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Intuitive Eating: Listening to What Your Body Wants You to Eat

Maybe you’re sick of yo-yo dieting. Maybe you have gastrointestinal issues. Maybe you have a history of disordered eating. Maybe you simply want to have a better relationship with food.

If you’re looking to change what you eat and why you make the food choices you do, you might want to look at intuitive eating.

“Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating for your body,” said Chelsea Cassidy, RD, a Banner Health dietitian. “Intuitive eating is based on 10 principles, but the ultimate goal is to align your food desires with your hunger and fullness cues and to eliminate body and food shaming.”

Two dietitians developed intuitive eating back in 1995. Since then, it has grown in popularity, fueled by sharing on social media and in the “health at every size” community, which promotes the idea that well-being and good habits are more important than body weight in measuring overall health.

With intuitive eating, you don’t diet. You learn to recognize hunger and to keep your body fed. No foods, and no number of calories, are off limits. You learn to find pleasure and satisfaction in eating what you want. And you learn to recognize emotions and resolve issues by dealing with their causes, not by turning to food.

“Intuitive eating is not directly about eating food. It’s more about breaking down negative opinions about food and regaining trust with your body —in turn it leads you to eating food that nourishes your individual body and leaves you feeling free from diet culture,” Cassidy said.

Is intuitive eating a smart choice?

Intuitive eating is a healthy way of eating, Cassidy said. It’s good for you in three ways:

It leads you to a healthy body weight. “You are restoring your natural hunger and fullness cues, which will eventually get you to the healthiest weight for your body and your genetics.” Cassidy said. You’ll naturally gravitate toward food that tastes good when you eat it and makes your body feel good afterward.

Your healthiest weight might look different than what society and culture depict as a healthy weight. In fact, intuitive eating can lead you to lose, maintain or gain weight.

“A large part of intuitive eating is accepting that not all bodies are supposed to look like they do in edited magazine photos. Everyone’s body type distributes weight differently and we have to break the social norm that tries to fit all bodies into a single box,” Cassidy said.

It eliminates the stress of dieting for weight loss. If you’ve struggled to lose weight, intuitive eating can reduce the stress that calorie deficits and yo-yo-dieting put on your body. “Several studies allude to the fact that long-time yo-yo dieting can put you at risk for chronic diseases,” Cassidy said.

It can help improve your mental health. Intuitive eating is good for your mind, because it eliminates those shameful messages you may tell yourself about food.

If you try intuitive eating, you might lean towards food you have previously restricted and have labeled as “bad” at first. “You might have to get that out of your system,” Cassidy said. “But essentially, when you’re in tune with your body’s needs and you cut out all the messages about what you can and can’t eat, you have the freedom to pick whatever you’d like.”

Cassidy recommends that if you want to try intuitive eating, you work with a therapist who can help you break down any negative history around body image and food. And if you have an existing condition, such as diabetes, you should monitor your progress with a dietitian.

With intuitive eating, it’s important to tune into what your mind and body truly want. “If you just eat whatever you want without the mind-body connection piece, you’re at risk for overeating, fatigue, depression and all the other things that come with not listening to your body,” she said.

The bottom line

Intuitive eating can help you eat what’s best for your body and your mind. If you want to give it a try, talk to a mental health professional or a registered dietitian to make sure you do it right. To find a Banner Health expert near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

To learn more about the connection between food and your mind, check out these articles:

Nutrition Weight Loss