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A Non-Diet Approach

Posted Feb 11 2009 3:28pm

How many of our clients believe that the "right" way to eat involves deprivation and food restriction? How many of them think that denying their bodies what they'd "really like to eat" is a sign of "good health"? How many divide foods into "good" foods and "bad" foods, or confess that if they ate any "junk food" on a given day that they were "bad" that day for doing so?

For that matter, how many of our friends and family members approach food in this manner? For how many of us does this describe  our own  relationship with food?

The diet-mentality is a ubiquitous concept in our Western culture; scarcely anyone these days has not been on a diet at one time or another, even when that diet was medically unnecessary. Restricting food is commonplace, whether for weeks, days, or even one meal at-a-time.

But what if there was another way?

What if many of the people who routinely deprive themselves of wanted calories, sometimes only to binge on them later, could eat what they wanted, when they were hungry for it, and stop when they were full? Is such an approach to food actually possible? And is it healthy?

Evelyn Tribole M.S., R.D. ,Elyse Resch M.S., R.D., authors of the groundbreaking book Intuitive Eating, confidently assert that this approach is a healthy and valid one -- and research findings appear to support their assertion.

"Intuitive eating is being able to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full," says Evelyn Tribole,  the California-based author. "It's being able to distinguish physical from emotional cues. It's being the expert of your own body..." In a 2006 article ( Download SCANsPULSESummer2006 ) , Tribole explained that, "Intuitive Eating is a process-based approach that ultimately teaches patients how to have a healthy relationship with food, wherein patients become the experts of their own bodies."

"Patients learn how to trust their ability to meet their needs, distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and develop body wisdom. On the surface this may sound simplistic, but it is rather complex.""For example", Tribole clarifies, "one of the basic cores of Intuitive Eating is the ability to respond to body cues, i.e. 'eat when hungry and stop when full.' This may be easy for many people, but for a patient with a history of chronic dieting or rigid “healthy” rules about eating, it is very difficult to accomplish because a number of issues need to be worked on, some of which seem counter-intuitive."

Tribole and Resch, along with other nutrition experts, remind their clients that children tend to eat what their bodies need and to stop eating when they're full. However, "events conspire throughout our lives to encourage us to ignore our bodies' signals. As children, we eat in response to internal cues. As adults, we eat in response to the clock, the latest diet, social cues, or uncomfortable emotions", says Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, a nutritionist in Gainesville, Florida, who specializes in weight and eating disorders.

So, Tribole and Resch attempt to counteract the negative cues and other disruptions that can interfere with a healthy approach to food through their "10 Principles of Intuitive Eating" (Download 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating)", which include:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace With Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect Your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise -- Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health

In an age where new diet-trends abound, even in the midst of research which concludes that, for the majority of people, diets do not lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits, Intuitive Eating (although perhaps counter-intuitive to many of our clients) is worth a fair exploration. Studies show that this approach may indeed be associated with long-term behavior change, while a restrictive-diet approach is not.

A first-step in the arsenal for eating more intuitively is developing something called "appetite awareness", or learning to recognize and respond to one's own interoceptive hunger and satiety cues. resources for helping clients in this endeavor include an understanding of the hunger-fullness Spectrum, an awareness of the physiological cues associated with hunger and satiety (i.e. appetite awareness and monitoring ).

Perhaps a helpful place to begin is with the use of a pre-test evaluation of an individual's current propensity toward "Intuitive Eating."

In the next few posts, we will hear directly from one of the developers of the Intuitive Eating approach, Elyse Resch, we'll discuss some of the caveats for using the approach too soon in eating disorders recovery, and explore some helpful resources and related concepts for the application of Intuitive Eating to clinical practice.


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