Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Intuitive eating: an approach for the chronic dieter

September 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Dieting

This guest post provided by Heidi_PsyD
Maria grew up in a family of 8 children. “It was very regimented,” she says. “It didn’t matter whether I liked bologna and cheese, that was lunch.” As a result of her upbringing Maria lost touch with many of her needs, and experiences such as going to restaurants is overwhelming. “There are just too many choices. I have no idea what to pick. I limit myself to a few choices.” Maria has become a chronic dieter and alternates between severely restricting food intake and binging past the point of fullness.

Chronic dieting underlies many eating disorders. Women in particular are constantly bombarded with the next “miracle” cure to erase those pesky 10 lbs. But the diet mentality is just the thing that fuels eating disorders and distances us from our body’s natural cues.

The answer – intuitive eating. In a recent article in Renfrew Center’s Perspective, Evelyn Tribole (author of the book Intuitive Eating) states that men and women with eating disorders are the polar opposite of Intuitive Eaters.

Intuitive Eaters possess three core characteristics, they:

• Eat for Physical Rather than Emotional Reasons.
• Rely on Internal Hunger and Satiety Cues.
• Unconditional Permission to Eat.

Intuitive eating teaches those with eating issues how to create a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body. By eating in response to internal cues of hunger and fullness, while allowing all foods to be part of the diet, a person can maintain their weight to one’s “natural” weight. Natural weight is the weight range predetermined by genetics. For many with eating disorders the quest to become thinner and thinner disregards what weight is natural and attainable for them. If you wore a size 7 shoe you wouldn’t try to fit into a size 5.

Those who are intuitive eaters do not eat emotionally. Find ways to self-soothe, comfort, distract, and address life’s stresses without using food. It is important to know which emotions trigger overeating. Try to ask yourself how you are feeling when hunger strikes suddenly. You may be surprised that the emotion is not always a negative one. If you are using food to appease or avoid issues, you will not address issues directly and the end result will be avoidance and upset with overeating.

Intuitive eating also means respecting feelings of hunger or fullness. This is called satiety. When someone is disconnected from his or her internal cues of satiety, they may be triggered by external reasons to eat, such as emotions, the clock or opportunity. One way to determine satiety levels is to pause in the middle of a meal and ask yourself how the food tastes, and how full you are on a scale of 1-10.

The final, but perhaps most important component of intuitive eating is making peace with food. This means giving yourself permission to eat when you are hungry. There are no “good” or “bad” foods. With eating disorders there are often distinct rules around what is safe to eat. Discarding these rules and also allows you to challenge the internal voice that says you are “bad” for eating a slice of cake.

To find out more:
Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Breaking Free From Emotional Eating, Geneen Roth



13 Responses to “Intuitive eating: an approach for the chronic dieter”
  1. NewMe says:

    Recently, I came upon a venomous blogger who took great delight in ripping apart intuitive eating without, of course, having the slightest understanding of what it really is.

    If someone really doesn’t think it’s for her, there’s no reason to push it. But good information on what is, I believe, a real step forward in addressing destructive eating patterns is always useful.


  2. Candice says:

    One of the hardest things for me is to hear friends say, “Oh, I was bad today because I ate XYZ.” I hate the concept of “good/bad” foods.

  3. Jules says:

    I disagree with the idea that there are no “good” or “bad” foods. Obviously, if someone has a choice to eat an apple or a bag of potato chips as a snack, there is a good choice and a bad choice. Of course, that doesn’t mean that people should always deny themselves yummy potato chips, but there is little nutritional value in eating them.

    There are foods that should be eaten in moderation while there are other foods that should be the foundation of one’s diet.

    • Simone Lovelace says:

      “Obviously, if someone has a choice to eat an apple or a bag of potato chips as a snack, there is a good choice and a bad choice.”

      Why is that obvious? What if the person is very sensitive to dietary sugars, but really needs some fat and/or salt that day? What if the person eats an overall healthy diet, and really wants the emotional pick-me-up that an occasional fatty snack can bring?

      Yes, some foods should be consumed in moderation. But that doesn’t mean those foods are “bad”; it means they have the potential to be good, when eaten in a healthy way.

      • Jules says:

        “What if the person is very sensitive to dietary sugars, but really needs some fat and/or salt that day?”

        Apples have a lower glycemic index than potato chips. There are better, more nutritious sources of fats and salts out there (such as olives) than potato chips.

        “What if the person eats an overall healthy diet, and really wants the emotional pick-me-up that an occasional fatty snack can bring?”

        I specifically said people shouldn’t always deny themselves a tasty snack. However, when they allow themselves to eat the fatty snacks on a daily basis because it isn’t “bad” and it starts replacing nutritious foods, there is a problem.

        • Simone Lovelace says:

          I don’t think I disagree with your main point, just with your language.

          The point I was making is that there are situations when it makes sense to reach for a bag of chips instead of an apple. Sometimes, having the chips can be a good choice. So if chips are perfectly okay and appropriate sometimes, it doesn’t make much sense to call them “bad”, does it?

          That is what the idea of “no bad foods” means. It doesn’t mean that potato chips or marshmallow fluff are necessarily the breakfast of champions, or that moderation isn’t a wonderful thing. You don’t have to label something categorically “bad” to avoid doing it all the time.

          • Jules says:

            Well, when it comes to situations like what diabetics face, there are bad choices. When someone already has poor nutrition, there are bad choices. Always giving the “a-okay” for all foods is a poor approach and allows unhealthy habits to continue in someone that already had unhealthy habits to begin with. Healthy eating is a conscious decision that forces people to make the right choices in a world that bombards us with food.

          • Simone Lovelace says:

            It is true that foods can be bad for a specific person. If a food hurts someone or makes them sick, then that food is bad for them, and they should clearly avoid it.

            But that doesn’t make the food categorically bad, or mean that there’s anything morally wrong with eating that food on occasion.

          • Simone Lovelace says:

            That being said, I recommend you read some stories from people who have done intuitive eating successfully. Many find that their eating habits take a turn for the surprisingly “healthy” once they stop pressuring themselves.

          • Jules says:

            I still disagree with the idea that there are no “good” or “bad” foods. I believe there needs to be emphasis in what should be eaten regularly and what is meant to be an occasional treat.

          • Jules says:

            I read some stories from people who follow “intuitive eating”, and I am glad it worked for them.

            However, what is described as “intuitive eating” is how I used to eat. Having waffles for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, and chicken with french fries for dinner more than once a week was typical for me, along with snacks of chips, cookies and soda. It was what I was craving and I didn’t think of those foods as “bad” for me because I didn’t gain a pound. I had to go through a period of deliberate choices to get over those unhealthy cravings, and now, for the most part, I naturally go for the healthier choices, but sometimes I still need to catch myself when I realise I’ve had fast food several times in a week. With my current food choices, many of my previous health issues (that I used to accept as “normal” for me) have now gone away.

  4. Atropine says:

    If I may….
    The whole reason NOT to label foods as “good” or “bad” is because then you just assigned food emotional weight–the VERY thing we are trying to avoid! When you assign ANY food ANY emotional weight (positive OR negative), you have just opened the door to emotional eating. We have to work WITH human psychology, not against it.

    Assign NO moral weight to food, and you take away the human psychology from it. No longer will food choices mean people are “rebelling” or “soothing” or “righteous” or “a failure”. That is just WISE.

  5. sannanina says:

    I have a problem with saying that intuitive eating is never “emotional”. When I feel bad, certain foods are both emotionally AND physically nourishing. For example, soup is a comfort food for me – and while some of my eating habits are quite problematic I think it is quite normal and healthy (and intuitive) to make myself a big bowl of soup after a long and difficult day. There are plenty of other examples. I am German, and when I lived in the US I craved German bread. It wasn’t about nutrients – I could get those from plenty of other sources – no, it was about eating something that I associated with home.

    In fact, from and evolutionary point of view it makes complete sense that eating is emotionally rewarding – things necessary for survival usually are. In addition humans have had special foods during holidays for a very long time, and I think that preparing and eating those foods has a lot to do with inducing certain emotions. Plus, there is no clear line between a physical need and an emotional need. When I haven’t eaten for four or five hours I first get physically hungry. Then, after a while that feeling of hunger might subside again, however, I get very impatient and cranky, probably because of low blood sugar. I doubt that I am the only one who experiences this. When I eat something (preferably a balanced meal) I very quickly go back to emotionally normal. In a way you could define this as a form of emotional eating… but the thing is, emotions are based on physical processes and they can be influenced by things like the need for certain nutrients.

    In fact, I think emotional eating is only problematic when it means that you continue to eat for emotional reasons even though you are already uncomfortably full or when eating is the only coping mechanism you have rather than one of many.

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