Introducing the anti-diet diet, designed to foster a healthier relationship with food.
Medically reviewed by Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB) and words by Anna Bonet
Tried (and failed) every fad diet in the book? When it comes to weight loss, there’s such a wealth of information available that it can be overwhelming. But before you start to lose hope, there’s a new school of thought which advocates doing away with dieting altogether. Sounds too good to be true? Bear with us.
Forget paleo and cast keto aside, intuitive eating is the hot new nutrition craze on the block, but how does it work and what are the health implications? We speak to nutritionist Laura Holland and specialist dietitian and nutritionist Rachel Clarkson about how to eat intuitively:
What is intuitive eating?
OK, it’s not actually brand new and it’s also not a diet, but following a wave of restrictive diet trends, intuitive eating is making a comeback. The term was first coined in 1995 when dietitian Evelyn Tribole and nutritional therapist Elyse Reschin published the book Intuitive eating. It is an approach to nutrition that has no rules, and weight loss is not the main agenda. The principles of intuitive eating focus on breaking down dieting cycles and reconnecting with the body’s natural satiety signals. You essentially follow your instincts and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating, removing the idea of restriction and focusing on internal cues.
‘Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating, removing the idea of restriction and focusing on internal body cues such as fullness and satiation,’ says Clarkson. ‘There is no diet plan, counting calories or anything for that matter – just full awareness of how you feel, and you eat accordingly.’
Intuitive eating involves becoming aware of how your body responds to different foods and making decisions about what to eat based on intrinsic knowledge. The concept is similar to mindful eating, but intuitive eating calls out diet culture specifically, while mindful eating focuses on the eating experience.
‘The intention is to eat in a way that truly nourishes and nurtures your body,’ explains Holland. ‘How do you measure this? By how good you feel, physically, mentally and emotionally.’
How to start eating intuitively
There’s no set structure for following intuitive eating, and it might take a while for you to get used to listening to your body and responding accordingly with your food choices. If you have spent a lifetime dieting, it might take some time to unlearn the traditional diet rules such as “carbs are bad“.
‘There is no short-cut,’ says Holland. ‘You have to be conscious and aware of how your body feels and responds to food.’
Holland outlines the following key principles of intuitive eating to help you get started:
- Slow down
Give yourself the time to connect with your body and acknowledge the connection between the food you eat and how you feel.
- Keep a food journal
This is an excellent way to facilitate this dialogue. Every evening make a note of what you consumed and then run your attention back through the day, noting down how you felt… did you feel bloated or were you comfortable? Were you light and energised or heavy and tired? Did you get super hungry? Or were you content and comfortable with what you ate, or did you feel guilty and if so, why?
Once you begin to build intelligence over a number of days you can the start connecting the dots and understanding your body more, which puts you in the perfect position to make decisions about foods and drinks that really do nurture you.
It may be as subtle as noticing that one coffee per day makes you feel balanced and comfortable, but when you have two you easily feel anxious and uncomfortable. Or, when you have salad for lunch you feel bloated, but if you have soups or something warm and cooked you don’t.
Intuitive eating benefits
Intuitive eating may appeal to people who have a complex relationship with food. ‘This approach can be very helpful if you have experienced disordered eating and if you want to mend your relationship with food,’ says Clarkson.
‘On a practical level, it also means that you start eating food that actually suits your body, helps you to feel good and in doing so restores the internal balance necessary for your health and wellbeing,’ adds Holland.
Intuitive eating disadvantages
Unlike some restrictive fad diets, intuitive eating doesn’t come with as many health risks. But as it’s more of a mindset shift than a diet plan, it can take a bit of time to adjust to a new way of thinking about food.
‘It is a complete departure from a diet mindset,’ says Holland. ‘It is very easy to allow what you “think” you “should” be eating to take over true body wisdom and intuition. This isn’t a “thinking” process, it’s a feeling one, inspired by your body’s responses.
Intuitive eating isn’t a thinking process, it’s a feeling one, inspired by your body’s responses.
‘There is a level of connection, stillness and awareness that is needed for this to happen, along with a loving intention, willingness to be guided and trust in your own body.’
‘I would seek the advice of an experienced dietitian in the area to minimise risks,’ adds Clarkson. ‘For example if you attempt to understand the techniques, you could over-consume high energy foods which may lead to weight gain and health implications. ‘
The verdict on intuitive eating
While it sounds great in theory, the jury is still out on the efficacy of this new approach to eating.
‘There isn’t enough scientific literature published in the area to prove efficacy, however some dieticians have seen great benefit with their patients,’ says Clarkson. ‘Some of the theory around not restricting foods or placing them into “good” and “bad” food groups can be extremely helpful to improve relationships with food.’
‘There is no one size fits all when it comes to eating,’ says Holland. ‘Choosing a diet plan is literally like choosing what clothes to wear with your eyes closed. Intuitive eating is eyes wide open, making decisions based upon your unique body, which is the only way of eating to facilitate a state of balance and ease.’