Is Intuitive Eating Appropriate for Athletes?

Is Intuitive Eating Appropriate for Athletes?

Are you an active individual thinking “is Intuitive Eating is appropriate for athletes?” If so, you are in the right place.
It is a common myth that Intuitive Eating and sports nutrition are not compatible.
As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor and Registered Dietitian, let me assure you that they are very compatible. In fact, learning Intuitive Eating skills could potentially benefit your athletic performance.
From a personal perspective, since implementing intuitive eating, my athletic performance has never been better. My partner is also a gold-medal Olympic athlete and I would certainly class him as intuitive eater!
In short: Intuitive Eating IS Appropriate for Athletes. It just takes some knowledge and practice to know how to use it.


So, how exactly does Intuitive Eating work for Athletes?

Intuitive Eating is often thought of as “eat when hungry, stop when full”. This is a vast oversimplification. Intuitive Eating is using instinct, emotion and rational thought to make eating decisions. In other words, you can use your body knowledge and brain knowledge in unison.


What does this look like in a real world examples for athletes?

Example 1: imagine you have just finished a training session. You know that having a protein-rich meal or snack soon after will benefit your recovery. But, you’re not physically hungry yet. In this situation you can honour your “brain knowledge” and eat something, despite not feeling hunger. This is coming from a place of self-care (wanting to ensure optimal recovery), which is 100% compatible with Intuitive Eating.
Example 2: It’s mid-afternoon and you’ve already eaten your afternoon snack. An hour later you feel hungry and dinner isn’t for another 2 hours. If you were sticking to a meal plan you might ignore this hunger and wait until dinner to eat. With an intuitive eating approach, you would feel confident to honour your hunger. Energy needs vary day-to-day and hunger is trusted as a reliable indicator that your body will benefit from food in that moment.
Hopefully this helps to demonstrate the nuance of Intuitive Eating and how it can fit with performance goals.

What are the benefits of Intuitive Eating for Athletes?Benefits of Intuitive Eating For Athletes

The benefits of intuitive eating in sport include:

    Athletes have high activity levels and high energy expenditures. They also often have little free time on their hands. There are many considerations for an athlete’s diet. These include meal composition, meal timing, and getting enough calories and enough macronutrients.
    But, it is certainly possible to do all this AND still be in tune with what your body wants and needs at any given time.
    Low energy availability is a common issue in athletes. This is when an athlete is not eating enough to support what they are expending on a daily basis. Lack of dietary energy can lead you to feel pretty miserable. If you are female, you might even be missing your period. This is a big red flag from your body. Trying to get through a one or two-hour practice, training session, or game with a lack of fuel is not going to feel good. It will also negatively impact performance. But low energy availability can be prevented. Intuitive eating may be able to help with this.
    Another benefit of intuitive eating is improved body image and body acceptance. We live in an appearance-focused culture. Many people, including athletes, use food and exercise as a way to manipulate their bodies. Diet culture and disordered eating are really common in sports. Intuitive eating is a framework that an athlete can use to step back from this mentality. By honouring body and mind, you may just end up fuelling and performing better than ever! In fact, research has shown that Intuitive Eating may result in greater motivation to train (due to focus being on performance, rather than guilt or appearance).
    Intuitive eating can also allow athletes to free up brain space. Worrying about calories burned during a workout or counting food throughout the day gets exhausting. Intuitive eating frees up some of this brain space. You can then use it on other things in life that are meaningful to you such as relationships, career or school.

    7 ways you can use Intuitive Eating as an Athlete

    Eating intuitively as an athlete involves rejecting rigid food rules. And working out the way of eating that works best for your individual body.

    Here’s 7 ways you can begin to do this:

    1. Each workout is different. Trust your body. Macronutrient needs differ with each workout. This depends on intensity, duration, injuries, temperature, sleep and so many other factors. A regimented diet plan struggles to account for account for all of this. Listening to your hunger signals and cravings, alongside nutrition knowledge can help you identify how much to eat around workouts.
    2. Fuel for performance over appearance. As an athlete, you might be abusing food and exercise as a way to manipulate your body to fit a certain standard. Intuitive eating encompasses the principle of Body Respect. It emphasises a positive relationship with food over weight or appearance. To re-gain a healthy relationship with food you may need to gain weight, lose weight, or even stay the same. This can feel scary initially but can be worked through with the correct support. Under-fuelling to fit body ideals harms us physically and mentally. By learning to respect your body, you will feel (and perform) better than ever.
    If you are in a situation where you are required to meet certain weight targets to compete or participate in your sport, then it could be worth reaching our to an eating disorder- informed sports dietitian to help navigate this.
    3. Know that all foods fit. An occasional scoop of ice cream or slice of pizza won’t affect your performance goals. Intuitive eating allows you to feel at peace with all foods, whilst honouring your health.
    4. Utilise the off-season. Some sports can put pressure on athletes to manipulate physique during the off-season. It is possible to implement intuitive eating all year long. But you can take advantage of this down-time to begin to check in with hunger and satiety cues, and explore food rules.
    5. View eating as self-care. View food as nourishment, not punishment. Focus on a way of eating that feels good to you; in body, mind and spirit.
    6. Honour your tastebuds. As an athlete you have specific nutritional needs. You can eat intuitively around those needs so ensure eating is still enjoyable! For instance, you likely need to consume protein with each meal. It’s ok to honour your tastebuds and choose the specific type of protein that you enjoy when it comes time to eat. You don’t need to follow a strict diet regimen and can instead eat what makes you feel your best.
    7. Free up some brain-space. Spending all day obsessively thinking about macronutrients and calories is exhausting. Applying intuitive eating principles can help you focus on non-sports-related things and free your mind of obsessive food thoughts. This will contribute to a well-rounded lifestyle that positively affects performance and mindset.

    That’s a wrap!

    In summary, Intuitive Eating is certainly appropriate for Athletes. Intuitive eating can provide many benefits for athletes. These may include improved performance and a healthier relationship with food and body. If you are interested in individual support from an experienced Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor, you can learn more about what that looks like here.
    Want to read more about intuitive eating? Check out these articles:


    The Difference Between Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating

    The Difference Between Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating

    The Difference Between Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating

    Are you confused about the difference between Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating? If so, you are in the right place.

    This article will run through exactly what these two concepts are. It will also detail their key differences and crossovers.

    Let’s start by defining Mindful Eating Vs Intuitive Eating…

    What is Mindful Eating?

    “Mindfulness is the capacity to bring full attention and awareness to one’s experience, in the moment, without judgment. Mindful Eating brings mindfulness to food choice and the experience of eating. Mindful eating helps us become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating, reconnecting us with our innate inner wisdom about hunger and satiety.”
    The Centre for Mindful Eating
    So mindful eating is paying attention to sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise during eating.
    A lot of us have idea’s about how we should feel about eating a particular meal or snack. For example, some may feel guilty for enjoying a “naughty” food or proud for sticking to a diet rule. With mindful eating, you remain curious and non-judgmental. This enhances your ability to truly connect with your body. Mindful Eating is a tool discover the way of eating that feels best for you, as an individual.

    What is Intuitive Eating?

    Intuitive eating is a framework, of which mindful eating is a key component.
    There are 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. They can be boiled down to these three core characteristics:
    • Eat for Physical Rather than Emotional Reasons
    • Rely on Internal Hunger and Satiety Cues
    • Unconditional Permission to Eat
    Intuitive Eating incorporates your instinct, emotion and rational thoughts about food. This helps you to move past fear and judgement and find true satisfaction and peace when eating. It is an evidence-based, mind-body approach to break free from the diet mentality.
    There are over 100 scientific studies that have shown the benefits of intuitive eating, such as:
    • Improved self-esteem & body image
    • Increased body appreciation
    • Decreased emotional eating
    • Decreased disordered eating
    • Improved emotional coping skills
    • Higher HDL (good) cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels
    • Increased satisfaction in life
    • And more!

    If you would like to read more about the framework of Intuitive Eating, we have written a detailed introduction to it here.
    As a Registered Dietitian and  Intuitive Eating Coach,   I often guide my clients through mindful eating exercises. It’s amazing to hear what flavours, textures, smells and emotions people notice when they pay attention. Eating mindfully and without judgement allows my clients to identify firstly, whether they actually like the food, and secondly, how much of that food is necessary for them to find the point of satisfaction.


    What are the key differences between intuitive eating and mindful eating?

    The key difference is that Intuitive Eating is a broader framework/philosophy that encompasses:
    Mindful eating is one tool to better understand your body and food preferences.
    Intuitive eating goes some steps further and provides more guidance about what to do with that information. It is also a more holistic framework as it encompasses the above bullet points. These points are all key in truly arriving in a place of being at peace with your body, and in your relationship to food.

    Are there any similarities between Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating?

    Both Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating encourage increased mind-body attunement to eating cues.
    Neither mindful eating nor intuitive eating are diets. Neither are meant to promote weight loss or to change body size/shape. This would be going against the very core of these frameworks. In fact, they encourage breaking free from the diet mentality. 


    Diet Mentality vs Non-Diet

    I want to note that connecting with your body may not be possible or safe for everyone. If you’ve experienced trauma or have an active eating disorder, these tools may not be appropriate for you right now, and that’s ok. Consider discussing your unique situation with a Registered Dietitian or therapist who has experience in eating concerns. They will be able to give you the advice that is right for you.
    At Nude Nutrition we are Intuitive Eating experts, offering both individual support for those seeking a healthier relationship to food and their bodies.

    In Summary

    Mindful eating is a tool that can helps you to bring non-judgemental awareness to the experience of eating. Both Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating promote mind-body connection. They both encourage listening to body cues such as hunger, fullness and satiety. Intuitive eating is a broader framework of which mindful eating is a key component.

    Why Am I Always Hungry at Night?

    Why Am I Always Hungry at Night?

    Something I am often asked in clinic is, “Why am I always hungry at night?”. I used to wonder this same thing about myself. I would go through the day able to “eat well”, following my planned meals or maybe forget to eat a meal if I was busy. I’d get home and try to eat a “healthy” dinner. After dinner, I didn’t necessarily feel hungry, but I wasn’t quite satisfied either. I’d try to resist the urge to go to the cupboard and find a snack or some dessert. Sometimes I’d be able to but all too often, I’d cave. I’d end up opening the freezer for the ice cream or reaching for snacks from the cupboard. The feelings that accompanied these night time eating episodes were horrible. I felt guilty, like I was out of control and worried that I’d put on weight.

    If you’ve experienced something similar to this, please know you are not alone. Luckily, I was able to get to the bottom of the reasons why I was always hungry at night and heal my relationship with food. I’ve helped many clients through the same thing.

    In this article we will delve into what could be causing you to feel hungry at night, address myths about night time eating and lay out steps you can take to get on top of it.

    Why am I always hungry at night? Some possible causes:

    1. Not eating enough throughout the day

    This is by far the most common thing causing increased hunger later in the day. Willpower will only work for so long if you aren’t eating enough food to meet your body’s requirements for energy, despite what diet culture tries to tell us. Biologically speaking, the body has a set amount of energy that it needs you to take in from food. This will vary day to day. If you don’t, then it is going to ramp up your hunger hormones, which drive you to eat. It can’t tell if you’re eating less because you want to drop a dress size or because you’re stuck on a desert island. All it knows is that it’s not getting in as much as it needs to function optimally. This is an evolutionary mechanism that humans have developed to ensure our survival. It is also one of the reasons that diets are so hard to follow.

    Skipping breakfast or lunch means your body is going to need to compensate somehow. The same goes for limiting calorie intake or portions. 1200kcal a day is the calorie requirement for a toddler and it just isn’t going to cut it. I don’t condone calorie counting but as a general guide, if you are an adult human who is not eating at least 2000kcal most days (some people will certainly need more, some slightly less) you are likely going to experience biological signals to make you increase your food intake (aka. hunger).

    Many people don’t realise that these biological signals can come in more forms than just a rumbling tummy.

    For me, once I started eating enough during the day, I stopped feeling so hungry at night. I still often enjoy a snack or dessert after dinner, but when I do so I don’t feel guilty or out of control like I did when I was restricting myself.

    2. Emotional hunger

    If you find yourself asking “why am I always hungry at night?” or “why am I always hungry after eating” but think you’re eating enough in the day, emotional hunger could be the reason. Whilst we are often busy and distracted throughout the day, at night things tend to slow down. This means uncomfortable emotions that we may try to avoid have more of a chance to catch up to us. Many of us find food helpful for coping with emotions we’d rather not feel. Food can also temporarily fill other needs such as human touch or intimacy. There is nothing wrong with using food for comfort occasionally. However, if it is your main coping mechanism or your eating is causing you to feel distressed, this is something worth addressing. See my article on emotional eating for more information on dealing with emotional eating.

    Often, I find that a combination of not eating adequately throughout the day AND emotions contribute towards clients always feeling hungry at night.

    3. Medical causes

    Certain medications and medical conditions can lead to feeling hungry at night. Commonly prescribed medications that can increase appetite include certain antidepressants, oral corticosteroids and mood stabilisers (for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression). Medications used for ADHD usually suppress appetite during the daytime, leading to an increased appetite later in the day once the medication has worn off. Medical causes of increased appetite include an overactive thyroid amongst others. If are concerned that a medical cause could be affecting your eating then I recommend discussing this with you GP.

    Does eating late at night really lead to weight gain?

    A common myth is that eating at night somehow makes us gain more weight than eating the same amount during the day. Please rest assured that this isn’t true. If it was then every person in Spain would be stacking on pounds. Food counts for the same at night as it does during the day. 

    4 steps to tackle feeling hungry at night

    Step 1. Eat enough throughout the day

    I sound like a broken record here but it’s an important one. You need to eat enough and you need to eat regularly. For most people this looks like:

    • Eating every 3-5 hours
    • 3 main meals and snacks in between
    • A source of protein, carb and fat in each meal to increase staying power and avoid blood sugar dips

    You might like to experiment with doing this for a few days and observe whether it affects how hungry you feel at night.

    Step 2. Add an afternoon snack

    Many people find they have lunch around 12/1pm. They then don’t eat dinner until around 7pm or sometimes later. In line with point one, most people find that it feels good to leave no longer than 5 hours between eating. You can see how the afternoon is commonly a time of day when we leave too large of a gap between eating times. If this sounds like you, try adding in an afternoon snack. Something satisfying like cheese and crackers, yoghurt with fruit, leftovers, or a cookie should help to tide you over so you’re not so ravenous when the evening rolls around.

    Step 3. Honour your hunger

    If you feel hungry, go ahead and eat as soon as you can. If we consistently feed ourselves when we are hungry, we teach our body that it can trust us to give it the energy it needs. This sense of trust is necessary to allow us to feel a sense of control and avoid out-of-control eating episodes such as those that often happen at night.

    Step 4. Check yourself for subtle restraint

    Are certain foods off-limits to you? Are you sticking to particular portion sizes? When we limit what and how much we eat it increases psychological, as well as biological drive to eat. If I said to you, “don’t think of a pink elephant”, what pops into your head? It’s the same with telling yourself “I’m not eating chocolate this week”. The only solution is to allow yourself unconditional permission to all foods, in amounts that satisfy you.

    If you’ve been on and off diets for a while, removing food rules and beginning to honour your hunger can be daunting and is often harder than it sounds. See my article on how to stop dieting and eat normally for more tips.


    How To  Stop Dieting and Eat Normally

    How To Stop Dieting and Eat Normally

    How To Stop Dieting and Eat Normally

    Let’s talk about some initial steps you can take to learn how to stop dieting and eat normally. If you’ve clicked on this article, I’ll take a guess that you’ve been on and off diets (or pursuing weight loss in some form) for quite some time. Maybe you have tried to stop dieting before, only to get tempted back for “just one last time”? The constant, obsessive thoughts about food, the restricting, and binging, the hating your body are getting exhausting. Are you thinking there has GOT to be another way?

    Are you feeling tired of dieting?

    If you’re fed up with being stuck in the cycle of yo-yo diets, know that there is a way out – it’s called Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based approach to health and wellness. It helps you tune into your body signals, stop the binge-restrict cycle, and heal your relationship with food. This is achieved by working through principles that will guide you back to a natural way of eating. It is steered by internal body signals and wisdom (i.e. hunger, fullness and satisfaction) rather than external rules.

    Unlearning dieting is a process

    The process of learning how to stop dieting and eat normally again isn’t usually as simple or easy as we might like. Especially if we’ve been following external food rules for a long time. Even if you feel more ready than ever to hop off the dieting bandwagon, it’s normal for uncertainties, fears and sticking points to crop up throughout the process. Below, our clients describe some very common fears and struggle with letting go of diets:

    “Trusting myself around food. Especially when alone and there are no limits. I am not in touch with what my body wants/needs.”


    “I don’t listen to my body. I eat what I think I must eat instead of what I want to eat.”


    “The overload of available information on what I should or shouldn’t be eating, how I should or shouldn’t look. This means being constantly disciplined, thin, healthy, happy and IN CONTROL.”

    If any of these resonate with you, please know that you are not alone. There will be ups and downs whilst figuring out how to stop dieting and eat normally, However, if you stick with it, it will likely be one of the best, most liberating things you do. You can check out videos and written stories of clients who have broken free from dieting.


    Here are my best tips on how to stop dieting and eat normally:

    1. Identify what a diet is, and isn’t 

    I have seen so many clients who are confused because they don’t consider themselves to be dieting. However, they still feel trapped and know that something is “off” with their relationship with food. This is so common because diets are sneaky these days! In recent times the weight loss and wellness industries have had to adapt to the fact that the word “diet” no longer sells the way it used to. Consumers are savvier to the fact that “diets” don’t work. Instead we hear terms such as “eating clean”, “lifestyle change”, “cleanse”, “detox” or “8-week challenge”. These are just diets wrapped up in new, shiny packaging. If it restricts the way you eat and takes you away from being able to listen and respond to your body – it’s going to keep you trapped just like a diet.

    2. Recognise the harm dieting has done

    In the long term, science tells us that diets do more harm than good. Not only do the vast majority of people regain the weight they lose, but weight loss diets also lead to poorer mental health. They take away from our social lives, lead us to have lower self-esteem and feel more dissatisfied with our bodies.

    I know that before I found intuitive eating, all of these negatives rang true. Recognising this was what allowed me to take the leap to try something different. Take this 3-minute quiz to help you identify if you are ready to stop dieting.

    3. From now on, no foods are off-limits

    You know how once someone tells you not to look down, you immediately have to fight an urge to do so? It works the same when telling ourselves we can’t have certain types or amounts of foods. That’s one of the reasons diets are so hard to stick with. The only way to get rid of the “forbidden fruit” factor is to allow yourself ALL foods. No labels, no good or bad foods, because really, no food is morally good or bad. It’s all just-food.

    When you first allow yourself to eat all foods, it is extremely normal to initially go overboard eating things you always considered to be off-limits. It is important to allow yourself to go through this phase so that your body and brain can re-establish trust with each other. After a few days or weeks, these foods will lose most of their lure. Just like when you buy a new item of clothing, wear it every day, and then it ends up in the back of the draw with the rest of the jumpers you once loved? Maybe you still like it, but you don’t need to wear it every day. Sure, you might always have a thing for cookies, but if you know that you can have some anytime you want, you won’t have to obsess over them.

    4. Start to listen to your hunger and fullness

    If this is tricky for you, know that you are amongst the majority. It is extremely common after years of dieting and eating according to external rules to lose touch with what it feels like to be hungry or full. Biologically speaking, it’s near impossible to stop eating, when your body needs food, so getting in touch with early hunger signals is important. Don’t stress, you are not broken. These signals are still there and you can learn to hear them again. It will just take some time and a bit of trial and error. The best way to start tuning back in is to take a minute to pause before and after you eat to feel your hunger. You can use the scale in the free document below as a reference. I also recommend keeping a hunger journal like this one:

    5. Eat regular, satisfying meals and snacks

    In general, to feel your best and avoid energy dips, you don’t want to be going much more than 3-5 hours without food. Some people struggle to initially hear hunger and fullness cues, so regular eating can help to “get the machine churning”. This can create a rhythm from which you can tune into those signals again.

    As well as physically filling you up, your meals and snacks need to mentally and physically satisfy you so that you do not feel restricted (remember: restriction leads to bingeing). This means choosing foods that we crave or that “hum” to us. To ensure physical satisfaction, I often talk about the importance of choosing options with “staying power” with my clients. These are usually those which include a source of each fat, protein, carbohydrate, and fibre.

    6. Learn to sit with your emotions

    A lot of us use food to quash unpleasant emotions that we’d rather not feel. This is normal to some extent, but we really don’t want food to be our only coping mechanism. If emotional eating is something you struggle with then an important part of learning how to stop dieting and eat normally will be learning to cope with these emotions without food. You can get more in-depth tips on emotional eating in this article. 

    7. Expect setbacks and let go of perfection

    The cool thing about intuitive eating is that you can’t get it wrong. It is a process of learning and self-discovery. On a diet, you’d probably punish yourself if you broke the “rules”. Eating too many cookies or too much ice-cream for example, whilst learning to eat intuitively is not a failure. It’s a neutral occurrence and a valuable learning opportunity. Get curious about your own behaviour and try to be compassionate and forgiving with yourself. When we speak kindly to ourselves, we are more likely to make healthy choices and feel better.


    In Summary:

    Learning how to stop dieting and eat normally is 100% possible but it is a process and will require being brave, compassionate towards yourself and trusting the process. Intuitive eating is a proven framework we can use to break free from the diet cycle. You can get started today using my FREE 7-step download, with audio guide and actionable workbook.  

    Does Intuitive Eating Work?

    Does Intuitive Eating Work?

    As we plunge into the new year, the talk of dieting seems to be ramped up in the media and among our friends, family, and coworkers. So, we thought that it would be a good idea to touch on the question, “Does Intuitive Eating Work?”

    To get started, what does “working” mean? To some, working would mean achieving a smaller body size. After all, one of dieting’s defining characteristics is the intentional pursuit of weight loss. On the other hand, others may say they want to enter the new year better supporting their health. 

    Do we need to lose weight to support health?

    Many of us are raised to believe that being of a higher weight is unhealthy. We’re also led to assume diets are safe and harmless, and it’s just a matter of “eat less, move more”.

    What we have now come to know through research and experience, is that through dieting, people end up with all sorts of complex issues that can worsen health such as the increased risk of disordered eating behaviours, weight cycling (weight going down and up in a way that could be harmful to cardiovascular health), and worsened self-esteem. How is that healthy?

    For a lot of people, this sounds completely foreign. If we’re hearing things for the first time, the human response is to feel conflicted, confused or do not believe this could be relevant for you. So if you’re feeling uneasy right now, just stay with me.

    There is limited evidence to support the long-term benefits of weight loss. There is overwhelming evidence that shows any form of intentional weight loss has no long-term success. Regardless of the degree of initial weight loss seen with lifestyle intervention, most weight is regained within a 2 year period, and by 5 years the majority of people are at their pre-intervention weight. Crazy!! If weight loss were to be a pill, it would be unethical for doctors to prescribe it due to its lack of effectiveness! 

    But does being of high weight or living in a larger body mean someone needs to lose weight to be “healthier”?

    A group of researchers asked this question and assessed the risk of death according to body weight, accounting for healthy habits. The researchers found that with each healthy habit, the risk of death reduced significantly, regardless of size! So much so, that when those of higher BMI are engaging in the four main healthy lifestyle habits (not smoking, not drinking too much, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and drinking only in moderations (if at all)) their risk of death was lower than that of those in the “healthy” BMI range. These results mean that being high weight wasn’t associated with an increased risk of death when the individual partook healthful habits!* 

    Death and BMI statistics

    Figure: Matheson (2012)

    Intuitive eating takes a weight-neutral approach to health. Some people may lose weight, some people may stay the same, and some may gain weight with intuitive eating. This concept is novel and scary. Especially for those of us who have dealt with years of chronic dieting in a wholesome pursuit of health. But it is the neutral nature of intuitive eating that allows for the focus on modifiable behaviours rather than a number on a scale that has no indication of a person’s health status.

    So, if weight doesn’t = health, can weight loss still lead to better health outcomes?

    Janet Tomiyama of UCLA decided to look into this research question. Janet and her team pulled every well-done, long-term diet study they could find, and found that dieting didn’t do much for the health of the participants.** They found that weight changes in the dieting groups were not linked to changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, or diabetes medication discontinuation. The takeaway from this? Even if the dieting group saw subtle changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, or the use of their diabetes medication, these changes were not related to their weight loss, rather their behaviours!

    Another example of similar dieting outcomes can be found in the Look Ahead Trial, an intensive 15-year study with interventions aimed at achieving a 7% weight loss. These interventions included:

    • Training in the tracking of food and drink
    • Nutrition & diabetes management education
    • Frequent contact with the program
    • Meal replacements for easier calorie restriction
    • 175+ minutes of exercise a week
    • 10,000 steps per day
    • Competition and social support with meetings
    • Orlistat, a weight loss drug, when participants faltered in their weight loss. 

    What this study really found was that significant weight loss was not a typical result, despite how intensive the intervention was. Repeated attempts at weight loss did not improve the likelihood of significant weight loss. In addition to all this, at the 15-year follow-up, there was no difference in the prevalence of diagnosed type 2 diabetes between the lifestyle group (the ones who went through the study intervention), the metformin group (a drug for improving blood sugar control), and the placebo group (a group that got a pill with no medicine). This finding demonstrated that people who were going to receive a diagnosis of diabetes were going to get it over that 15-year span regardless of the intervention they received. Does this mean give up completely? No. But it does mean, dieting isn’t the fix! 

    Since weight loss isn’t associated with the health outcomes expected of dieting, is intuitive eating associated with improved health outcomes?

    In a study looking into intuitive eating and Health at Every Size® among large-bodied females with a history of dieting, some neat things were discovered. The results indicated that the group practicing intuitive eating had better health outcomes over the 104-week study. These outcomes included a reduction in systolic blood pressure, a reduction in “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, and higher engagement in physical activity. These changes were sustained through the 104-week follow-up, while any changes seen in the group that was assigned to stereotypical dieting was not able to sustain positive health improvements. Overall, this study exemplified that the intuitive eating intervention resulted in improved health measures in the absence of dieting, while the dieting group was unable to sustain the measures of health as time went on.

    Another study of college-aged females found that intuitive eating was associated with lower blood fat levels, and a reduced risk for heart disease.****This is consistent with findings of other intuitive eating studies.

    Intuitive Eating is also associated with better psychological outcomes. In one IE study mentioned above, the researchers found that those who were in the intuitive eating/HAES® group were able to sustain improvements in mental health through the follow-up, while the dieters did not.*** The HAES® group members also became better at learning their internal cues and regulating their intake than the dieting group, which did not maintain improved restraint. ***

    Intuitive Eating health benefits

    All-in-all intuitive eating seems to improve overall health in the long-term, whereas dieting does not. Like all areas of research, intuitive eating isn’t black and white. The findings thus far have been promising but many of the studies have small sample sizes and focus on female White participants with a history of binge eating or chronic dieting in Western cultures. 

    Lastly,  it cannot be reiterated enough that health doesn’t equate to someone’s value. No one owes anyone their health. Health cannot fit one single mold for any group of people. Much of a person’s health is out of their personal control. I would like to end this post with a quote from the author, The Body is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor:

     “Equally damaging is our insistence that all bodies should be healthy. Health is not a state we owe the world. We are not less valuable, worthy, or lovable because we are not healthy. Lastly, there is no standard of health that is achievable for all bodies” 

    Are you saying that I can never lose weight?

    Taking a weight-inclusive/intuitive eating approach to nutrition doesn’t mean that weight loss will never happen. It simply means it is not the centre focus. It helps you move through your eating challenges, so that your weight will settle where it wants to. It’s okay to feel sad or angry about diets not working and letting go of the pursuit of weight loss isn’t easy. These things take time and the desire to change one’s body is a normal one. Check out this article if intuitive eating sounds interesting to you, but the idea of letting go of the pursuit of weight loss is scary —


    *Matheson EM, King DE, Everett CJ. Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals. J Am Board Fam Med (2012)

    **Tomiyama, A. J., Ahlstrom, B., & Mann, T. (2013). Long-term effects of dieting: Is weight loss related to health? Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(12), 861-877.

    ***Bacon L, Stern JS, Loan MDV, Keim NL. Size Acceptance and Intuitive Eating Improve Health for Obese, Female Chronic Dieters. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2005.03.011.

    ****Hawks SR, et al. The relationship between intuitive eating and health indicators among collegiate women. Health Education; 2005.

    *****Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating

    Why All Food is Guilt Free

    Why All Food is Guilt Free

    This is the smell of warmth and love: Fresh waffles topped with strawberries and sugar, eaten from the high-top chair at the bar in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house, topped off with a heaping pile of whipped cream. A lot of the memories we hold are centred around food, yet so much of our culture is bent on enjoying as little of it as possible, creating food guilt. This is a concept we should explore further.

    Food holds a ton of significance in our lives, both nutritionally and culturally. Yet, we tend to label foods as being a “guilty pleasure” or simply good or bad. Here’s a secret that the diet industry doesn’t want us to know: Food isn’t something that can hold a moral value. Our right to enjoy and savour food is equivalent to our right to breathe.

    When one is released from the chains of chronic dieting, food rules go out the window.

    Without food rules a few things happen:

    1) Food becomes neutral. No more “good” or “bad.

    2) The binge-restrict cycle comes to a halt. Food restriction or the idea of restriction nearly always precedes binge-like behaviours.

    3) Freedom. Without food rules, it becomes much easier to tune into your body and figure out what it is you really need in that moment.

    Without food rules, the guilt and fear of “empty” calories becomes a non-issue.

    But of course, there’s always some guy in the back that yells, “BUT WHAT ABOUT WHITE BREAD?”

    We’ll use this question to break down a couple of myths about white bread as well as [insert any food that you’ve labeled as being bad or “empty” in the past here].

    Mmmmmm Pizza…

    To begin, a slice of white bread contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our brains preferred energy source. Therefore, eating a slice of white bread is literally brain fuel. Next, bread is typically full of extra nutrients added in a process called fortification. Therefore, bread is a good source of various vitamins and minerals that are important to everything from producing and maintaining the cells of our body to the production of cells that carry oxygen to our brain. 

    But hold up. Let’s rewind a second. 

    Even if white bread didn’t contain those extra snazzy vitamins and minerals and let’s say for kicks and giggles, that it didn’t have any other nutrients in it (which is impossible but bear with me). It still would be guilt free. 

    Why is that?

    Well, food holds more purpose than nourishment alone.

    Think about it, events important to our varying cultures and religions usually have one universal focal point: food. Food is social. Food is religious. Food is comfort after a crap day of work. Food is a memory of cooking Belgian waffles in the kitchen with Grandma and the smell of fresh strawberries soaked in sugar overnight.

    Food is so much more than a vessel for calories and vitamins. It is meant to be enjoyed; our survival depends on food being enjoyable.

    When it is all said and done, nutrient content doesn’t matter. In the framework of intuitive eating, folks are able to recognise when and what to eat.

    As a personal example, if I have a few days that I don’t get much fibre, I notice I don’t feel so hot. So, I work on including extra veggies and whole grains when it serves me. I also recognise that if I only eat salads for lunch all week, I crave and seek out foods that are more nutrient dense. If I eat too much ice cream, I feel sick. But with intuitive eating, I know I can buy more ice-cream whenever I want, so the urge to eat past what’s comfortable gets dampened.

    To help, here are some diagrams that demonstrate what a day with intuitive eating looks like.

    What intuitive eating can look like

    Finally, for some additional clarity, here is a list of actual “bad” foods and “good” foods:

    Good food versus bad food

    Without good or bad food, all food becomes guilt free. When something is a necessity for life, it is not guilty. Our urge and need to eat is a survival mechanism. There is no need to fight against our biology. If you are someone who struggles to know what to eat check out a few of these articles:

    Intuitive Eating Tips for those Starting Out

    Eating for Weight Loss or Eating for Happiness?

    How to Start Intuitive Eating