SLO Life Magazine: The Anti-Diet

The Anti-Diet

Originally published in the December/January 2022 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

A new approach to eating and being healthy.

Introduction

When presented with the question, “How can I eat better?” most doctors and nutritionists would repeat the same, unglamorous and time-tested answer: eat more whole foods, fruits and vegetables, drink more water, cut down on sugar and processed foods. Though it seems straightforward, many know it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Either these foods aren’t enticing enough to our palettes or perhaps we get caught up, overcomplicating uncomplicated advice–convinced it can’t be that simple.

In our quest for healthier selves some of us get lost in the latest trendy diet. Remember the egg and wine diet? Published in Vogue in the 1970’s the diet advocated, “the consumption of 3-5 eggs per day plus a 24-oz bottle of wine,” for quick weight loss. No matter how well-promoted these fad diets may be, time proves they aren’t as beneficial to us and our health as that accessible, attested advice.

There must be a better way to eat more healthfully. Not with the intent to starve ourselves, or force feed on the undesirable (cabbage soup, anyone?), but to simply give our body best what it needs for peak performance. While it may seem radical to diet culture, intuitive eating is rooted in a very uncomplicated, very holistic idea–that our bodies will tell us what they need, all we have to do is learn to listen. Intuitive eating is a framework for living that pushes back against popular notions about dieting and what foods we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ eat. Today, we’ll learn the basics of intuitive eating, it’s history, and how it can become a revolutionary lifestyle change. As with any diet, consult your physician for what suits you best.

Intuitive Basics

Intuitive eating as a specified practice began in 1995, when the book Intuitive Eating was published by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. According to Tribole, “intuitive eating is a self-care eating framework rooted in science and informed by clinical experience.” After the publication of the book, the intuitive eating framework grew slowly in popularity. At it’s core, intuitive eating is built on the idea that diets don’t work, “and that lifestyle changes and personal care are more important for long-term health.”

While some diets consist of value-based lists of ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods, intuitive eating has in place only 10 principles to guide daily eating. The principles can be divided into three categories: those that honor your body (Honor Your Hunger, Honor Your Feelings, Respect Your Body, Respect Your Fullness and Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition); those that push back against harmful diet culture beliefs (Reject the Diet Mentality, Make Peace with Food, Challenge the Food Police); and those that encourage us to notice the changes in our bodies (Discover the Satisfaction Factor, Movement–Feel the Difference).

The basics of intuitive eating are simple: eat what you crave, eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full. Intuitive eating is meant to challenge the constructs we have around being and eating healthy. Inherently, intuitive eating dictates that there are truly no rules at all about what we can and cannot eat and when we are allowed to consume it. By turning our attention inward, we can begin listening to our bodies and discover what truly makes us feel good, inside and out.

Proof of Empowerment

According to Tribole, nearly 120 studies to date show the benefits of intuitive eating. Out of those, the studies performed by Tracy Tylka, PhD are often cited as the first to scientifically explore the value of intuitive eating. In 2006, Tylka “validated the intuitive eating model in two seminal studies,” says Tribole.

The study was performed on 1260 college women who followed intuitive eating principles. The findings pointed to the success of intuitive eating beyond any diet, indicating intuitive eating to be, “negatively related to eating disorder symptomatology, body dissatisfaction, poor interoceptive awareness, pressure for thinness, internalization of the thin ideal and body mass,” and were, “positively related to several indexes of well-being.”

The second study performed by Tylka and team, in 2013, expanded on the first, including more factors and more participants–1,405 women and 1,195 men. The findings were similar to the first study, positively relating intuitive eating to, “body appreciation, self-esteem, and satisfaction with life,” while inversely relating to “eating disorder symptomatology…body surveillance, body shame… and internalization of media appearance ideals.”

The findings of these studies suggest that intuitive eating, when practiced, can improve not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Practicing intuitive eating is related to increased body positivity, and essentially, helps us to become more comfortable in our own skin; a process through which we can learn to be in touch with our bodies again. Intuitive eating is not a diet – it’s a way of life that promotes trust within your own body, with an emphasis on respecting your body for what it is, as opposed to fighting with it to be something it’s not.

Making the Change

Intuitive eating’s inherent rejection of diet culture, unattainable body ideals and integration with total self-care makes it an attractive and popular framework. As Tylka says in her study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, “intuitive eating is characterized by eating based on physiological hunger and satiety cues rather than situational and emotional cues and is associated with psychological well-being.”

Tribole summarizes the two-pronged approach of intuitive eating as working in these two key ways, “1) Cultivating attunement to physical sensations that arise from within your body…and 2) Removing the obstacles and disruptors to attunement, which usually come from the mind in the form of rules, beliefs, and thoughts.” Intuitive eating delves deep beyond what’s on the plate to what’s in your mind and heart, encouraging it’s practitioners to cultivate emotional well-being that doesn’t rely on chocolate as emotional support. Controversial, indeed!

This may be its most attractive feature, and to many, also the most intimidating. So how do you begin? Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD suggests, “start taking stock of your own eating behaviors and attitudes, without judgement.” This is how we learn, “if you’re experiencing physical or emotional hunger.” If it’s physical hunger you feel–eat! If it’s hunger as an emotional response, further inner work may need to be done, such as journaling, talking things out with a friend, or any other emotionally supportive activity.

Next, Jennings, MS, RD recommends tracking physical hunger and fullness level on a scale of 1-10, “from very hungry to stuffed. Aim to eat when you’re hungry but not starving and stop when you’re comfortably full – not stuffed.” Remember the 10 principles of intuitive eating and start incorporating some of them into your daily life. Such as, find movement that makes your body feel good, and eat when your hungry. Following intuitive eating can feel uncomfortable at first.

Katherine Kimber, RD, suggests, “allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, honoring your biological hunger, and finding movement that makes you feel good.” These are great ways to start cultivating the intuitive eating philosophy in your daily life. To be sure, for some the change may be drastic, but in the end worth it for the physical and emotional contentment often associated with this lifestyle.

Final Word

Intuitive eating is not a diet, but a lifestyle that revolves around honoring your body’s hunger and fullness cues and practicing emotion regulation. Any change in diet should be done under the supervision of a medical professional.

Note: This article was originally published in the December/January 2022 issue of SLO Life Magazine. It is transcribed verbatim here for the purposes of easy readability.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s