Imagine eating without rules. Eating without some claim that if you follow this one way of eating, your life will change. Maybe eliminating grains and dairy from your diet will help you. But maybe it will have no benefit. How will you know? By checking in with your body. That’s what intuitive eating is.
Intuitive eating isn’t complicated, but it does require some effort on your part if you come from a background of constantly controlling what you eat. The purpose of food is to nourish us. We should be eating when we’re hungry. Using food as a means to an end has its consequences. So let’s discuss some benefits to intuitive eating.
1. Appetite control
Most people think of caffeine, portion sizes, and fiber when discussing appetite control. Well, that’s actually the opposite of what you should be doing to control your appetite. EAT! Yes, that’s right. Eating food alone suppresses your appetite. Ever heard of leptin, ghrelin, or cholecystokinin? They’re hormones your body uses to signal hunger and satiety. You can’t fight it, so don’t try.
There are a variety of mechanisms through which your body shuts down hunger after you eat. One is stomach distention. Your stomach fills with food. But you can stuff it with vegetables as you may do on a paleo diet to confuse your brain. But another mechanism is overall calories. The mechanism is complex, but essentially, you can’t trick your brain by eating vegetables into thinking its full. You will eventually want real food.
So when you practice intuitive eating, you follow your body’s desires for food, which will naturally suppress your appetite and leave you fuller for longer. Trying to trick your body isn’t the best way for your health.
2. Healthier relationship with food
One reason people get interested in intuitive eating in the first place is because they had an unhealthy relationship with food in the past. This may have involved severe restriction, which caused bingeing, or just restriction based on a set of rules. When you eat intuitively, you honor your body’s desire for food.
You don’t eat as a means to an end but because are hungry. You don’t eat to cope with emotions or because you’re bored, but because you’re hungry.
3. Better health
The body is intelligent. So when you follow it, you’re going to achieve better health. When you follow a dietary blueprint that doesn’t even factor in your individuality, you’re going to develop imbalances long term. Your body gives you better personalized advice on what to eat than any other method out there.
All you have to do is follow it, and you will eat the foods your body requests.
4. Lower stress
Humans are really good at creating stress entirely in their brains, with no actual stressful event occurring. We do this with food all the time. You may hear that eggs kill you, or that donuts are bad because they have sugar.
When you start following your body’s guidance, this stress vanishes. You eat what you crave, like that donut (I personally like a donut here and there), and then evaluate how you feel afterwards. That evaluation step is missing in most nutrition advice.
Typically, people say “follow this diet and you’ll turbocharge your metabolism!” When it’s not working they’ll say “keep it up!” That’s the complete opposite of intuitive eating. You must honor the feedback your body gives you immediately.
By achieving better health too, your stress will likely go down. Also, you will likely eat as many calories as you need, which can prevent your body from releasing stress hormones to keep your blood sugar up. And, since you won’t be tricking your appetite, your appetite will be regulated naturally from the foods that you eat, further reducing stress on your body.
And finally, making peace with food will reduce the unnecessary chatter in your brain about what to eat.
5. More energy
When you get enough calories, and are satisfied with the foods you’re eating, you’ll have more energy than from logical approaches to eating if they’re restricting you in any capacity. When your body is deficient, it will slow down metabolic processes vital to survival. Take reproduction for instance. Why do female athletes suffer so frequently from menstrual irregularities? It’s because reproductive functions are energetically expensive, and it’s smarter for the body to put them on hold if the person is exercising excessively.
In men, this will manifest as low testosterone and libido. Now compared to diets that do not restrict, I am not claiming that intuitive eating will give you more energy. But in theory, by eating what your body wants instead of telling it what it wants, you may have more energy by obtaining the proper nutrition that’s right for your body.
Intuitive eating has many benefits for the chronic dieter. It can help them reduce stress while improving their health and their relationship with food. Long term, people who want to still eat the healthiest foods can do so in the context of intuitive eating. You don’t have to completely stop thinking about food. We have to think about our food in this day and age. We shouldn’t be putting pop-tarts into our bodies on a regular basis as that isn’t the type of food our cells evolved eating and isn’t going to optimize our energy. But we need to learn common sense when choosing the foods we eat.
Choose organic when possible. Avoid GMOs. Eat a wide variety of food groups. Experiment with a wide variety of foods, and pay close attention to how your body feels. That is intuitive eating and there is no diet out there that can give you as personalized results. Enjoy!