Can Intuitive Eating Remove the Guilt Linked to Dieting?

The Doctors

Is there a way to eat whatever you want and still remain healthy? Sounds too good to be true, but proponents of the concept of intuitive eating say it is possible.

The concept -- which has been around for over 2 decades, but has been gaining in popularity recently -- claims to remove the guilt of indulging in sweets and decadent foods from time to time.

Real Simple explains, "Intuitive eating is about self-compassion and trusting our bodies" and the approach is rooted in paying attention to hunger signals and fullness, rejecting a diet mentality and strict food rules, and adopting body-positive behaviors for example: exercising regularly and eating foods that make you feel good."

Registered dietitian Kristen Murray tells RS that people who get plenty of activity on a regular basis, consume at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day, do not smoke and drink moderately have similar mortality rates, regardless of how much they weigh. “I help people learn how to move away from the external cues telling them what, when, and how much to eat,” she says, “And get in touch with their internal cues telling them what, when, and how much to eat.”

According to research, when someone stops a restrictive food plan the urge to binge on things like junk food decreases, and the appeal of nutritious foods -- like healthy proteins, whole grains, and vegetables -- increases. Fans of intuitive eating also say it helps with optimism and motivates people to exercise for pleasure more.

Some aspects of intuitive eating that sound beneficial for all of us to embrace, include:

Treat your body with kindness: The approach encourages you to stop thinking of weight as a measure of health and to think of your well-being as a combination of physical and mental aspects. If you can let go of the number on the scale, Real Simple writes, "An afternoon walk becomes about taking a break to clear your head and reboot your energy, rather than about burning a certain number of calories."

Notice and listen to what your body is telling you: "Eating intuitively is noticing and responding to hunger and feelings of fullness," says RS, which feels if you eat without distractions like TV and your phone, you can become more tuned in to the body’s hunger, fullness, and satisfaction signals and this can help you avoid over or under eating.

Eat with joy and the permission to enjoy a variety of foods: "When we freely allow ourselves to eat certain foods, they become more satiating than when we sneak them in during the trip home from work. Eating shouldn’t just be about filling our bellies," RS notes, encouraging you to stop thinking about foods as "good" and "bad," and allowing yourself to eat whatever you want while listening to your body's signals, which should tell you what foods are right for you.

Use a gentle approach to nutrition: "To boost nutrition, think about what foods you can add rather than subtract," RS writes, noting it is best to add in more healthy items like extra vegetables to your meals and this should be accomplished without having to eliminate things like butter, oil, and various dressings.   

Be patient with weight losses or gains: As we age, give birth, and go through various life and health changes, someone's weight will likely fluctuate. Instead of what the scale says, RS and intuitive eating fans feel not weighing yourself might be the answer and suggest, "Focus on more meaningful measures of health.... [like] do you feel more energetic? Are you having fewer uncontrollable cravings?" 

Find out more about intuitive eating, here.

More: Eat These Foods to Improve Your Mood

More: 3 Foods That Will Give You an Energy Boost

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