Does intuitive eating really have health benefits?
That’s not an unusual question for people getting started with intuitive eating. The answer is a resounding YES, and its amazing health benefits are backed by science.
In fact, intuitive eating is picking up popularity, not only among former dieters but also with researchers. As of 2019, there are more than 100 research studies looking at intuitive eating. These studies demonstrate that intuitive eating has many positive health outcomes like:
- Improved cholesterol levels
- Lower stress levels
- Increased energy
- Improved mental health
- Lower eating disorder occurrence
- Improved body awareness
- Enhanced self-esteem
- Improved level of happiness
Have you been dieting for quite some time, but keep finding yourself right where you started?
Intuitive eating can help you break out of that cycle. And unlike dieting, it lets you enjoy eating without regret, guilt, or shame about your food choices.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Perhaps the best intuitive eating definition I can give you is, “a self-care framework that uses your body’s internal cues of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction to guide your eating behavior.”
This definition emphasizes self-care and implies reconnecting with the body. That is to say, you need to be attuned to your body to follow its cues.
As I discussed in my intuitive eating podcast episode of The Beyond The Food Show, eating intuitively is innate in all human beings. When you were a baby, you’d cry when you were hungry, and you’d be fed. You knew when you needed to eat. When you were full, you’d just stop feeding and go back to sleep. We just moved away from this natural state when we were immersed in the diet culture.
Does Intuitive Eating Really Work?
Yes. Hundreds of intuitive eating research studies prove that it does work. It isn’t another fad diet.
Registered Dietician Nutritionists (RDNs) in the U.S. agree. A 2017 study found that RDNs are using an intuitive eating approach more often than traditional weight management practices.
If you’re wondering “How does intuitive eating work?” you may want to read my blog post that answers that question.
Is Intuitive Eating Healthy?
Intuitive eating is both healthy and safe. It’s based on being attuned and aligned with your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. What could be healthier than that?
But don’t take my word for it. Scientific studies do confirm the health benefits of intuitive eating. Here are a couple of examples:
A study participated by 1,600 middle-aged women links intuitive eating to lower body mass index and positive emotional health. It also showed potential benefits on nutritional and cardiovascular health.
Another study found that chronic dieters can benefit from size acceptance and intuitive eating. It also supports long-term behavioral change. Size acceptance, reducing dieting behavior, and increased awareness and response to the body’s internal cues improved health risk indicators for the study participants.
Certainly, intuitive eating is not only safe; it promotes your overall health!
What are the Benefits of Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating teaches you to have a healthy relationship with food by empowering you to trust your ability to meet your needs. It helps you distinguish between physical hunger and emotional hunger and ultimately develop body wisdom. This results in improved overall health.
Let’s look at the specific benefits intuitive eating has to offer:
1. Improved Cholesterol Levels
Intuitive eaters have been found to have lower triglyceride levels, higher levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and lower cardiovascular risk. One of the possible reasons for the improved cardiovascular health of intuitive eaters is the improvement in the inflammation marker, C-reactive protein (CRP).
In fact, anyone can benefit from intuitive eating, including those with health challenges. Moreover, it can also help prevent certain health conditions.
2. Lower Stress Levels
In my opinion, this is the most important benefit of eating intuitively. One of the most notable transformations demonstrated in studies that look into intuitive eating is with the psychological health indicators such as better body image and lower incidence of depression and anxiety.
Ditching the diet mentality and breaking free from the cycle of “getting on and off the wagon” will tremendously reduce your stress around food.
3. Increased Energy
Intuitive eating increases your energy by creating a lot of mental space for you. By worrying less about eating, you have more headspace to focus on other priorities in your life.
Research also links intuitive eating with increased motivation to engage in regular physical activity. Women who say that they are internally motivated to eat are more likely to participate in physical activity for pleasure. Therefore, they see themselves as physically active.
In other words, when you eat intuitively, you’ll have more energy and you’ll want to move more. Ultimately, that leads to better health and greater productivity.
4. Improved Mental Health
One of the reasons why diets often fail is that they make you feel bad. Food restriction is associated with negative mood, decreased cognitive functioning, eating disorders, weight obsession, and body dissatisfaction.
On the other hand, a study published in the Cambridge University Press website reveals that there is a substantial and consistent relationship between intuitive eating and improved mental health.
If dieting has made you feel bad about yourself, eating intuitively will make you feel better. Therefore, helping you get into a better mental state.
5. Lower Eating Disorder Occurrence
Those who suffer from eating disorders either restrict food or overindulge. In contrast, intuitive eating resets and balances your eating habits.
Researchers analyzed the eating habits of 2,287 young adults. They found that the participants who followed their hunger and fullness cues were less likely to have eating disorder behaviors than those who didn’t.
Your body instinctively knows what, when, and how much you should eat. In like manner, when you eat intuitively, you trust your body’s wisdom to guide you. You can’t go wrong with that.
6. Improved Body Awareness
Your body has a way of giving subtle signals that are meant to guide you in making the best choices for your health. (We call these signals “body messages” in the Going Beyond the Food community.)
It also lets you know when you have a health problem coming up through the symptoms that you experience. This way, you can take the appropriate steps to deal with the problem before it becomes a crisis.
Intuitive eating is based on interoception-the ability to feel the small sensations in the body such as hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues. Researchers have found that those who follow their internal eating cues are more sensitive to interoceptive signals.
This means that when you eat intuitively, you get more attuned to those body signals. This will help you with your relationship to food and will enable you to make the right decisions for your overall health.
7. Improved Self-Esteem
The diet culture promotes the “thin ideal.” It assumes that you that if you’re not thin enough and you don’t look a certain way, you’re broken. Therefore, you need to be fixed. It also equates food restriction with moral virtue. Obviously, it’s oppressive and can damage your self-esteem.
In contrast, intuitive eating results in positive body image, better body satisfaction, and improved self-esteem. A positive body image and high self-esteem motivate you to make better choices concerning your health while relying less on willpower.
Inside the Going Beyond The Food Method, we teach our students a unique approach to body image: Body Neutrality. For people who have lived through years of internalized and perhaps externalized body shame for years, body neutrality is the bridge from body hate to body positivity.
8. Increased Level of Happiness
As you can see, intuitive eating can benefit your mental and physical health, and scientific studies prove this. When you become both physically and mentally healthier, your quality of life improves. This translates to an increased level of happiness and contentment.