Book review: Intuitive Eating

IntuitiveEatingIf it’s intuitive, how did we get so off track?

Intuitive Eating is a book written by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elise Reisch, about an eating philosophy that contradicts what we hear on a daily basis about eating and dieting.

Calorie counting? No way.  Want a brownie for dinner? Go for it! Assigned meal plans? Never.

So what makes Intuitive Eating so unique? It abandons the need for dieting and goes so far as to reject it entirely. How does it work? In a nutshell, the Intuitive Eating process boils down to eating whatever you want when your are hungry and stopping when you are full (instead of eating because your plate is empty, or because it is “time” for dinner). That seems like common sense, so why aren’t we doing this already? Unfortunately our environment around us is shaped in a way that encourages us to suppress our biological hunger signals and listen to the inescapable and often times contradictory food rules around us. What rules am I talking about? We hear them so often they can affect our eating without even realizing it.

Never eat after 6pm.  Clean your plate. Only eat organic.  Eat the cake, you deserve it.

Intuitive Eating disregards these food rules and bring us back to the basics with these ten principles created by Evelyn Tribole and Elise Reisch:

  1. Reject the diet mentality.  Break the dieting cycle which fluctuates between the desire to be thin, food restriction, cravings, loss of self-control, and overeating.
  2. Honor your hunger.  When your biological hunger is ignored and dieting occurs your body goes into a starvation state which eventually causes you to overeat.
  3. Make peace with food.  Research has found that by depriving yourself of an item, your desire for that item will actually increase.
  4. Challenge the food police.  Reject both negative talk from others and negative self- talk by replacing your unreasonable thoughts (it’s only 11am, it’s not time for lunch yet), with rational thoughts (my hunger signals are telling me I am hungry, so I am going to eat).
  5. Feel your fullness.  Forget about the clean plate club and participate in conscious eating. Check in with yourself during the meal to determine how full you are.
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor.  Figure out what it is you really want to eat and then eat it (no matter what it is) in a pleasurable environment. The authors state that when you are satisfied with your meal you will not eat as much of it.
  7. Cope with your emotions without using food.  Ask yourself if you are hungry. If you realize that you are not actually hungry, ask yourself what you are feeling.  Based on your feeling, ask yourself what you really need.
  8. Respect your body.  Look beyond the pressure to be thin and treat your body with dignity by fulfilling its basic need (energy from food) and embracing Health at Every Size.
  9. Exercise- feel the difference.  Be mindful of how your body feels (energy levels, stress levels, sense of empowerment) rather than exercising for weight loss to make it more sustainable and pleasurable.
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition.  Eat a variety of nutrient dense foods and beverages as well as limit the consumption of sodium, solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains.

Overall, I believe this approach is a sound one. All too often we come across eating strategies that promise quick results at the expense of our health. It is refreshing to find an eating philosophy that allows you to appreciate your body for what it is, in addition to encouraging a diet that is not laced with guilt. That being said, it takes time and a conscious effort to establish these principles into our daily lives. Unfortunately, not all of the principles of this philosophy are as feasible as we’d like them to be. For example, we may not always have the time to sit down and enjoy a meal, and learning to manage our feelings without using food is much easier said than done.   Although I agree with the philosophy, it is one that I imagine successful in a “perfect” world. Our society clashes with most of these principles which makes it a very challenging one to accomplish. Even if it may not be feasible all of the time, the principles are good to keep in mind as strategies to fight off the ever-present food rules we endure on a daily basis.

Finally, this eating philosophy may not be possible if you have certain health conditions that require a more controlled diet. This eating pattern is one I would recommend to individuals who are generally healthy. Individuals who have health conditions such as hypertension or diabetes may not have the affordability of eating whatever it is they really want and should be following a more controlled diet plan. Furthermore, I believe it is an approach more appropriate for financially stable individuals. Unfortunately, we do not always have the luxury of choosing the foods we want when we want them. Often times we need to purchase and eat foods based on price and availability, which is something that the authors do not address in their Intuitive Eating philosophy.

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