How many diets have you tried? More than half of Americans try to lose weight in a given year, and shiny new diets rise in popularity just as reliably. But strict fad diets, from a fruit-and-veggie-only juice cleanse to the high-fat keto diet, can negatively affect our health over time and lead to an unhealthy obsession with dieting. If your most recent diet’s short-term success led to zero long-term improvement in your health or weight, it may be time to try a gentler approach.
Research shows that intuitive eating, which means tuning into your body’s hunger cues without outside rules about what or when you eat, is a promising anti-diet for improving outcomes in health, weight, and even our emotional relationship to food. Today’s blog looks at the pros and cons of intuitive eating for those looking for a fresh approach to diet.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating provides flexible principles to remove focus from prescriptive dieting and numerical weight. Instead, intuitive eating is about listening to your body and embracing gradual progress.
The first principle of intuitive eating asks us to “Reject the diet mentality,” followed by 9 more principles that include “Honor your hunger,” “Discover the satisfaction factor,” and “Challenge the food police.” In short, they guide you to become mindful of the signals your body sends to indicate that you are either hungry or full, and to have a positive relationship to these signals, replacing shame with self-compassion.
What are the pros and cons of intuitive eating?
Research shows that intuitive eating has more long-term benefits than fad-dieting for most people, but it may not be the perfect fit for you. Thoroughly consider your personal lifestyle, health-based dietary restrictions, and personality as you decide whether or not to embark on the intuitive eating journey. The following pros and cons of intuitive eating may help you understand if it is right for you.
Pros of intuitive eating
- Intuitive eating acknowledges that you are an individual. The food we need is unique, and there is little chance that the latest gimmicky diet is going to be the perfect fit for your body.
- Intuitive eating leaves room for your needs to change over time. What our bodies want and need at age 18 is different from age 68, and may even differ from week to week.
- You will focus on being attuned to your body and how foods make you feel. You can thus develop a better sense of what is beneficial for your health.
- You will eat when you are hungry, which makes it easier to commit to. It is completely natural to feel hunger, and even the best diets can veer off course if we fail to eat when we are hungry (or if we eat at set times even when we are not hungry).
- Intuitive eating acknowledges that some bodies benefit from certain foods, while they are not healthy for others. For example, whole wheat is an excellent fibrous food for some, while others may be sensitive, allergic, or otherwise find that their body feels better without this whole grain.
- Weight cycling, or constant weight fluctuations, are a vicious cycle and intuitive eating may help break it. If you are prone to follow a strict diet or exercise regimen in bursts, lose weight, then gain it back, your health is likely taking a hit—and intuitive eating is one way you can break the cycle.
- Intuitive eating may help you maintain a healthier weight long-term. A 2021 study found that young people who practiced intuitive eating were still practicing more positive eating and weight control behaviors 5 years later.
- It defines “success” as progress over time. Rather than focusing on a specific weight loss goal or how well you meet strict diet rules, success with intuitive eating is about the long-term progress you make toward listening to what your body wants.
Cons of intuitive eating
- It can take time to tune into your body and get the balance right. Sensing whether you are full or hungry requires tuning into your body’s signals; this can be very difficult for some people.
- Engineered foods can fool our bodies into thinking we are hungry when we are not. Many popular American foods are somewhat addictive (usually thanks to the addition of salt, sugar, fats, and artificial flavors) and these low-nutrient choices can throw off intuitive eating efforts.
- If you want to lose weight, you will need to include physical activity. Research shows that intuitive eating is good for maintaining your current weight, but intuitive eating alone probably won’t help you lose weight unless you pair it with an exercise regimen. Principle #9 encourages you to get movement (and forget “militant exercise”), enjoying the way activity makes your body feel.
- Some people simply prefer more structure. Intuitive eating may feel too open-ended. If that’s the case for you, choose a diet that research has proven to be healthy and effective. For example, research strongly supports the long-term health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but there are no known long-term benefits from the Keto diet, which is not designed to be used permanently and is dangerous for certain individuals.
Intuitive eating & prioritizing recommended nutrients
Having a good understanding of your overall nutrition needs can support intuitive eating. In fact, it’s quite fitting that the theme for National Nutrition Month 2021 is “Personalize Your Plate,” highlighting the importance of personalizing choices while getting recommended nutrients. For example, pregnant women benefit from eating seafood with healthy omega-3s, while those who are over 60 need extra helpings of all protein-rich foods to help maintain strong muscle mass.
If you begin to eat intuitively, be sure that over time your dietary pattern includes plenty of nutrient-dense foods from all of the food groups, as well as any special nutrients that are particularly beneficial at your stage in life. To take a quiz and get personalized recommendations for nutrient needs, visit myplate.gov.
When diet and exercise aren’t enough, visit Dr. Duplechain in Lafayette
Diet and exercise are important to our health, but they can’t change where you genetically tend to carry weight. They also can’t help with excess skin after weight loss. If you’re looking to reshape your figure and feel more confident in your physique, Dr. Kevin Duplechain is here to help you with safe, effective body contouring options. Call (804) 482-5313 to schedule a personal consultation.