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Ditch Your Diet and Try This Instead

If you’re sick of yo-yo dieting and obsessing over what you eat, intuitive eating could be the health approach you need.

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Maya Ish-Shalom
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Are you tired of your weight constantly going up and down? This pattern of losing and regaining weight over and over is sometimes called yo-yo dieting or weight cycling, and studies have shown it can be bad for your health. Yo-yo dieting can lead to heart disease and disordered eating and can have a bad impact on your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

It may be time to ditch the diets and try the anti-diet instead.

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to health and nutrition developed by dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole in 1995. Often dubbed “the anti-diet,” intuitive eating aims to help you get in touch with your body in order to make better nutrition choices instead of setting strict rules about what you can or can’t eat. Intuitive eating isn’t about losing weight; it’s about finding peace with food so you can ditch the destructive habits that are wreaking havoc on your health. Resch and Tribole believe health at every size is possible.

Intuitive eating isn’t a hall pass to overeat or to always choose cookies over carrots. Intuitive eating encourages you to learn to pay attention to your body.

Maya Feller, a Brooklyn-based registered dietitian and nationally recognized nutrition expert, explains that with intuitive eating, the goal is to get in tune with what your body wants and needs. You learn to honor your hunger cues, as well as your fullness, without judgment.

Intuitive eating can help you decolonize your diet.

“I think one of the benefits to listening to what your body needs is that you end up eating what’s right for you,” Feller says.

Charmaine Turner, a Georgia-based health and wellness coach, believes many of our cravings are just our bodies asking for the things it needs.

“When your body is craving certain things, you might be deficient in an area, but you don’t know that, because you’re not slowing down or getting the education to see that maybe you’re deficient in magnesium or potassium or iron, so [you] reach for comfort foods,” Turner says. “I’m a big supporter of people slowing down so they can be more in tune with their body.”

The Principles of Intuitive Eating

Resch and Tribole have outlined 10 principles of intuitive eating.

  1. Reject the diet mentality. Many of us are inundated with messages in the media and perhaps from our own families telling us that we need to lose weight. Resch and Tribole say it’s time to “get angry at diet culture.”
  2. Honor your hunger. Keep your body adequately fed — and, yes, that includes eating carbs.
  3. Make peace with food. Resch and Tribole discourage declaring any food off-limits. When you restrict certain foods, especially ones you really like, you eventually overindulge and then face overwhelming guilt.
  4. Challenge the food police. Stop labeling certain foods good and declaring that others are bad. You’re not a bad person for having a slice of chocolate cake.
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor. This principle is rooted in the idea of mindful eating, which promotes being fully attentive to your food as you consume it (and even as you buy, prepare or serve it). Instead of mindlessly eating a bag of chips while watching TV, slow down and eat a meal you enjoy in an inviting environment.
  6. Respect your fullness. Once you’ve adopted more mindful eating and given yourself permission to eat things you enjoy, it will be easier to recognize when you’re no longer hungry and easier to stop eating when you’re full.
  7. Honor your feelings without using food. To curb emotional eating, find other ways to deal with anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger or other feelings you may experience.
  8. Respect your body. Accept the size and shape of your body, and give it the dignity it deserves.
  9. Movement—feel the difference. Instead of focusing on how many calories your workout is burning, Resch and Tribole recommend concentrating on how movement makes your body feel.
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition. Health is all about progress, not perfection. You’re not going to suddenly become unhealthy because of one meal or snack. Make food choices that honor your health as much as possible, but know that honoring your taste buds is OK, too.

Is Intuitive Eating Right for You?

Feller believes anyone can practice intuitive eating, but she doesn’t consider it a one-size-fits-all approach to health.

“What’s intuitive for one person is not intuitive for another,” Feller says. That’s why she doesn’t think you should go it alone.

“Of course, because I’m a dietitian, I’m going to say go find someone in your area that you can work with,” Feller says. “We have to work with people so that they can get to the core of what their individual body needs and untie some of these harmful diet myths that are out there.”

You must unlearn certain things before you can trust your intuition.

“For example, ‘You can never have rice.’ That’s diet tenet number one in restrictive eating. But rice is absolutely fine,” Feller says.

You may need the support of a therapist to navigate some of your issues surrounding food.

“I often say that nutrition can hold as much of a charge as somebody’s religious belief or spiritual belief,” Feller says. “It’s not as simple as, ‘Just eat cake and you’ll be fine,’ when you’ve heard, ‘If you eat cake, you are no good.’”

Additionally, if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol, you’ll need to get educated about how to make better food choices to control those conditions.

“There are parts of [one person’s] pattern of eating that may need to be more prescriptive than for another person,” Feller says. “When someone has diabetes, we need to think about carbohydrate literacy. If someone is having a hard time managing their cholesterol or blood lipids, we absolutely need to think about how their bodies are producing fat internally and where those external sources of saturated fats and added sugars are coming from.”

But this doesn’t mean you can never have any sugar, fat or salt ever again.

“You can have sugar, fat and salt,” Feller says, “when there’s intentionality around building a plate and what you put into your body.”

Black Women and Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating can help you decolonize your diet.

“When there’s no judgment, it means that usually there’s more variety in what you consume, and people are better able to eat some of the cultural foods that they feel are representative of their heritage, and without shame,” Feller says.

Diet culture, Feller adds, is rooted in the idea that everyone must follow a Eurocentric pattern of eating. Reject that idea and expand your palate, and Feller believes you will be more satisfied with your meals without overeating.

During the pandemic, Erica Codey-Rucker of southern Indiana started experimenting with Korean cuisine, which pushed her to cook more and use healthier ingredients.

“I lost 23 pounds last year just focusing on eating and using more fresh ingredients,” she says.

After Carla Henry-Lewis of Montgomery, Alabama, started cooking with Ethiopian and Indian spices, she found it easier to eat more vegetables. Thanks to seasonings like berbere, masala, turmeric and cumin, she can follow her nutritionist’s advice to fill half her plate with veggies at each meal without getting bored.

“I now have two or three veggies at every meal, prepared in different ways,” Henry-Lewis says. “It fills me and sustains me, and I don’t do all of that nibbling that I used to do when I wasn’t eating as I should.”

Eating more vegetables has helped her lose 20 pounds so far and kick her doughnut cravings.

“When I started eating as I was supposed to be eating, it’s amazing how now that craving isn’t there,” she says.

Get curious about cuisine, and stop running away from your appetite.

“Enter your kitchen. Find flavor. Try a dish from another culture without ‘healthifying’ it,” Feller says. “Just try to make it and see what happens.”