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Recently, the New York Times published an op-ed about the wellness industry and its function as a cover for restrictive dieting and extreme fitness. It soon went viral, and many readers empathized with the author, novelist Jessica Knoll, who lamented her recent interactions with successful, strong women who nonetheless remained obsessed with the size and shape of their bodies. Knoll chronicled her own past with “wellness”-focused endeavors, most of which amounted to calorie restriction, under the assumption that to be thin is to be healthy. The latter half of the essay is largely devoted to Knoll’s discovery of “intuitive eating,” which she describes as “a return to the innate wisdom we had as babies — about when to stop eating, what tastes good and how it makes our bodies feel.”
Intuitive eating, as Knoll writes, is a philosophy founded by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who published Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works way back in 1995. Marketed as a recovery book for chronic dieters and disordered eaters, Intuitive Eating proposed ten essential principles: 1. Reject the Diet Mentality; 2. Honor Your Hunger; 3. Make Peace With Food; 4. Challenge the Food Police; 5. Respect Your Fullness; 6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor; 7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food; 8. Respect Your Body; 9. Exercise — Feel the Difference; and 10. Honor Your Health.
Like many wellness-adjacent terms, though, the way “intuitive eating” is defined varies from source to source, and it isn’t always used correctly. Here is a dietitian-approved guide to what intuitive eating (or IE) really entails, what it looks like in practice, and how the term gets misused.
Is intuitive eating a diet?
That’s an emphatic no.
Intuitive eating is a response to diets and diet culture, and is not meant to tie adherents to any specific set of eating rules, says Heather Caplan, a registered dietitian with a private practice in Washington, D.C. Even the list of principles isn’t meant to be taken step-by-step, necessarily — it’s more about recognizing the food rules we already apply to our eating habits, and working to undo them. For this reason, Caplan says she generally tells clients to start with step one and ditch the diet mentality. This step alone (which may involve things like reallowing oneself to eat carbs, or sweets, or eliminating “cheat days”) is difficult, and Caplan says it can take people months or even years. “We’ve probably had some of these food rules since we were kids,” she says. “A lot of the work initially is unlearning those rules and challenging them. I always tell people, pick one rule to start with, and stick with that as long as you need to.” Once you’re reliably able to “break” your old rule, you can start working on breaking another. Diets create food rules. Intuitive eating is the anti-diet.
What are the signs I’m doing intuitive eating wrong?
If you’re acting like you’re on a diet, you’re probably not eating intuitively.
Because intuitive eating is meant to dismantle dieting behavior, it shouldn’t be as restrictive or as black-and-white as a diet, says Evelyn Tribole, co-author of Intuitive Eating. “If you find that you’re counting things, that’s not intuitive eating,” she says. “If there’s something called a cheat day, that’s not intuitive eating. If someone’s promising weight loss, that’s not intuitive eating.” While diets are typically marked by success in the form of weight loss, or failure in weight gain, intuitive eating operates outside the pass–fail framework. “It’s all discovery,” says Tribole. Intuitive eating is an ongoing process, and many people have absorbed so many food rules and restrictions that they’ll never really be “done” unlearning them. This might be an overwhelming prospect to anyone drawn to 30-day diets, but intuitive eating is as forgiving as it is long-term. Says Tribole, “If you see guilt coming up, it’s an opportunity to ask, ooh, what rule do I have that needs to get dismantled?”
Does intuitive eating work?
It depends what we mean by “work.”
When it comes to eating, says Caplan, “Success is usually tied to weight loss. It’s hardly ever actually related to health improvements.” People think that if a way of eating isn’t proven to make them lose weight, it doesn’t “work,” but here’s the thing: Diets themselves don’t work. “Research shows that over 90 percent of diets are unsustainable and don’t work beyond a two- to three-year time frame,” says Caplan. While intuitive eating may not result in weight loss (and may, especially for those who’ve been calorie restricting, result in weight gain), it can make you healthier and happier all around — research shows intuitive eating is associated with better mental health, better metabolic-health outcomes, and lower risk for both eating disorders and obesity.
What if I still want to lose weight?
Then intuitive eating may (or may not) be for you.
Intuitive eating is a philosophy that encourages us to listen to our bodies for hunger and satisfaction cues — to eat when we’re hungry and to stop when we’re full. But some registered dietitians find intuitive eating “rigid in its permissiveness,” says Abby Langer, an RD based in Canada. According to Langer, there is something of a backlash against intuitive eating in the nutrition community, largely based on the perception that it actually stigmatizes the desire to lose weight. “ works for some people and not for others,” she says. “Some people want to lose weight, and I think that’s fine too.”
Where intuitive eating thrives, says Langer, is in people who feel trapped between endless diets. “I always say to people, would you rather weigh five pounds less and be miserable on a diet rollercoaster, or would you rather be happy and be able to live your best life?” she adds. With intuitive eating, your body might change, and it might change in ways you’ve been conditioned to think are bad. (In her essay, Knoll writes, “I might have sought out sooner if not for the part where you learn to accept how your body looks once you stop restricting food, even if that version of your body is larger than you would like.”) But part of the intuitive eating philosophy is reexamining those assumptions, and redefining what healthy looks and feels like.
Intuitive eating isn’t just “eating whatever you want,” though eating things you want to eat is absolutely part of it; it’s also allowing your body to relearn the basic survival (and satisfaction) instincts we’re born with, says Tribole. “It’s a very self-empowering model: You’re in charge. It’s about you connecting to your body,” she explains. “Instead of listening to all the outside experts and all these trends and things, it’s about ‘How does my body feel? What does hunger feel like? What is satisfaction? How does it feel to move my body?’” These aren’t easy questions to answer, but proponents of intuitive eating argue they’re well worth asking.
It was more than a decade ago, before the obesity epidemic had even peaked, that nutritionists Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, noticed the stream of failed dieters traipsing through their offices, many of them desperate for help.
Aware that dieting pitfalls — from ravenous hunger to outright boredom — might be part of the problem, the nutritionists gave their clients permission to indulge some cravings, but nonetheless kept them on programs that limited food intake. Eager to please, the clients followed the meal plans and initially lost weight.
But, Tribole recalls, “sometime later we started getting calls from some of these people telling us how much they needed us again. They couldn’t stick to the plan anymore. Maybe they needed someone to monitor them. Maybe they didn’t have enough self-control. Maybe they weren’t any good at this, and definitely, they felt guilty and demoralized.”
Looking around, the two nutritionists saw the writing on the wall — and in the medical journals, too: Something like 95 percent of dieters fail to stick with their weight-loss programs, from Weight Watchers to Atkins to Jenny Craig.
Determined to find a different approach, they first looked to the anti-diet movement, which was just then burgeoning as a backlash to the war against obesity.
“The anti-diet movement proposed a way of eating that allowed for any and all food choices, without regard for nutrition,” Tribole explains. It was a philosophy at loggerheads with literature linking excess pounds to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more — and it ran counter to Tribole’s and Resch’s own instincts.
“Our initial reactions were highly skeptical,” says Tribole. “How could we, as nutritionists, trained to look at the connections between nutrition and health, sanction a way of eating that seemed to reject the very foundation of our knowledge and philosophy?”
- What Is Intuitive Eating?
- The Science Behind Intuitive Eating
- How Hormones Drive Our Food Cravings
- How to Eat Intuitively
- Is Intuitive Eating for Everybody?
- Intuitive eating sounds great…but what if I still want to lose weight?
- Weight Loss through Mindful Eating
- I stopped fighting my ‘bad’ food cravings — and it made me healthier than ever
- I love chips. Now I’m no longer afraid to eat them. Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
- I was trapped in a pattern of restricting and bingeing — but I found a way to stop.
- Intuitive Eating has one major principle.
- Intuitive eating does not mean eating pizza and candy every day.
- It’s backed by some compelling evidence.
- Intuitive eating is “weight-neutral.” Weight loss is not the focus.
- Today I’m about 20 pounds heavier than I was during my binge-eating days — but I’m OK with that.
- It took a few years of years of practice, but now, when I’m hungry, I eat whatever I think will make me feel good.
- Now that none of those “bad” foods are off-limits, I find I’m not as compelled to binge on them.
- Intuitive Eating for Runners
- Should You Give Intuitive Eating a Try?
- Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S
- 10 Common Sense Weight Loss Tips
- How to Use Intuitive Eating for Weight Loss
- The Intuitive Eating Weight-Loss Approach IRL
- 3 Intuitive Eating Weight Loss Strategies, Tested
- Drink water before every meal.
- Don’t skip breakfast.
- Dinner should be the smallest meal of the day.
- Concentrate on vegetables and fruits.
- Walk away from sugar-sweetened drinks.
- Avoid carbonated drinks, sugar-free gum, salty foods, or gassy foods
- Slow down when you eat and concentrate on eating.
- Use Supplements.
- Keep exercising.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Eventually, Tribole and Resch determined that they could resolve the conflict by hammering out a compromise of sorts. They called it “Intuitive Eating” — a nutritional strategy that rejected dieting in favor of psychological awareness. In particular, it emphasized the importance of increasing clients’ sensitivity to internal signals of hunger and fullness and helping them develop a greater attunement to the physiological effects of the foods they ate.
Described in their influential book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003), the system taught users to distinguish between physical hunger and emotional need, and to trust that natural urges would deliver better health and balance than any diet could.
The concepts were controversial. Clients in Tribole and Resch’s intuitive eating program were free to eat as much as they wanted and to indulge their cravings for food. While diets were all about restriction — calorie counting, weigh-ins, denial of pleasure — intuitive eating gave permission to eat anything. A slice of cake? A pizza party? It was all allowed.
But can a system so permissive really keep weight down? To some extent, the jury is still out. Expert opinion has been mixed. Intuitive eating clearly doesn’t work for everyone. Yet, thousands of people report losing weight based on intuitive eating, and in recent years, peer-reviewed studies have supported the claims.
Not only did intuitive eaters in recent studies have lower cholesterol, less diabetes, healthier hearts, better levels of fitness, and lower body mass index (BMI), they achieved all that without the psychological stress and self-loathing that dieting can bring on.
According to Tracy Tylka, PhD, a psychologist at Ohio State University whose research has lent rigor to the field, the women participating in her intuitive-eating study were “more likely to reject the societal stereotype that thinness is their ideal body type” and were “less likely to base their self-worth on being thin.”
These positive results make sense in light of evidence that dietary restrictions disrupt homeostasis, a series of metabolic feedback loops between the gut, liver, brain and the body’s cells that help to maintain internal equilibrium. Intuitive eating has a shot at succeeding where restrictive diets fail, say proponents, because it complements rather than fights the complex biology of hunger. It does so by building conscious awareness of hunger cues honed by evolution over millions of years.
The Science Behind Intuitive Eating
Until recently, evidence that intuitive eating promoted weight loss was largely testimonial, but a group of studies published in the last few years has lent more credence to the claims.
Especially influential is research from Tylka. Before investigating intuitive eating, Tylka specialized in people with eating disorders, focusing on those who fell along the spectrum of disordered eating without being symptomatic enough to actually be diagnosed. Some 40 percent of Americans qualified for this broader category, she found.
As a group, these people were often unhappy, obsessed with their weight and suffering from body-image problems, whether they were overweight or not.
Those who didn’t fall on the spectrum, she discovered, seemed to be intuitive eaters whose habits resembled those of the people Tribole and Resch had described in their book.
By 2006, Tylka had laid the scientific basis for researching the eating style. She created a scale that defined and then measured the traits of intuitive eaters: Those who qualified could be defined by 21 traits in three broad categories, including unconditional permission to eat, eating from physical rather than emotional cues, and relying on internal hunger and satiety cues.
Tylka used her scale to study more than 1,400 people, determining that intuitive eaters have a higher sense of well-being and lower body weight and do not seem to internalize the “thin ideal.” Later research on 1,260 college women found intuitive eaters shared a series of empowering traits: They were optimistic and resilient, skilled at social problem solving, and had good self-esteem.
A study Tylka published in 2010 showed that parental pressure to restrict eating in childhood translated to higher BMI in adults. The pressure backfired by disconnecting individuals from their natural hunger and satiety cues, she posits. Indeed, her adult participants reported “a lower tendency to eat when physically hungry and stop eating when full.”
While the studies can’t really prove causality — no one can say whether eating styles are determined by life circumstances and personality traits, or vice versa — Tylka sees the relationship as “bidirectional.” She sums up her findings this way: “Attending to physiological signals of hunger and satiety are uniquely connected to well-being, and to lower body mass.”
How Hormones Drive Our Food Cravings
No matter where experts stand on intuitive eating, they universally agree that restrictive diets have failed, en masse. Most of the diets we tap today are still rooted in the old “calories in, calories out” model — a straightforward equation in which every morsel of food and every iota of exercise is evaluated on the basis of its caloric value. This mechanistic formula implies that the overweight among us must simply be too lazy, ignorant or lacking in self-control to regulate themselves accordingly, and are thus entirely responsible for their own plight.
But important new research has proven this line of thinking quite wrong, and that’s one reason intuitive eating is getting a second look from experts who might previously have written it off.
What the new research shows, according to George Blackburn, MD, PhD, director of the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine at Harvard Medical School, is that the stomach and other metabolically critical parts of the body don’t just process foodborne calories. Rather, they are responsible for sending dozens of chemical and hormonal messages to the brain, where what we think of as hunger really resides.
One key hormone in this system is ghrelin, the only biomolecule found to stimulate the hunger center in the hypothalamus of the brain. Ghrelin is released from the stomach in response not only to physiological hunger — triggered when cells are short on energy — but also to pleasure seeking and stress.
Experiments have shown that people injected with ghrelin eat 30 percent more — perhaps because the hormone gravitates to the same brain area responsible for addictive behaviors. Conventional diets based on calorie restriction limit energy to cells, boosting ghrelin and driving hunger that may be almost impossible to resist as time goes on.
Ever wonder why you overeat when stressed out? The stress hormone, cortisol, triggers the body to produce extra ghrelin. That ghrelin works on the brain’s pleasure centers to calm you down, but you pay the price in extra weight.
Then there’s leptin, one of a series of “satiety hormones” produced by fat cells that tell the brain it’s time to put your fork down. There was a time when scientists celebrated the discovery of leptin, hoping that supplements would suppress appetite and keep weight under control. But for the overweight, leptin is a dead end; levels are already elevated in the obese, but their cell receptors are resistant, much like diabetics are resistant to insulin.
The obese have plenty of leptin, in other words, but it no longer has an effective place to land. The chemistry is complex, but the takeaway message for lifelong dieters is disturbingly simple: Calorie restriction elevates ghrelin, driving the hunger that sparks overeating and weight gain. The situation worsens as the failed diets stack up and the years go by. The resulting obesity renders the brain resistant to leptin, the very hormone that is supposed to help put the brakes on our appetites.
How to Eat Intuitively
Greeting our desire for food with conscious awareness rather than white-knuckled self-control is an essential priority of intuitive eating — in part because most of us have been socially and environmentally programmed to eat without much consciousness at all.
“Food is everywhere in brightly colored packages,” observes Lynn Rossy, PhD, a health psychologist who teaches mindfulness in her intuitive-eating workshops at the T. E. Atkins University of Missouri Wellness Program in Columbia. “But what is in the food, and how are we using it? Are we hungry or full when we decide to eat? Are we eating to disengage from our emotions, or to get pleasure? Are we eating when we are really hungry for something else that we would find by looking to other parts of our lives? We make so many food choices every day, but we’re so busy we’re not paying attention. In order for someone to become an intuitive eater, that has to change.”
Intuitive eaters must tune in to not just hunger and satiety, but also mood. “Emotion can impact the digestive system and mimic the feelings of hunger,” explains Rossy, “but practicing mindfulness can help you tell the difference. It gets easier over time.”
Susan Albers, PsyD, author of Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food (New Harbinger, 2003), found that intuitive eaters can often handle cravings just by slowing down. As with other forms of impulse, simply stopping to ponder the source of a craving can help you realize that it isn’t about hunger at all.
Food can be a drug, she explains, in that it stimulates the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. But those mindful enough to grasp that they are eating to boost mood, not appease hunger, can seek the fix through a healthy alternative like exercise, meditation or social connection.
The key, says Albers, is awareness: “If you remove that comfort eating, you must consciously put something back to take its place, be it meditation or massage. The mindful eater recognizes and respects physiological hunger — if you are really hungry, it is important to respond.”
Nutrition consultant Marc David, MA, author of The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy & Weight Loss (Healing Arts, 2005), has his clients focus on the quality of the food itself. His rationale is simple: Higher-quality food — real, fresh, flavorful and organic — is nutrient dense and inherently satisfying.
“Yes, many of us eat too much,” says David, founder and director of the Boulder, Colo.–based Institute for the Psychology of Eating. “But we do so, to a degree, because our food is nutrient deficient. It lacks the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and all the undiscovered X-factors and energies we require. The brain senses these deficiencies and wisely responds to this absence of vital chemistry by commanding us to undertake the most sensible survival strategy: Eat more food.”
One key to getting such cravings under control, David asserts, may simply be to upgrade the quality of the food we eat, then notice how we experience it. “Stop and see how you feel following every meal,” he suggests.
Is Intuitive Eating for Everybody?
In the end, only you can intuit which foods are right for you — and whether your cravings are driven by a nutritional need, an emotional one — or, as is often the case, both. To the extent you’re capable of discerning such things, and motivated to do so, you may have success with intuitive eating as a weight-loss strategy.
Critics of intuitive eating point out, though, that for many, the approach has some very real limitations. For one thing, notes Elson Haas, MD, some people crave the very foods that are making them sick — much like an addict may crave a drug, despite the overall damage that it does. Indulging cravings for those foods could set you up for an inflammatory and immune response that worsens biochemical imbalances rather than ameliorating them. Even nutritious foods like yogurt, nuts and whole grains are not going to produce good results for those folks who have allergies or intolerances to them.
Also, cravings for sugar, dairy products and caffeine do not typically abate with indulgence, Haas notes, but instead tend to drive inflammation, water retention, brain fog — and still more craving.
The only way out of that rut, says Haas, author of The False Fat Diet: The Revolutionary 21-Day Program for Losing the Weight You Think Is Fat (Ballantine Books, 2001), is to heal and re-regulate the body’s disrupted biochemistry. This necessarily involves a certain amount of self-control in the short term, he notes, but for a totally different and arguably better reason than controlling calories. The goal here is to clear your system of the biochemical factors that are confounding it — and your weight-loss efforts.
Even without an allergy or food addiction, though, intuitive eating may be hard to master for the obese, many of whom may struggle with imbalances in blood sugar and brain chemistry that have become entrenched by years of dysfunctional eating. Such imbalances can effectively compromise the body-based intuition that individuals require to put intuitive eating techniques to work.
That was part of the message when the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior held its annual meeting in Pittsburgh this July. University of Illinois researchers reported that a diet consistently high in fat restricted the neurotransmitter dopamine in the striatum (the part of the brain associated with reward). The upshot was that rats on high-fat fare had to eat more than their brethren on a low-fat diet for the same sense of reward.
University of Pennsylvania researchers reported that leptin — the fullness hormone — activates the hippocampus, and this process may be impaired by obesity, making it harder for obese individuals to muster self-control.
And Yale scientists scanned the brains of human subjects exposed to the smell and taste of food: The brains of normal-weight participants reacted differently, depending on their level of hunger. But obese participants’ brains reacted to taste and smell no matter what the status of their hunger, driving them to eat long after getting full.
So, is intuitive eating for you? Only you can decide. If you’re out to maintain your weight or drop a few pounds, intuitive eating may be an ideal strategy. If you’ve experienced little luck with restrictive dieting in the past, intuitive eating may help you rethink your whole approach to food. But if you are obese or dealing with disrupted biochemistry as the result of food intolerances, you may want to seek some professional nutrition counseling to rebalance your body and brain before you give intuitive eating a try.
Either way, keep in mind that intuitive eating is a package deal — the practices of conscious attention can’t be separated from the “eat what you like” philosophy. You can’t just cave in to cravings without being willing to question them first.
Nor can intuitive eating be practiced effectively in a vacuum devoid of sensible food practices. For example, Haas notes, “Planning ahead with a good menu enables you to have healthy foods available when you need them” — something that may be tough to pull off if you always eat on the spur of the moment.
All of us, though, could probably benefit from tuning in to our bodies more often. “The body has spectacular wisdom,” says Marc David. “We just have to listen to access it.”
This article has been updated. It was originally published in Experience Life magazine in November 2010.
Pamela Weintraub is senior editor at Discover and author of Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic.
Intuitive eating sounds great…but what if I still want to lose weight?
by Kelsey Pukala
It’s 2019 and you’re ready to ditch diet culture. Goodbye diets… hello Intuitive Eating! You’re embracing more intuitive eating principles, giving yourself permission to eat and noticing your hunger and fullness. You’re making progress (you’ve got this)! So, what happens when you want to fully embrace intuitive eating and also have a desire to lose weight?
What happens when your peers and coworkers are talking about the latest diets, toning up, leaning out and losing those last 5 pounds? It can feel like you have one foot in intuitive eating but still one foot immersed in diet culture.
First of all, I want to validate those weight loss desires. Those are real and constantly encouraged in a society that is laden with weight stigma and fat phobia. It makes perfect sense that you have that desire. If you find yourself asking the question, “how can I practice intuitive eating and still lose weight?” then this post is for you!
I would like to briefly state that the BMI charts along with the word “obese” are irrelevant and have no place in the medical dictionary. Obese is a pathological term and BMI doesn’t correlate to illness or unhealthy conditions. Weight loss and thinness do not equal health. Okay… rant over.
If you want to become an intuitive eater, but also want to lose weight, my question back to you is why? Where is the desire to lose weight coming from? What do you feel will happen if you lose weight? Will you be treated differently Finally accepted and worthy? Beautiful and healthy? Finally able to fit into that bikini from high school?
Whatever the reason is, I would ask you to consider the possibility of accepting that your healthy set point weight may not be your ideal weight. This is tough and I often find that a grieving process can actually be helpful and important. Mourning the loss of the body you desire is hard, so have grace and compassion for yourself as you move through this. Can you start to choose behaviors that positively impact your health instead of manipulate your body size? We know from research that weight itself is not what leads to chronic disease or health conditions.
It’s more important to focus on behaviors and our relationships with food, movement, stress, sleep, friends/family, etc. Can weight loss be a possible outcome of changing behaviors? Yes. But, in order to pursue health, you cannot also pursue weight loss. Pursuing weight loss can pull you further away from your body’s signals and can stand in the way of fully embracing intuitive eating.
If you try to manipulate intuitive eating so you can lose weight, that’s a diet. With intuitive eating you may lose weight, gain weight or stay the same. And all of those outcomes are OKAY because instead of choosing micromanagement, you are choosing freedom and attunement. It can also take time for your body to find it’s natural set point. Honoring your hunger and fullness, giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, discovering satisfaction in eating, taking the morality and judgment away from food, finding movement that you enjoy and that feels good… these are some great ways to embrace intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating isn’t a diet or a quick fix. You can’t “win” or “fall off the bandwagon.” It’s a continuous learning process and will change as you change and go through different phases of life. Weight fluctuations are normal and can actually be a way that your body is caring for and protecting you.
The journey to body trust and acceptance can be a long and winding road. Loving your body may seem impossible and that’s completely normal and valid. Can you start by tolerating your body? You may find that allows you to move towards acceptance.
There are some fantastic ways to care for your body that don’t involve changing your body size or micromanaging your weight. I included some below! Working towards accepting and possibly loving your body can drive you to make choices and decisions that are best for you as a whole person, not just decisions that may or may not affect your weight. Remember too, that in time, the desire to lose weight may dissipate as you trust that your body is for you and not against you.
Ways to care for your body that don’t involve weight loss
-Find a form a movement that you enjoy and that feels good to you (if that’s nothing right now, that’s perfectly okay!
-Honor your hunger cues by eating when you’re hungry throughout the day
-Schedule 7-8 hours to sleep each night
-Carve out time to rest and enjoy activities or hobbies you love
-Develop coping skills when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, out of control etc. (this may be easier if you’re working with a therapist and/or dietitian to help and support!)
-Recognize when you are “shoulding” yourself into doing things that don’t feel good, become an objective observer instead of a harsh critic!
What are some other ways you care for your body without trying to manipulate it?
Thank you so much to Kelsey for this amazing blog post! Don’t forget you can now work with Kelsey at NMN, and still at a discounted price (for just a couple more weeks). to learn more.
Weight Loss through Mindful Eating
I’ve mentally written my weight loss success story a thousand times. In my vision, I become super skinny and everyone asks me how I did it! I always imagined my story would be something like, “I stopped eating sugar and never had a craving to over-eat again!” I wrote my imaginary “Body for Life” essay and became the triumphant winner of 1 million dollars! I declared every new dieting attempt as the VERY LAST ONE because I finally found the path to effortless success.
Unfortunately, with all the attempts, failures, and starting over on something new, progress was never made. My weight loss was always too slow to show an improvement on the scale and keep me motivated to continue. I would jump from diet to diet, looking for the one that would give me the freedom from obsessing about it! I searched for the diet I could follow for the rest of my life and not have to white knuckle through daily decisions about what I should or shouldn’t be eating.
My childhood nickname: Thunder thighs
For as long as I can remember, I have been self-conscious about my weight. The earliest memory I have of noticing I was heavier than my peers was at a pool party in the 7th grade. I didn’t feel too self conscious before the party. But I remember the boys from my neighborhood gave me a nickname at that party. It was “thunder thighs.” And the truth was, I had thick legs! They are strong, stocky, and bigger than most girls. Although this stung a little at the time, It didn’t stop me from trying out for cheerleader, or enjoying more pool parties. But always in the back of my mind, I dreamed of being thinner.
From 7th grade to my senior year, I stayed heavier. I loved to eat and bake cookies, but I also loved to exercise! I remember my parents paid for a gym membership right across the street from my high school, that I was very excited about. I would go to an aerobics class before school. I had a dance class for PE, and I had cheer practice after school. Exercise has always been a way for me to manage stress and get lost in my own thoughts. But despite being a consistent exerciser for literally 30 years, I still couldn’t lose weight.
Gaining the freshman 30
As I transitioned to college, I became more and more interested in nutrition and dieting. Which was ironic, because that’s when I gained the most weight. I loved reading books about health and understanding different philosophies about weight loss, but I moved into the dorms with unlimited cafeteria food, lots of studying, and terrible sleep habits. I also was hired by Denny’s as a hostess, and was thrilled about eating endless amounts of cheesy sandwiches and peanut butter pie! To this day, I have no clue how high my weight got, but I would guess somewhere close to 150 or even 160.
While I was gaining weight, my brother got engaged. I got fitted for my bride’s maid dress early in the year. Of course, by the time the wedding was approaching, the dress no longer fit. Devastated and without enough awareness or time to lose weight, I pleaded with my friend to help me alter the dress to fit. She scoured every fabric store in our city to find a fabric that was close enough to match, and sliced my dress open to insert an extra panel!
With my weight at an all – time high, I dove head first into all the dieting ideas and advice I could get my hands on. The first diet book I remember was all about low-fat. I was able to lose a modest amount of weight, enough to feel OK about my body, but never like I’d want to wear a bathing suit in front of people. Measuring at only 5 feet 1 inches tall, I always felt like losing 10 more pounds would be ideal. 10 pounds on my small frame meant the difference in a size 12 pair of jeans, and a size 6! So, for 20 years I slaved away at deprivation and frustration.
I kept quitting diets after 2 days of “no results”
Once I found a new style of eating, I’d spend all the money to buy all the food. I’d binge on information, recipes, and science about each protocol. Generally I’d lose 2-3 pounds, even though I was working my tail off. I’d get frustrated with the lack of progress, despite the intense effort, so I’d quickly be on the hunt for a new plan. I tried hiring coaches, buying online courses, counting calories, counting macros, downloading hypnosis tracks, vegetarian, vegan, fruitarian, Paleo, weight watchers, Gluten-free, Low -fat, low-carb, training for marathons, Joel Fuhrman, Jillian Michaels, Bob Greene, Bob Harper, and so many more! So much attention to my weight loss effort was becoming a full time job, and it was exhausting!
I tried “30 days of no-sugar” and still gained weight!
The final diet I tried was no-sugar. It was a turning point in my journey as I managed to go a full 30 days without sugar and gain 5 lbs! I even broke out in acne, even though the books I was reading promised “clear skin”. The experts said that if I would eliminate sugar, all my cravings to overeat would go away, because sugar was “as addictive as cocaine!” For me however, I just overate ALL the other food I loved. I had more trail mix and crackers than my bowels could handle! It was at that point I realized, weight loss had very little to do with the food I was eating. I didn’t need an appetite to eat, so to think that eliminating cravings would stop me from eating wasn’t true. I had to figure out why I was eating, and why I couldn’t stop.
Finding out why I ate so much!
That’s when I started paying attention to my behavior around eating so much food! As I began to pay attention, and interesting thing changed. I started realizing I didn’t like some foods I thought I did. I started noticing that I wasn’t paying attention to how much I ate. The more distracted I was while I ate, the MORE I ate! I could sit down for breakfast and scroll through social media or news articles. I could eat bowl after bowl after bowl of cereal, and not even notice how much I ate. Sometimes I think I would do it to delay starting my day. Sometimes, I was just so sucked in to what I was reading on my phone, that I shoveled food in without even tasting it. I had mindless habits. When we would make cookies, I’d walk by and eat one off the counter. Then another and another, without really tasting the first cookie.
I had stumbled into mindful eating! Which I never thought I’d understand because I don’t like slowing down. I was the opposite of what I considered mindful! But now that I have figured it out, I am finally free from food obsession. Long gone are the days I spent all day planning what I was going to eat and thinking about my next meal.. Reading, listening to podcasts, and trying a new diet a month was wearing me out! Now, I truly feel like it’s easier to enjoy life! And as a bonus- I STILL LOVE FOOD, but now, food brings me pleasure, while effortlessly eating less and seeing weight loss results.
The mindful strategies I embraced to finally lose 10 pounds were:
- Establishing three periods of time during the day for intentional, purposeful eating. No snacks! I literally didn’t eat snacks for the entire time, and it helped me to stay mindful!
- I limited meal time distractions. No phone, books, computer, magazine, TV, etc.
- I Chewed slowly and experience each bite. Even with chewing slowly, my meals didn’t take any longer than when I scarfed it down.
- I tasted food! The flavors, and texture of each bite which found me surprised to find healthy food delicious and junk food less appealing than I thought.
- Put my fork down between bites. It goes without saying, shoveling more food into your mouth before you’ve finished the last bite is not being mindful.
- Checked in with my hunger mid-meal. I learned, I didn’t have to finish my meal, ever.
I’ve been so energized and excited about my weight loss through mindful eating, that I finally had the content for the book I’ve been dreaming about writing my whole life! I’ve written down every thing I did to lose weight. Everything you need to know about mindful eating is in my e-book. My daily rituals, the food I ate, my 40 days of affirmations and journal prompts are all here for you! I know you’ll love this new mindset as much as I do. (check out the book here) And, I’d love to hear about your success as well!
Tags: before and after, intuitive eating, mindful eating, mindfulness, success, weight loss, weight loss success stories
I stopped fighting my ‘bad’ food cravings — and it made me healthier than ever
I love chips. Now I’m no longer afraid to eat them. Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
- I struggled with disordered eating for years.
- Then I found a radical approach to food called Intuitive Eating.
- The first rule: Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods — even “bad” ones.
- It sounds backwards, but it’s actually backed by nutritionists and scientific evidence.
- Here’s how it’s worked for me.
When I was 19, I decided that calories were my enemy.
It started as a quest to drop a few of the pounds I put on during my freshman year of college. I vowed to limit my calorie intake, cut out a swath of “bad” foods, and fight every errant ice cream craving by stuffing myself full of carrots and celery.
You can probably tell what happens next in this story.
Before long I measured every morsel of food I ate. When I packed lunch, I labeled every plastic baggie with a Sharpie, noting the exact number of calories it contained. I refused to go out to dinner with my family if the restaurant didn’t post its nutrition information online for pre-meal perusal.
Eventually, restriction gave way to recurrent late-night binges. I ate whole boxes of crackers, bags of chips, and pints of ice cream, not knowing how to stop myself. When each binge ended, I curled up in bed ashamed, plotting dietary repentance. I woke up the next morning and measured out a low-calorie breakfast.
A few days later the cycle would repeat again.
I was trapped in a pattern of restricting and bingeing — but I found a way to stop.
I felt guilt over drinking a beer on my 21st birthday in 2011. Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
In my early 20s I discovered a radical, non-diet approach to food called Intuitive Eating (IE). Its central premise — eat what you feel like eating, with zero guilt — seems to contradict everything you’ve ever learned about a “healthy” lifestyle.
But more nutritionists are starting to recommend IE to their clients who are weary of cycling through restrictive, unsuccessful diets. At the same time, emerging science shows that IE really does promote health, improve body image, and fight back against disordered eating.
I know it seems like the kind of scam sold on a 3 a.m. infomercial that promises to transform your life. I realize I sound like a wide-eyed subscriber to some kind of conspiracy theory. But IE really was the escape ladder that helped me leave behind calorie counting and bingeing for good. Here’s how it changed my life — and how it could change yours, too.
Intuitive Eating has one major principle.
Sometimes you just need a burger. Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
The approach was first developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Reschback, who wrote the official book on IE in 1995. It technically has 10 principles, but the basic gist is this:
IE is not a diet. No foods are forbidden. Instead, you give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, under one condition: You stay tuned in to your body.
That means paying attention to when you feel hungry, and when you feel full. That means eating something fatty when you’re craving something fatty, not trying to squash that craving with a plate of celery sticks. That means monitoring how your body feels after you eat certain foods, and using that information to decide what to eat in the future.
That also means ignoring all the external influences that have previously governed your food choices. Diet books, nutrition blogs, Instagram fitness plans, that insistent voice in your head that tells you you’re “bad” for eating a bag of gummy worms — none of that factors in.
When you decide what to eat, you consult only one source: yourself.
Intuitive eating does not mean eating pizza and candy every day.
All pizza all the time would get old fast. Sydney Kramer/INSIDER
Most people make the same cognitive leap when they first learn about the concept of IE: If you could really eat whatever you wanted, wouldn’t you just eat junk all the time?
Probably not, according to registered dietitian Rachael Hartley, who used to prescribe more traditional “healthy” diets until she saw that they weren’t actually helping her clients. Now, she says, she’s one of a growing number of nutrition pros embracing IE. And she’s seen firsthand that it doesn’t make people abandon fresh produce in favor of french fries.
“A lot of the reason that we crave foods that we label as ‘bad’ is because we put them off-limits or told ourselves that we’re not allowed to eat them,” she told INSIDER. “When people really give themselves permission to eat all foods, get in touch with their hunger and fullness, and start to pay attention to how food makes them feel, I find that, for most people, diet quality actually improves.”
If you did eat pizza and ice cream all day every day, it would get old fast. You’d feel tired and bloated. You’d notice how awful you feel, and soon you’d opt for something else — maybe something fresh and crunchy.
That’s how IE works. With time and practice, you reach a point where you’re generally eating nutritious, typically “healthy” foods in reasonable portions. But you don’t eat them because they’re low in calories or because someone told you that you’re supposed to. You eat them because sometimes you actually want them, and because they make your body feel good after you eat them.
It’s backed by some compelling evidence.
Research suggests IE can help combat body image issues. Africa Studio/
IE doesn’t yet have the robust scientific backing of better-studied eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet. But a number of promising, preliminary studies indicate that it can improve mental health.
Last year, researchers published a review of 24 existing studies on IE, concluding that it’s linked to “less disordered eating, a more positive body image,” and “greater emotional functioning.”
Those conclusions are backed up by yet another brand-new study published in 2017. It found that IE predicted fewer body image issues and less disordered eating, compared to both restrictive diets and a control group of people with “flexible” eating habits.
Some studies also indicate that intuitive eaters have lower body mass index, or BMI, than more restrictive eaters. But that doesn’t mean everyone loses weight with IE.
Intuitive eating is “weight-neutral.” Weight loss is not the focus.
Me and my mom, enjoying some ice cream. Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
From a young age, we are primed to believe that weight gain is the pinnacle of personal failure — and that weight loss is worthy of celebration, TV appearances, magazine covers, or lucrative corporate sponsorships.
But weight loss is not the goal of IE. With IE, you might lose weight or your weight might stay the same. You may even gain some pounds. I admit, it’s tough to sign up for that kind of uncertainty.
Before you write it off, however, consider that a more popular alternative — a restrictive, “healthy” diet — almost always results in weight gain. At least, that’s what the science says.
“From all the research that’s been done we know about 95 to 97% of diets fail,” Hartley said. “We know that for most people dieting results in weight gain, so it actually does quite the opposite.”
It’s true: In 2007, UCLA researchers reviewed 31 previous studies and found that dieting can actually predict future weight gain. Strict diets often aren’t sustainable — and when strict diets end, it’s all too easy to gain back what’s been lost and then some.
But when people combine IE and regular physical activity, Hartley explained, they usually end up at a weight that’s right for them.
“The studies that have been done with IE really support that it helps people settle at whatever their healthiest weight is,” she said. “And that can be a wide range of weights. There are people who are naturally just in bigger bodies.”
Today I’m about 20 pounds heavier than I was during my binge-eating days — but I’m OK with that.
Here’s the oatmeal I often eat for breakfast. Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
I lost weight when I was restricting and bingeing, and I gained most of it back when I started to practice IE. I don’t fit into most of the shorts, pants, or skirts I wore in college. But so far I have maintained this new weight without any effort, thought, or obsession over my diet. To me, that freedom is worth being slightly heavier.
Besides, what really matters is my internal health. My blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are still at normal, healthy levels, just like they used to be when I was lighter.
To me, that’s the saddest part of my experience with disordered eating. Cutting out “bad” foods, ignoring my cravings, and weighing less didn’t make me healthier. It only made me miserable.
It took a few years of years of practice, but now, when I’m hungry, I eat whatever I think will make me feel good.
A salad I ate for lunch recently. Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
Sometimes it’s a salad or a bowl of fruit. Sometimes it’s a burger, fries, and a beer. Sometimes, honestly, it’s a bunch of shredded cheese straight out of the bag. No matter what the food is, I don’t think of it as “good” or “bad.” I just eat it until I feel satisfied, then I stop.
Getting to this point took a while. At first, even a bite of something sugary or fatty would stir up guilt and anxious feelings. But soon I realized that, whenever I truly fed my body what it wanted, I could stop thinking about food for a few hours. I wasn’t hungry or too full. I just felt good. I kept on chasing that feeling, and with time, my inner food police (as it’s called in IE parlance) finally shut up.
Today, I usually decide what to eat based on both my hunger level and my past experiences with food. For instance, I usually eat the same homemade salad for lunch because I genuinely enjoy the taste and it makes me feel energized and full for several hours. I know from experience that eating other lunches, even “good,” “healthy” ones, make me feel sleepy or leave my stomach growling an hour later.
Other times, I let emotions or cravings or circumstances guide my food choices. And that’s OK, too, because life happens. When I have a horrible day, sometimes I need a frozen margarita. If I’m really craving barbecue chips (as I often am), I have some. If it’s somebody’s birthday and the cake looks delicious, I eat a piece.
Now that none of those “bad” foods are off-limits, I find I’m not as compelled to binge on them.
I have a serious thing for chips. Caroline Praderio/INSIDER
And now that I’m more attuned to my body’s signals of fullness, I’m better equipped to stop eating when I feel satisfied.
Every once in while I get stressed and slip up. I’ll catch myself ignoring my hunger or fullness while I plow mindlessly through a bag of popcorn or bowl of pasta. But the best thing about IE is that it doesn’t require you to be “perfect,” or ban your favorite treats, or atone for dietary sins in the gym. All you have to do is keep listening to your body.
Want to learn more about Intuitive Eating? Visit Hartley’s blog or the official Intuitive Eating website for additional guidance.
- Intuitive eating focuses on listening to your own personal hunger cues to guide what you eat.
- According to research, practicing intuitive eating has been linked to general weight management.
- Intuitive eating emphasizes the importance of planning ahead regarding fueling or hydrating for your runs.
You already know how the proper timing and nutrients of your meals affects your running performance. For instance, simple carbs are best before a workout, and you need a mix of carbs and protein afterward.
But there’s another concept out there called intuitive eating, which lets you break free of food rules and embrace your intuition. Unlike typical diets with strict requirements, intuitive eating focuses on listening to internal cues to guide eating habits.
While intuitive eating isn’t as simple as eating whatever you want whenever you want, it can benefit you as a runner. We turned to Heather Caplan, R.D. and Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D. to explain.
Intuitive eating is a phrase coined by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who literally wrote the book Intuitive Eating. Tribole and Resch argue that the rules and regulations that accompany dieting have stopped people from listening to their bodies, and the goal of intuitive eating is to help rebuild a healthy body image and make peace with food.
“Intuitive eating is inviting a flexible relationship with food so that you have permission to eat whatever fuels your lifestyle and helps you feel full and satisfied,” Caplan says. “That means tapping into your body’s natural ability to regulate how much, what, and when you need to eat,” Jones says. In other words, eating food should work for you and not against you.
In practice, intuitive eating is based upon 10 key principles, which include ideas such as rejecting the diet mentality, honoring your hunger, respecting your fullness, and challenging the food police in your head. One of the underlying concepts of intuitive eating is to throw out food rules that suggest certain foods are “good” or “bad.”
But what if you’re the type of person who will eat an entire bag of tortilla chips even though you’re not that hungry and rationally know you’re not making the healthiest choice?
“Overeating on previously ‘forbidden’ foods is normal in the first couple of weeks of allowing all foods to fit ,” Jones says. Caplan adds that restricting tortilla chips (or anything, really) in the past could be a reason why you’re likely to overeat them when they’re near.
“The next step is to buy tortilla chips for the house and see what happens,” Caplan says. “It’s okay if you eat too much, but eventually the chips become less exciting because they’re less restricted.”
With all that said, how does intuitive eating translate to the world of sports nutrition?
Intuitive Eating for Runners
It’s common for runners to rely on structured nutrition plans. We tend to have a pretty good idea of what works for us in terms of performance, and don’t typically stray from it. But it’s doubtful that any runner actually enjoys or feels hungry for a midrace Gu—they just know that it will give them the energy and electrolytes they need to finish strong.
Jones and Caplan agree that taking in midrace fuel is listening to “practical hunger,” which is an aspect of intuitive eating. “We have to take into consideration different forms of hunger, and ‘practical hunger’ helps you realize that while you might not be hungry right now, you will be starving after your workout if you don’t eat,” Jones says.
In other words, practical hunger emphasizes the importance of planning ahead and fueling or hydrating for sustained energy and enhanced performance.
Should You Give Intuitive Eating a Try?
Like any style of eating, there are pros and cons to intuitive eating. One of the more positive aspects is that it’s not restrictive, and it’s meant to help you create a healthy relationship with food. Once you’re up and running, you get to finally stop worrying about food rules and “good” and “bad” foods, and you can just focus on nourishing your body.
Plus, previous research has shown that intuitive eating has positive effects on overall health. According to a study published in the journal Obesity, men and women who practiced intuitive eating were less likely to be overweight or obese. What’s more, a study published in the journal Nutrition Research Reviews found that practicing intuitive eating is beneficial for general weight management. (Obesity has been linked to health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.)
Caplan and Jones agree that there is no real downside to successfully implementing intuitive eating principles, but is it possible for anything to be that perfect? For athletes who like structure and a step-by-step approach, intuitive eating seems a bit theoretical and intangible. “Although people want quick fixes, adopting intuitive eating principles should take some time,” Jones says.
In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all way to eat; the best eating plan or diet is the one that works best for you and your lifestyle—and won’t compromise your running performance. If intuitive eating seems like something you want to try, start with these expert tips:
1. Start writing things down. “Keep track of what you ate, the time, and how you felt—and do the same thing for your exercise,” Jones says. This is a good way to acknowledge your hunger and how it affects you throughout the day.
2. Hone in on practical hunger. “Runners may experience different forms of hunger other than stomach hunger, such as weakness, lightheadedness, or headaches,” Jones says. Recognize those symptoms of being underfueled and adjust accordingly.
3. Ditch the diet mentality. “You can’t go into intuitive eating with the purpose of weight loss,” Caplan. She suggests focusing on a behavior, rather than numbers on the scale, such as having more energy or feeling better in your running clothes.
4. Start by ditching one food. “If you get rid of rules all at once, it’s overwhelming,” says Caplan. Instead, pick one food rule that you want to throw out, like not eating at night, and give yourself the freedom to eat whenever you want.
5. Be fair to yourself. “I don’t have perfect meals, or even really tasty meals, every single day,” Caplan says. Sometimes you just eat what you can, but there’s less guilt about that because if you’re not following any rules, you can’t break any rules.
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD Registered Dietitian Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a New York City-based dietitian, food and nutrition writer, national speaker and owner of Nutrition a la Natalie, a sports nutrition practice.
The main reason that the dual pursuit of intentional weight loss and intuitive eating is tricky is this: When my clients start to focus on losing weight, at some point they have to make a food or fitness decision that overrides their body’s natural cues. In other words, the very act of pursuing weight loss means that there will likely be a restriction of some kind. This contradicts multiple core principles of intuitive eating, including “reject the diet mentality” and “make peace with food.” According to the intuitive-eating website, making peace with food involves giving “yourself unconditional permission to eat. if you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.” I’ve seen this happen time and time again with clients. When we are trying to lose weight, we often have to micromanage our food intake, which is essentially the opposite of intuitive eating.
So my answer to the question is: No, intuitive eating and weight loss aren’t really compatible. This is because intuitive eating and weight loss are not answers to the same question. They are, in and of themselves, their own distinct goals. Can you work toward two different goals at the same? Often, yes. But when one goal requires behavior changes that the other goal requires you to forgo, the answer is no.
The truth is intuitive eating is its own journey, and it takes a lot of work to get to a place where you can really let go of the diet mentality. But before getting there, you have to make a huge emotional leap along with a massive behavioral change, which is to let go of the desire to control your weight. Most of my clients find it helpful to just talk about these concepts and explore their eating and dieting history. Some questions I may ask include: Has the pursuit of weight loss worked long-term? What did you have to give up in order to get to a lower body weight? Did it take an emotional toll? Did you feel good physically? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here, but digging deeper and helping clients connect some of the dots for themselves is usually a good place to start. If a client is really struggling, I always recommend working with a licensed therapist who is well versed in the concepts of health at every size, intuitive eating, and body respect (I’ve worked with a lot of amazing psychologists who have helped my patients tremendously).
Of course, making the argument for forging a neutral and respectful relationship with our bodies is easy for someone living with thin privilege, as many dietitian-proponents of intuitive eating are. I consider myself curvy, but I still have an incredible amount of thin privilege. Because of weight discrimination (which I assure you is real), I’m treated better in this society than someone in a larger body would be. This means that I don’t have to worry about being harassed by ignorant people on planes or scolded about my weight by my doctor during a Pap smear. So even though research supports the idea that we can pursue health at every size and that most weight-loss diets fail, we still live in a reality in which people with thin bodies are privileged over those who don’t.
Not to mention it’s hard to scroll through Instagram and be bombarded with thin women in bikinis getting all the love. Or to witness women being publicly shamed for gaining too much weight during pregnancy only to be praised for their “snap-back” when they lose it quickly. Going against that grain can be exhausting. Which is why, if you have done your research, and decided that the pursuit of intentional weight loss makes sense for you, then that’s your prerogative. At the end of the day, your body is your business. I’m a big advocate of bodily autonomy, which means that you have the right to decide what is best for your own body.
Heidi Schauster, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S
I’m a fan of intuitive and mindful eating, in case you didn’t know that already. I work with my clients to honor their hungers and to figure out the ways of eating that work best for their individual and unique bodies. Many feel elated when their relationship with food seems to flow more easily and they are feeling tuned in to their bodies’ needs.
Recently, a member of my No Diet Book Club asked the billion dollar question: How do I eat intuitively when I still want to lose weight? (I say that it’s a billion dollar question because the diet industry that profits from a focus on losing weight is, in fact, a billion dollar industry.) In my 20 years of experience working with people who are renegotiating their relationship with food, I have discovered that holding onto a primary goal of weight loss just gets in the way.
I firmly believe that in letting go of the focus on weight loss, and prioritizing one’s relationship with food first, we will best take care of our bodies. In doing so, we eat in the way that supports the healthy weight that our bodies are meant to be. Do we choose the food option that makes us feel our best, or choose the lowest calorie option possible just to meet weight loss goals? The former uses our bodies to make the decision, while the latter comes only from the head.
This is not to say that we don’t use our minds or our knowledge about nutrition to make decisions about eating when we eat intuitively. For example, you can say, “Eating that full bag of Cheetos last time made me feel sick. I don’t want to do that again.” Here you are using your mind and your past experience to make a food choice, not just your body’s present state.
Let’s look at this more closely…
If you hate your body right now and focus on how it will look in the future (once you theoretically lose the weight), are you able to really be in the present, listening to what food choices really appeal to you and will satisfy you right now?
Isn’t it easier to make a commitment to take the best care of your body possible when you accept your body where it is?
When you see your body as the living, breathing, miracle that it is (extra pounds and all) and focus on nurturing and caring for that body with life-giving, healthful food, there is a very different focus. There is no deprivation. There are no shoulds or shouldn’ts. There are no mistakes — only opportunities to learn what foods feel best. There is no criticism and guilt. There are only choices.
We can choose to eat the light and fresh salad greens or the more grounding sandwich or the ice cream cone because it’s a hot summer day and that’s what we feel like. We can choose the entree that speaks to our palates, and seems interesting and aligned with our values and preferences, without second guessing ourselves.
We can slow down and savor every bite because the food is so delicious and worth savoring. We aren’t eating a certain amount of calories or carbs or points. We are eating life-giving, pleasure-providing food — and we will eat just enough of it because we are staying present with the eating experience, paying enough attention to the food and our bodies as we eat it. We take in the sensory enjoyment of the food, the texture, the warmth or coolness, the feelings of hunger and satiety. We are in our bodies when we eat. We are not just in our heads.
Does this seem like pie in the sky? In today’s world, this is not easy to do. It might involve learning to distinguish between emotional hungers, diet thinking, the effects certain foods can have on our brain, and healthy body wisdom, for example. It might involve reprogramming everything that you learned about food as you grew up, bringing you back to how you ate when you were a toddler and you knew that a few bites of a cookie are enough when there are other pleasures in life to explore. This is why many of my clients appreciate some coaching and support along the way.
Once practiced regularly, mindful eating is liberating, freeing, and truly brings people into their healthiest bodies. That body might not be the “ideal body” that we envision, but it will be a respected, honored, and well nourished one. And isn’t that what is really important…? It’s not how we look in that bikini, really; it’s the fact that we are out enjoying the sunshine. Don’t let anyone — the diet industry, well-meaning relatives, your partner, your own inner critic — tell you that you should look different. (If they do, it may be because they have their own body image insecurities.) Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking that weight loss is more important than feeding yourself well, in a way that is aligned with your own body’s needs.
Despite all the news coverage of the “war on obesity,” the Centers for Disease Control in 2005 determined that only when the BMI reaches 35+ is there a meaningful decrease in mortality. People in the “overweight” (BMI 25-30) category actually have the lowest mortality rate. Why are we calling these people “overweight” anyway…?
So, the answer to the question at the top of this post is that some people (but not all) lose weight while they work on eating intuitively and mindfully, but I recommend they not make weight loss a primary goal. In my many years of experience, I have seen that when clients fall back into that trap of focusing on weight loss, they do something that undermines their ability to deeply and accurately listen to their bodies. They shift their focus from self-care to trying-to-please, from inner wisdom to outer judgement about what to eat. And then they understandably push back against the deprivation that they feel and find themselves overeating. They want to lose weight, but feel like a failure. This is all on top of what the initial under-eating did to slow down metabolism.
Many studies have shown that 95% of all people who go on diets will gain the weight back (often plus more). Letting go of dieting and restricting and coming into harmony with what the body is really asking for does take some work, but it’s so worth it. And it is the only way that I have seen my clients grow to feel better about their bodies — no matter what their size or shape. How can you take care of something that you loathe? So…. love that wonderful shape of yours and all your unique curves, angles, bumps, and smooth spots. Give your body wonderful food, energizing movement, and fresh air. You have a unique bodily form that makes you You.
Focus on what you have to gain in the process of learning to eat more mindfully and intuitively and joyfully — not on what you have to lose!
If you liked this passage, please nourish yourself with the whole book. Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self is available here on my website, on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Also, sign up for free seasonal inspiration below.
10 Common Sense Weight Loss Tips
The winter layers have given way to shorts and t-shirts, revealing the other winter layers—the ones that hang over the waistline and strain the seams. (I have good excuses, but won’t list them here.) Perhaps, like me, you aren’t aiming for a beach body as much as a way to fit into your summer duds again.
That’s what I want to do, and here are some common sense weight loss tips to lose that overhang. It seems to be working.
Slow and steady wins the waist(line). No extremes. Managing your weight and health is not a sprint. Every day, a little less higher-calorie food, a little more exercise. For me, that’s meant giving up a daily peanut-butter-on-whole-wheat toast and my habit of grabbing a snack of dried fruits every time I go by the cabinet. What is it for you?
Also, I’ve stopped snacking when I’m out of the house running errands. Think about when you snack without focusing on your food. For example, if you are eating in front of the TV, it’s easier to consume more. Stop distracting snacking.
We rarely eat out, especially during the growing season, when the gardens are overflowing with delicious fruits and vegetables. Eating out is expensive and never as enjoyable or nutritious as what comes out of our gardens. Avoiding eating out!
I eat only what I enjoy. Many years ago, I made a long list of all the foods I love and would gladly eat every day, then crossed off the ones I knew I could and should do without. That left me with a long list of tasty, nourishing foods to choose from every day.
I never spend my money on commercial “diet” foods or drinks or “meal replacements.” I eat real food and drink (mostly) plain tap water.
Our large garden allows me to fill up my plate with green/colored vegetables, using herbs for flavor and a little dressing, olive oil, or butter. Tasty, nutritious, and filling. Even if you don’t have a garden, try filling half your plate with vegetables, then split the other half into carbs and protein. Watch your carb portions; a serving should be the size of your fist.
I never say I’m “on a diet.” The phrase carries a hidden assumption that my it’s something I’ll eventually “go off.”
I try not to make my spare tires the focus of my life. I don’t weigh or measure myself. Walking by mirrors and finally fitting into my old clothes is all the truth I need.
I take a day off once in a while, indulging in my forbidden favorites (pie and ice cream, stacks of pancakes with butter and maple syrup, strawberry shortcake, etc.). If you eat well 80 percent of the time, you can afford weekend and holiday treats. But I box it off, buying or making only what we’ll eat that one day. No leftovers.
With a new hip (much less pain) and plenty of warm weather, I’m putting more hustle to my muscles, greatly increasing my daily exercise component. In my case, that’s a lot of hard physical labor, planting and mulching my large garden and splitting and stacking next winter’s wood.
Plus, after a long siege of pain, surgery, and recovery, I’ve gone back to the weight room at the local YMCA. Diet experts say you can’t exercise your way to weight loss. Maybe so. But one thing I know is that, without protecting—even building—those muscles, a percentage of the “weight” that comes off will come from them. If you don’t have a gym, add some resistance training after a brisk walk. Try squats, push-ups, and planks. (Obtain medical advice and clearance from your doctor.)
So, have some fun today, enjoy real food, and work only those muscles you want to keep (and grow).
How to Use Intuitive Eating for Weight Loss
What would happen if you ate chocolate chip cookie dough for every meal for two weeks straight? Conventional wisdom says “disaster.” And yet this is exactly how Geneen Roth, author of many books on the intuitive eating-weight-loss connection, saved her sanity, gave up dieting forever, and ultimately dropped 40 pounds—and kept it off for more than two decades.
Roth’s story started like many others with chronic yo-yo dieting and lingering body dissatisfaction, but instead of continuing down that road, one day Roth decided she was finished telling her body what it should and shouldn’t eat. It was time to let her body tell her what it wanted. This small change turned into a revolution, and since, it has grown into a phenomenon of Oprah-level proportions. (Seriously—Oprah loves her.)
Intuitive eating is a style of non-dieting that teaches people to trust their body’s signals—the opposite of what most diets do. Rather than trying to “suppress your appetite” or “stoke your metabolism,” you focus on eating what your body tells you it needs and wants and stopping when you are full. Therein lies the best part of intuitive eating: you eat what you truly want, when you want it. It’s also the hardest part: you eat whatever you truly want, only when you truly want it.
A common misconception when people consider the intuitive eating weight-loss approach is that it’s a no-holds-barred food fest where you eat anything and everything without limits. While that may sound like diet heaven at first, it would not make your body feel good in the end. And eating what makes your body feel its best is exactly what you are trying to do. You discover pretty quickly—once you start paying attention—that eating bags of jelly beans every day makes you feel tired and sick, while filling up on a salad with protein, veggies, and homemade dressing is energizing (and delicious). It’s that slight change of perspective—it’s not that the jelly beans are “bad” or “off-limits” but rather that you don’t feel good when you eat a lot of them. That makes all the difference.
These four simple strategies will help you get started with the anti-diet. Sure, they seem to go against everything you’ve heard about weight loss, but experts say that’s exactly the point.
- Remove distractions and enjoy with all your senses. Sit down with no books, no TV, no computers, and (at first) no serious conversation to distract you. Without making judgments about it, you want to pay attention to everything you eat. Note how it tastes, how it smells, how you feel when you eat it. Employing all five senses, not just taste, when you eat is an easy way to be more mindful. “This gives you more pleasure from your food, so you end up being more satisfied,” says Lilian Cheung, a Harvard School of Public Health lecturer and a coauthor of Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life. Stop eating on autopilot and relish each bite. Look at the colors on your plate and inhale the aroma. Listen to the sizzle of that stir-fry or the crunch of the carrots. Enjoy the texture of that creamy Greek yogurt.
- Eat only when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. As you kick off your intuitive eating weight-loss approach, “give yourself unconditional permission to eat when you’re hungry,” says Evelyn Tribole, R.D., the author of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. But be sure it’s the stomach-rumbling, physical kind. Ask yourself, “What am I hungry for?” If you’re bored, sad, or feeling celebratory, it’s not food that you’re craving. As you learn to trust your body, you learn that it would, in fact, tell you when it needs food and when it doesn’t. It’s hard to eat this way in a world with TV screens in restaurant tables and unlimited appetizers. Pushing away your plate when everyone else is still digging into their food is hard. Eating a piece of rich dark chocolate when everyone else is giving up sugar is hard. But none of it is as hard as fighting your body for the rest of your life. (Related: The #1 Myth About Emotional Eating)
- Table the labels. Research in the journal Appetite revealed that one in four dieters, as opposed to one in 25 nondieters, labels foods with the words guilt or no guilt. Part of what drives you to overeat ice cream or chips is a fixation on the allure of bad foods, says psychoanalyst Carol Munter, a coauthor of Overcoming Overeating: How to Break the Diet/Binge Cycle and Live a Healthier, More Satisfying Life. Try to view all foods as being equal. This takes practice, Munter says, so remind yourself of your new mind-set when you catch yourself thinking Brownie equals bad, and grape equals good.
- Slow down. Instead of inhaling your dinner, sit at the table while you eat and make the meal last at least 20 minutes. When you go slow, it’s easier to read your body’s hunger and fullness signals. Need proof? In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, women consumed less, yet reported feeling fuller, when they put down their utensils between bites and chewed each mouthful 20 to 30 times. (Next Up: Changing *Why* You Exercise Could Be the Key to Reaching Your Weight-Loss Goals)
The Intuitive Eating Weight-Loss Approach IRL
Jill Carlson, 36, had issues with ice cream. So the Chicagoan, who had lost and regained 60 pounds through a series of different diets, did something drastic. Instead of following conventional weight-loss wisdom and banishing Ben & Jerry’s Cake Batter from the house, she filled her freezer with it, stocking 10 pints and giving herself permission to eat it. (Check out why one Shape editor broke up with “healthy ice cream.) At first, she did—a lot. But after a couple of months, the sweet treat sat untouched. “It lost its sparkle,” she said. “I knew at that point that ice cream—or any food—no longer had an unhealthy grip on me.”
Jill is among the growing number of women who are turning their back on typical diets. They’re making peace with food and their weight, using what experts have dubbed a no-diet approach. Their ranks include Oprah Winfrey, who declared she would never diet again after reading Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth, and former Smash star Katharine McPhee, who credits this tactic for helping her recover from bulimia. These women practice what’s called intuitive eating; that is, they eat only when hungry, they don’t feel guilty about food, and they eat whatever their body tells them to. And it works: According to researchers at Brigham Young University, people who scored high on an intuitive-eating scale not only had less anxiety about food and got more enjoyment from eating but also had lower BMIs.
If you stop focusing so much on eating less, you’ll actually eat less. It’s a radical notion, but desperate times call for desperate measures. “For most people, dieting doesn’t lead to weight loss that lasts,” says Traci Mann, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. In the most complete analysis of weight-loss studies to date, she found that most people regain all the pounds they dropped, and as many as two-thirds pack on even more. Not shocking, when you consider that chronic dieting can affect a person’s psychology—for example, cause moodiness or preoccupation with food, says Janet Polivy, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Dieters have a tendency to binge, both before their diet begins and after it fails. (Related: Secretin Might Be to Key to Finally Feeling Full)
Unfortunately, you can’t change how you view food overnight. “It’s a journey,” says Barbara Meyer, Ph.D., the program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, an intuitive eating weight-loss retreat for women. “We’ve had distorted relationships with food for a long time; dieting disconnects you from how food makes your body feel.” But with time, you can get to a better place. (Related: What I Wish I Knew Sooner About Losing Weight)
Just look at Jill’s unconventional ice cream experiment. It’s actually a well-known tenet of the no-diet approach, called habituation; Jill ended up dropping 50 pounds—without trying! “I’m eating healthier because I realize I have more energy and better digestion when I do,” she says. “My relationship with food and my body is more peaceful, and the weight loss is just a side effect of that. That makes me feel really powerful.”
Jill’s success made us wonder, Can the habituation strategy work for anyone? Are there other no-diet techniques that sound like psychobabble but actually get results? We sent three women to the experts at the forefront of the movement to find out. The goal: to fix stubborn eating problems by trying anti-diet tactics for two weeks.
3 Intuitive Eating Weight Loss Strategies, Tested
“I can’t keep cookies in the house.”
Michelle Arteaga, of Novato, California, wants to bake cookies with her kids. What’s stopping her? Fear of gobbling up the whole batch. “I try to resist, but I end up eating them all,” she admits. “I’ve even put cookies down the garbage disposal when I’ve felt really out of control. Why can’t I eat just one or two like a normal person?” (BTW, here’s exactly what to do when you overeat, according to nutritionists.)
Anti-diet strategy: Habituation. Conventional weight-loss wisdom says that keeping trigger foods out of the house will keep them out of your mouth. But anti-diet proponents say just the opposite: that a food loses its power over you when it’s available 24-7. “Some people actually discover they don’t like it as much as they thought they did,” Tribole says. To try this, keep your kryptonite in the house for two weeks. In Michelle’s case, that meant stocking her cookie jar with homemade chocolate chip cookies at all times and baking a fresh batch whenever she ran low.
Real-world intuitive eating weight-loss results: Michelle says: “I was sure I had an insatiable appetite for cookies. But the first time I gave myself permission to eat as many as I wanted, I was surprised that I was satisfied after just three. By day four the cookies were already less tempting. Now they don’t seem as scary as they did before. Removing the danger sign helped me realize that they are just cookies and don’t have special power over me.”
“I overeat at meals.”
Gabby Meyerson, of New York City, is a lifelong member of the clean plate club. “I’m generally a healthy eater, but I love food. I often don’t know when to stop,” she says.
Anti-diet strategy: Pace eating. “When we eat, we tend to consume the entire portion. This doesn’t account for the fact that it takes some time for the brain to register that the stomach is full,” says Pavel Somov, Ph.D., a psychologist in Pittsburgh and the author of Eating the Moment: 141 Practices to Overcome Mindful Eating One Meal at a Time. “So we end up eating beyond the point of pleasant fullness.” The following technique is the perfect solution: Divide your portion in half, eat the first half, and then set a timer for a five-minute break. Close your eyes, tune in to your body and ask yourself, Am I still hungry? Am I satisfied? Next, open your eyes and notice the moment: What do I smell? How does the remaining food look? Then, if you’re still hungry, eat the rest of the food. If you’re satisfied, don’t. If you’re full but yearn for another taste, have a slow, mindful one.
Real-world intuitive eating weight-loss results: Gabby says: “At first it was strange to just sit there with food in front of me, especially when I ate with my husband. But I got used to checking in with my body instead of automatically cleaning my plate. Turns out, I need much less food than I thought. Sometimes I’m full after the five-minute break, and I don’t eat any more. Now I actually enjoy my meals instead of inhaling them. I’m eating less overall, and my pants feel a bit looser.” (Related: Headspace Just Launched a Meditation Series Dedicated to Mindful Eating)
“I multitask while eating.”
Busy bee Amanda Betts, of Vancouver, British Columbia, is always doing several things at once. “While I eat, I may be texting, working on my computer, reading, or watching TV,” she says. “Even right after a meal, I often feel dissatisfied and still hungry.”
Anti-diet strategy: Silent meal. Once a week, guests at the Green Mountain intuitive eating weight-loss retreat have a 40-minute meal with no conversation, music, or distraction of any kind. The theory is that when you quiet external noise, it’s easier to hear your internal hunger and satiety cues. “It’s a profound eye-opener for many women because they realize they don’t listen to their bodies when they eat,” says Meyer. Here’s a quick how-to: First, warn your family so they won’t think you’re mad at them. Then, unplug from technology. Set a timer to go off every few minutes as a reminder to pause and check in with yourself; put down your fork and take a few mindful breaths, noticing if you’re satisfied or still hungry. From there, decide whether or not to stop eating.
Real-world intuitive eating weight-loss results: Amanda says: “I usually eat dinner with my boyfriend. Eating in silence was a bit weird because we’re so used to chatting at supper. But when I tried it alone and focused on the food—how it tasted, what it looked like, and how full or hungry I was—I noticed that it seemed more flavorful, and it was easy to tell when I was satisfied. I still do a silent meal occasionally; my boyfriend does too. Even when I’m out with friends, I eat a lot less now because I check in with myself about whether I’m full.”
- By Charlotte Hilton Andersen and Sally Kuzemchack, R.D.
As we grow older, many people tend to gain weight. It can be very difficult to lose weight, no matter our age, but there are things you can do to make it a bit easier to see success with a weight loss program.
Drink water before every meal.
Research indicates that drinking two glasses of water before you eat will help you feel fuller which means you will eat less. This is very important to help with digestion and to prevent bloating and constipation. It is also important to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and help keep the weight off.
Don’t skip breakfast.
Many of us are not our best in the mornings and it can be hard to stop and prepare breakfast. It is important to eat breakfast every day. After all, your body hasn’t had any fuel since last night’s dinner and you will need the energy to make it through the day. When you don’t eat breakfast, your body will begin to conserve energy. Your metabolism will slow down and your body will begin to produce more insulin. When this happens, the next thing you eat will spike your blood sugar and you’ll soon be hungry again. This results in a huge appetite and you eating too much too quickly.
Many of us just aren’t hungry in the early morning hours. Even so, dietitian Holley Grainger suggests eating a small meal of fiber and protein before beginning your day. If you don’t want to cook that early, try a yogurt parfait, overnight oatmeal, a green smoothie or even leftovers from dinner.
Dinner should be the smallest meal of the day.
For many of us, eating dinner is a big deal and a big meal. Research tells us that those who eat their largest meal late in the day have the most trouble losing weight. This is because our body digests food at different rates during the day and night time is the slowest. So eating a big meal later in the day means it is digested more slowly and fewer calories are used.
Concentrate on vegetables and fruits.
Instead of trying to eat less fat or carbs. Fruits and vegetables provide both fiber and nutrients. You feel fuller and more satisfied. You also don’t have to eat according to some strict guidelines and can enjoy what you eat.
Walk away from sugar-sweetened drinks.
Such as soda and juice, yes, we all know that drinking water or unsweetened tea isn’t the same, but it’s so much healthier and you’ll lose more weight when you eliminate these sugars from your diet.
Avoid carbonated drinks, sugar-free gum, salty foods, or gassy foods
Foods such as beans, try and stick with fresh vegetables and fruits and plenty of water. You can also eat lean protein and unsalted nuts.
Slow down when you eat and concentrate on eating.
Don’t eat while watching television or doing some other type of activity. Focus on the food on your plate and take your time. It takes an average of 15 minutes for your brain to recognize that you are no longer hungry. Taking your time with a meal will help prevent overeating. A neat trick is to set a timer for at least 15 minutes before you start eating.
There are plenty of quality supplements out there that can help with weight loss in one way or another. Check out the most recommended supplements for weight loss .
It helps to vary between high-intensity workouts and short recovery periods. This will help you rev up your metabolism and help you lose weight.