Introduction: Intuitive Eating Weight Loss
If you are looking for a new way to lose weight, you are not alone! Countless new diet books emerge each year promising to be the one to make you thin. Each year these books are purchased by people who regained the weight from the previous year. 1 Is Intuitive Eating weight loss possible?
Current body weights are higher than ever in adults and children. The prevalence of adults with obesity was 42.4% and severe obesity was 9.2% in 2017-2018 according to the CDC.2 It is estimated that over 60% of Americans at any given time are dieting, and the commercial diet industry is worth over 70 billion dollars. The rate of eating disorders continues to rise. The rate of poor body self-esteem continues to rise.3 It seems that in the attempt to help promote weight loss, we are ending up with the opposite problem and becoming heavier as a nation.
What is Intuitive eating?
Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach that focuses on listening to internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite. It is designed to improve your relationship with food and help you achieve long term behavior changes.4
for more information about the Intuitive Eating approach.
The fundamental principles of Intuitive Eating are to regain “body wisdom” so that one mostly eats when hungry and stops eating when satiated. This “body wisdom” often becomes broken from societal cues that have been learned to override this innate body wisdom. These often include diets, dieting rules, childhood experiences such as needing to clean your plate, or getting treats for rewards, eating because its “dinner time”, advertisements encouraging people to eat irrespective of hunger, increased energy dense foods and portion sizes, energy restricted diets and food preoccupation because of these diets.5
Intuitive Eating is eating in response to physiological hunger and satiety signals, not external and/or emotional cues, together with a low overall preoccupation with food.4 Intuitive Eating is a journey of learning to regain the trust of your inner body wisdom.
Intuitive Eating is a dynamic attunement process of your mind, body, and food. It is more of a journey and lifestyle than a quick fix or temporary diet. The road to Intuitive Eating is a personal pathway that you will travel and move through as you relearn to trust your inner body wisdom.
There are 10 Intuitive Eating principles, but the first 8 deal with attunement of your inner world including your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, physical sensations (hunger and satiety cues).
The first 8 principles include:
1. Reject the diet mentality.
2. Honor your hunger.
3. Make peace with food.
4. Challenge the food police.
5. Discover the satisfaction factor.
6. Feel your fullness.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness.
8. Respect your body.
It is helpful to work through these 8 steps in order to gain a comfort level. If a healthy relationship with food is not in place, it is difficult to pursue the highest level of “authentic health”. Authentic health is a dynamic process of integrating your inner world and the external world guidelines (included in the next 2 principles exercise and nutrition). When you have developed a healthy relationship with food, you can decide if and what from the external world you would like to integrate.
The last two intuitive eating principles:
9. Movement to feel the difference.
10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition.7
What are some benefits of Intuitive Eating?
- Reduce disordered eating, particularly binge eating8
- Greater weight loss has been observed after bariatric surgery when following Intuitive Eating lifestyle9
- Increased meal enjoyment10
- Lower BMI10
- Fewer dieting behaviors10
- Fewer food anxieties 10
- Greater weight stability (less weight cycling)11
- Lower Triglyceride levels12
- Higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol)12
- Greater body appreciation7
- Positive emotional functioning7
- Greater life satisfaction7
- Unconditional self-regard and optimism7
- Psychological hardiness7
- Greater motivation to exercise, when focus is on enjoyment rather than guilt or appearance7
Intuitive Eating Weight Loss:
Is it possible?
Is it possible to lose weight while practicing intuitive eating? The answer to that question will likely be different for each person. For some people, there may be a side effect of weight loss when implementing the Intuitive Eating principles, especially if Intuitive Eating has helped you regain your self-care needs. Intuitive Eating is a weight-neutral model, meaning the focus is not on body size, but rather on healing the relationship with food.7
People who practice Intuitive Eating tend to have lower BMI’s. (BMI is a measure of body fat that is the ratio of the weight of the body in kilograms to the square of its height in meters). Intuitive Eaters also have less weight cycling and rebound binge eating. Studies have shown Intuitive Eaters also have greater motivation to exercise and improved self esteem. This improved self esteem keeps the motivation to continue self-care healthy behaviors.
It would be a mistake to promote Intuitive Eating for weight loss, as it would undermine and interfere with the process of working through the 10 principles. Intuitive eating is an internally based process of healing; and weight loss desires are externally based. The initial principle to work through is to reject the diet mentality and you are giving up dieting for the rest of your life.7
The difference between Intuitive Eating and Dieting:
People today have lost trust with their body sensations and now eat based on external cues and regulations. Interoceptive awareness is based on inner sensation, which is an inside job. Intuitive Eating works by enhancing interoceptive awareness and/or by removing the obstacles to interoceptive awareness. In order to be able to effectively listen to our bodies messages we need to have appreciation and respect for our body. This respect can often be diminished due to the consequences of weight stigma.
|*Uses internal guides, focuses on feelings to make food choice|
without experiencing guilt or ethical dilemma and is
*Enjoys pleasure of eating and discovers the satisfaction factor
*Rejects the diet mentality
*Makes peace with food
*Challenges the food police
*Move to feel the difference.
*Find physical activities that make you feel good.
*Encourages your to treat your body with kindness and respect
*Encourages you to honor your body with gentle nutrition
|*Focuses on external guides with strict rules of do’s and dont’s|
*Focuses on external cueing when to eat
*Lists of Good foods and bad foods
*Follows strict menus, grocery lists, Ingredients, recipes and measurements
*Strict meal times
* Anguish over parties, events or social situations that aren’t in compliance with diet
*Causes a preoccupation with food
*Feels like a failure when “cheats”
*Exercise every day to burn calories
*Difficult to stick to- Not Sustainable
*Increases tendencies to binge
How can Intuitive Eating skills help you succeed with obtaining a healthy weight?
Although pursuing weight loss is contraindicated when you are fully committed to the Intuitive Eating lifestyle, recent studies have indicated that some of the skills you gain from Intuitive Eating can be helpful to maintain weight loss.
Emotional eating emerged as a major barrier to sticking with a weight loss diet. Eating in response to stressors and negative emotions may be comforting short term but could result in weight gain if it becomes a habit. Conversely, having obesity could cause poor self-esteem, increasing psychological stress and depression, and potentially trigger emotional eating. Intuitive Eating as well as Mindful eating training aimed at reducing emotional and stress eating may be beneficial to sustaining weight loss.14
Developing your internal awareness of hunger and satiety cues and learning to cope with your emotions with kindness are Intuitive Eating principles that may help prevent you from emotionally eating. This would help prevent weight regain and the need for further dieting. Intuitive Eating has been shown to improve weight maintenance.10 11
How Intuitive Eating and Weight Loss are connected . How to determine when you are emotionally eating?
Cope with your emotions with kindness. This is Intuitive Eating principle #7. This principle addresses emotional eating and encourages addressing feelings in healthier ways.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but feelings that triggered the eating are still there. It it doesn’t take care of the reason you overate, and you will most likely feel worse afterword’s.
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly. It often craves specific comfort foods. It is not satisfied with a full stomach. Emotional eating may trigger feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness often triggering more emotional eating. It is a vicious cycle.
The first step in putting a stop to emotional eating is identifying your personal triggers. What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for comfort food? Over time, you will see a pattern emerge. In order to stop emotional eating, you have to find other ways to fulfill yourself emotions.
Diets often fail because they offer practical nutritional advice that only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits. If you do not find ways to manage your emotions that don’t involve food, you won’t be able to control your eating habits.15
Review of successful weight management programs:
A key message when comparing the effectiveness of many weight loss diets is that they work when they are being followed. Weight maintenance has been giving diets a bad rap and causing the yo-yo dieting phenomenon. Successful weight loss is defined as individuals intentionally losing at least 10% of their body weight and keeping it off for at least one year. Until recently, most studies that focused on weight maintenance after weight loss followed subjects for only a few months or a year after the goal was achieved.16
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Action in Health for Diabetes (Look AHEAD) trial reported that, among adults who lost 10% or more of body weight, approximately 60% maintained that weight loss at one year. Look AHEAD demonstrated that extended provision of maintenance interventions after weight loss can facilitate clinically meaningful weight loss for as long as 8 years; two or three times longer than what was reported in earlier randomized trials. This newer research is providing some hope for the possibility of weight maintenance.16
Behaviors among successful weight maintainers:
These behaviors include:
- Eat more fiber rich foods.
- Eat more lower-glycemic fruits and vegetables.
- The benefit was strongest with berries, apples, pears, Tofu or Soy, cauliflower and cruciferous and green leafy vegetables. Adding at least a serving a day was associated with less weight gain over time.
- Eat more foods you prepare at home instead of eating at restaurants.
- Avoid processed foods.
- Eat breakfast.
- Include protein throughout the day at each meal.
- Self- monitor your weight and food intake.
- Exercise 200-300 minutes a week.
- Strive for 7-8 hours of sleep nightly
- Address mental health challenges. Work with your doctor or counselor to help improve your mood and problem solving skills.
- Modify old unhealthy habits and adopt new healthy habits.
- Intuitive eating and mindfulness can help you get connected with your internal cueing for hunger and fullness and can improve food enjoyment as well decrease emotional eating.
- Join support and accountability groups.16
Summary: Intuitive Eating Weight Loss:
Why Intuitive Eating and the pursuit of weight loss do not coexist
Healthy eating feels good. Healthy eating is having a healthy balance of foods and a healthy relationship with food. The principles of Intuitive Eating are guidelines to help you restore a healthy relationship with food and regain your inner body wisdom to help you eat in response to physiological hunger and satiety signals, not external and or emotional cues. Any desire for weight loss must be put on the back burner, or it will sabotage your process of healing your relationship with food, your mind, and your body.
Dieting shifts your attention to feeling deprived and with that comes a preoccupation with food. One of the strongest predictors of weight gain is dieting. The harder you try restricting the foods you eat, the more your body and mind adapt. Your brain sends out chemicals that will send you craving large amounts of food.
Our bodies were designed to prevent starvation. When we restrict food and loose fat, leptin ( a hormone in our body) decreases and this decrease in leptin increases our appetite, allows more fat to be stored and will decrease our energy expenditure. Each diet teaches our body to adapt better for the next self-imposed famine (another diet).
Intuitive Eating skills may help you attain your healthy body weight:
If you are in the pursuit of weight loss, developing the Intuitive Eating skills can greatly enhance your long-term success for weight loss maintenance. Emotional eating emerged as a major barrier to sticking with a weight loss diet. Renewing your inner body wisdom and learning to identify your hunger cues verses appetite as well as learning how to combat your emotional eating is an inside job.
Your relationship with food will become more positive as you begin to let go of food as a coping mechanism and learn to find healthier ways to feed your feelings. Honoring your feelings without using food is the 7th Intuitive Eating principle. This will help you with tackling one of the biggest reasons people are regaining their weight.
If you are truly embracing the Intuitive Eating principles then you are not in the pursuit of intentional weight loss. Intuitive Eating philosophy is not against weight loss, but the pursuit of weight loss. If a healthy relationship with food is not in place, it is difficult to truly pursue healthy eating. Instead, focus on your day-to-day progress with Intuitive Eating such as: getting more satisfaction from your meals, staying more present in eating and in life, feeling a sense of connection, joy and well-being. The key will be shifting the focus to the practices that support health. 17
- Evidence‐based weight loss interventions: Individualized treatment options to maximize patient outcomes – Bray – 2021 – Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism – Wiley Online Library
- Adult Obesity Facts | Overweight & Obesity | CDC
- Review Article Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review | Public Health Nutrition | Cambridge Core
- Assessing the effectiveness of intuitive eating for weight loss – pilot study – Judith Camele Anglin, 2012 (sagepub.com)
- Tribole,Evelyn. Intuitive Eating. A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach. 4th edition. 2020. St Martins Publishing Group.
- Muriel Nogué, Erika Nogué, Nicolas Molinari, Valérie Macioce, Antoine Avignon, Ariane Sultan, Intuitive eating is associated with weight loss after bariatric surgery in women, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 110, Issue 1, July 2019, Pages 10–15, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz046
- .AJOHE May/June Final (ed.gov)
- Intuitive eating is connected to self-reported weight stability in community women and men (wpmucdn.com)
- AJOHE Nov/Dec FINAL 2 (ed.gov)
- Emotional Eating – HelpGuide.org