Part 2: Three Reasons Why You Should Choose Intuitive Eating Over a Standard Diet
Intuitive eating may SOUND nice, but you may be wondering, what are the benefits? Can something that sounds as simple as eating mindfully and listening to our body’s cues really be beneficial? Let’s take a look at what the science is saying about why we should choose intuitive eating over other diets.
1. It’s Easier to Stick with in the Long Run
The positive benefits of intuitive eating have bene shown to persist over long periods of time, even years later (1). Most dietitians agree that the most successful diet is the one that you can stick with long-term. So far, the evidence seems to be pointing to intuitive eating as the approach that is more realistic to maintain, rather than other methods that usually include restricting calories or cutting out entire food groups. A balanced and flexible approach is more realistic for most people and it is typically easier on our bodies as well.
On the other hand, as I mentioned in Part 1, studies show that almost all dieters regain the weight that they lost and 2/3 of dieters regain even more weight, long-term (2). Diets may initially appear as if they are helping with weight loss, but the science tells us they are only effective for short periods of time. In addition, when we heavily restrict our calories, our bodies go into a state of starvation where they try and compensate for the losses. Our bodies try to hold on to any additional weight by altering our hormones and slowing our metabolism (3).
2. It’s Better for our Health
Intuitive eating has been shown to lead to improvements in blood pressure and blood lipids, mood, self-esteem and body image (4). No harmful effects were found on physical or psychological measures either. It seems that when we listen to our body and respond to its needs; our physical health and mental well-being both reap the benefits.
In comparison, the type of restrictive-calorie diets that we often see advertised can have negative effects on our health. They can have a negative impact on bone health (5) and heart health (6, 7). These negative effects become amplified when we continuously stop and start diets, commonly referred to as yo-yo dieting, or weight cycling. This is a familiar pattern, especially now that we know that most diets don’t work in the long run. Weight cycling or yo-yo dieting usually leads to more weight gain and binge eating, no matter what weight you start at or how physically fit you are (8, 9). Restrictive diets also tend to cut out entire food groups which deprives the body of key nutrients. In short, restricting our food can have negative consequences on our health and it doesn’t appear to be very helpful with long-term weight loss either.
3. It Steers Clear of Body Shaming
Intuitive eating also moves away from a focus on body size. You can often see health benefits from changing your eating habits even if your body size remains the same. For example, you can see improvements in blood pressure or cholesterol by changing certain parts of your diet even if you don’t lose weight in the process (4). A more body inclusive approach has been shown to lead to healthier eating habits and greater body appreciation (10). Avoiding body shaming and taking a more inclusive and accepting approach contributes to more positive outcomes on both physical health and mental wellbeing.
Unfortunately, weight discrimination is something that we see all too often in the Western world. Weight discrimination on its own, regardless of actual body weight, has been shown to lead to poorer physical health, poorer mental health, more harmful eating habits and fear and avoidance of medical care (11). Weight discrimination is one of the few forms of discrimination that remains somewhat acceptable. Weight is often seen as a choice when this is usually not the case. Let’s hope that changes soon! This type of discrimination leads to poorer health for those in larger bodies so moving away from the promotion of restrictive diets for weight loss is much needed. These diets promote the message that those in larger bodies are less than and it results in negative effects on their health.
To sum it all up, restrictive dieting does not come without risks. Intuitive eating, on the other hand, is a more balanced and gentle approach that involves being a lot kinder to ourselves. Intuitive eating is more sustainable in the long-term, it’s better for our physical and mental health, and it is inclusive of all body shapes and sizes. It focuses on embracing our bodies, being mindful of our eating habits and most of all, enjoying our food. Ask yourself, which approach sounds more appealing to you?
Contributed by Maddison Darragh, RD2BE