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Some data support the health benefits of intuitive eating

As excerpted from the New York Times on January 18, 2023:

Intuitive eating, as conceived by the dietitian-nutritionist duo, is the practice of renouncing restrictive diets and the goal of weight loss and encouraging people to tune into the intuition that governed their eating as toddlers. This includes satiating hunger rather than trying to suppress or outsmart it; feeling your fullness (and pausing mid-meal to assess it); and savoring, even seeking pleasure from, food. Among the other principles are addressing emotional eating, emphasizing movement over “militant exercise” and practicing “gentle nutrition” — minding moderation and balance in one’s diet, but not too harshly.

There are more than 100 academic studies on intuitive eating, including a 2021 meta-analysis that found that the method was positively linked to participants’ body image, self-esteem and psychological well-being. And while the program isn’t promising better health metrics per se, some preliminary studies link intuitive eating to improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels and increased intake of fruits and vegetables.

People often worry that intuitive eating will lead to gluttony. “That is the greatest fear people have: ‘If I give myself permission to have what I want, I’ll never stop eating it,’” Ms. Resch said. At first, especially if they are used to restricting their diets, new intuitive eaters tend to gravitate to food that was previously off-limits and “eat beyond fullness,” Ms. Resch noted. Her guidance: Continue to give yourself “full freedom” to eat. She added, “get as many packages of Oreos as you want. Once people really sink into the sense that they’re going to be able to have that food, and they stay present and they taste it, it doesn’t take long before they realize, ‘Eh, I don’t want so much of it’” anymore.

longitudinal study published in 2021 found that intuitive eating led to better psychological and behavioral health among people with anorexia and bulimia, and to lower odds of binge eating, fasting, taking diet pills and vomiting. “I think of intuitive eating as the goal of eating disorder recovery,” said Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani, an internist in Denver who specializes in eating disorders and encourages the method to patients; she refers them to dietitians and therapists who use it in treatment. “People can be shocked to realize there’s another way of thinking about food other than ‘I should feel guilty; I need to deprive myself.’”

However, there is controversy around this approach:

Asking people to rely on their own intuition to figure out what they should eat is “a lot of burden on an individual person,” said Andrew Kraftson, a clinical associate professor in the division of metabolism, endocrinology and diabetes and director of the weight navigation program at Michigan Medicine. “There is hormonal, neurobiological and metabolic dysregulation that can happen — your body is not always the north star” when it comes to knowing what’s good for you to eat, he said.