Intuitive Eating Nutritionist Shannon Western outlines in this article the benefits of Intuitive Eating, and answers the burning question on everyone’s search history.
When starting to think of incorporating the principles of Intuitive Eating into your lifestyle you may ask yourself "will this really work!?"
Does Intuitive Eating work?
Intuitive Eating is a Non-Diet framework that focuses on:
Improving your connection to your body, so you can listen to your body to tell you what, when, and how much to eat
Improve your body image - less hours spent trash talking your body
Reduce guilt and shame around eating - learn to enjoy food again
Improve emotional health and resilience
Which means, Intuitive Eating is not a diet strategy.
But that doesn't mean that no-one loses weight when they become an Intuitive Eater. There's no magic formula that will tell you what weight you should/will be.
However, we are fed the idea that weight loss is the ultimate goal whenever someone eats a certain way. We are told that becoming smaller / being smaller is how we know something or someone is “healthy.”
But here’s the kicker: We don’t need to lose weight to gain health.
Dieting doesn't work
Humans are designed to fight against food scarcity - and no matter how much “eating in abundance” or “restriction free” a diet claims to be, all methods of intentional weight loss are restrictive.
In general, humans seem to only be able to keep weight off for a maximum of 6 months (1). We have a bunch of weight science research showing this, but because we unfortunately live in a society that dislikes larger bodies, weight loss studies that really aren’t that impressive are praised.
And you might have guessed it - the majority of weight loss studies don’t follow up past 6 months.
A colleague said to me a couple of years ago:
“I don’t care about 6 months - I don’t care if someone has lost weight after 6 months,
I care about seeing what happens 6 years, 16 years, 26 years later.”
Show me a weight loss trial that follows-up after decades - and I can 99% guarantee that person would also screen for a super disordered relationship to food.
This is because people who have dieted below what we call their biologically appropriate weight (this is the weight range someone's genetics, upbringing, body type, and 100s of other factors make them weigh) need to partake in disordered behaviours to remain in a smaller body.
It's also why when people diet they end up regaining weight - plus a bunch of other reasons (Your body: "Hey, I'm starving!)
Being on a diet, “just being healthy”, eating in moderation, or just trying to be “good” is almost impossible to do in the long term, which is where Intuitive Eating can provide a long lasting healthy relationship with food.
Intuitive Eating: The Anti-Diet Antidote to Dieting
Intuitive Eating isn’t just another ‘diet’, it’s a 25+ year old scientific framework based on the research from 30-70 years ago that dieting doesn’t work for people, and in fact is super harmful. Intuitive Eating is based on 10 principles which I like to describe as building blocks of a healthy relationship to food.
Why Intuitive Eating?
For a long time, people have been feeling hopeless about food, and feel like they will never be able to stop dieting. People don’t even know they can just….. Stop dieting.
Everyday, you have your friends chatting about the latest weight loss tea, your co-worker telling you about how much weight they have lost on their diet of the month, and weight loss adverts popping up when you’re vulnerable after breaking your last diet. It often feels like you’re drowning in diets...
Intuitive Eating is the lifeboat.
In more deep rooted societal terms; dieting and the pursuit of weight loss when it boils down to a patriarchal ideal where women (i.e. anyone who is not cis-male) are controlled by the thought that they just aren’t good enough. As Naomi Wolf wrote in her 1990 book The Beauty Myth:
“Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly
mad population is a tractable one.”
Before I lose you down a rabbit hole - this is all to say that your deep desire to lose weight is so valid. There are so many other factors at play here, with a huge one being fatphobia, which I will cover in a future article.
How is Intuitive Eating different?
Every diet says it’s “not like other diets” - they all claim to actually work! Well, Intuitive Eating isn’t a diet and it is unlike diets in so many ways: It doesn’t promise quick results, an easy journey, or weight loss.
Intuitive Eating is a learning process which brings with it health benefits that are actually backed by science! Compared to weight-loss and dieting, which actually “fail” after 5 years for around 95% of people.
Benefits of Intuitive Eating
Lower disordered & emotional eating
Increased self esteem & body confidence
Higher variety of food eaten
Better overall quality of life
Gain more enjoyment out of food
More proactive coping mechanisms
Higher interoceptive awareness
Improvements in cholesterol levels (2)
Less feelings of depression & anxiety (3)
Higher consumption of fruits and vegetables than non-Intuitive Eaters (new research!)
Less food obsession and addiction
Sounds pretty great, right!?
Many mainstream ‘diets’ are based on diet culture norms and the want of society to impose weight loss on us, when really we don’t need to lose any weight at all. On an aesthetic level any of these ‘diets’ might make you look thinner for a very short period of time, but this is masking the long term negative effects following these programmes can lead to. This might include...
Eliminating entire food groups, such as carbohydrates from your diet. Doing this can result in nutrient deficiency, ramp up carb and sugar cravings, and can impact your social life.
Yo-yo dieting which has been shown to..
increase osteoporosis risk
increase heart disease risk
reduce your metabolic rate (4,5)
How to stop dieting
So now you know the benefits of Intuitive Eating and the cons of dieting, but what do you do now? Here are my top 3 tips to letting go off the dream of weight loss (even just temporarily!) and start your Intuitive Eating journey:
Let's review your history with food
Dieting, lifestyle kicks, "eating in moderation" always seem easy breezy at the beginning, but they get overwhelming and awful pretty quickly.
I invite you to take a fresh piece of paper, and a pen. Now write down every thing you've ever done to lose weight / change your body.
This might be the very first time you decided to stop eating a "bad food", the first time you based what you ate on your weight, or your first few times downloading My Fitness Pal.
How successful were these? If you seen any changes in your body, how long did they last? And importantly, how did you really feel at the time? How have these past ways of changing your body affecting you now?
Intuitive Eating is about diving into all these past experiences, understanding why they didn't work out like you imagined, and figuring out how to care for yourself in a way that doesn't feel forced or difficult.
2. What might Intuitive Eating do for you?
I hope I've done a pretty good job at telling you about Intuitive Eating, and all the benefits you might expect. You can read more in depth here.
If you could imagine your life, free from thoughts of wanting to change your body, what would your life look like?
Try to make a list of 5-10 things you would do with the freedom, time, and energy that giving off dieting would give you. The picture is all the things people say they gain!
Do any of these interest you?
How to lose weight without dieting
I’ll let you in on a secret: At least 75% of the people I work with are hesitant about stopping dieting and trusting the Intuitive Eating process.
What I tell them is: This doesn’t need to be forever. You can go back to dieting whenever you want. But, just like you did in step 1 where you looked at your “success” at dieting, it hasn’t really ever worked for you. So why not try Intuitive Eating?
This isn’t an overnight process; think how difficult dieting is - the antidote is going to feel tough too. But the end goal is feeling empowered, comfortable, in control, and free with food, which dieting does not give you.
Mann, T. Tomiyama, J. (2007) Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer, Am Psychol. 62(3): 220-33.
Bacon, L. Stern, J. Loan, M. (2005) Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese, female chronic dieters, J Am Diet Assoc. 105(6): 929-36.
Schaefer, J. Magnuson, A. (2014) A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues, Journal of Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. 114(5): 734-60.
Bangalore, S. Fayyad, R. Laskey, R. (2017) Body-weight fluctuations and outcomes in coronary disease, N Engl J Med. 376: 1332-40.
Dulloo, A. Montani, J. (2015) Pathways from dieting to weight regain, to obesity and to metabolic syndrome: an overview, Obese Rev. 1: 1-6.