Eating is an activity that most people take for granted. For others, their relationship with food is a painful, daily struggle that may lead to the development of an eating disorder and poor health. Intuitive eating is an option believed to help break the negative eating cycle and improve wellness.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Many diets focus on weight loss at any cost, and pay little attention to overall health or emotional connections with food. Intuitive eating does the opposite. It takes a mindfulness approach to eating, and emphasizes health and a positive relationship with food. It seeks to break the yo-yo dieting cycle, and pursues overall wellness instead.

There are 10 principles of intuitive eating.

  1. Reject the idea of dieting and realize that most diets are fads that don’t work in the long run. Toss away any diet books and magazines.
  2. Eat when you are hungry. This helps diminish the urge to overeat or binge.
  3. Don’t deprive yourself of food. Deprivation may lead to bingeing, which in turn may result in feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and depression.
  4. Don’t punish yourself for unhealthy food choices, like that donut you had for breakfast or the candy bar you ate after lunch. Additionally, don’t reward yourself for restricting calories.
  5. Pay attention to your body’s signals. If you’re no longer hungry or if you feel full, stop eating.
  6. Concentrate on the pleasures of food and the social experience of eating. This will help you to discover the satisfaction of eating.
  7. Identify other ways to cope with feelings that do not involve food, such as taking a walk, doing a craft or hobby, or meditating. Using food for comfort harms you physically and emotionally in the long run.
  8. Accept your body type and don’t criticize your appearance. Just as you cannot change your height, you also cannot change your basic body shape and frame.
  9. Exercise and pay attention to how it makes you feel. You don’t have to do intense exercise at the gym each day, just move more and find an activity that makes you happy, motivated, and energized.
  10. Make food and activity choices that make you feel good. Your diet doesn’t have to be flawless. Instead, focus on consistency.

The Intuitive Eating Trend

Intuitive eating is gaining popularity. Also called the “health-at-every-size” (HAES) approach, it recognizes that people and good health come in all shapes and sizes. As research debunks the effectiveness of many fad diets, people are looking for a better way to get healthy.

Some hospitals, corporations, and colleges offer intuitive eating programs. Online and in-person support groups are available throughout the United States.

Does Intuitive Eating Help Bingeing?

Critics of the intuitive eating movement say it gives a free pass to eat all you want. This notion may turn off people who struggle with binge eating or fear weight gain. However, others argue that intuitive eating is actually a proactive and sustainable approach for people with eating disorders.

A review of 20 non-diet interventions published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics supported the use of intuitive eating over weight loss programs. The review found that intuitive interventions might improve:

  • eating habits
  • lifestyle
  • body image
  • psychological health

Improvements were sustained throughout the 2-year follow-up period.

Getting Started

If you’re interested in trying intuitive eating, start by talking to your doctor or a nutritionist familiar with your specific health situation. They can help you determine if the program is right for you. They’ll also help you develop balanced eating plans that provide adequate calories and nutrients. Certified intuitive eating counselors are also available in many states. If you’re in therapy for binge eating or another eating disorder, ask your therapist if incorporating intuitive eating into your therapy protocol may be beneficial.

Food Is Not Your Enemy

In an ironic twist, people who turn to food for comfort often view it as their enemy. Intuitive eating challenges the dieting “norm” and encourages you to look at food as your friend, not as a foe. Since the practice promotes good health and a positive relationship with food instead of focusing on a number on the scale, it may help you stress less about what you eat and how you look, enabling you to make healthier choices.

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