Many people see the coming of a new year as a metaphorical time of transformation, which is why most New Year’s resolutions are based on changes to our bodies. Chief among them? Eating healthier.
On its own, this goal seems more than reasonable. But many Americans fall prey to the diet culture that exists everywhere from our social media feeds to television advertisements. The message is clear: if you want to eat right and lose weight, you need to try the latest diet trend.
But what if we turned off the noise and listened to our bodies? That’s the idea behind intuitive eating.
In this article, we’re going to explore the pitfalls of listening to diet culture and how intuitive eating can help you live a happier, healthier life.
Unpacking diet culture
Let’s start with some staggering numbers: 45 million Americans vow to diet every year and spend $30 billion on diet products annually. In 2021 alone, the U.S. weight loss industry was valued at $71 billion.
We’re going to be real with you: most fad diets are designed to fail. These quick-fix solutions ask us to uphold significant dietary restrictions that lead to potentially dangerous consequences, including nutrient deficiencies, body distortion and deprivation. And because the weight loss industry is such a money maker, there will always be a new diet to try right around the corner.
If there is one thing you take away from this section, let it be this: weight and body size do not equate to health. This is quite evident when you realize several of diet culture’s go-to barometers of wellness are not one size fits all. Take, for instance, the Body Mass Index (BMI), which was developed in the 19th century using a small sample of white male soldiers to showcase the “ideal man.” It was later adapted to be the gold standard of measuring health for all genders and races, despite its various problems.
Our bodies are wired to tell us everything we need to know about what we need to eat. Intuitive eating helps us tune out the noise and listen.
What is intuitive eating?
As its name implies, intuitive eating is all about trusting your gut (no pun intended). When your body says you are hungry, you eat. When it says you are full, you stop. Yes, it’s that simple.
Does this mean allowing yourself a potato chip breakfast or cookie dinner? Experts agree the answer is no. Our bodies like variety and if we get good at listening to it, we’ll know what kind of foods it wants and needs.
To be clear, intuitive eating isn’t about shedding lots of weight in a small timeframe: it’s about approaching food in a positive manner. When paired with exercise and other easy ways to improve your well-being, intuitive eating can help you live a happier, healthier lifestyle free from the noise of diet culture.
The three pillars of intuitive eating
To get started on the path to intuitive eating, there are three main pillars to abide by.
Rejecting diet culture
We’ve already talked about diet culture at length, but it bears elaborating upon. To start tuning out the noise of what diet culture says you should be, it’s important to pay attention to the influences in your life. Good places to begin are the social media accounts you follow. Do they bring you joy, enrichment or value? Or does their content make you feel bad about yourself? Answer those questions and then unfollow accordingly. (Tip: Most social networks allow you to reduce or remove ads related to weight loss, including Instagram.)
Honoring your body and its needs
Listening to your body is the core of intuitive eating. So if your body is hungry, give it adequate energy and carbohydrates. Because when we ignore our rumbling stomachs and try to push through, our bodies eventually succumb to side effects of excessive hunger, such as irritation and low energy. We are more apt to indulge in this state and that negates any intent of mindful eating.
Engaging your senses and emotions
Intuitive eating is a natural practice in mindfulness, which is the act of paying attention to all of your senses and feelings. As research on mental health continues to grow, evidence has shown tuning in to your senses can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve concentration, balance emotions and increase empathy. So when you enjoy your next meal or snack, take stock of how it tastes, smells and makes you feel.
The bottom line: Unsubscribing from diet culture and practicing intuitive eating can lead to a happier and healthier life. By trusting your body to tell you when it is hungry and full, you will learn to frame food in a positive way.