LATELY, YOU CAN HEAR THE PHRASE “intuitive eating” MORE OFTEN , and several heroines of our recent material on diets and breakdowns said that it was it that helped them come to the world with their own bodies and food. Let’s figure out what kind of power system it is, where it came from and what scientists think about it.
The cult of thinness
Oddly enough, people started talking about the relationship between human health and what and how much they eat not so long ago. In the second half of the 20th century, the quality of life of people, especially in countries with developed economies, improved significantly, and they began to live longer – but there were many more chronic ailments; obesity, diabetes mellitus, heart and vascular diseases and, of course, oncological diseases appeared. At some point, it became clear that both the composition of the diet and excess weight (overweight from the point of view of the medical norm, and not comparing oneself with the retouched figure of the model in the magazine) are factors that contribute to the development of such diseases. And these factors can be influenced to prevent deterioration in health.
One of the earliest and most popular methods was restrictive diets to reduce body weight. These eating regimes come in different types: they can include scrupulous calorie counting, partial or complete refusal of certain types of food (for example, fatty or sweet) and certain foods like bread. Diets can be short-term and stricter, or involve lifelong eating habits. By themselves, restrictive diets cannot be considered an unambiguous evil – it all depends on the situation. For example, moderating food after heavy operations, the requirement to come on an empty stomach before donating blood, or a ban on grapefruit juice while taking certain medications – this is also a kind of diet. However, in most cases, people prescribe their own diets on their own – and this is where the catch lies.
The problem with diets is that their popularity in recent decades is not related to the recommendations of doctors and the worldwide problem of obesity (in 2016, it was observed in 650 million adults and 41 million children under the age of five), but our insecurity about our body image. The notion of “normal” weight has blurred: in a world where far-fetched standards rule the show, most people with a normal physique and weight that do not threaten potential diseases are still considered “fat”. Popular culture discriminates against anyone who does not fit into a fashionable image that changes from decade to decade and has nothing to do with the recommendations of doctors. By the way, if more and more people are talking about the inconsistency of such an approach, then the question of respecting the choice to remain complete (like, say, drinking alcohol or not playing sports) comes even less often in the pop space. Gooders of the world fetsheymyat strangers, under the guise of “health concerns.”
Fat and feminism
One of the first to draw attention to this problem was the psychotherapist Susie Orbach, who dealt with eating disorders in women in the UK. In 1978, she released a book ‘Fat – is a feminist theme »(« Fat is a Feminist Issue »), which became an instant bestseller. In it, the therapist discusses the problems associated with the cult, which is surrounded by thinness: “model” appearance already in the seventies was considered not just an indicator of health, but synonymous with career success , love, sex life, and just happiness. Orbach was one of the first to say that beauty standards are becoming more and more inaccessible, and the “perfect figure” is advertised as a way to solve all problems. As a result, the specialist opened the Women’s Therapy Center in London, where eating disorders are still treated, and all the administration staff there are women. By the way, one of his patients was Princess Diana, who at that time was struggling with bulimia.
Forty years ago, when this book was written, women were primarily subjected to such pressure , but gradually the pressure also covered men, as the same Orbach says in a recent interview . No wonder: on the set of commercials with male models, they use favorable lighting, and the pictures themselves are retouched, emphasizing the muscles. As a result, it begins to seem that only people like those in these photos or videos, people with chiseled abs, broad shoulders and flawless skin, can be happy. According to various researchers, up to 95% of men are dissatisfied with their own bodies to one degree or another.
Orbach’s book, among others, gave rise to the ideas of the “antidiet” movement, and later – to intuitive and conscious nutrition. They are based on a simple thought: it is necessary to eat when the body is feeling hungry, stopping as soon as satiety occurs.
Proponents of intuitive eating divide hunger into physical and emotional. With physical hunger, the body reports that it does not have enough food – a person has unpleasant sensations or rumbling in the stomach, fatigue and irritability sets in . Emotional hunger refers to the state where a person wants to eat without being physically hungry. Such a desire can arise from stress, a bad mood, or, conversely, a desire to please oneself, and also because some product looks attractive – for example, a cake turns out to be very beautiful.
Those who adhere to such a system are advised to listen to physical hunger and analyze the causes of emotional hunger , referring to specialists if necessary. Another critical part of this approach is self-acceptance and self -acceptance . To tune in to intuitive nutrition means to voluntarily abandon attempts to constantly lose weight and strive for unattainable ideals. Publications and guidance on intuitive eating quickly spread among psychotherapists and eating disorder specialists. It is important to understand that this approach does not deny medical intervention when it is needed, and does not prescribe eating foods that can harm – for example, cause severe allergies.
Essentially, intuitive eating is a way of constant introspection and listening to yourself. The system focuses more on the relationship to your body and food than on numbers, proportions and quantities of food and its components. Intuitive nutrition helps to reconsider the attitude towards weight loss: if a person is losing weight, it is not for the sake of conforming to dubious generally accepted norms, but for health and well-being. Evelyn Tribol and Elise Resch, the creator of the most popular portal on intuitive nutrition, say that you still need to monitor the composition of the diet: it is important to get enough carbohydrates and energy to function normally; there are also no prohibited products in the system. At the same time, the authors of the methods of intuitive nutrition insist that nutrition, in principle, should not cause negative emotions.
How it’s done
The intuitive eating system prescribes “respect” for hunger and satiety. Tribal and Resh argue that the longer the body is hungry, the more likely it is to overeat during the next meal – so it’s better to eat on time. In the process of eating, you should “listen” to your body and be aware when satiety comes. From a practical point of view, this means that it is better to eat in small portions, after each one asking yourself if you would like a supplement. When you feel hungry, you need to ask yourself what kind of food you want right now: cold or hot, soft or crispy, sour, salty or spicy.
The emphasis is also on solving your problems, internal or external, without using food – first of all, this concerns emotions. Meals should be in a pleasant environment, and the food should not cause negative feelings. The most important thing is to build a positive relationship with your body and health and tune in to long-term balanced (if not “perfect”) nutrition. This is much better than rigid constraints interspersed with breakdowns.
The main Russian-language source on the topic – the book Svetlana Bronnikova “Intuitive Eating. How to stop worrying about food and lose weight. The author is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist; in the book, she explains that the intuitive approach, as opposed to the dietary one, is not about trying to control the body, but about the willingness to take responsibility for it and learn to take care of it. It is also recommended to keep a food diary to help you analyze your own thoughts and feelings.
What Scientists Say
Intuitive nutrition has been closely studied by scientists and nutritionists, and there are already dozens of papers on the topic. In a systematic review of 68 studies conducted in 2017, it was found that intuitive eating helps reduce the urge to binge, the symptoms of anorexia, and generally improves eating habits. Probably its most important effect is precisely in the influence on mental health and self-perception. The focus shifts from wanting to lose weight to keeping an eye on your diet in order to be in harmony with yourself and your body.
Research also shows that intuitive eating does not always lead to weight loss in everyone. Nevertheless , those who follow this approach have a lower body mass index than those who do not monitor their diet at all and do not adhere to any restrictions. Although it is clear that BMI is not an ideal tool, because it does not take into account the proportion of muscle and fat tissue, high BMI is now considered a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and other serious diseases. Some researchers note that intuitive eating improves other health indicators, including blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In general, this approach largely coincides with modern dietary recommendations in Western countries. The British health care system , the American Heart Association and many others recommend that you monitor your diet and strive to increase the proportion of “healthy” foods, including fruits, vegetables and fish, but insist that you should not give up “unhealthy” foods (such as fatty and sweet ) completely. Both intuitive eating and official dietary guidelines point to the importance of physical activity.
Does it suit everyone
From a biological point of view, hunger is a mechanism that forces you to search for food in order to survive, and the more complex the body, the more difficult it is to control appetite and hunger. In humans, the pancreatic hormone insulin, produced by the cells of adipose tissue, leptin, and ghrelin, produced by the cells of the stomach wall, are responsible for hunger. Insulin and leptin suppress hunger, while ghrelin, on the contrary, stimulates it – it is produced in response to a decrease in blood glucose levels. Of course, this is an extremely simplified scheme; all these hormones interact with the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that is able not only to cause a general feeling of hunger or satiety, but also to prepare the body for the search for food – for example, hyperactivity may occur during exhaustion, and this process is mediated by the work of the hypothalamus.
These evolutionary mechanisms allowed our ancestors to survive and function normally. By Unfortunately, disrupt appetite control system may be a number of factors, first and foremost it is a problem with the endocrine system. For example, in people with diabetes mellitus, the synthesis of insulin or the sensitivity of cells to it is impaired, in connection with which there is a constant feeling of hunger. Lack of sleep, studies show , leads to low leptin levels and high levels of ghrelin, also causing hunger. A constant state of stress can cause a lack of appetite or, conversely, lead to overeating. It is important to understand that, like other processes in the body, appetite control is extremely difficult and not fully understood.
It is for this reason that intuitive eating should be approached with caution, realizing that the desire to eat something else that arises in a well-fed person is not necessarily caused by psychological problems or inability to accept their body: the appetite control system can be disrupted for physiological reasons. Therefore, those who plan to solve health problems with the help of intuitive nutrition should not rely solely on this approach: the treatment of conditions such as obesity or diabetes mellitus should be carried out by a specialist.
Intuitive nutrition can become part of the therapeutic plan – in addition to medications (for example, for the treatment of arterial hypertension) or with some modifications recommended by the doctor – with the same diabetes mellitus or pre-diabetes conditions, special attention should be paid to the glycemic index of foods. If you have any doubts, you should start with a general practitioner, who, if he sees fit, will refer you to an endocrinologist or other specialist. Finally, while gut eating is a good tool to help you balance your relationship with food and your body, if the problem is difficult to tackle, it is worth seeing a therapist or eating disorder therapist.