How Intuitive Eating Can Be Your Weight Loss Weapon

by Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD
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How Intuitive Eating Can Be Your Weight Loss Weapon

There’s a new way of eating in town and it’s rooted in self-compassion, not self-control. Intuitive eating is a new approach that seeks to maintain a healthy and happy weight by honoring your body’s hunger signals rather than relying on restriction.

The easiest way to imagine what this feels like is to think back to how you ate when you were very young. You had a few different foods on your plate, and you simply ate what sounded tasty. If you weren’t hungry, you’d probably have no interest in eating. If you weren’t in the mood for bread or broccoli or kale or eggs or cookies, you’d push them aside. If you were hungry, you would eat. You didn’t over- or under-nourish yourself. All you knew was how to listen to your inner hunger and fullness cues.


READ MORE > 6 APPETITE-CONTROL STRATEGIES THAT HELPED ME STOP OVEREATING


What eating this way doesn’t mean is eating whatever you want whenever you want. Well, sort of. One of the pillars of intuitive eating is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods in order to break free from the restriction and subsequent overeating cycle. This means making peace with the foods you banished for years. When you fully allow yourself to experience these foods, you learn to enjoy them in sensible amounts because the sex appeal of “forbidden food” has faded. It means enjoying a cookie after dinner without feeling the need to run it off tomorrow. It means not ordering the kale salad with dressing on the side when you really want the chicken sandwich.

FEELING FULL VERSUS FEELING SATISFIED

There’s a big difference between feeling full and feeling satisfied. Ever leave a restaurant after a full meal only to go home and slam leftover pizza? Your diet mentality told you to make a very unsatisfying dinner decision and now you’re left eating even more than you would have if you ordered what your body wanted it in the first place.

You may think that if you ate intuitively, you’d eat brownies with ice cream and pepperoni pizza on the side every day. Will you eat more of those foods in the initial phase? Yes. You’ll consume those foods until they feel less illegal and scary. Until they feel safe. But rest assured that your body truly will not want cookies, cake, pizza and fried food all the time. It’s the complete absence of these foods (or whatever foods you happen to crave) that leads to the inevitable seesaw of binging and restricting.


READ MORE > 5 STEPS TO BREAK FREE FROM BINGE EATING


View hunger like you’d view any other bodily function and you honor it. Treat being hungry like having to sneeze, urinate, breathe or sleep. You need to consume food for energy to sustain life just like you need to breathe air. Would you get mad at yourself for needing to use the restroom? It’s as basic a need as eating is.

You also honor your health. Just like you care about satisfying your taste buds, you care about nourishing your body. You honor your health not so you can fit into a jean size you haven’t worn since high school, but rather to live a long and happy life, to ward off disease and to simply feel good each day. It won’t happen overnight, but we all know nothing good comes easy. If you’ve been dieting your whole life without success, remember that it’s not you that doesn’t work. It’s dieting. Imagine the things you could do with your time if your brain isn’t so busy with micromanaging your weight and self-worth. Challenge the status quo and embrace progress, not perfection.

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  • Stephanie Diemer

    Honey, if I could eat “intuitively” and still body fat, I wouldn’t need MFP.

    Useless advice – like telling a depressed person that they should just feel less sad.

    • Zoe

      I agree this article is a complete load of rubbish.
      Love the analogy Stephanie.

    • Nathan Gopen

      Agreed. There is only one small part of this I agree with, is that you should not “ban” any foods, as that mentality can set you up for failure. But using MFP and keeping to your daily goals helps a lot in wisely choosing how much of those “treats” you do end up eating.,. Or whether to even have it today or wait till maybe another day when you have more of a carb budget or whatever. Otherwise yeah, the article is basically rubbish.

    • Sophie

      As a person who deals with depression and uses MFP effectively, I think your response is short sighted and dismissive.

      I feel depressed. Often. But I’ve learned that I won’t always feel that way. I also don’t have to fake happy. I trust the people around me enough to tell them how I actually feel. Going out and interacting with people when I need to be alone just further stresses me out. So I’m honest with myself and with my support system.

      I’ve made peace with my depression.

      Intuitive eating for me is like that and more about getting in touch with my body than forcing it to do something it can’t handle. I think less about the food, more about the sensation I’m experiencing. Am I bored or hungry? Am I cranky? Or on a sugar low? What is my body physically feeling? Where is my head at? Will eating solve that? Will exersize?

      It’s not about the cookies or chips or kale, it’s about learning to listen to and honor my body.

      I still use mfp to track my food. It’s a critical tool to aid my mindfulness. I have goals, and a strategy. It’s not mindLESS. it’s thoughtful and compassionate.

      • Stephanie Diemer

        I too suffer from chronic, treatment-resistant major depression and use MFP effectively. I think you missed the point in my attempt at pithiness. You’re not depressed if you’re less sad (and less fatigued and less apathetic etc etc), just like you’d be at a healthy weight and at less risk for various diseases if you only eat what your body needs when you need it. But if we’re all using MFP to track those net calories, clearly something went wrong or is wrong with how our bodies signal for hunger or cravings, whether that’s due to a lifetime of maladaptive eating habits or medication side effects or social and cultural pressures or any number of things.

        And that’s my problem with this article – it’s super reductive to the point of uselessness. Yeah, we know we need to reset our hunger cues and not mindlessly eat, that’s why we have an app to help us do that. If we could do it successfully on our own, as this article suggests, we wouldn’t need the app.

        • Patti

          Living by an app isn’t living. It might help you to see how much you are eating but to have that as part of your eating routine, regularly, becomes old. In case people don’t realise it, we were given a brain and sensations for a reason. If we only could listen to what God gave us and learn from it things would be much easier. I don’t know how people lived and ate before all this “technology”

    • Susie

      Thank you for this. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

  • D.

    Thanks for this article! Diets that require me to stop eating when I’m still hungry never work for me. I do think that intuitive eating can be scary when your body has been in famine/starvation mode for a while, because you feel like your body wants all the calories, all the time. But for me, that phase only lasts until my body calms down and understands that I’m not starving it anymore.

    I do think that it’s good to pair intuitive eating with a process of analyzing why your eating instincts are the way they are. If your body’s instincts are telling you to eat in a way that causes you to gain an unhealthy amount of weight, or to lose weight if you’re underweight, I think the real long-term solution is to address the underlying causes so that you naturally crave a type and quantity of food that’s good for you. That might mean looking into any emotional issues around food, possible nutrient deficiencies, etc. Otherwise, you’re basically committing to constantly telling your body “no” when it asks you to perform a basic biological function (eating), which itself is probably more detrimental to your quality of life than a few extra pounds.

  • Donna S.

    Spot on!

    It took a little work but I’ve successfully come to realize exactly what you’ve shared. As a result, my self-confidence and self-image have grown while I’ve watched myself slim down, becoming healthier. I want to live to see not only my grandchildren but my great grands, too.

    Sometimes, a visit to the ice cream parlor for a double scoop of chocolate layered with peanut butter cups in a chocolate dipped waffle cone just needs to happen! When my flavor center wants it, I call it dinner; it’s delicious and I no longer feel like I have to pay for it or make-up for it. I love it for what it is!

    I think it’s important that we teach our children this principal early on so they don’t develop the same attitude about food that we were taught. Imagine growing up as an intuitive eater instead of denying ourselves the flavors we crave due to self-denial…. What a difference this has made to my children’s eating habits – no vicious diet cycles for them! They don’t have to “sneak” to have a cookie, and believe it or not? Their favorite after school snack is a helping of salad!

    Life-changing.

    • Patti

      Good for you!!!!!!

  • Greg Dahlen

    I’ve done quite well on weight loss on my diet. For about nine years I’ve been living more than 90% on fluid milk products, cow milk and cow cream. So my diet is skim milk, 1%, 2%, whole, half-and-half, and pure cream. I started out at 255 on this (I’m six one), and quickly went to 175 and maintained. Then I learned a little more about my body and have maintained around 165 the last two years.

    But I don’t know, it is possible that you could do the same on a solid, mixed-food diet. The only diet I’ve ever tried is the milk one.

    I simply find milk and cream delicious, with a wonderful “pop,” and actually it’s easy to be on this diet cuz i know when i go in a market all i’m going to buy is milk or cream.

    Disclaimer: this diet has not been approved by any medical authority as safe or healthy for human beings. But it has been excellent for me and I don’t think my body is so different from others.