There’s a new weight loss fad (yes, another one) sweeping the nation, that has big-time celebrities like Oprah solemnly declaring that she’ll never follow another diet again. In fact, that’s the entire “secret” behind this weight loss approach: not dieting. This eating style, coined “Intuitive Eating,” is said to successfully lead to women’s weight loss by asking followers to turn their backs on all diets and eating rules for good, and to simply eat whatever they want, whenever they want, until they don’t want to eat anymore.
But hold on a second – isn’t that kind of eating what got us gaining weight in the first place?
Intuitive eating (IE) began rising in popularity back in 2005, when Brigham University professor, Stephen Hawks, published a single study on this eating approach in the American Journal of Health Education. The study reported that students at BYU who practiced intuitive eating – eating whatever foods they desired whenever they felt hungry, and stopping when they felt full – typically weighed less and had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than other students.
Professor Hawks himself claims to have lost 50lbs since adopting IE. He says he’s successfully kept it off for the past ten years, without counting a single calorie or restricting himself from sweets or snack foods.
So what’s going on here? How does eating whatever you want get you losing weight, when we’ve seen time and time again that eating whatever you want gets you gaining weight? Do people who’ve had success with IE have some kind of “lucky” intuition that the rest of us don’t have (Hawks did mention that he’s as likely to eat broccoli as he is a steak), or is there something more going on here that could actually work for all of us?
Take a look at why intuitive eating has often led to nothing but weight gain and bad health for most people in the real modern world. However, at the same time, there are important weight loss lessons that we can learn from effective intuitive eaters, that could get us all happily skipping down the road of successful weight loss without ever stressing over another diet again.
Why Intuitive Eating Doesn’t Work:
- Modern industry has destroyed intuition. Ideally, your body tells your brain when you need to eat, and then your brain tells your body to do it. However, in a modern world where the food and advertising industry are the largest money makers, we are constantly surrounded by conscious and subconscious cues telling our brains that we should be eating all the time.
Television commercials, online ads, billboard signs, and streets lined with endless branded restaurant and grocery chains perpetually trigger our most ancient “there’s food, go get it” alarm bells in our brains, never allowing the subject of food to leave our minds. And not only does this persistent food porn disengage the intuitive link between the physical need to eat and hunger, but it also disengages our intuitive sense of when to stop eating. The standard sizes of restaurant plates and cups are double what they were just twenty years ago. Standard restaurant appetizers alone often soar to over 2,000 calories, while even “healthy” items like salad can reach 1,000 calories a serving. Even simple beverages like fruit drinks and café coffees can top the charts at 700 calories each. This is even more dangerous because liquid calories aren’t even registered by the body the way solid food calories are, keeping us feeling hungry no matter how many calories we’ve just slurped down.
Through these means, the food industry dictates the new norms of what a standard meal should look like. These distorted food images cause most people to subconsciously abandon intuitive eating needs for these “super-size” eating habits instead, even though they are far beyond the normal calorie needs of most healthy bodies.
- Modern food has destroyed intuition. Natural, whole foods are perfectly crafted to nourish the body with all of the nutrients it needs. They also allow the body’s intuitive equilibrium systems to operate properly as well, triggering the right hormones in the right amounts to make sure that your brain receives the “I’m full, stop eating” signal in tune with when you’ve had enough.
However, much of the food that has come to comprise the modern American diet is man-made food, engineered to keep you eating more by disrupting this very system of balance that natural foods work in harmony with. To enhance taste, shelf-life and profitability, modern food refinement processes unbalance natural foods by either removing healthy components or by adding in an abundance of unhealthy components.
These unbalanced refined foods throw off the normal activity of metabolism-regulating hormones in the body, such as insulin, leptin and ghrelin. This hormonal imbalance keeps your body thinking it’s hungry even when it’s not, and prevents you from experiencing a sense of fullness in time to stop you from overconsuming. Foods that contain refined ingredients like sweeteners, refined grains and preservatives are not only typically low in vital nutrients (which triggers hunger and cravings), but also throw your hormones wildly off kilter, destroying your body’s natural, intuitive mechanisms of knowing when to eat and when to stop.
- Modern culture has destroyed intuition. Are you eating while you read this? If you are, you’re not alone. For a growing number of people, the majority of their eating happens while in front of a television or computer screen. A recent U.K. study found that 6 out of 10 meals consumed at home are eaten in front of the T.V., while an American study found that 2 out of 3 people typically eat lunch at their desks in front of a computer.
Eating is also the main event of most social experiences, such as business meetings, family time, parties, causal get-togethers, during entertainment, romantic rendez-vous, etc. In our modern culture, eating is most often done in conjunction with other activities, which studies have shown to be a major destructive distraction from the natural mind-body eating connection. Side-tracked from focusing on the eating process, your brain quickly loses its intuitive sense of how much you have eaten and how much you should be eating. Pre-occupied with other activities, your natural hunger and fullness cues are masked, and more often than not, ignored.
How to “Follow Your Gut” to Weight Loss
With all of these modern obstacles getting in the way of healthy, intuitive eating, is it possible to just “follow your gut” instead of a diet plan and actually lose weight?
It turns out intuitive eating can work. But only if we re-educate our intuitions by following a healthy diet plan first. Eating the right foods in the right amounts to lose weight can only become automatic and “intuitive” after our brains and bodies receive the training they need to begin communicating again. That can only be done with proper guidance in nutrition, exercise and body awareness. Here are some tips:
- Do you need it? Or just want it? While it is very difficult to completely close your eyes to all of the enticing food images that surround you, you can try and regain a sense of your true physical needs by giving yourself a hunger check-up before you eat. Start by asking yourself: do I need food right now? Or do I just want it? To help yourself answer that question, assess yourself for physical cues of actual hunger, such as gradually growing stomach pangs, tummy growling, an empty or queasy feeling, light headedness or headache, low energy, trouble concentrating or crankiness, etc. A physical assessment helps you clue in to whether the hunger is originating from your body.
To assess whether your hunger is coming from your mind, ask yourself why you want to eat right now. What triggered your hunger? Are you suddenly craving a food that you just saw in an ad or on television? Are you eating only because it’s your designated lunch hour? Did you want to eat before you saw other people near you eating, or only afterwards? Did your desire for food come after a stressful or difficult experience? Did your hunger come on suddenly (usually a red flag that it’s a want, not a need) or gradually? When a craving doesn’t come from hunger, than eating doesn’t satisfy it.
- Experience food holistically. A common misconception about intuitive eating is that it’s permission to indulge in a full-fledged food fest of whatever your mouth desires. But the heart of the intuitive eating movement is eating to make your body feel good. And in order to truly, intuitively know which foods make your body feel good, and which foods make your body feel bad, you have to experience food holistically, not just in the immediate moment of eating it.
This means that food must be understood beyond the experience of putting it in your mouth; food must be understood as a cause that leads to an effect, and connected to the feelings it produces in your body long after you’ve swallowed it. Eating an entire bag of jelly beans in one sitting may make you feel good in the moment, but connecting it to the experience of feeling tired and sick (and even guilty) the next morning is important so that your mind and body come to associate it with bad feelings instead of good ones.
Experiencing foods as both cause and effect helps you become naturally drawn to eating choices that make you feel strong, light and energized, and naturally repulsed by eating choices that make you feel sick, tired and heavy.
- Eat mindfully. Eating should never be a time for multi-tasking. Make eating its own dedicated, separate and focused activity, done in a space chosen just for eating, without other activities or distractions happening at the same time. Look at your food as you eat it, focus your attention on chewing each mouthful, and how each mouthful feels and tastes. Pause periodically throughout your meal and assess your current fullness level. Give yourself conscious permission to stop eating, even if there is still food on the plate, and to wrap up the food for another time if you have already reached a point of satisfaction and energy. Remind yourself often that getting to the feeling of being “stuffed” means you’ve eaten past the point of what you should to keep yourself feeling good.
Tapping back into your body’s true signals helps your system regulate itself, which allows health and weight loss to follow. But in a world that actively tries to disconnect you from your body’s signals, you can no longer expect that you’ll be able to just “feel” what your body needs to get to its optimal health and weight. To lose weight, feel strong and experience energy, your body must be freed from all of these negative external forces, and re-balanced in order to work at its optimum efficiency. This can be achieved through a diet plan of whole foods and balanced macro-nutrients, along with regular exercise and a natural fat burning supplement that helps fight off the unavoidable consequences of the toxic food environment we live in.
Only once this internal balance is achieved again, and only once it becomes our external lifestyle – only then can weight loss become “intuitive”, and feel natural, effortless and stress-free.