Every January, many of us set the goal to start the year off right by eating better, the good intention leading us to one diet or another. Then, inevitably, we fall off the diet and go right back into the same old (if not far worse) habits.
But a program called intuitive eating is gaining popularity by offering a radically different perspective on healthy eating: What if the problem isn’t failing to stick to diets, but rather a diet industry that profits off our unhealthy relationship to food? What if, instead of seeing food as an adversary or obstacle to staying healthy, we instead redefine healthy eating as whatever gives us pleasure and satisfies our hunger?
Research consistently finds that a vast majority of diets lead to only temporary weight loss at best, and at worst can even be predictors of weight gain. But people finally seem to be catching onto that reality, with the weight loss and diet industry in the U.S. peaking at $78 billion in 2019 only to decline by 21 percent during the pandemic, according to MarketData Enterprises.
Meanwhile, Google searches for intuitive eating have doubled since January 2020, as #intuitiveeating takes off with younger people, garnering about 840 million views on TikTok. Though more studies and data are needed, evidence suggests the intuitive eating program is linked to not only more stable physical health, but also lasting mental health benefits — on top of having double the retention rate of diets.
What Intuitive Eating Is — and Isn’t
The 10 principles of intuitive eating, suggest that you:
- Reject the Diet Mentality, including wholesale permission to “get angry at diet culture that promotes weight loss and the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure.”
- Honor Your Hunger by validating the need to “keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise, you can trigger a primal drive to overeat.”
- Make Peace with Food, which means you “give yourself unconditional permission to eat.”
- Challenge the Food Police by saying “no to thoughts in your head that declare you’re ‘good’ for eating minimal calories or ‘bad’ because you ate a piece of chocolate cake” because those are “the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created.”
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor through sensorial enjoyment of “the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience.”
- Feel Your Fullness, in which you “trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire” and “listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry.”
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness, by first understanding that food restriction can “trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating,” but also that “eating for an emotional hunger may only make you feel worse in the long run.”
- Respect Your Body, including acceptance of “your genetic blueprint” to not only “feel better about who you are” but also to affirm the fact that “all bodies deserve dignity.”
- Movement where you Feel the Difference through a focus on “how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise.”
- Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition, making “food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy.”
None of the principles of intuitive eating are meant to be followed in totality at all times.
This expansive, flexible, and non-judgmental framework means everyone’s invited to practice it in their own way.
If you can only afford fast food, that’s still a perfectly valid way to practice making peace with all foods. Since there are no “good” or “bad” foods in intuitive eating, learning to not judge yourself for eating the food that’s accessible to you to satisfy hunger is a very legitimate way of incorporating it into your life. Similarly, finding joy in movement can be no more time-consuming than tossing a ball around with your kid, walking the dog, or stretching while watching TV on the couch.
What makes intuitive eating so challenging is also exactly what makes it an anti-diet culture: It’s a radical shift in how we relate to food and define health that only you can map for yourself. Embarking on a journey with so few instructions is scary. But it’s also full of potential for self-discovery.
If you need help with a nutrition plan or exercise program, be sure to contact me.