Intuitive Eating: How To Get Rid of the Rules and Enjoy Food

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Ninety-five percent of fad diets fail. Many people end up gaining back all the weight they lost – and then put on even more pounds. If you’re tired of diets but still want to lose weight or eat more healthfully, you might consider intuitive eating. Sometimes called the mindfulness approach, intuitive eating doesn’t specifically focus on weight loss. It’s about developing a positive relationship with food and losing the guilt many people feel about enjoying food. Even better, a growing body of scientific evidence supports this approach. UH dietician and wellness coordinator Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD, explains.


Transcript

Pete Kenworthy

So, I recently lost about 25 pounds. And the way I did it was to pay attention to what I was eating. I logged my food intake every day. I logged my water intake and my exercise. Now, my goal was to lose weight, but what I learned along the way was that I already had a pretty good relationship with food in that I've never really felt guilty eating so-called bad foods. But that's not true for everyone. And that relationship to food is super important when it comes to losing weight or actually just living a healthier life.

Macie Jepson

Well, Pete, first of all, congratulations. And I wish people could see you right now because you look great. Do you feel great?

Pete Kenworthy

Thank you. Yes, I do.

Macie Jepson

Yeah. I figured you did. Now, my experience sadly is completely different. With every new diet comes a new set of rules. And with some diets, even foods that you think are completely healthy, like fruits and veggies, even whole grains are off limits for one reason or another. And then there are diets that limit when you can eat. Honestly, it seems like there are so many rules that many of us have no idea what to eat or when, and it seems easier to just give up and eat whatever, and then feel really bad about it. So, how do we come to peace with food and live healthier, both mentally and physically? We're about to tell you. It's called intuitive eating. Hi, everybody. I'm Macie Jepson.

Pete Kenworthy

And I'm Pete Kenworthy. And this is Healthy@UH. And today is an interesting subject. It sounds like we're talking about a diet, but we're not. Intuitive eating isn't about losing weight, though it might help you get there. Joining us is Jessica Jurcak, a registered dietician and wellness coordinator at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. Jessica, thanks for being with us.

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Kenworthy

So, let's start with a broad overview. As I said, intuitive eating isn't a diet. So, what is it?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

That is correct. Intuitive eating is not a diet. And it's important to note that 95% of traditional fad diets, dieting with nutrition, do fail. And many people end up cycling back to being even being even worse off than where they started when they try to follow some kind of fad diet. So, intuitive eating is not a diet. And it's an approach that doesn't focus specifically on weight loss. Intuitive eating is an approach that is all about developing your personal, healthy relationship with food. It was created by Masters level dieticians, Evelyn Tribole, and Elyse Resch in the 1990s. And it's defined as a flexible style of eating in which you largely follow your internal sensations of hunger and satiety to really gauge when to eat, what to eat and when to stop eating. And it really rejects all of the external fad diet kind of rules. It's more of a process to build trust within your body to, again, figure out when to eat what to eat and get back in tune with the instincts that we used to have. And I mentioned the word satiety there. And what this means is that you are feeling full and feeling happily full, that you've eaten enough and you feel you can stop without feeling like you're going to be bloated, like you ate too much or that you're still hungry. So, you're just comfortably full and satisfied with what you ate.

Macie Jepson

Before we go a little bit deeper into exactly how this works, this podcast is about breaking down myths, Jessica, and backing what might be considered a fad, right? Digging in and finding science behind it. So, let's just ask that question first. Is there science behind this?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

Yes, there is evidence behind this. In the last four to six years, there's been a huge growing body of evidence that supports this approach to a healthy, holistic lifestyle with intuitive eating. For example, back in 2017, there was a literature review that looked at mindfulness in general and intuitive eating strategies. And this literature review concluded that the mindfulness approach, the mindful eating approach really does have the potential to address problematic eating behaviors and the challenges that many people face with controlling their food intake. And in the past five years, there's been more evidence supporting different populations specifically with intuitive eating. For example, both pre-pregnancy and postpartum women, eating disorder clients and adolescents with Type One diabetes. So, compared to the rigid eating structures of diets and fad diets, the intuitive eating pattern really promotes a positive body image and an overall general mindfulness that helps you to associate eating with more positive emotions and positive habits.

Macie Jepson

Okay, then. All right. Well, let's dig into it a little bit and talk about exactly what this looks like, how it works. So, there are principles of intuitive eating. Is that right?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

There are. There are 10 principles. And I'll go ahead and just read them off for you. Principle one is rejecting the diet mentality, getting rid of all of the food rules that you've ever had throughout your entire life. Principle two is honoring your hunger, making sure that you're getting back in tune with your hunger and fullness cues. Principle three is making peace with food. Four is challenging the food police, again, making sure you are paying attention to those inner food critics, the inner thoughts that are telling you what you should and should not eat and throwing them out the window. Principle five is feeling your fullness. Six is discovering the satisfaction factor, and that's the fun one where you get to dig into all the flavors and the fun of eating again. Principle seven is cope with your feelings without using food. Eight is respecting your body. Nine is exercise, feel the difference. And principle 10 is honor your health with gentle nutrition.

Pete Kenworthy

So, that's a lot of principles to follow, right? And I'm wondering if there's any sort of prioritization or any more important than the others, I mean, or more difficult for some people than others. Like it would seem like making peace with food is a huge one in this, right? And I realize they're all important, but that one for people who have not done that in the past, or feel guilty about eating certain things, that's got to be a difficult one to get through.

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

It definitely is. Again, getting rid of all of those food rules and the structure that you've had set for your entire life can be very challenging to let go of and kind of scary to give up and then not have that structure to go back to. Another one that I'd say would be kind of a big one to focus on would be number seven, the coping with your feelings without using food. Food is emotions. We all have emotions connected to food, to traditions, to holidays, to the way that we handle our stress. And so digging in and learning kind of what your emotional food ghosts are and your stressors in life and how do you deal with all of those things without turning to food as a coping mechanism. And that's where intuitive eating and the mindfulness component comes in and healthy lifestyles overall, managing your stress and your whole day to day lifestyle without using food as your coping mechanism.

Pete Kenworthy

And you’re also saying we don't have to make rules about good and bad foods, or when we're allowed to eat. We can really eat whatever we want with this?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

That's right. And saying, you know, eat whatever you want is a very strong phrase, right? So, it's important to remember that respecting your body is a part of the process, and feeding yourself nutritious food in order to stay healthy is a form of self-care. So, we're not throwing all of our nutrition research out the window and saying, eat all the unhealthy, non-nutritious foods because that tastes good and never eating nutritious food ever again. What we're saying is tune into those hunger and fullness cues, pay attention to what your body is saying that you do need and pay attention to how much you need, when you need it, and actually feeding yourself appropriately so that you can stay healthy.

Macie Jepson

I mean, this is so deep it sounds like we could develop an entire program on how to learn how to eat intuitively, which is what we're trying to get away from, the programs. So, how do we train ourselves, though, to eat this way? It sounds like it would take a lot of work to reverse a lifetime of thinking differently. How do we train ourselves? How do we start?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

So, just like you said, it is a lot of work. And I wouldn't say that we need to get away from programs. I think that programs and structures are good. What we need to get away from is the rigid fad diets that do not work. So, for intuitive eating specifically, there are a couple of books that you can learn the research, the evidence, all of the background around the intuitive eating approach. There's also a do-it-yourself kind of self-guide workbook that walks you through each of these 10 principles. But another great place to start if this is something completely foreign and new to you would be to start with general mindfulness and learning the mindfulness approach. Like I mentioned before, just improving your mindfulness can impact your eating behaviors and your health outcomes.

Pete Kenworthy

Let's say we pull it off, right? Like, let's say we follow all the rules, we do all the right things with intuitive eating. What kind of results can we expect? Everybody goes into things like this wanting to lose weight, or I would think that would be a big priority, but then long-term is sustaining that, right? Living healthy. Is that what we could look forward to if we buy in and do this a hundred percent correctly?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

Yes. Like I said before, it is not specifically a weight loss approach. That may happen if you change your eating patterns in such a way that reduces calorie intake or increases calorie output through exercise and physical activity. But the goal is not weight loss. The goal is a better relationship with your body, better body positivity and feeling better in your body. And then that whole mental and emotional well-being aspect is having this better relationship with food, not having to fight the food police every day and, you know, beat yourself up for eating a certain food or not eating a certain food that you want, really making peace with your whole eating patterns and your whole diet.

Macie Jepson

So, I'm still trying to get my head around this a little bit. Could you play this out for us as kind of a day in the life of someone who lives this lifestyle? What their breakfast and lunch looks like. What their stressful eating looks like. What it looks like when they're just craving a Twinkie?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

Sure. So, let's say somebody is feeling very stressed out. They went out with some friends the night before and ate pizza, even though it's one of their rules that they're not supposed to eat those foods. They're not supposed to eat after 8 o'clock at night. And they had a late night pizza at 10:30 with their friends. The next morning they get up and they say to themselves, I ate that pizza last night. I should not have done that. I know I've just gained five pounds from it, and everything is thrown out the window now. I just messed up my diet completely. Well, we know that in that case, that's the food police talking, and that beating yourself up about it is not going to result in a positive net habit that day. A better approach would then be to forgive yourself, to say, that's the food police talking and challenge that thought to say, is that true? Did I literally gain five pounds from it? You know, look at the lived experience, look at it with objective facts and find out, you know, is that statement that I just told myself true? More than likely it's not going to be true either based on facts or your own lived experience.

So, then the next step would be to decide, what am I going to do to pay attention to the way that my body feels today? Maybe you don't feel very good in your body. Maybe you feel a little bit bloated. Maybe you are not hungry for breakfast because you ate later than you usually would have. So, pay attention to that and figure out, do I need a little bit lighter or healthier breakfast this morning? Do I need some more water to make up for the salt that was in that pizza that I'm feeling a little bit bloated now? Do I need to move around a little bit more to feel better today? And start to, you know, take some steps to listen to your body, and based on how you're feeling, get the nutrition, get the foods and the movement that you need to get back on track and to feel good rather than sitting in that cycle of beating yourself up about it, not feeling good, throwing your whole diet out the window and regressing back to square one again.

Pete Kenworthy

Is a lot of this eating really only when you're hungry, not eating when you're not hungry and stopping when you're full? Is that, I mean, this is kind of how it sounds like this is going, right?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

Yeah. And that, that is a big part of it. Tuning back into your body's cues. It's also about that positive body image and that self-respect for your body and finding the ways to eat, the types of foods to eat and the exercise that you actually enjoy and love. And that's why it's a whole lifestyle approach and that you are not going to the gym and getting on the elliptical for an hour because somebody said that that's the best cardio. That, maybe you like swimming, maybe you like walking your dog or playing with your kids in the yard. And that's going to be your exercise. It's about finding the things that you like to do to live a healthy lifestyle.

Macie Jepson

And that would be for anyone, whether they're just wanting to eat more healthfully, whether they're wanting to lose a little weight…anyone.

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

Yes, absolutely. Anybody can do this, can take this approach. Again, there is more and more research coming every single year with this approach. Right now there's most evidence for clients with eating disorders, with Type One diabetes, postpartum women. Those kinds of populations have had the most research, but anybody can take this approach and find a healthier relationship with food and a healthy lifestyle.

Macie Jepson

Okay. So, that helps me visualize things a little better. Jessica, is there anything else that you would want to touch on before we wrap it up?

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

I think the last thing that I'd like to add is that there are some criticisms around approaches like this because when you get into a dieting approach or an eating pattern that doesn't count calories, that doesn't pay attention to the very specifics of what's going on in a person's day to day, that people are afraid that it, maybe it's not evidence-based. And I just want to point out that the very last principle, which is honor your health with gentle nutrition, does wrap in and pull together all of the dietary guidelines for Americans and all of our evidence-based information that we do have around nutrition. So, again, it's about finding the holistic lifestyle approach that works for you with a positive body appreciation and positive mental health approach to eating.

Pete Kenworthy

Awesome. Jessica Jurcak, registered dietician and wellness coordinator at University Hospitals in Cleveland, thanks so much for being with us today.

Jessica Jurcak, MS, MPH, RD, LD

Thank you so much.

Pete Kenworthy

Remember, you can find and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Search University Hospitals or Healthy@UH, depending on where you subscribe.

Macie Jepson

And for more health news, advice from medical experts and Healthy@UH podcasts, go to UHHospitals.org/blog.

 

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