What if I told you that you didn’t have to depend on strict controls when eating? That you could trust your body and know when you have had enough to eat? That you could actually stop eating when you are full without feeling deprived or desperate for more? What if I told you that you could have ice cream without guilt, carbs without mortal fear? What if I told you that you didn’t need to read the latest fashion magazine in order to know how to feed your body? That you don’t have to obsessively count calories in order to be acceptable? And that you don’t have to pay a fitness guru big bucks to make sure you can fit in your swimsuit this summer?
What if I told you there is an answer to the insanity that most of us have created with our bodies and eating? What if I told you there is a way to have your cake and eat it too while still fitting in your swimsuit? Would you believe me? Or would you reject it because it sounds too good to be true?
What I have found over the years of working with thousands of women and men with eating and body image concerns is that they reject the idea that they could ever eat normally and feel good about themselves. They claim it sounds too good to be true, that there must be a catch.
So instead, you suffer by obsessing about what to eat, what not to eat, what supposed experts are telling you what to do, all the while hating your body more and more. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a painful way to live, never mind being completely unnecessary.
Intuitive Eating is an answer to the insanity created by the diet mentality. It is a response to the belief that you must rigidly control your body and your food and that you must rely on things external to yourself in order to know what’s best for you. This is one of the most dangerous kinds of lies because not only does it misdirect and confuse, but it also undermines your own sense of trust and knowing. It creates an insidious cycle of doubt and dependency.
Intuitive Eating Works!
Plain and simple, it works. It works for everyday folks trying to challenge the diet mentality and it works for those trying to overcome intense eating disorders. You may not have heard much about intuitive eating though, because researchers and dietitians and clinicians don’t have big money to get their message out to the masses, whereas the diet industry has billions of dollars to spend on convincing you that you need to buy their product in order to heal your body.
But what intuitive eating does have is solid research documenting its effectiveness and success in helping all sorts of people overcome a diet mentality and regain trust and balance with their bodies. Let’s highlight a few of these results.
Intuitive Eating is Associated With:
- Lower body mass index. Yep, those individuals who develop trust with their bodies and avoid yo-yo dieting and restrictive intake have a lower body mass index than those who repeatedly diet and adhere to rigid eating behaviors such as calorie-counting, eliminating certain foods, and strict rules about good and bad foods.
- Improved cardiovascular functioning. Those who adopt an intuitive eating approach are heart healthy.
- Improved weight maintenance and/or loss. Intuitive eating helps individuals get off the diet roller coaster with repeated weight loss and regain. This roller coaster leads to higher weights and metabolic adaptation, with the net result being higher weights on lower calories. This is a hard way to live!
- Better emotion regulation. Intuitive eaters enjoy more emotional stability. Who couldn’t use that?! When you don’t listen to your body it makes you hangry! Rejecting your body’s cues requires a lot of emotional and physical energy, leaving you exhausted and less emotionally resilient. Intuitive eaters have learned that there are no good or bad foods and that choices about food are simply choices based on preference and body cues—nothing more and nothing less. These choices are not indictments or judgements. In this way, food loses its power to condemn, guilt, and shame.
- Decreased body image discrepancy. Intuitive eaters learn to see their bodies more realistically. They can challenge unrealistic expectations while listening to the cues of the body. Intuitive eating isn’t about eating perfectly or having a “perfect” body but it is about recognizing and responding to your body and appreciating the marvelous gift that it is. Intuitive eaters have learned that no one wins when battling the body, and that making peace with the body means relinquishing control around food.
- Greater pleasure & less anxiety with eating. Intuitive eaters trust their bodies and know that all food can be part of a balanced, healthy diet. This trust allows more freedom and less anxiety with eating. Intuitive eaters enjoy dessert free of guilt and judgment.
- Psychological well-being. Intuitive eaters score higher on aspects of psychological well-being. They have more balance, perspective, and resilience than those with a rigid approach to eating.
The benefits of intuitive eating are widespread and lasting. But some have argued that intuitive eating is unrealistic for those who have a history of eating disorders. That these individuals cannot be expected to adopt an intuitive eating approach as part of recovery. Clinically, I have found this argument to be false. I have spent the last decade treating individuals with severe eating disorders utilizing an intuitive eating approach, and you know what I’ve found? Those that take a leap and adopt an intuitive eating approach get better. And not only do they get better, but they get better faster than those unwilling to develop body trust.
They move on, they shift their view of themselves and their view of the world. A core aspect of eating recovery is developing a sense of trust with one’s self. Intuitive eating is integral to this approach because the core is the same: developing trust with the body.
As a clinician, I know that intuitive eating works. But, there is a growing body of research indicating that intuitive eating is effective for those even with severe eating disorders. A new addition to that research is a study that just came out in which I helped design and carry out. It’s a pilot study investigating the effectiveness of intuitive eating for women engaged in inpatient and residential eating disorder treatment. Read full study here.
What we found is that intuitive eating can be a front-line dietary intervention for those with severe eating disorders. Results included significant improvements in healthy eating attitudes, healthy body image, psychological well-being, and social role and relationship improvement. These are big improvements in important life areas that extend beyond specific eating concerns. Now, it’s important to note that this was a preliminary observational study and the results are correlational, not causative. But, they are encouraging results that provide good support for intuitive eating. Specifically, “It provides hope for patients that someday they can become better at noticing, understanding, honoring, and providing what they need in order to take care of themselves physically and emotionally” (Richards et al., 2017).
Who couldn’t use a little more hope when it comes to making peace with your body? Intuitive eating can be an important step in the right direction.
Richards, P.S., Crowton, S., Berrett, M.E., Smith, M.H., & Passmore, K. (2017). Can patients with eating disorders learn to eat intuitively? A two-year pilot study, Eating Disorders, DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2017.1279907 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10640266.2017.1279907
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2003). Intuitive Eating: A revolutionary program that works. St. Martins Griffin: New York.