Today, we are going to analyze a well-intentioned movement that has become quite relevant in the last few years: Intuitive Eating.
When was Intuitive Eating born?
Said movement, current or “nutritional approach” was created by two nutritionists, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, around 1995. So it is not as recent as you may have thought at first.
“Intuitive eating” (IE) was a strong response against the dogma of the time (although it is still present):
“…if you want to lose weight, you have to go on a diet…”
Problems of Being on a Diet
The physiological consequences of this state are serious and I would not wish that even to my worst enemy.
In previous articles we have discussed how a chronic calorie restriction can trigger physiological changes. These changes compensate for the weight loss but they also make it easier to gain weight once again (read post about the yo-yo effect).
A voluntary and permanent restriction only causes a feeling of guilt when we transgress the diet. In addition, it will affect our self-esteem if we do not reach the objective.
The consequences of being on a diet will also have notorious effects at a psychological level.
What are the principles of Intuitive Eating?
Let’s list the pillars of this movement, making a brief critical review of each one of them.
Avoiding one or several products can just have the opposite effect: eating more and compulsively
I completely agree with this one.
When I was little and my dad did not want me to see a film or play with a toy, I fought to get it at all cost. Something similar happens when we are on a diet. The more we try to refuse a specific product, the more we want it.
Giving up certain products tend to be followed by binge eating. Let’s continue…
It is essential to listen to your body and do what it says
This is good and bad.
Let me explain. It is true that our orexygen-anorexygen mechanisms have evolved to give us more or less precise inputs in order to asses our “energy state”. Therefore, we should be able to know when we should stop eating.
None of our ancestors counted calories. They did not have to.
The problem is that, in the last decades, we have destroyed that millenary mechanisms and they have become less precise:
- Hyperpalatable foods.
- Chronic Stress.
- Chronodisruption and endocrine disruptors.
All these factors have made those “internal signals” less reliable overall.
This becomes more difficult as we move away from being healthy.
An obese person cannot rely on their “internal signals” because there are physiopathological alterations in terms of the hypothalamus peptides, incretins and adipokines. Consequently, these signals are biased and the “satiety” input does not occur when it has to.
Get rid of the “noise” that does not let us listen to these signals
By this, they mean that we should identify those emotions and feelings that cause “noise” and mask the “signal”:
- The signal would be the clear feeling of hunger or satiety.
- Meanwhile, the noise would be the obstacle that distort the signal (solitude, sadness, boredom, rage, etc).
Personally, I do not think it is a bad choice because it encourages an exploratory and introspective journey. In fact, it is quite close to “mindfulness” or other behavioral cognitive approaches.
Do not be hard on yourself or feel guilty for eating one thing or another
I absolutely agree with this point.
One of the “side effects” of being permanently on a diet is that, when we sin (because we always do), we inevitably feel extremely guilty. This may seem unimportant and harmless in the short term, but it can leave deep scars after a while.
Above all, this will result in a feeling “failure” and guilt and the fact that we will be angry with ourselves.
Do not think about “going on a diet”
I think this can also be helpful.
Forbidding and restricting certain products will affect our quality of life.
- “Doctor, this is great, I lost 3kg”. “I am so happy!”
- “Doctor, I barely eat anything and I just lost 3kg”. “I am desperate!”
Unfortunately, the second one is the most frequent scenario and it is due to this mentality of “being caged in a diet”.
“…Losing freedom over what we want to eat has a price…”
And even if we manage to achieve our objective, we end up not feeling satisfied because the price to pay is higher than the results.
Do not focus on “burning calories” while we exercise and focus on its positive effects
Perhaps, this is one of the most important points from intuitive eating.
I always say this: exercise is not a way of “burning calories”:
- The fact that we see it like this is one of the reasons why people do not enjoy doing physical exercise.
- Physical exercise is something we have to do to be healthy.
Therefore, it is great to see a movement that moves away from the view of physical exercise as a “fat burner”.
Conclusions: pros and cons
- If done properly, IE can improve the quality of life.
- Let’s be less perfectionists and more flexible.
- Listen to your the physiological feeling of “hunger and satiety.
- Do not live thinking about “what you can eat” and “what you should not eat”.
All this is great, it can work perfectly specially for a healthy person…
It is great to encourage habits such as increasing the introspection, being more present when we eat, not judging and being more flexible. But thinking that obesity is going to be fixed by intuitive eating or “listening to our body” is far from being realistic.
If this environment does not change, all this will be pointless…
See you in the next article!
But before I go, here you have some interesting articles about Intuitive Eating 🙂
- Herbert BM, Blechert J, Hautzinger M, Matthias E, Herbert C. Intuitive eating is associated with interoceptive sensitivity. Effects on body mass index. Appetite. 2013;
- Anderson LM, Reilly EE, Schaumberg K, Dmochowski S, Anderson DA. Contributions of mindful eating, intuitive eating, and restraint to BMI, disordered eating, and meal consumption in college students. Eat Weight Disord. 2016;
- Van Dyke N, Drinkwater EJ. Review Article Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: Literature review. Public Health Nutrition. 2014.
- Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews. 2017.
- If you want to find out the keys to avoid the yo-yo effect, click here.
- Have you ever wondered if all diets are healthy? Find out the answer by clicking here.
- We have talked about how Diet and Exercise are essential factors for our health. We suggest reading this article about one of our experts. Read now.