Understanding Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is an up-and-coming way of looking at food, health, and body image. What does this kind of eating entail and how does it work? Are there benefits to eating intuitively and is there research to back it up? Here's what you should know in order to determine whether this practice can fit into your lifestyle.

The Principles

Intuitive eating, or mindful eating as it's commonly known, is an alternative to dieting. It involves listening to your body's hunger and satiety cues to decide when and how much to eat. It also requires you to cultivate a strong connection between your mind and body. However, with mindful eating, it's assumed that the cues your body is giving you align with appropriate portion sizes, which is where a lot of people run into problems.

The Research

A large amount of research has been done on intuitive eating and the results are quite interesting. Let's take a look:

  • One study found that eating intuitively is associated with improved physical and psychological health. Participants who started eating intuitively actually had a more positive and realistic body image.
  • Another study found that a higher intuitive eating score in both men and women was inversely associated with being overweight or obese.
  • In a cross-sectional review, it was found that eating intuitively correlated with less disordered eating and greater emotional functioning among adult women.
  • However, when comparing weight loss efficacy between calorie restriction and eating intuitively, calorie restriction was found to be far superior.

Is It Right for You?

So is eating intuitively right for you? Eating intuitively doesn't necessarily mean healthy eating, so it depends on what and how you eat, as well as what you're willing to work on. If your hunger cues are too frequent or your satiety cues drive you to eat an entire burger, a side of french fries, and a pint of ice cream, then this kind of "intuitive" eating can be detrimental to your body.

It can be hard to understand the way your body feels after consuming a balanced meal full of nutrients in comparison to a meal of processed or fast food. Once you grasp how your body reacts to these different types of foods, you may be more attracted to healthy choices and able to continue cultivating mindful eating practices.

If you struggle with self-control and consuming the right portion sizes, eating intuitively may not be the best practice for you. Also, if weight loss is a goal of yours, this kind of eating may not be the most efficient route. Instead, eating intuitively is a good solution for weight maintenance because ideally, your body will tell you exactly what it needs to preserve itself and stay healthy.

Working Toward Eating Intuitively

There are a number of ways that you can move toward eating in a more intuitive way:

  • Slow down during meals and snacks. It takes 15-20 minutes for your brain to receive the satiety signals from your body.
  • Check in with yourself regularly during meal times. Ask yourself: Am I hungry? How does my body feel? Am I still eating because there's food left on the plate or am I full? Does this food even taste good?
  • Foods that are high in fiber and nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, should fill you up, which is another reason to focus on these healthy foods.
  • Drink more water. Make sure to drink water or other low-sugar beverages throughout the day and throughout meals. This will help you slow down and better interpret your hunger and satiety signals.

While there are many positive health benefits associated with eating intuitively, it may not be the best solution for everyone. It requires a strong connection between the mind and the body, as well as basic knowledge and a taste for balanced eating. With that being said, if you start with these tips, you'll be able to work toward eating in a more mindful manner.