An introduction to intuitive eating

AN INTRODUCTION TO INTUITIVE EATING

By University of Utah Health

Ever heard of intuitive eating? It’s been around since the mid-1990s but has gained more mainstream attention over the past few years as a sustainable alternative to dieting.  Intuitive eating is defined as a personal process of honoring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs. There are numerous documented health benefits including improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and mood. Additionally, it is associated with a lower BMI even though it is not designed to promote weight loss.

Intuitive eating focuses on 10 fundamental principles to cue into your body and food preferences in order to guide your overall intake. The most fundamental component is hyperconsciousness when eating. This involves:

  • Evaluating hunger cues and your emotional state before eating a meal or snack: This helps determine why you are eating. For example, is it solely based on hunger or are you eating as a way to cope with boredom, stress, or some other emotion(s)? This will help you establish a consistent meal routine. In turn, you will avoid extreme hunger which makes it easier to choose nourishing foods and to avoid overeating. Additionally, you will begin to notice how emotions influence your food choices and overall intake, and whether these are serving you in a positive way. If not, you can find meaningful alternatives to cope with your emotions.
  • Cueing into the food’s aroma, temperature, texture, and taste throughout the eating process: By minimizing outside distractions, taking small bites, and chewing slowly, you will notice details that would otherwise go undetected during the eating experience.
  • Paying attention to arising fullness signals throughout the meal (or snack): Were you taught to clean your plate? Letting go of this belief can be challenging but so rewarding. By eating slowly and cueing into fullness signals, you will find that it feels more satisfying when you stop eating once you feel slightly full versus when you are overly full. The latter is characterized by bloating, stomach aches, and general discomfort.

 

 

 

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A Healthier U

MEAL FREQUENCY

You may have heard that some diets recommend eating several small meals throughout the day instead of three larger meals. Some diets boast significant health benefits with eating smaller meals throughout the day. The International Society of Sports Nutrition published their position stand on meal frequency in 2011. Here are the findings:
appetizer mini burgers with tomatoes, lettuce and meat balls

  1. Body composition

Increased meal frequency does not play a significant role in decreasing body weight or improving body composition.  Studies of overweight and normal weight individuals found that calories consumed in one meal versus three or five meals did not make a difference in body composition.  At the end of the day, weight loss or weight gain depends entirely on caloric balance.

  1. Blood markers of health

Blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, and fasting glucose levels significantly decrease with increased meal consumption.  Additionally, serum insulin levels are decreased, which may decrease body fat deposition.

  1. Metabolism

Even though there is an increase in thermogenesis and fat utilization with the consumption of smaller, more frequent meals, increasing meal frequency does not statistically elevate resting metabolic rate.  However, additional calories are burned in the actual consumption and digestion of additional meals.

  1. Hunger or satiety

Increased meal frequency does decrease feelings of hunger and, consequently, may result in decreased calories consumed in subsequent meals.

  1. Protein metabolism

Protein content of meals is more important in preserving muscle mass than the number of meals consumed in a day.  Research suggests that skeletal muscle mass preservation is optimized at 20-30 grams of high quality protein or 10-15 grams of essential amino acids, per meal.  It is also important to spread protein consumption evenly throughout the day.

 

La Bounty, et al. (2011) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 8:4.

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