Does Intuitive Eating Really Work?

Intuitive eating seems like the handiest — and easiest — diet imaginable. After all, you just eat what you want, and who doesn't want to do that?! But what it is and whether it actually works are still kind of difficult to ascertain. What is intuitive eating anyway, and how does it benefit those who choose to eat this way?

As nutritionist Jenna Hope explained to Women's Health, intuitive eating removes dieting restrictions and instead puts eating within a set food framework. Put simply, intuitive eating is "a form of attunement to the mind, body and food, the idea being that you learn to identify and respond to your own subtle hunger and satiety cues."

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating basically involves re-wiring your body and mind to recognize what you want to eat and when, without imposing no carb/sugar/fat rules that always end up making you crave the food in question more anyway. For those who have struggled with restrictive diets all their lives, knowing what's actually good, or what they even want, can be overwhelming, particularly considering we're constantly sold a variety of diet and low-fat foods. Intuitive eating works to educate us so we can train ourselves to understand hunger cues better. 

Dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, who are considered the originators of intuitive eating, encourage you to tell the difference between physical and emotional feelings, which will help you get to know your body better. There are 10 core principles involved, which include rejecting the hunger mentality, respecting your fullness, and learning to honor your health above all else. Intuitive eating, then, is predominantly about listening to your stomach and filling it with as much good stuff as possible (which is what it really craves). 

Does intuitive eating actually work?

Hang on a minute, if we just eat what we want, won't we all be chowing down on donuts the whole time? Not necessarily. As nutrition psychologist Kimberley Wilson explains, "They are so used to ignoring their cues, fighting themselves and trying to be in control that the alternative feels like 'chaos.' The reality is that it is not chaos, it is freedom." 

Intuitive eating means you trust yourself to eat what you want, whether it's pizza or kale. As far as Wilson is concerned, we're so bogged down in diet culture, "Most don't realize that what they choose to eat is often completely unrelated to what they want to eat." 

Several studies have found intuitive eaters lose weight and get healthier over time. One study, published in Appetite, associated intuitive eating with less disordered eating and more positive body image, while another, published in Eat Weight Disorder, found intuitive eaters had a lower BMI. Likewise, a third study found intuitive eating was more effective than typical weight loss programs. 

In fact, therapist Molly Bahr told The Atlantic intuitive eating changed her whole life, noting, "We were all born intuitive eaters. I love watching my nieces and nephews eat. They always know when they want to stop."