ONE OF THE NEWEST DIETS around isn’t a diet at all. It doesn’t name “good” or “bad” foods. Nor does it require measuring food, tracking calories or stepping on a scale. Yet it’s consistently linked to healthier weights, improved mental health and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels,
So how does it work? Intuitive eating comes down to paying attention to your body, whether you feel sated, says explains Tracy L. Tylka, professor of psychology at Ohio State University who has extensively studied intuitive eating.
Through her Intuitive Eating Scale, she notes four main characteristics of the approach:
- Labeling no foods as forbidden.
- Avoiding emotional eating.
- Trusting the body’s hunger and satiety cues to guide food choices.
- Choosing foods that both make the person feel good in his or her body and taste good.
“At times, intuitive eaters may eat for reasons other than hunger, such as to try a certain food or go beyond a comfortable state of satiety when eating a tasty meal,” Tylka says. “However, these individuals typically do not stress about these minor deviations or feel the need to ‘compensate’ by restricting food intake elsewhere.”
Kailey Proctor, an oncology dietitian with the Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, California, agrees. For people who follow an intuitive eating regimen, “there is less stress around food, so they are more present in social situations,” Proctor says. “It also allows them to be more in tune with their bodies and not resort to restrictive diets.” In fact, overthinking about how, when and what to eat typically backfires.
It’s a pretty freeing approach, which Tylka calls the “antithesis of dieting.” In fact, it’s the antithesis of everything Americans have grown up to know about eating – regardless of whether they are trying to lose weight.
Michelle Dudash, a registered dietitian based in Carmel, Indiana, and author of “Clean Eating For Busy Families,” concurs. “Intuitive eating helps you shed the guilt when it comes to eating, since this will get you nowhere except sad, depressed or feeling like a failure when you don’t stick to a prescribed diet plan,” Dudash says. “It can prevent you from overeating.”
“We are told from an early age to impose an ‘externally oriented’ approach to eating,” Tylka says, noting that everything from growing up with strict mealtimes to being encouraged to join the ‘clean plate club’ works directly against our ability to see and treat food as what it is: nourishment.