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Is intuitive eating the antidote to dieting?

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A recent survey showed that the biggest trend in eating behavior this year might actually be an anti-diet: Over half of those surveyed said they’d like to try intuitive eating practices.

As the doctor who encourages her patients to never diet again, I find this approach, based on Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole’s book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, intriguing.

If you’re not already familiar with the concept of intuitive eating, the premise is that eating what you want, when you want, and stopping when you’re full will lead most people to achieve healthier lives. The authors stress that removing artificial restrictions to what we consume encourages a healthier relationship with food and stops us from being obsessed with dieting.  And they emphasize that when it comes to food, progress not perfection matters.  Meaning that the occasional indulgence can happen without all the guilt.

Intuitive eating is an idea I can get behind but only with a major caveat: If mega food companies hadn’t gotten us addicted to sugary, salty, mass-produced foods, it would be a lot easier to get all the plant-based nutrients we need by eating intuitively. Think about it: if our choices only included a rainbow of fruits, veggies, nuts and grains, it would be easy and safe to eat whatever we wanted until we were satiated.  But that’s not what today’s food landscape looks like!  It’s full of non-nutritive products manufactured specifically in a way to make us want more of them.  So our intuition can be faulty because our taste preferences have been messed with.

The authors of Intuitive Eating may argue that it’s OK to eat as many French fries as you want, as long as you pay close attention to when you are full of French fries – but that only works if you’ve not been made a French fries addict!

And if you’re using food as medicine, intuition must be combined with science.  That means focusing on whole, plant-based foods – even when you’d rather eat a few Cheetos or a Big Mac.  The good news is that including more heart-healthy choices in your diet is self-reinforcing because people FEEL better eating nutritionally dense foods. This is one of the common reports we get from our customers – they feel better eating Step One items – which then intuits them to make better food choices at other times. 

Our bodies were designed to survive and thrive – so we are naturally wired to seek the nutrients we need to support healthy longevity.  In that context, intuitive eating makes a lot of sense and helps us to avoid all those trendy diets that ultimately fail.  Just remember that "intuitive eating" will only work if you primarily consume real food, not too much, mostly plants. 

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