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Intuitive Eating May Be Just What the Doctor Ordered

By Kaitlyn Miele, Capital Blue Cross

Mature man listening to son and daughter, enjoying healthy home cooked dinner, fresh food in dishes on dining room table

Mature man listening to son and daughter, enjoying healthy home cooked dinner, fresh food in dishes on dining room table

The ‘Expert Voices’ submissions are for educational purposes only. They are written by marketing staff at Capital Blue Cross and Wellspan Health, in coordination with the experts listed. They are not connected to news coverage by WITF or Transforming Health. Information in these posts is not meant to replace professional medical advice or treatment plans. Capital Blue Cross and Wellspan Health encourage you to contact a qualified health care professional to discuss your individual health concerns.

Americans are growing, and not in a particularly good way.

Nearly 42% of Americans are obese, up from 30.5% in 1999. Severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2% over the past two decades. Added weight brings added risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, added medical costs, and greater productivity losses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Spurred by health concerns, vanity, or both, we often turn to the internet and the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry to tell us what to eat, what not to eat, and in what amounts. Some programs advocate healthy weight loss based on credible science. Others fall short of those ideals, promising radical weight loss based on flimsy science and misinformation.

Programs focused on what we eat, however, may be missing the mark. Obesity is more than about calories and will power. Genetics, hormones, social determinants of health, sleeping patterns, medications, and other factors contribute to obesity.

We eat when our bodies need fuel, but we also tend to eat when we are happy, sad, stressed, or bored, to name a few of the triggers. Why we eat is a factor in the obesity equation.

Recognizing obesity’s complexity is a part of the intuitive eating movement, an evidence-based mind-body health approach begun in 1995 by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The approach is based on 10 major principles:

  • Reject the diet mentality.
  • Honor your hunger.
  • Make peace with food.
  • Challenge the food police.
  • Respect your fullness.
  • Discover the satisfaction factor.
  • Honor your feelings.
  • Respect your body.
  • Movement—feel the difference.
  • Honor your health with gentle nutrition.

Rejecting the diet mentality, the first principle of intuitive eating, abandons the idea of forbidden foods that is central to fad diets. Studies show restricting foods can actually increase our craving for those foods and lead to yo-yo dieting in which weight loss is often reversed.

Intuitive eaters take the opposite approach and, as a result, their cravings are often diminished.

Making peace with food, another of the principles of intuitive eating, is about giving yourself the freedom to enjoy your food. That might mean enjoying a guilt-free hotdog at a baseball game or an anxiety-free bowl of spaghetti at your favorite restaurant, and then stopping when you feel satisfied.

The research on intuitive eating is promising. One study from the University of Barcelona, for example, concluded that intuitive eating “may be a more promising and realistic alternative to address overweight and obesity than the conventional weight loss treatments.”

That said, intuitive eating is not designed as a weight loss or diet program. The real goal of the intuitive eating approach is to teach individuals to tune into their bodies, understand their own hunger cues, and become more mindful and self-aware eaters.

Successful intuitive eaters make food choices based on internal cues and not based on a list of rules from a fad diet. Intuitive eating is a practice that can help unwind things the diet culture has told us over the years.

In the end, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

About the Author: Kaitlyn Miele is a registered dietitian on the Health Promotion and Wellness team at Capital Blue Cross.