Intuitive eating is a way of eating that makes you respond to your body’s hunger or fullness, rather than being calculative while eating or planning your diet. Intuitive eating is not a diet, rather it opposes the restrictive principles of traditional diet. It doesn’t aim at weight loss, but helps you develop a holistic eating habit for overall health benefits. It can, however, help you with sustainable weight loss if you develop an honest relationship with food, without giving in to emotional eating, which is a real roadblock to weight loss, as reported by several studies.
Different types of hunger
There are two types of hunger that drive eating habits. First is physical hunger, which asks you to respond to the biological urge and replenish your nutrient deficiency. It is defined by various signs such as fatigue, tiredness, irritability, or growling sound from the stomach. You don’t need any special food to satiate your hunger; any food will do. Second is emotional hunger, which is driven by sadness, loneliness, and boredom that create cravings for ‘comfort’ foods that are usually rich in sugar, trans fatty acid or are ultra-processed. Emotional eating or feeding to your feelings can bring guilt.
Weight loss isn’t the main goal of intuitive eating, but eating based on your intuitions may help with sustainable weight loss. This may be explained by the fact that if you eat according to your intuitions, you won’t have to follow a restrictive diet, stay occupied in planning or cooking your meals, or worrying if you are doing it right. The main goal is to listen to your body, keeping your emotions away, eating to satisfy your hunger and stopping when full. Intuitive eating doesn’t believe dieting is the answer to health, but that nourishing the body is key to happiness, health and longevity.
There are several psychological benefits of intuitive eating. The most important being you won’t be held hostage by your emotions. Research has linked this type of eating to weight maintenance as well as healthier psychological attitudes. That said, you can definitely concentrate better on your health goal in the absence of reservations such as body image consciousness. Studies have found participants who have been intuitive eating, have improved their quality of life and self-esteem, besides experiencing less depression and anxiety.
Researchers have also looked into women’s eating behaviours and attitudes and found those who eat intuitively tend to have fewer eating disorders.
Eight basic principles of intuitive eating
🍴 Reject the diet mentality and practise a whole-based-food eating pattern. Restrictive diets are often monotonous and lack compliance for the long-term. Not all your meals need to be perfect or 100 per cent nutritious.
🍴 Respond to that sweet or burger craving once in a while. No single food can make you fat or help you lose weight. Rejecting your favourite foods can make you crave more, and make you eat more.
🍴 Respond to hunger by providing adequate nutrition to your body. Staying hungry for long leads to overeating and guilt.
🍴 Say no to people who tag a certain food as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ or try to judge you for eating that food. No single food can define your overall health status. It’s the wholesome diet that you take every day that decides your health.
🍴 Stop when you feel full. Often people end up eating more due to social obligation, under peer pressure as observed in parties, festivals and social gatherings. Do not overindulge.
🍴 Enjoy what you eat. Joy of eating comes from eating meals that taste good. Don’t ‘grab’ foods. Don’t eat your food while speaking on the phone, walking, or scrolling through the internet. Take some time out to sit and eat in peace. Connecting with your food while eating can make you satisfied even if you eat a small portion.
🍴 Avoid reaching out to the fridge to cope with your feelings. Take alternative measures such as long walks, meditation, calling friends or family, deep breathing, journaling to deal with your emotion. Best is to work with a mental health professional for suitable advice.
🍴 Exercise and enjoy physical activities that bring happiness. Shift your focus from losing weight to feeling strong, energetic and fresh. Weight loss is natural when you make exercise a part of your daily life.
Intuitive eating preaches the art of how and when you should eat. Responding to your physical hunger and fullness can improve quality of life – an important aspect to avoid emotion-induced binge-eating. Finding a dietitian who practises and teaches intuitive eating is a good place to start.
Next column: How to become a master of healthy meal preparation