Intuitive eating is an approach that allows you to normalize a person's relationship with food. It appeared within the framework of psychotherapy and over the past decades has gained immense popularity in Europe and the United States. Its essence lies in the fact that in the modern world, food is more than just a set of products that a person needs to maintain life.
This is also a space for socialization: get together with the whole family for dinner or a festive table. This is also a way to cope with emotions: “seize” anxiety or sadness. This is also a method of building relationships with oneself: reward yourself for a job well done, punish yourself for misconduct. And many many others.
Often it is these factors, and not the natural needs of the body, that become decisive in the choice of what, when and how much we eat. The result is eating disorders: a person begins to eat too much or too little, does not feel hunger and satiety, does not know what he wants. Meanwhile, the body from birth has a special intuition that helps to accurately choose the food that is needed at a particular moment. The task of the intuitive approach to nutrition is to restore this natural intuition.
In this article, I will talk about the main ideas and principles of the intuitive approach to nutrition. It’s worth mentioning right away that they may seem unusual and even paradoxical, since they deny common ideas about food. This is actually an intuitive approach to nutrition and interesting. If you are also interested in it, then for details you can refer to the book by Svetlana Bronnikova “Intuitive Eating”, on the basis of which this article was written.
Why Diets Don't Work
The idea of intuitive eating is contrasted with the well-known and extremely common dietary approach. Most likely, everyone reading this article has had an experience of dieting. If not, then, for sure, everyone has had to deal with a person on a diet at least once in their life. Initially, diets were prescribed solely for medical reasons (lactose or gluten intolerance, diseases of the stomach and intestines, etc.), but very quickly they spread far beyond medicine. Diets have become a panacea for those who want to lose weight, people trying to lead a healthy lifestyle began to sit on diets, diets for athletes, pregnant women, and nursing mothers appeared.
However, recent studies show that the effectiveness of diets is greatly exaggerated, and moreover, dieting can lead not to weight loss, but to weight gain and even worsening of health.
Set point and yo-yo effect
Diets promise that a person can have any body he wants, regardless of gender, age and other individual characteristics. However, this is not true. The weight of a person is determined primarily by genetics and the level of basic metabolism, that is, it is a more or less constant value, which is called the set point. Set point is not a fixed number, but a range of 2-5 kg. Weight tends to return to the set point after any physiological shocks: pregnancy and childbirth, diet, intense physical and mental stress. When the body is in set point, it functions most optimally. A person feels well, rarely gets sick, gets tired a little. Even if he sometimes overeats, it does not affect his set point in any way. Simply, his metabolism speeds up, and excess calories are burned.
What happens when a person goes on a diet?
Almost any diet is based on limiting the intake of fats and simple carbohydrates, as well as the active removal of fluid from the body. Therefore, any diet sooner or later gives a result: a person loses a few kilograms. However, most often these kilograms (and usually even more of them) return after some time. The fact is that when limiting the amount of food consumed, the human brain turns on starvation mode. It is characterized by a slowdown in metabolism, lethargy, drowsiness, unwillingness to engage in physical activity, and most importantly, attempts by the body to retain any calorie that has got into it, that is, any free calorie is converted into fat.
When dietary restrictions are removed, the body tends to return to the genetically determined set point and store as much fat as possible for the next "rainy day". Thus, a person who decides to go on a diet falls into a trap: instead of setting his body for weight loss, he sets himself up for weight gain, it's just that this set will happen a little later, when the period of dietary restrictions is over. This phenomenon is called the "yo-yo effect". Yo-yo is a children's toy, a ball on a string that can be spun with one movement of the brush, but thanks to the tension of the string, it always comes back. So a person who constantly diets loses weight, which always returns.
Moreover, the yo-yo effect works in such a way that each new dietary attempt becomes less and less effective. Usually the first diet is easily tolerated and gives a significant weight loss, the second diet is already worse, but still leads to success, but with each subsequent attempt to follow the diet, it becomes more and more difficult, and less and less kilograms are lost.
Moreover, studies show that the yo-yo effect has extremely negative health consequences.
- First, those who are most at risk of dying from cardiovascular disease are not those who are overweight, but those whose weight is constantly changing.
- Secondly, such people are more likely to develop eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating) and the psychological problems that accompany them: they are not self-confident, they are characterized by a lack of self-esteem, increased demands on themselves, food consumption is associated for them not with a feeling of pleasant satiety and enjoyment of different tastes, but with a feeling of guilt for what you have eaten.
the Forbidden fruit is sweet
Whatever the diet is, they are all based on the idea of restriction. For example:
- certain foods (bread, butter) or types of foods (high glycemic index foods, gluten-containing foods) may be banned;
- general consumption may be limited (no more than so many calories, grams, fists);
restrictions on the time of eating may be imposed (do not eat after six, eat after three hours, do not eat between main meals);
- it can be clearly scheduled what at what meal and on what day of the week you can eat.
The problem with this approach is that it does not take into account the main property of the human psyche, namely, an extremely negative attitude towards any prohibitions and restrictions. It is no coincidence that imprisonment has become the main way to punish a person for a crime. So the diet is a personal prison, from which you will definitely want to escape.
When a person first goes on a diet, he usually experiences euphoria. Motivation is high, there is a novelty effect, even the smallest results are pleasing, there is a buzz from the effect of control over one's own life. Unfortunately, after some time, motivation decreases, the effect of novelty disappears, it becomes more and more difficult to achieve some results, and there is a feeling that you are already being constantly controlled. Imagine that you have been given a palace in which you can arrange whatever you want. At first, you will experience great pleasure in arranging furniture and distributing rooms. But if in a week it turns out that you can’t leave the palace anywhere, this will cause you protest, apathy, depression.
Diets work the same way. By banning ice cream and buns, the diet provokes a person to constantly think about them, dream, and really want them. As a result, the human psyche arranges a rebellion: “Fuck it all to hell. I am an adult, I can afford this bun! I deserve this cake! When a person has already broken, then usually he is no longer limited to one bun or a piece of cake, because tomorrow he will again need to return to the diet prison, so you need to take everything from the breakdown. Thus, dieting leads to increased episodes of overeating, and therefore to weight gain in the long run.
Here, many should have a question: “Okay, but if diets do not work, then what about those who want to lose weight?” As part of the intuitive approach, we are not talking about losing weight, but about normalizing it, that is, leading to a genetically predetermined set point. To achieve this, you need to normalize your relationship with food, and to normalize your relationship with food, you need to:
- learn how you eat (your food style);
- let your body (hunger and satiety) control the amount of food eaten, the timing of the meal, the choice of food.
I will tell you more about this now.
Usually, a pattern can be traced in how a person eats: we eat or abstain from food in certain situations, prefer certain foods, vary the amount of food eaten, etc. These patterns of eating behavior add up to several more or less formalized eating styles. Eating styles are conveniently represented on a graph, on one scale of which lies awareness in relation to food, and on the other – restrictions. We get 4 options.
- High awareness, a large number of restrictions – the style of "Cautious Eater". Such eaters are usually obsessed with healthy eating. They know how to listen to their bodies, but food is over-regulated for them. In its extreme form, cautious eating can lead to an eating disorder called orthorexia, in which the search for healthy foods becomes an obsession.
- Low awareness, a lot of restrictions – the "Professional Eater" style. The professional eater is always on a diet. Instead of listening to the signals of his body, he eats as prescribed by the diet or nutrition system. He never chooses for himself what to eat, at what time, in what quantity. That is why, despite the fact that a professional eater pays a lot of attention to his nutrition, his level of awareness is quite low.
- Low awareness, no limits – Easy Eater style. Careless eaters do not pay attention to food. Often they eat on the run, without looking up from work, they do not notice what exactly they are eating. They can ignore the feeling of hunger for a long time, so when they get to food, they often overeat. They may not be aware of what they eat if the food is just at hand. Careless eaters quite often eat under the pressure of stress and emotions.
- High awareness, no restrictions – the style of "Intuitive Eater". The one who eats intuitively knows how to listen to his body. He knows exactly when he is hungry and when he is full. He knows how to pick up the body's signals about what products he needs at the moment. A good example of an intuitive eater are some pregnant women who have a very subtle feeling of what exactly they should eat right now.
If you recognize yourself as an intuitive eater, congratulations, you have a harmonious relationship with food and your body, keep up the good work! For those who find themselves in other parts of the graph, the intuitive approach to nutrition offers a whole set of principles, by embodying which, it is possible to develop an intuitive eater.
Intuitive Eating Principles
Principle 1. Renunciation of control
Dietary thinking is based on the idea that nutrition should be controlled. The body is presented as a dirty pest that needs to be kept in check, exhausted with loads, treated strictly, otherwise it will bloom. The intuitive approach is based on the fact that the body is not an enemy, but a friend, and therefore it does not need to be controlled. On the contrary, you need to take care of him, you need to love him, you need to listen to him. The body knows what it needs. It perfectly gives us signals when it is hungry, when it is full, when it is tired, when it needs physical activity, etc. We just ignore these signals so often that we gradually forget to hear them altogether.
In 1928, an experiment was conducted in Great Britain with children from dysfunctional families. Children from 6 months to a year old were placed in a special kindergarten, where they were given the opportunity to eat what they themselves chose, and when they themselves wanted. A variety of food was simply constantly available. During the experiment, it turned out that the children ate very unevenly: on one day they could eat nothing at all, on other days they eat a lot, sometimes they ate only one type of food all day, sometimes they ate foods in very unusual combinations. After six months of the experiment, all children were absolutely healthy, despite the fact that at first many of them suffered from underweight, rickets and other problems associated with poor nutrition. This experiment showed that children do not know about any diets and nutrition systems, they just know how to listen well to their body, which tells them what it needs. The task of the intuitive eater is to become like a child: to give up control over his body and give him the leading role.
Principle 2. The right to eat and the right to stop eating
The main rule of intuitive eating is that you can eat anytime and anywhere, but only if you experience a physiological feeling of hunger. Very often, people eat under the influence of factors not related to hunger. Such factors may be:
- Emotional state: a person is sad, anxious, he experiences severe stress.
- Social routines and traditions: to eat in company, at a party, drink tea with cookies at work, eat popcorn at the movies or fast food at the mall.
- Availability of food: A person eats because the food is right in front of him.
- Other body signals: thirst, headache, overwork can be mistaken for hunger.
It is important to learn to distinguish physiological hunger from other signals of your body and emotional hunger. Bodily hunger is "hunger in the stomach." It increases gradually, begins with a feeling of emptiness in the stomach, sucking, rumbling, severe hunger may be accompanied by dizziness, weakness, abdominal cramps. In the process of eating, the feeling of physiological hunger disappears and is replaced by a feeling of pleasant satiety.
Hunger and satiety can be represented as a scale:
- I'm dying of hunger
- very hungry
- a little hungry
- neither hungry nor full
- slightly full
- fed up with riding
It is advisable to always stay in the zone between "a little hungry" and "slightly full." It is best to start eating in a “a little hungry” state. If you miss the first signs of hunger and get into the “hungry” or “very hungry” zone, then the body goes into the “eat anything to satisfy hunger” mode, and you are very likely to overeat. At the same time, you really need to wait for the feeling of hunger. Many people with eating disorders mistake the “neither hungry nor full” state for hunger, because the absence of heaviness in the stomach is perceived by them as hunger. The “neither hungry nor full” state is the time when you don’t think about food when you are busy with your own business. If you start eating at this point, you will overeat. It is best to stop eating when you are "slightly full". It is accompanied by a feeling of pleasant satiety and a feeling that more will come in. If you do not stop at this moment, then you will again overeat.
The intuitive approach is based on the fact that when you are hungry, you really need to eat until you are full, and when you are full, you can safely stop eating. No need to deceive your body and postpone eating or eat when you don’t feel like it, under the influence of external factors.
Principle 3. The hamster principle
As paradoxical as it sounds, overeating is provoked not by the abundance of food, but by its absence. Therefore, a variety of food should be constantly available. When you want to eat, you need to have food on hand, plus you need to have a choice. You need to stock up a lot of varied food at home, you need to carry food with you to work.
Everyone has a set of some priority products – products that a person often chooses based on their taste preferences. They must always be available. Here, a reasonable question arises for many: what to do if the priority products are what is usually classified as unhealthy food? Here it is: “Give me free rein, I will only eat hamburgers and chocolate.” An intuitive approach suggests an unexpected answer: these products need to be legalized, that is, stock them up for future use and allow yourself to eat them without working off afterwards.
The fact is that if there is a lot of forbidden food at home, then it ceases to be so attractive as to pounce on it and immediately sweep it clean. Perhaps, in the first couple of days after legalization, a person will, indeed, eat a few more products that were previously banned. However, after a while, he will be able to listen to himself and decide whether this is really the food that he wants right now. As a result, it turns out that forbidden food is not wanted so often, when it ceases to be forbidden.
Principle 4. The principle of optimal combination
The intuitive approach does not divide food according to the principle of healthy / tasteless and harmful / tasty. Any food is just food. Both the hamburger and the lettuce help replenish the body's energy balance. Another thing is that it would be good to learn to listen to yourself and eat what your body wants at the moment. In other words, every time you eat, you need to look for the optimal combination of foods that will saturate you best now. If you guessed right with the combination, then your body will feel good: there will be no heaviness in the stomach, heartburn, bloating, nausea, dissatisfaction. If not, then it's okay: you just need to continue searching and experimenting.
The easiest way to find the optimal combination is not by presenting specific products, but by the tastes and textures that you would like to experience. For example, if you want something fresh, crunchy, sweet and sour, an apple can satisfy such a request. Another option: you want something hot, creamy, enveloping, oatmeal or some kind of puree soup may come up here. If it seems to you that you want a Napoleon cake, then you don’t need to deceive yourself and gnaw on a carrot. Eat a piece of cake and listen to yourself: is this really what I want? How do I feel? If everything is fine, it means that you needed this piece of cake, if you continue to want something else, and your stomach is heavy, think about what exactly attracted you to the cake. Maybe you wanted something fatty and creamy? If yes, then creamy yogurt might be better for you.
In the search for the optimal combination, there is one important point: you can listen to yourself and catch what exactly your body wants while you are still at the “a little hungry” stage. If you wait for a strong hunger, then the body will turn on the alarm and will demand any food, just to replenish its energy balance.
Principle 5: Emotion Regulation
It has already been said that people often eat under the influence of emotions. Most often, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger are seized – negative emotions, which are considered unacceptable in society to show. For many, food becomes the easiest and most understandable way to cope with these emotions, get rid of them quickly, while no one notices.
What to do with emotional hunger?
- First, learn to distinguish it from bodily hunger. If physiological hunger is felt in the stomach, then emotional hunger is “hunger in the mouth”. Unlike bodily hunger, emotional hunger occurs suddenly, does not cause a feeling of fullness, it requires certain foods, which are often classified as harmful. Having experienced such hunger, for starters, you just need to note: I want to eat, not because I am hungry, but because I am experiencing a strong emotional experience.
- Secondly, you need to take your emotions for granted and separate them from yourself. Feeling anxious, angry, guilty, or ashamed is just as normal as feeling joy. All people at one time or another are subject to these emotions, their manifestation does not characterize you as a person. Finally, in a moment of emotional hunger, you can put off eating and try to find other ways to cope with your emotions. For example, if I'm angry, I always go to wash dishes and scrub pots with special diligence. Usually, by the end of washing, there is no trace of irritation left. In general, routine household chores, where you can turn off your head and work with your hands, help to cope with negative emotions well. You can also do any physical activity, go for a walk, various types of needlework, coloring, drawing can be suitable to relieve anxiety. There is no universal strategy here, but everyone is able to find something of their own.
Principle 6. Intuitive movement
Various studies convincingly show that physical activity itself plays a small role in weight loss. However, this does not mean that now you can throw out your sneakers and lie down on the couch. Movement is very important for the body because moderate physical activity makes a person healthier. It starts a lot of processes in the body that improve its work even at the cellular level.
But we are not talking about training for wear and tear, physical activity is not equal to sports: cleaning, outdoor games with children, walking are all also physical activity. The main thing is to find the type of movement that you like. Try different things, go to trial classes: yoga, dancing, martial arts, aqua aerobics, Nordic walking, skiing, badminton, table tennis, swimming, basketball, cycling, zumba, cardio, football – the list is endless. The main criterion that a particular type of movement suits you is that it adds energy to you, and does not take it away.
The intuitive approach to nutrition promises that by following these principles, a person will be able to harmonize relationships with his body, get rid of eating disorders and bring his weight to a genetically determined set point. Even if you don't have a problem with weight and food, intuitive eating teaches you to listen to your body and understand its signals much better. Of course, the application of these principles in practice is not an easy task at all, quite often requiring the implementation of special exercises, keeping a food diary, and psychotherapy. However, if you have realized that diets are not for you, then perhaps intuitive eating is exactly what you need.
Author: Ksenia Galanina
We also recommend: