- Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to nutrition that focuses on tuning into physical hunger and fullness cues.
- People who use the principles of intuitive eating often see improvements in body image and develop a healthier relationship with food.
- Weight loss may be possible with intuitive eating, but it is not a primary goal.
Intuitive eating (IE), a practice that encourages people to approach food with an awareness of their physical needs, is not new but has gained traction over the past few years thanks to social media and the public's growing interest in all things wellness. IE is used to help people break free from the diet mentality and avoid restrictive eating habits.
Research overwhelmingly suggests that dieting doesn't work for long-term weight management and can even be detrimental to mental and physical health. Diets and diet culture inherently promote ignoring the body's biological signals for hunger in favor of restriction.
On the other hand, intuitive eating is based on the opposite premise, where honoring your body's needs for nourishment and pleasure can help you make healthier food choices over time.
Weight loss is not the ultimate goal of intuitive eating—in fact, discussions of weight aren't even a part of intuitive eating—so the answer to whether you can lose weight with this approach is a bit complicated.
Weight loss can be possible with intuitive eating, but it likely depends on the individual, and the evidence is mixed as to whether it's effective for everyone. Here's what you should know about intuitive eating and weight loss.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is an approach that focuses on trusting the body's internal signals and responding to those cues. It was initially proposed in the mid-1990s by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who developed the concept into a comprehensive theory. Today, intuitive eating is backed by many research studies and is considered an evidence-based approach to improving one's relationship with food.
The framework behind intuitive eating includes ten principles highlighting the importance of honoring hunger and fullness, eating with pleasure and satisfaction, challenging diet-culture messages, self-compassion, and body acceptance.
The ultimate goal of intuitive eating is to help reconnect with signals for hunger and satiety. It's not a diet (although you may see the term "intuitive dieting" incorrectly used online), and it doesn't dictate what you should eat. Instead, it's about learning to trust what the body needs rather than listening to external messaging about weight or the "right" way to eat.
Can You Lose Weight With Intuitive Eating?
Each person's experience with intuitive eating can be different, meaning the answer to whether weight loss is possible depends on the individual.
Some nutrition experts who teach IE argue that any desire to lose weight cannot align with intuitive eating principles. Others believe that learning to eat in a way that nourishes the body and honors hunger and fullness signals can lead to improved health in many ways, including weight loss.
Intuitive eating is not designed to be a method to lose weight. It removes discussion about body size or external cues like numbers on a scale or calories in food. Instead, it focuses on intrinsic cues like hunger signals and self-acceptance.
There are times when intuitive eating could help someone eat in a way that aligns with a body weight that is healthier for them. Still, the true framework of intuitive eating is to remove weight loss as an outcome.
A review examining the relationship between intuitive eating and weight found mixed results. People who use IE may have a lower BMI, but overall there's little evidence that it leads to weight loss for people who begin at a higher body weight. The review concluded that intuitive eating could reduce the chance of weight gain but isn't necessarily a tool for weight loss.
Benefits of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating does have many benefits beyond weight loss:
- Psychological: Psychological health is a primary benefit of IE. A 2021 meta-analysis examining 97 studies on intuitive eating found significant positive associations between intuitive eating and multiple psychological health outcomes, including improved body image, self-esteem, and overall well-being. IE is also linked to lower levels of depression, better body acceptance, and healthy coping strategies. A 2017 literature review also found that intuitive eating (as part of a mindfulness-based approach) was especially helpful for those with binge or emotional eating habits.
- Diet quality: Intuitive eating could also improve diet quality, although studies are mixed. One study examining diet intake and intuitive eating found that intuitive eating led to a higher intake of vegetables and calcium. Studies have also found that people following intuitive eating improve nutritional quality, increased vegetable intake, and time spent eating while reducing episodes of binge eating. However, a more recent review concluded little evidence exists to support improvements in diet quality, so more research is needed.
- Physical: Intuitive eating may support other physical aspects of health, including improved cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers. More studies with longer follow-ups are needed, but the research suggests that intuitive eating could be a promising approach for enhancing physical health.
Intuitive Eating vs. Dieting
Intuitive eating is not the same as dieting. Dieting promotes a restrictive eating pattern with rigid rules and focuses on weight loss or body size as the primary goal.
Intuitive eating removes attachment to body weight and all that comes from dieting. Instead, it focuses on building a trusting relationship with food, honoring hunger and fullness cues, and being mindful of how foods make you feel.
Tips for Eating Intuitively for Weight Loss
If intuitive eating is appealing to you, but weight loss is still a goal, it may be time to ask yourself why.
If your reason relates to a health concern, consider whether other approaches could support your overall health and wellness goals. Unlearning years of dieting and replacing it with intuitive eating can take time and often professional support.
Weight loss isn’t traditionally part of intuitive eating, but if you have the desire to live a healthier, happier life free from food guilt and shame, consider the following tips to get started:
- Start by assessing your current relationship with food. Think about feelings associated with eating: guilt, shame, joy. Do you rigidly follow food rules or struggle to differentiate between emotional eating and physical hunger? These thoughts may point to a need to shift how you approach eating and food.
- Challenge food rules and diet mentality. Many of us have entrenched beliefs about certain foods that are hard to let go of, and intuitive eating can support the process.
- Learn to identify true hunger. This one is tricky and takes time, as so many people spend their lives ignoring hunger cues. Regularly check-in and ask yourself how hungry you are on a 1-10 scale. Honor your hunger if you're truly hungry, and allow yourself to eat.
Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and accepts the most popular insurance carriers. If you want to learn more about intuitive eating, consider booking a virtual appointment with a Registered Dietitian.
Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based approach to eating that focuses on honoring hunger, fullness, and food preferences. If weight loss is your goal, intuitive eating may not be the right fit for you, although it could support positive health changes. IE teaches you to listen to what your body needs when it comes to food choices, and frees you to fully enjoy food without guilt and shame.
Get Intuitive Eating Support From a Dietitian
If you aren't sure where to start, consider seeking professional support from a weight loss nutritionist specializing in intuitive eating and non-diet approaches who can help you along your journey. Connect with an RD today.
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