In Beyoncé’s Netflix documentary, Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé, the singer details the extreme diet she used to prepare for her epic Coachella performance: “I’m limiting myself to no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol. And I’m hungry.” She later admits that between trying to balance three children, taking care of her body, and rehearsing long hours, she would “never push myself that far again.”
By nature, almost every diet out there is restrictive in some form—cutting out different food groups, counting your calories, eating only during certain hours. But if even Queen Bey can’t stick to such a limiting diet, what hope do us regular people have?
Well, there’s another trending eating plan out there called intuitive eating, and it is definitely not a diet but it’s more sustainable than one. We talked to Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, who along with Elyse Resch, literally wrote the book on intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating isn’t a new concept; Tribole and Resch wrote their first book in 1995. In it, they challenge the traditional ideas of “good” and “bad” foods and instead encourage people to listen to their own needs and internal cues in order build a healthy relationship with both food and their body. There are main 10 principles:
- Reject the diet mentality.
- Honor your hunger.
- Make peace with food.
- Challenge the food police.
- Respect your fullness.
- Discover the satisfaction factor.
- Honor your feelings without using food.
- Respect your body.
- Exercise — feel the difference
- Honor your health.
The first principle of rejecting the diet mentality, according to Tribole, is exactly why intuitive eating is trending again and more relevant than ever. “I think it’s a backlash response to diet culture. Diet culture has gotten so fierce and nasty,” says Tribole. “There’s so much unnecessary suffering, so it’s another way to be in your body. It’s part of the resistance.”
While diets play the short game, intuitive eating is focused on long-term health. And there’s research that shows diets may not be as effective as you may think. According to the American Psychological Association, most dieters tend to regain the weight they lost, party because after calorie deprivation, your body and metabolism adjust and become more efficient running on less energy. In order to continue the weight loss, you have to keep cutting more and more calories, which is not sustainable over a long period of time.
The single-minded pursuit of dieting or “wellness” also creates a lot of anxiety and isolation, and the process of food restriction can lead to an unhealthy obsession with food, creating a gateway to binge eating. Often people turn to intuitive eating because they get “humbled into submission” from diet fails, says Tribole. “[They think] ‘this is not working. This is hurting my quality of life and I’m not living my life, I’m not engaged in my life. I’m calculating everything.’”
At first glance, intuitive eating may seem like it’s too good to be true—an anti-diet that doesn’t restrict what you can or can’t eat seems like it would let people give into their worst whims. Tribole says that succumbing to unhealthy cravings is indeed the biggest fear she hears from people (“Once I start eating chocolate, I’ll never stop.”). But she adds that mentality reflects years of deprivation, because “the thing you can’t have is the thing you fantasize about the most.” Once you have permission to eat and make peace with food, it takes away the drama. If you let yourself have that slice of pizza whenever you crave it, it becomes less forbidden, and less of a big deal when you do eat it. Instead of obsessing over whether or not you can eat something, you can shift your focus to understanding how it makes you feel. Herein lies the empowering aspect of intuitive eating: It gives you back control of your body. “You’re connected to your body as opposed to being at war with it,” says Tribole.
Research around intuitive eating has shown positive benefits to overall well-being. A 2014 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that intuitive eating helped participants abandon unhealthy weight control behaviors and increase body satisfaction. Another 2014 review in Public Health Nutrition showed there was an association between intuitive eating and both lower BMI and better psychological health.
Intuitive eating presents an entirely different way of thinking from traditional diets. Quick weight loss is not a goal, as weight loss is not necessarily the best measure of good health. Instead, it focuses on redefining health on a personal level. And in the beginning, it can be a leap of faith and it requires a lot of listening and patience with your body. “We’re saying trust your body. You can eat what you want to, but let’s pay attention to how it feels,” says Tribole.
Tribole adds that it’s not a pass or fail outcome like dieting, rather it’s a journey of discovery. Even though there are 10 principles, the one Tribole likes to start with is to eat to satisfaction. She encourages everyone to find out what that means for them — what tastes good, what sounds good, and how does it make you feel when you finish. If that all sounds a little vague, it’s because intuitive eating looks different for every body, a nice counterbalance to the overly prescriptive, black and white diets we’re used to hearing about. “None of these principles are rules, they’re simply guidelines,” advises Tribole. “We’re simply the tour guides of your body.”
Most of all, intuitive eating can help break an endless cycle of dieting and reap both physical and mental benefits. “All bodies deserve dignity and respect and nourishment, no matter what. This body hierarchy and body shaming have got to go. It creates so much unnecessary suffering. We’re so much more than that.” says Tribole. So don’t feel guilty: Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.