Wellness Letter: Demystifying Intuitive Eating

Wellness Letter: Demystifying Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating - What’s all the buzz about?

In conversation with friends and across social media, Intuitive Eating seems to be everywhere lately.. But what exactly is it? And is it as great as it sounds? We asked PSC nutritionist Dr. Chinara Tate to give us the downlow on the science and facts behind the latest wellness trend dominating popular discourse.

We’ll let her take it from here.


What is Intuitive Eating?

In brief, the intuitive approach to eating focuses on using internal signals (mind-body wisdom) to guide food choices and eating behavior. The general philosophy is premised on 10 core principles aimed at building a more nourishing, fulfilling and pleasure-centered relationship with food. 

Engaging in Intuitive Eating means:

  • Rejecting  ‘diet culture’ - namely its fixation on food restriction, weight-loss and body image distortion
  • Granting yourself unconditional permission to eat
  • Replacing society’s rigid, black-and-white, all-or-none, good vs. bad thinking about food with a more flexible approach. I.e. there’s a place for all foods in my diet, desserts included!
  • Listening to your body’s internal signals of hunger and fullness to determine when and how much to eat

Is Intuitive Eating the best approach to nourishing ourselves?

As an eating disorders dietitian, I have mixed feelings about the current Intuitive Eating wave. While some of the basic principles are grounded in sound scientific evidence, others delve into unfounded speculation. 

Science supports the notion that diets are largely ineffective long-term and can promote disordered eating behaviors (eg. binging, restricting etc.) and poor physical and mental health outcomes. 

However, Intuitive Eating heavily relies on reading internal signals about hunger and fullness that may be inaccurate due to a range of factorsfrom mental or physical illness, to the context of our modern food environment (i.e. aggressive advertising, foods designed to alter appetite and brain signals.) Furthermore, while our bodies can easily assess hunger, they are often poor at determining whether our meals sufficiently meet our energy and nutrient needs. 

In sum, Intuitive Eating’s heavy reliance on reading internal signals to determine whether nutritional needs are met may be both inadequate and scientifically unfounded.

What is the best approach to eating to support mental and physical health?

Normalized eating is another approach that also recognizes the value of an anti-diet, non-restrictive way of eating.

In contrast to Intuitive Eating, normalized eating does not require reliance on internal hunger and fullness cues that may be distorted, diminished or inaccurate.

Normalized eating focuses on:

  • Eating a wide variety of foods
  • Eating at regular intervals throughout the day
  • Replacing rigid black and white, all or none, good vs. bad thinking about foods with a more flexible approach to food choice
  • Using nutrition science and education to guide varied and flexible food choices 
  • Using medical nutrition therapy when clinically indicated

In sum, normalized eating combines the evidence-based aspects of intuitive eating and recognizes where additional scientifically grounded support can help guide and broaden our food choices toward a healthier relationship with food that nourishes the body.

If you feel you would benefit from engaging in this approach I would recommend seeking out the support of a registered dietitian (RDs) specializing in this area of evidence-based practice.

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