspect of intuitive eating is that it requires you to concentrate on your food while you’re eating, rather than eating in the car or wolfing down a meal in front of the TV.

“You have to spend more time eating, which can be tricky in the beginning if you are used to eating quickly or on the move,” Tighe says. “With all habit changes, a shift in mindset usually doesn’t happen overnight but will get easier and feel more natural if you practise consistently over time.” If you’d like help with intuitive eating, talk to an accredited practicing dietitian.

This article was kindly supplied by Tracy McBeth via BUPA HealthLink.