Intuitive Eating: The Anti-Dieting Diet

While there are many things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day (in the states), eating seems to be a given when families get together. I found the following article  and thought it might be interesting.

Become an “intuitive eater.” It’s a better way to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, research suggests.

Intuitive eaters don’t diet — they recognize and respond to internal hunger and fullness cues to regulate food intake, explains Dr. Steven R. Hawks of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who adopted intuitive eating habits several years ago and lost 50 pounds in the process.

“The basic premise of intuitive eating is, rather than manipulate what we eat in terms of prescribed diets — how many calories a food has, how many grams of fat, specific food combinations or anything like that — we should take internal cues, try to recognize what our body wants and then regulate how much we eat based on hunger and satiety,” he said in a university statement.

In a pilot study, Hawks and colleagues studied the relationship between intuitive eating and several health indicators among a group of female college students. They identified 15 women who were intuitive eaters and 17 women who were not intuitive eaters and ran a battery of tests to see how healthy they were.

Overall, women who scored high on the Intuitive Eating Scale were healthier than were those who scored low on the scale. High intuitive eaters had a significantly lower body mass index than did low intuitive eaters and had lower levels of harmful triglycerides and higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and, therefore, a better cardiovascular risk profile.

Hawks plans to do a large-scale study of intuitive eating across different cultures. For example, Asian populations are primarily intuitive eaters — they eat when hungry and stop when full. Compared with Americans, Asians have a “much healthier relationship with food, far fewer eating disorders, and interestingly, far less obesity,” Hawks notes.

Diets and dieting often fail to result in long-term weight loss, largely because food restriction works against human biology, is not sustainable, and may lead to negative outcomes such as weight recycling, altered body composition, increased fat storage, decreased metabolism, and eating disorders, Hawks and colleagues explain in the American Journal of Health Education.

Proponents of intuitive eating for weight management believe that all individuals possess a natural mechanism that if allowed to function will ensure good nutrition at a healthy weight. Therefore, it is possible to maintain a healthy body weight while maintaining an unrestrained relationship with food.

“As individuals get in touch with this ‘inner guide’ or access their ‘inner wisdom’ they will be more in tune with their body’s physical needs and will eat in a way that supports healthy weight maintenance and positive nutrition,” Hawks and colleagues write.

To get on the road to intuitive eating, a person needs to adopt two attitudes, according to the researchers. The first attitude is body acceptance. “It’s an extremely difficult attitude adjustment for many people to make, but they have to come to a conscious decision that personal worth is not a function of body size,” Hawks said. The second attitude, that dieting is harmful, relates to the first — namely that dieting does not lead to the results that people think it will lead to.

To become an intuitive eater, a person also needs to adopt two key behaviors. They must learn how not to eat for emotional, environmental or social reasons and they must listen to their body and eat only when hungry and stop when full. They must also learn how to interpret body signals, cravings, and hunger and respond in a healthy way.

SOURCE: American Journal of Health Education, November 18, 2005.

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