Around the age of 25, after years of dieting to “control” my weight, I changed my approach to food. I started focusing more on nutrition and health. I began listening to my body, enjoying food, and ignoring stringent food rules. Not only did my food struggle disappear, but I found myself eating healthier and experiencing a sharp decline in my craving for sweets. And my weight? It stayed very stable for the next decade until I became pregnant.
The eating style I had developed is similar to what dietitians now call intuitive eating, or mindful eating. The key component to an intuitive eating style is to be aware during meals while letting hunger and fullness guide eating. And research has been suggesting that the benefits that I experienced in shifting to intuitive eating might be backed up by science.
A study published in the May edition of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looks at 20 peer-reviewed research studies comparing non-diet approaches to traditional weight loss. Some of the differences seen in the non-diet approach include:
- Listening to and honoring internal cues of hunger and fullness instead of restricting calorie and portions
- Unconditional permission to eat, instead of sticking to specific food rules (i.e. low carb, low fat)
- Accepting one’s body instead of trying to change it by losing weight
- Focusing on health instead of weight and body shape
- Exercising to feel good instead of to burn calories or lose weight
Of these 20 studies, six showed that intuitive eating helped people lose weight. Other studies showed that it helped people maintain their weight, and one resulted in weight gain. In the five studies that looked at outcomes related to the heart and blood vessels, findings were mixed, but most of the studies resulted in improved blood pressure. The studies that had a physical activity component showed increased physical activity.
Most of the studies revealed that the people who practiced intuitive eating dieted less and restricted what they ate less. Those who learned to eat intuitively also did less binge eating and showed fewer signs and symptoms of eating disorders. Body image, satisfaction, and negative self-talk all improved as well. Overall, there were decreases in depression and anxiety with increases in self esteem.
This study suggests that an intuitive eating approach might improve weight, health, and general well-being. I know it did for me.