A diet where you eat what you want and stop counting calories sounds like it would surely lead to massive weight gain? Maybe not – if you eat intuitively. Intuitive eating is a system thought up by US-based dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The idea is to abandon the idea of dieting altogether and take a long-term, rational view towards food and nourishment.
The official website explains that the method enables a person to create a healthy relationship with their food, mind and body to “distinguish between physical and emotional feelings” and “gain a sense of body wisdom”.
This, admittedly, sounds a bit odd until you study the 10 eating principles. These include, perhaps most importantly, “rejecting the diet mentality” and latching on to plans that “offer false hope of losing weight quickly, easily and permanently”. “Honoring your hunger” and “making peace with food” by allowing you to understand that urges are natural and no longer labelling food as “good” or “bad”, which simply reinforces negativity and bad habits.
Balancing this is “respecting fullness”, and knowing to stop when you feel satisfied rather than stuffing yourself. It also teaches “honoring feelings without using food”, in order to find comfort outside of gorging on chips or cake. Intuitive eating also promotes healthy levels of exercise. These sound simple, but for those chronically dieting these can be liberating statements. And these are approaches dieticians are well-versed in.
Diets and constant restrictions don’t work partly because of our neuroscience. Our brains are trained to regard our current weight as the standard, and a drop in that is computed as the body going into starvation mode as we try to get back to our previous weight. So we simply put the weight back on, and sometimes more.
“Most nutrition professionals will discuss aspects of intuitive eating with their clients as it is generally accepted that this a good way for people to approach their nutrition as chronic dieting and sustained restriction are not recommended,” British Dietetic Association spokesman Rick Miller told The Independent.
“In fact, some national dietary guidelines, such as Brazil, are placing more emphasis on the qualitative, intuitive principles of nutrition, for example how and whom we eat with, as well where we buy our food and how we prepare it, and less emphasis on the quantitative. For instance, how much, specific balances of nutrients such as fats, protein, carbohydrate. “People eat food, not nutrients,” he adds.
“It is positive in that this approach starts from the standpoint of the psychology and physiology of eating, which can provide a lot of comfort and perhaps answers for those who struggle to maintain a healthy weight in the past. The focus is on the ‘how’ to eat, removing the emphasis on body shape dissatisfaction and keeping active, rather than exactly ‘what’ to eat, promoting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, adding labels to foods such as ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ or promoting unrealistic changes in body shape.”
However, warns Miller, intuitive eating isn’t a magic bullet either. It also takes a certain amount of will-power.
“I would be concerned if an individual with diagnosed medical concerns, such as diabetes, heart disease or other conditions, adopted this approach without seeking advice as it will not work in all instances, some personalisation may be needed.
“Some at-risk groups such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those following a vegan or vegetarian diet should also have a slightly more prescriptive approach to ensure they meet their nutrient requirements.”
Miller explains that when he deals with his clients, he considers whether they have a positive relationship with food; if they are in touch with hunger signals; where they eat; and if they realise what they are eating. This enables him to tailor a specific diet. “There is no ideal diet and it completely depends on the person,” he explains.
“Even if you take two individuals within the same remit as my nutrition speciality, sports performance nutrition, with exactly the same goal – the advice and the foods they are advised to eat could be completely different. Everyone is built uniquely, has different medical concerns, perhaps food intolerances or their relationship with food and eating behaviours are influencing what they eat, so it must be personalised.”
His advice for anyone wanting to change their eating habits is to firstly ask themselves why they have chosen what they are eating. "Even this first step can help you understand what is driving you to choose certain foods and help you reestablish control and reduce the stress associated with eating."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies