Our country’s codependent relationship with calories is backfiring, and continues to fuel an already out of control obesity epidemic. Intuitive eating is a liberating approach to food that supports healthy weight control and challenges our nation’s obsession with dieting.
Timely and necessary, intuitive eating offers a crucial shift in a tired perspective that encourages calorie reduction, despite its notorious ineffectiveness. When introduced correctly through comprehensive educational programs, intuitive eating is a highly effective method that helps people reduce overeating, emotional eating and binge eating behavior, and successfully supports their ability to achieve long-term weight loss over time.
The New York Times Magazine recently published, “The Limits of Intuitive Eating,” an article written by Gretchen Reynolds. The author reviewed a pilot study that evaluated the efficacy of calorie restriction (CR) versus intuitive eating (IE) to achieve weight loss, over a six-week period of time. The study was conducted by Judith C. Anglin, et al., at Texas Southern University in Houston.
While commendable for its desire to evaluate the efficacy of intuitive eating, given its promise and growing interest in the eating disorder, self-help and medical fields, the researcher’s conclusion, “CR (Calorie Restriction) is a superior approach to weight management than IE (Intuitive Eating)” is ill-formed and lacks proper consideration of the practical applications and true goals of intuitive eating.
Ms. Reynold’s article opened with, “People hate counting and cutting calories. That unsurprising fact is behind the rise of ‘intuitive eating…'” While catchy, this statement is both overly simplistic and inaccurate. While most people do hate counting and cutting calories, intuitive eating is on the “rise” not because people hate counting calories, points, and/or carbohydrates. Intuitive eating’s popularity is on the rise because it provides chronic weight sufferers with a much- needed means to break their damaging cycles of repetitive overeating created through years, even decades, of calorie restriction and unhealthy dieting practices.
It is a well-researched fact that calorie reduction, a.k.a. “dieting,” leads to pathological eating and that pathological eating, in many cases, develops binge eating behavior. Binge eating behavior, moreover, is now recognized to frequently precede the development of obesity, and is diagnosed in 30% of individuals who seek treatment at weight loss centers.
In short, calorie restriction through dieting creates binge eating behavior. And binge eating behavior leads to obesity.
Intuitive eating, with its hallmark “no-diet” approach, helps people break the diet-overeat-diet-overeat cycle. Distressed weight sufferers shift their chronic “dieting mentality,” and eventually make peace with food. When this occurs, the urge to compulsively overeat even highly desired foods disappears.
This process of letting go of “good-food bad-food” dieting mentality and re-learning to eat formerly restricted foods in mindful moderation without guilt, remorse, or “last supper” binge eating mentality, is at the heart of intuitive eating.
But it takes time. And it takes education, direction and support to be successful.
The pilot study divided two groups of men and women into CR and IE groups, over a six-week period of time. The CR group was given “dietary instructions (counseling) with education regarding daily portion intake, portion sizes and sample menus.” The IE group was given “instruction” on the principles of intuitive eating, with no education or counseling relative to portion sizes, intake, etc. or how to achieve the intuitive eating principles.
The pilot study was conducted over an unrealistically brief period of time. Unhealthy beliefs related to food and dieting develop over a lifetime, and result in a deeply entrenched dysfunctional relationship with food. These dynamics cannot be expected to shift in a relatively brief six-week period of time.
Additionally, conspicuously absent were educational and skill building components that are imperative to an individual’s ability to successfully transition to an intuitive eating approach to food.
Successful intuitive eating involves numerous areas of skill development. A primary skill is the ability to accurately decipher and respond to internal bodily signals of hunger and fullness. Especially in obese and morbidly obese populations, chronic dieters are oftentimes disconnected from their emotional and physical selves. Learning to re-connect and to decipher physical cues of hunger and fullness as opposed to emotion-driven need, can take months to achieve.
Similarly, effective intuitive eating programs need to include a comprehensive emotional component. To be successful at no longer turning to food in response to emotions such as: stress, boredom, sadness, loneliness, anger, etc., individuals need to develop healthy alternative coping skills that gradually replace their use of food as a primary emotional coping mechanism.
Lastly, underlying emotional issues that have been driving the misuse of food, need to be identified and then successfully resolved. Only then can the emotion-driven compulsion to overeat be successfully eliminated, so that food becomes a means to nourish your body and not to nourish your heart.
Intuitive eating is a wonderfully sound approach to food that brings people back to their natural signals of hunger and fullness through healthy re-connection with their body and emotional self. While re-learning to have trust in the wisdom of your body and working to let go of long-held dysfunctional beliefs can be challenging, the emotional freedom and physical health it provides to formerly chronic dieters is both life-saving and life-enhancing.
While learning true intuitive principles does take a good amount of time, and an equal amount of effort, it is this eating disorder specialist’s opinion that it is the most efficacious form of healthy weight management around.
Dr. Julie T. Anné is a licensed psychologist and nationally recognized eating disorder specialist. She is the co-creator of, TheHealthyWeighOut, an Emotional Eating Weight Loss Program located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Contact Dr. Anne’ at: 480-941-4247 or visit her websites at: TheHealthyWeighOut.com and aNewBeginning.com.
Dr. Julie T. Anne’ submitted the following Rebuttal to the The New York Times in response to their November 22, 2015 article entitled, “The Limits of Intuitive Eating”