Why intuitive eating is the key to healthier and happier living

by Jennifer Bowden / 10 January, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Intuitive eating

Photo/Getty Images

Eat what you enjoy rather than what the food police tell you to.

Food, and the enjoyment of it, is serious business in Japan. “Make all activities pertaining to food and eating pleasurable ones,” the Japanese government instructed citizens in its 1988 dietary guidelines.

Contrast that with the diet-obsessed West, where many of us are fixated on being thin, thinner, thinnest – so obsessed we overlook one of the greatest gifts of life: enjoying good food.

Discovering the satisfaction aspect of food is one of the 10 principles of intuitive eating – an eating philosophy that seeks to reconnect us with our inner wisdom about what, when and how much to eat.

Food satisfaction may sound flaky, but it can be a driving force for happier and healthier living because, when we enjoy what we eat, we’re more likely to be satisfied with less food in total, according to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.

Satisfaction is that moment after a hot summer’s day of gardening or lawn mowing when you’re craving an ice-cold drink. You put some ice in a glass, pour the drink listening to the cracking of the ice, then sit down and enjoy slowly drinking it. That ice-cold drink hits the spot and satisfies us in a way that a lukewarm glass of water never could.

For many people, though, considering what would satisfy their taste buds is a foreign concept. We live in a culture that constantly instructs us on which foods to eat, how much, when, and when to stop eating (yep, we nutritionists are guilty as charged). At no point are we ever taught to consider our own preferences: What do I feel like eating right now? Which foods do I like? Am I actually hungry and why do I need to eat a meal if I’m not?

Evelyn Tribole (far left) and Elyse Resch. Photo/Supplied

About half of us have already set a New Year’s resolution for 2019. At the top of that list will be to lose weight, along with perennial favourites such as spending less, getting healthy or quitting smoking.

Less than 10% of people actually stick to their resolution for the entire year, a statistic that isn’t particularly surprising when you consider what we know about the futility of weight-loss attempts – about 95-98% of diets fail. So, if “lose weight” is at the top of your list, maybe rethink your resolutions and focus on something that is sustainable.

What does work in the long term is focusing on creating healthy, enjoyable habits that bring joy to your life. That entails creating healthier habits for the sake of those habits, because you’ll have more energy, because you’ll feel better – not because you’re trying to reshape your body.

Aside from the futility of dieting and battling against our body’s metabolism and weight set point (the idea that our weight is genetically programmed), this unwritten rule – that we should all eat a particular list of “healthy” foods or “superfoods” that someone tells us to eat – needs challenging.

Forget the food police. To be satisfying, a meal needs to include foods that you enjoy. Yes, your opinion matters. Studies have shown that people who successfully create a healthy lifestyle and eating habits actually choose to eat more of the nutritious foods they enjoy and fewer of the less nutritious foods they don’t care for.

That doesn’t mean they avoid less nutritious snack foods. It means they choose with enjoyment in mind: if they’re going to have a sweet, they pick something they really love. If they’re wanting to include more veges in their diet, they choose veges they love and prepare them the way they prefer.

“If you love it, savour it. If you don’t love it, don’t eat it,” is the advice of Tribole and Resch.

So, if you’re yet to make a New Year’s resolution for 2019, then let it be this: “I will discover which foods I really enjoy this year and be sure to eat them as often as I like.”

This article was first published in the January 5, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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