Intuitive Eating

Yes, this is a thing when it comes to dieting

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

An eating plan that says to eat when you want, treats no foods as “good” or “bad” and doesn’t require tracking calories, points or food measurements — it all sounds like a dream come true for people struggling to manage their weight. But that’s intuitive eating, the non-diet eating plan.

Popularized in 1995 by the book “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, intuitive eating has come back into vogue by influences and themes as diverse as mindfulness, body acceptance (versus body shaming), enjoying whole foods and local foods and finding a pleasurable physical activity instead of a brutal exercise regimen.

Danielle Meyer, clinical director of the dietetic internship program in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, finds some merit in listening to the body’s needs.

“We’re trying to come away from the ‘diet,’” Meyer said. “It has a lot of negative ideas attached to it.”

She promotes mindful eating and eschews the idea of cleaning the plate and eating just because it’s a socially approved mealtime instead of looking for cues of hunger and satiety.

By focusing on whole foods and sufficient produce, the body can more readily signal satiety and natural portion control.

“We feel better when we eat well,” Meyer said. “We have to recognize that feel. Any diet like cabbage soup or if you eat only one thing, you’ll detest it. If you like grapefruit but have to eat one a day, you’ll hate it. Those kinds of diet that look into restriction and denial, we don’t use. If you have to reject an entire category of food, that’s a red flag as to what you shouldn’t follow.”

Natalie Robertello, registered dietitian, owner of Fit For You in Buffalo, also works through UB Orthpaedics. She said that intuitive eating is about “bringing it back to simple basics and takes complication and anxiety out of food choices.”

As most dietitians, Robertello wants to see patients adopt a lifelong healthful eating plan. She views intuitive eating as a good example since it isn’t rigid and also helps patients work on the emotional factors tied to eating and body image.

“It’s saying if you want chocolate cake, you have a slice, but that doesn’t mean you have one every single day of your life,” she said.

As effective as intuitive eating can be to help people eat better for life, it’s also important to note its caveats. Someone whose poor eating habits have contributed to weight gain may need guidance from a dietitian to learn what foods should constitute the majority of the diet. As Meyer indicated, that can help the body tune into true hunger cues and not cravings and help prevent overeating.

Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition and Counseling Services Nutritionist in Buffalo, said that people with a history of eating disorders or obesity may feel out of touch with hunger cues and proper food portions.

“For a time, measure food and establish a consistent pattern to see if the body will respond by giving the person the signals to recalibrate the hormones that are responsible for giving those hunger signals,” Parker said. “That’s usually what I find as the biggest issue with intuitive eating.”

She added that one of the hardest parts of intuitive eating is making peace with food and activity and viewing them as contributors to good health instead of sources of struggle.

For people with food addictions not simple cravings, but stemming from a personality that exhibits addictive traits intuitive eating may be trickier.

“People who have this propensity feel safer if they have more of a routine and regimen rather than feeling a little freer with it,” Parker said. “Apart from that, ultimately, we do want to be able to trust our bodies to tell us. All foods should be fair game. All foods should be on an even playing field to demystify and take some off a pedestal to get people out of that diet mentality.”

The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

2. Honor Your Hunger

3. Make Peace with Food

4. Challenge the Food Police

5. Respect Your Fullness

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food

8. Respect Your Body

9 Exercise—Feel the Difference

10. Honor Your Health