Intuitive eating: new freedom in what goes on your plate?

Intuitive eating: new freedom in what goes on your plate?

Eating intuitively is the latest nutrition trend. And its key message? Just listen to your gut feeling. But this is something that first needs to be learned.

Principles

The main principles of intuitive eating sound plausible:

  • Eat only when you're hungry.
  • Only eat what you feel like eating and what tastes good to you.
  • Eat food that you digest easily, i.e. what ‘agrees with you’.
  • Give yourself time (especially at the beginning).
  • Don’t weigh anything, don’t read calorie charts.
  • Learn to recognise when you’re full.
  • No food is forbidden. Everything is allowed.
  • Be open to inspiring new tastes.

The advocates of intuitive eating say that people who eat this way are more satisfied and enjoy better quality of life. And more freedom, as they toss all dietary rules and restrictions overboard and no longer let others dictate what they may or may not put on their plate. After all, your own body is still the one who knows best, says Uwe Knop, a nutritionist famed for his provocative theories.

Who, apart from your own body, can know which nutrients you need when and which food is good, digestible and healthy for you?
Uwe Knop, nutritionist

An end to old habits

In essence, the idea of following your own body signals is a good one, says Ewa Heimerdinger from the mycoach nutrition programme. "Each person has their own individual eating rhythms and should observe when they feel hungry and when they feel full." But this often has to be (re-)learned as food today is available everywhere and at any time, and people also eat out of boredom and frustration. And when food is quickly wolfed down on the side, people often misjudge whether they're actually full or not. Intuitive eating therefore means first letting go of old habits and becoming more aware.

Mindfulness exercises

According to the German Federal Centre for Nutrition (BZfE), a few mindfulness exercises can help:

  • Avoid distractions from newspapers, smartphones or radio.
  • Take three deep breaths before eating.
  • Take small portions.
  • Be mindful of the aroma and appearance of the food.
  • Be aware of the first bite with all your senses.
  • Put your cutlery down now and again.
  • Chew each bite thoroughly.
  • Listen to how your body feels.

Recognise when you're really hungry and when you're full – mindful eating can help with this. However, the concept says little about the choice of food, says BZfE. Eating whatever you fancy is only a good idea as long as people choose from the wide range of tastes provided by fresh and natural foods – and don't limit themselves to ready-made meals or fast food. Recommendations such as those in the food pyramids aren't to be seen as hard and fast rules, but as guidelines.

Delicious and enjoyable meals

Ewa Heimerdinger adds: "Variety doesn't mean we have to love every kind of vegetable or eat something completely new every day." The idea is to play with different options based on your own preferences and to make every meal a pleasurable experience without being governed by restrictions. If your intuition tells you to have a piece of cake or chocolate: go ahead.

Better than a diet?

Intuitive eating is just one of many potential approaches to weight control. However, there is no difference between this programme and conventional diet programmes. This is the conclusion reached by scientists at the University of Zurich in a meta-analysis, adding that further studies are now necessary to be able to make clearer statements – about long-term effects, for example. Nutritionist Uwe Knop, on the other hand, warns against the risk of false expectations: losing weight is just as possible with intuitive eating as is a slight weight gain. He believes the likely result is that people will achieve their own personal feel-good weight – "but completely free of diet-related stress".

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