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Does Intuitive Eating Work?

anti-diet health at ever size intuitive eating Jan 17, 2023
does intuitive eating work

If you are someone who has heard of the concepts of intuitive eating, it might feel like a nebulous concept or one that is too good to be true and you might be wondering if intuitive eating actually works.

Before we dive into whether or not intuitive eating works, let’s make sure that we are on the same page about what intuitive eating is. 

Here is what Intuitive Eating is according to one of the founders:

Intuitive Eating is an evidenced-based, mind-body health approach, comprised of 10 Principles and created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. It is a weight-neutral model with a validated assessment scale and over 90 studies to date (Tribole 2017)...Intuitive Eating is a dynamic integration between mind and body.  The principles  work by either cultivating or removing obstacles to body awareness, a process known as interoceptive awareness.”

Now that we have the official response, let me explain it another way. 

How do you decide what, when and how much to eat? Do you try to follow a list of rules in your head about the way that you have been told you SHOULD eat? Do you follow a certain eating plan or diet? Or do you simply eat what sounds good, having no foods off limits, and eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full with little fanfare or judgment? 

That last one, that is closer to eating intuitively. It is an oversimplification, but it is the jist. It prioritizes internal cues from the body like hunger, fullness, taste, satiety, energy, gastrointestinal response, etc over external cues like food rules (eat x number of meals per day, eat more this and less that, don’t eat after a certain time etc) or diets informing what, when or how much to eat. 

Most of the ways we are taught to eat in the United States includes food rules (external cues) about what, when and how much to eat and it starts as early as “clean your plate” or “eat your veggies” or “eat dinner so you can have dessert” that so many hear as young children and it increases from there as we become more and more exposed to diet culture. 

We were born with the ability to eat intuitively. But we start being taught to listen to external cues instead of internal cues very early on in life. 

But one can reconnect to their internal cues and relearn how to trust them and use them to eat well for their body. 

Which brings me to the question of “does intuitive eating work?”

And to be really annoying and answer a question with a question, I will ask “what does ‘work’ mean to you?”

What a lot of people are really asking when they ask this question is “will intuitive eating help me lose weight?” 

And to be SUPER annoying I have to answer “it depends.”

Intuitive eating is not a weight loss strategy, and if you are listening to anyone who is indicating that it is, they are perhaps misguided and don’t actually understand what intuitive eating is and what they are most likely teaching is another diet. 

The purpose of intuitive eating is being able to be able to reconnect to your body more. Dieting is ALL about disconnecting from your body, and instead, following what the diet, plan or program is telling you to do. 

The body gets no say so and if anything, it fosters body distrust. 

Think about it, how often have you blamed your body and it’s cravings or your lack of self control when you weren’t able to stick to your diet or “healthy eating” plan? How often did you ignore your hunger because it wasn’t time to eat or drank water instead of eating? How often have you subjected your taste buds to foods that you didn’t like all that much because you “should” be eating them?

It is common to approach intuitive eating under the assumption that all bodies should be thin and therefore if you are eating intuitively you will be thin also. And this is not true. Your body has a size that it wants to be and it may not fit (most likely won’t fit) the thin ideal.

Shoot, it may not even fit YOUR ideal even if it differs from the culture’s thin ideal.

I have helped hundreds of people eat more intuitively and I have seen people gain weight, lose weight, maintain weight… and even do all three at some point in the time that they are finding their way to becoming intuitive eaters. 

Regaining your body’s trust takes time. It needs to know that you will nourish it with enough different kinds of satisfying foods consistently, and therefore, your body will do different things during that time because it is unsure if you are going to restrict it’s intake again. 

This part of the work feels scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Doing this work with the support of others doing it with you makes it significantly less scary. Actually, it makes it empowering. 

Intuitive eating does in fact work, but it depends on what you mean when you say ‘work.’

If you want to stop thinking about food all the time and eat with ease then yes, it works. If you no longer want to feel obsessed with food and your weight, then yes, it works. If you want movement to feel fun and invigorating and not like a chore, then yes, it works. If you want to feel more confident in your food choices and get to enjoy all types of food in a way that feels healthy and good to you, then yes, it works. If you want to become a holistically healthier version of yourself, then yes, it works. If you never want to have to diet again, then yes, it works. 

If you are curious about intuitive eating and wonder if it is right for you, take our quiz by clicking here!