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

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What lies behind intuitive eating? The concept was first mentioned in 1995 by the American nutrition scientists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Its key message is: just trust your gut feeling and listen to your body. But this is something that first needs to be learned.

Put an end to old habits

The idea of following your own body's signals is basically a good one. Each person has their own eating patterns and should recognise when they feel hungry and when they feel full. But this is easier said than done and must often be (re-)learned.

Understand what your body needs

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.

Intuitive eating: principles and tips

The main principles of intuitive eating sound plausible:

  • Eat only when you're really hungry. Avoid eating for emotional reasons. Rediscover the feeling of natural hunger.
  • 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’. To learn what agrees with you, it pays to listen to your body and note how you feel after a meal. Do you feel tired or full of energy?
  • Give yourself time (especially at the beginning). To interpret your body’s signals correctly, you need to get to know your body again.
  • Don’t weigh anything, don’t read calorie charts.
  • Learn to recognise when you’re full.
  • With intuitive eating, no foods are forbidden. Everything is allowed.
  • Be open to inspiring new tastes.

Listen to your body

The advocates of intuitive eating say that people who follow these tips 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

Mindfulness exercises for healthy eating habits

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

  • 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.
  • Savour the first bite with all your senses.
  • Put your cutlery down now and again.
  • Chew each bite thoroughly.
  • Listen to how your body feels.

No restrictions – more enjoyment

In order to recognise when you’re really hungry and when you're full, mindful eating can help. However, the concept of intuitive eating gives little indication about what foods to choose, 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. With intuitive eating, recommendations such as those in the food pyramids aren't to be seen as hard and fast rules, but as guidelines. However, eating unhealthily – without rules and restrictions – quickly becomes boring. By contrast, people who learn to eat according to their feelings develop a stronger desire for healthy food. This is because the body demands the nutrients it needs.

Delicious and enjoyable meals

Eating a diverse diet doesn’t mean you have to love every kind of vegetable or try out something completely new each 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, nutritionist Uwe Knop warns against the risk of false expectations: losing weight is possible with intuitive eating, but equally possible 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". Intuitive eating is more the opposite of a diet.

You don’t have to avoid certain foods, nor follow any rules such as eating fewer carbs in the ketogenic diet. Intuitive eating can rather be described as an anti-diet. Intuitive eaters don’t have a guilty conscience after eating and aren't exposed to the danger of the yo-yo effect.


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