The importance of eating the proper diet can not be overlooked as millions go on diets every year to cut down on their food intake.
For many of them, long-term weight loss proves to be an elusive goal. Most people who lose weight eventually regain it.
While medical experts continue to study the potential upsides and downsides of dieting, some people are turning to non-diet approaches to eating to reshape their relationships with food.
Those non-diet approaches include intuitive eating, a nutrition philosophy that encourages practitioners to eat mindfully and pay attention to their body’s internal hunger cues.
Rather than counting calories or categorizing foods as “good” versus “bad,” intuitive eaters strive to “honor their hunger,” “respect their fullness,” and “reject the diet mentality.”
Research suggests that intuitive eating may not be an effective weight loss strategy, but it does appear to have other physical and mental health benefits.
“Intuitive eating has been linked with improved cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and reduced markers of inflammation,” Dawn Clifford, a registered dietitian and associate professor of health sciences at Northern Arizona University, has said.
Reconnecting with the body
Anyone can potentially benefit from intuitive eating, Melissa Majumdar, a dietitian at the Brigham and Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in Boston and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline.
However, it might be particularly helpful for people who have trouble listening to their internal body cues, including people with a history of chronic dieting.
“I try to teach people to connect with their body and hear and feel signals that are there, that they might be ignoring because of other environmental factors or just the way they’ve trained their body.
I work in bariatric surgery and weight management. I have patients who have dieted their whole life and really struggled with their weight and don’t necessarily know when they’re hungry and full anymore because they’ve kind of squashed those feelings,” she said.
Majumdar uses intuitive eating strategies to help those people reconnect with their bodies.
She encourages them to pay attention to the effects that different foods and eating habits have on their feelings of hunger and fullness, energy levels and attention span, and mood.
She also encourages people to explore their food cravings, by pausing and reflecting on what’s driving their cravings before acting on them.
“I like to use something I call the H.A.L.T. method with people,” she said. “Figuring out, are you happy, angry, lonely, or tired, and exploring if there’s any other emotion connected with why you’re having this craving.”
Majumdar wants people to explore their cravings.
“Sometimes it means, have an ice cream cone and that’s OK,” she said. “But sometimes we’re using food to replace some emotion or some feelings.”
Intuitive eating may not be an option for everyone.
For example, it can be difficult for people dealing with food insecurity to prioritize and respond to their body’s internal cues.
“If you’re someone who is struggling to make ends meet,” Clifford said, “it can be stressful always wondering if you’ll have enough money for food or where the next meal is coming from.”
Clifford said people who aren’t sure when they can afford their next meal can’t exactly turn to an intuitive eating plan.
“They may intentionally need to overeat, since they don’t know where the next meal might be coming from,” she said.