Proponents of the Intuitive Eating movement — i.e. listening to your body and what it wants — proclaim it’s the way out of the diet trap and into the light of happiness, better health, and body satisfaction.
One such advocate, Brooklyn-based writer Kelsey Miller, helps spread this gospel in her Refinery29 column, The Anti-Diet Project. Her message — that dieting sucks, and there must be a better way — clearly resonated, because The Anti-Diet Project not only became one of the lifestyle website’s biggest hits, it also scored Miller a book deal.
Recent research (see links below) shows that eating intuitively — versus restrictively — can improve body image, emotional well-being, and motivation to achieve fitness-oriented goals. But it doesn’t necessarily suggest that intuitive eating can or should replace good old-fashioned calorie counting and exercise to achieve weight-loss goals.
That’s because intuitive eating is not a weight-loss program, per se. The New York Times muddied the waters when they reported on a single study that concluded intuitive eating didn’t promote weight loss as well as cutting calories. The reader backlash was quick and fierce, and the message from outraged commenters was clear: Dropping pounds is not the point of intuitive eating.
According to the dietitian and nutrition therapists behind IntuitiveEating.com (who literally wrote the book on the practice), intuitive eating is “an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body… The underlying premise of Intuitive Eating is that you will learn to respond to your inner body cues.” The concept is that you’ll eventually learn to eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and not demonize certain foods or worry about what you’ve eaten.
In other words, it’s pretty much relearning to eat like you did when you were five (hopefully minus the tendency to eat everything sugary in sight).
Identifying and responding to your body’s hunger cues takes time, especially if you’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food in the past. But dozens of studies investigating intuitive eating suggest that study participants saw results — such as improved emotional, physical, and psychological well-being— within three to four months. (All notably longer than the six-week study The NYT reported on.)
One study suggested you might actually work out more when you practice intuitive eating because you’re exercising for enjoyment and energy — not because you feel obligated to lose weight.
Another comprehensive review published in early 2016 in the journal Appetite came to a similar conclusion: “Intuitive eating was associated with less disordered eating, a more positive body image, greater emotional functioning,” the researchers wrote.
So is intuitive eating the end of the diet as we know it? Maybe, maybe not. But, if it’s something that interests you, give it a try! If there’s one thing we do know: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for what will and won’t work for every body.