Ditch dieting, embrace intuitive eating

Laine Healy, Podcast Host

Navigating your health in college can be hard, especially with the fear of gaining the “freshman 15” looming over your shoulder.

The difficult transition to living by yourself brings new responsibilities of preparing your own meals and finding time for exercise within an already loaded schedule juggling class, work and club involvement.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve searched endlessly for the perfect plan to stay in shape. But what if I told you the best way to meet your goals was by redefining them all together?

Recently, I discovered a hidden gem called intuitive eating. It’s a practice — not a diet — that takes the typically rigid weight loss plan and throws it out the window. Instead, it focuses on tuning in with your body’s hunger and fullness cues to find a balance.

It has one main rule: ditch the diet mentality. Eat whatever you want, whenever you want and move your body with exercises that you enjoy as often or as little as you’d like.

Two registered dieticians coined the practice in 1955 under the central idea of trusting your body to make choices that feel good for you, without judgment or guilt. It’s backed by science and clinical trials, with over 100 medical studies that all revealed positive results.

Sounds too good to be true? Don’t worry, I had the same doubts myself.

For years, I had equated eating less with being healthy. As a dancer for the majority of my life, my career revolved around the number on the scale. To be successful in the art, I had to stay slim by any means necessary.

But I wasn’t born with the classic ballerina figure, and my body would never meet my teacher’s idea of a delicate frame, no matter how hard I tried.

I thought being bigger than the other dancers in my class meant that I was unhealthy, and it wasn’t until I started recovery for an eating disorder when I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Health has no size, and restricting food is not good for you. In reality, cutting out certain food groups while dieting is actually  linked to overeating tendencies.

When you’re constantly telling yourself you can’t eat certain foods, they soon become all you can think about. If you add that to an already low intake, you’re bound to binge on all those forbidden foods.

According to the National Institute of Health, banishing “bad” foods from your diet activates the brain’s stress system and causes anxiety that eventually drives people to overeat those foods when given the chance.

Even if you somehow manage to make it to the end of your diet without “slipping up,” the minute you return to eating normally, you’re likely to cave to those cravings.

In fact, a 2018 research review in ​Medical Clinics of North America​ revealed dieters tend to regain more than half the weight they initially lost within two years. Why? Restrictive diets aren’t sustainable.

The beauty of intuitive eating is that there are no “good” or “bad” foods. Any food that satisfies your body and gives you enough energy to get through the day is a proper choice.

When you start eating intuitively you might gravitate toward all the “unhealthy” foods you had previously sworn off, but with time, you can find a balance between all food groups that are sustainable for life.

While weight loss results aren’t guaranteed, you can expect to settle into your body’s natural set point range, which can be lower, higher or the same as you are now, according to VeryWellFit.

But intuitive eating has plenty of health benefits beyond the scale.

Studies on the practice showed participants had improved cholesterol levels, increased energy, reduced stress, lower rates of emotional and disordered eating, better body image, enhanced self-esteem, improved metabolism and higher levels of happiness.

The whole point of intuitive eating is to reexamine what health means to you. It’s a holistic approach that takes the focus away from losing weight and places it on improving your relationship with food and exercise.

If I have to choose between achieving my ideal body and being happy, I choose happiness. And I hope you do too.