Unlike many diets that have come and gone over the years, intuitive eating has stuck around because it's based on a simple concept: when it comes to food, trust your gut. The idea was outlined in a book of the same name by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN. In the book, they eschew traditional diets in favor of paying attention to your body's natural cues. Although this so-called "un-diet" first became popular in 1995, it fits well with our current society's growing concern with mindfulness and mental health.
The International Food Information Council (IFIC) named intuitive eating one of their 2020 food trends. According to their 2020 Food and Health Survey, half of Americans are already doing some part of it—that is, they stop eating when their body tells them that they are full. Although paying attention to your natural feelings of satiety is one aspect of intuitive eating, the program's overall goal is to take away the stigma surrounding food. Rather than following an external diet plan that tells you when and what you should eat, you eat when you are hungry and eat what you want when you want it. The following are Tribole and Resch's ten principles:
- Reject the Diet Mentality.
Intuitive eating should not be used as another attempt to lose weight. It's about improving your relationship with what you eat.
- Honor Your Hunger.
Don't deprive yourself when you are hungry. Listen to the signal that tells you it's time to grab a bite, and then do so.
- Make Peace with Food.
With intuitive eating, there is no type of food or amount of food that is off-limits. Since banning items from your diet means that you will crave them, allowing yourself to eat whatever you want will probably make you want less anyway. The same goes for the quantity of food. Because there are no restrictions on how much you can eat—other than stopping when you feel full—you're less likely to overeat because you think it might be your only chance.
- Challenge the Food Police.
Recognize that there is no moral standard for food based purely on their nutritional value. What you eat has no bearing on who you are as a person, so you can stop feeling guilty for having an extra treat.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor.
Pay attention to the taste and feel of the food itself. When you recognize the enjoyment that food can bring, it will be easier to stop eating when you are no longer hungry.
- Feel Your Fullness.
When your body tells you that you're full, stop eating. This may mean eating at a slower pace or just taking a break every so often to see if you're getting full. Since distractions make it harder for you to sense your body's natural cues, focusing on the meal itself rather than the TV or other background noise is a must.
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness.
To stop emotional eating, you need to deal with the underlying issue that is causing the emotion. Be kind and give yourself time to deal with what is truly bothering you.
- Respect Your Body.
No two bodies are the same. Stop focusing on what you'd like to change about yourself and start accepting your body for what it is and what it can do for you.
- Movement—Feel the Difference.
Just like with eating, exercising should be a mindful process. Do exercises that you enjoy and pay special attention to exactly how the workout makes you feel. The endorphins are worth it!
- Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition.
Being healthy isn't an all or nothing process. As the Intuitive Eating website reminds us, no one meal that can undo your health: "It's what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts."
There are numerous benefits to intuitive eating, most of which center on improving your relationship with food. Because you're no longer punishing yourself for what you consume, you'll be free of any guilt that accompanies your meals. This guilt about what we eat is an overwhelming problem: a 2008 survey from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and SELF Magazine found that a whopping 75% of American women have some behaviors or symptoms associated with eating disorders.
Eating intuitively also means that you can spend less time thinking about food. You don't have to jot down the calories in everything you ate or double-check beforehand that what's on your plate will fit into your diet. Meal planning also becomes more manageable because it's based purely on what you feel like that day. Your schedule determines what you eat, not the other way around.
Now you might still be reading about this and thinking about it as a vehicle for weight loss. After all, if you can control your binges and listen to what your body wants, there's a good chance that you'll lose more weight and be healthier, right? However, experts warn that they cannot predict what will happen to your weight once you start eating intuitively. "If any health professional or coach or Instagram influencer says you can lose weight with intuitive eating, run away," said Tribole in an article for The Atlantic. "No one can tell you what's going to happen to your body, including me." And while that may be a scary prospect, it certainly pales in comparison to a life filled with beating yourself up over what you did or didn't eat. Surely your mental health is worth more than a few extra pounds!
In a world of fad diets and weight loss crazes, intuitive eating might seem like a radical approach. In truth, it's both the simplest and the most challenging eating plan of them all: simple because you can eat what you want when you want it, and challenging because you must learn to do so without ever feeling guilty. So take a few cues from other nutrition experts who are turning to their bodies to tell them what they want and give this un-diet a chance.
Abu Hurairah narrated: "The Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]) never criticized any food. If he liked it, he would eat it, and if not, he would leave it."—Jami' at-Tirmidhi, Vol. 4, Book 1, Hadith 2031.
Alison DeGuide is a content developer at IFANCA as well as the editor of Halal Consumer Magazine. She holds a master's degree in Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California where she also did her undergraduate studies.
Reprinted from the Fall 2020 issue of Halal Consumer© magazine with permission from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA®) and Halal Consumer© magazine.