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Tired of Calorie Counting? Try Intuitive Eating

May 20, 2024

Here’s a novel idea. What if the true expert on what’s good for your body is… you?

That’s the idea behind intuitive eating, which rejects diet culture in favor of a body-positive view of eating well.

“If you’re tired of counting calories, feel like you have no control around food, are sick of yo-yo dieting, or are constantly thinking about food, intuitive eating may be the right fit for you,” says registered dietitian Melissa Keeney, clinical nutrition manager at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

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Why intuitive eating? Because diets don’t work.

“Studies show that up to 95% of diets fail,” says Keeney. “Of those, more than two-thirds of dieters gain back more weight than they initially lost.”

Even worse, yo-yo dieting is linked to insulin resistance, hypertension and other health issues.

As an antidote, dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole created their “intuitive eating” approach. It’s closely tied to the Health at Every Size movement — shifting the focus away from weight loss, and onto healthy behaviors.

And guess what? Healthy behaviors lead to healthy bodies. One hundred-plus scientific studies to date link intuitive eating to improved body image, decreased blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and more.

> Related: Fad Diets: The Way to Lose Weight, or a Bunch of Baloney?

Intuitive eating resets your relationship with food.

It centers on 10 principles:

  1. Reject the diet mentality. “Throw out that scale!” says Keeney. Plus any diet cookbooks, calorie counters and weight loss advice.
  2. Honor your hunger. Get to know your body’s hunger cues — and when they come up, eat. “You become the expert of your own body,” says Keeney.
  3. Make peace with food. This means no more rules or shame around what you can or cannot eat. According to Keeney, “All foods fit.”
  4. Challenge your internal food police. When your inner critic starts food-shaming, don’t listen. “Work on not labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’” says Keeney.
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor. “Find what foods make you feel good and satisfy you,” says Keeney. Eating should be pleasurable.
  6. Feel your fullness. Just like learning to honor your hunger, “Get to know how your body feels when you’re comfortably full,” says Keeney.
  7. Cope with your emotions with kindness. Do you eat when you’re stressed, bored, lonely, sad? “Work on alternative coping strategies,” says Keeney.
  8. Respect your body. Accept and celebrate the body you have. “A person’s weight does not determine their health status,” says Keeney.
  9. Move your body. Notice how exercise can help you feel your best. “Find an activity you enjoy and add it to your routine,” says Keeney.
  10. Honor your health with “gentle nutrition.” “Intuitive eating isn’t eating whatever you want,” says Keeney — nutrition counts too. But the goal is progress, not perfection.

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To get started, try mindful eating.

For example:

  • Take a few deep breaths before starting your meal.
  • Put your fork down in between bites to taste your food.
  • Take a break halfway through your meal to tune into how you’re feeling.

To go further with intuitive eating, reach out to an expert.

“Intuitive eating can set you up for intuitive living. It’s empowering,” says Keeney. “I have seen the benefits in my patients, and in my own life.”