So You Want to Try Intuitive Eating, but If You're Being Honest, You Still Want to Watch Your Weight. What to Do?
GLAMOUR South Africa|March 2020
I’m a registered dietician who’s come around to intuitive eating. Here’s why.
JESSICA JONES
Intuitive eating is a hot topic right now. It’s discussed in a New York Times article titled ‘Smash the Wellness Industry’ (If you haven’t read it yet, READ. IT. NOW.) The author talks about how she was sick of seeing powerful, smart, feminist-identifying women – including herself – fall for pseudoscientific ‘wellness’ claims that are, ultimately, the author argues, really just about weight loss. She talks about her own journey with dieting and wellness culture while deconstructing the problematic diet industry and ultimately concluding by talking about her discovery of intuitive eating, which she credits with changing her life for the better.

For those not familiar with this concept, intuitive eating is an evidenced-based approach to eating that was originally designed to help chronic dieters get back in tune with their body’s unique needs, rather than rely on external food rules to determine what, when and how much they eat. If you’ve ever dieted, you probably know that getting some of those rules out of your head is tough, even when you’re no longer actively trying to lose weight.

If we’re using an intuitive-eating framework, then the ultimate goal is to use your internal wisdom to decide what, when and how much to eat, not external rules like no eating after 8pm or no refined carbs allowed. When you first learn about intuitive eating, it can sound like it’s solely about eating when you’re hungry and not eating when you’re not, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that. For example, maybe it’s 11am and you aren’t hungry for lunch yet, but you know that this is your only opportunity to eat a meal before 5pm. Should you listen to your lack of hunger and skip that opportunity to eat? The intuitive eating argument would probably be no. Similarly, maybe it’s 9pm, and even though you’ve had more than your ‘estimated kilojoule needs’ for the day, you’re still hungry. Do you just go to bed and ignore your body’s hunger signals? I would say no, as would the intuitive-eating approach.

In other words, intuitive eating is definitely about listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, but it’s not only about that. It’s also about the practicality of eating when you’re not hungry because you might not have a chance to eat for several more hours. And it’s also about satisfaction – that is, having a thing you really want to eat simply because it’ll satisfy you to do so. For example, society tells you that chips are unhealthy, but for you, they are a good, satisfying snack, and you may feel deprived if you don’t get to have them. With intuitive eating, you can choose to have the chips and not feel guilty about it, even though diet culture says that we should. The idea here is that by paying attention to what your body and mind are asking you for, you’ll feel satisfied, not deprived, hungry, hangry, or craving foods that you aren’t ‘allowed’ to eat because of a diet you’re following.

If you’re like so many people, including clients I work with daily, you’re thinking, ‘This sounds great; I’d give anything to have a less fraught relationship with food, but I also want to control my weight, and for that, I do have to follow rules about what I eat?’ It’s a dilemma I hear a lot: is it possible to practice intuitive eating and have a healthier relationship with food, while also wanting to lose or maintain your weight?

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