What are the Benefits of Intuitive Eating? Are there Drawbacks?
Intuitive eating has been a buzzword for quite some time now, and it's likely that you've come across various opinions and perspectives on the topic. With countless articles, blog posts, social media discussions, and even dubious spin-offs claiming the name of intuitive eating, it can be challenging to navigate the sea of information and determine the truth about its benefits and drawbacks. In this post, we'll break down the advantages and disadvantages of intuitive eating, highlighting that these factors vary depending on the individual. So, whether you're new to the concept or a seasoned pro, keep reading to learn more about this popular approach to eating.
Let's start with the good stuff and dive into the benefits of intuitive eating!
- A more balanced relationship with food
- Research has shown that practicing intuitive eating can lead to a more balanced relationship with food, decreased stress and anxiety around eating, and an overall more balanced plate and eating pattern.
- Less shame, more self-compassion
- Another key benefit is learning to approach food with self-compassion rather than shame induced by diet culture. This makes it possible to connect with, honor, and be kind to your body. You may also find that strengthening your self-compassion muscle with food will make it easier to access in other areas of your life, like body image, relationships, etc.
- Less stress, more of what matters
- A hallmark of a normalized relationship with food is that it takes up the appropriate amount of space in your life. And without the guilt, frustration, panic, and stress, you create more time and energy for, and can prioritize what's truly important to you. Read more about this here!
- Personalized for you and the context of your life
- Intuitive eating is the most personalized way of eating because it encourages you to turn down the volume on allll the external noise of what is “best”, “right”, or “good” so that you can tap into your internal voice and make informed choices about what is best for you and your body in any given moment.
- Improved health markers
- This approach has been linked to long-term health benefits in both mental health and metabolic markers. It also promotes flexibility which is associated with reduced levels of stress (and decreased risk for eating disorders). Yes, truly! Check out more here.
- Deeper relationship with self
- While this benefit might feel daunting to some, many consider it a major positive outcome of intuitive eating. Getting to know yourself on a deeper level (peeling back the onion) and developing a stronger sense of embodiment can both be hard and messy, but are often incredibly empowering.
- Reduced inflammation
- Did you know that weight cycling (losing and gaining) can be very damaging to your body, causing systemic inflammation? Since intuitive eating encourages you to ditch the diet mentality, you allow your body to regulate and stabilize to its own natural set point, or what is best for you at the time.
- Personal autonomy
- In a similar vein to getting to know yourself more, intuitive eating encourages autonomy - it takes the non-consensual power away from diet culture and instead helps you re-establish that you are the expert of your own body.
- Regulation of cravings
- In the beginning of intuitive eating, it’s common to feel like you only want to eat foods that have been “off limits” or seen as “bad” for so long. You may feel completely driven by those cravings which can create a sense of being out of control with food - and that can be terrifying. But over time, as you neutralize food, challenge diet mentality, let go of food rules, and give yourself permission with all foods, you will find those intense “out-of-control” cravings leveling out. You will crave the foods that your body, brain, and heart need and desire (because satisfaction is an important part of nourishment) - some days this will be a vegetable, and others it will be chocolate cake. Intuitive eating re-establishes the body’s inherent ability to guide your food choices.
- Freedom !!!
- Freedom from food rules, strict plans, and rigidity. Freedom from the time, energy, and financial burdens of being engrossed in diet and wellness culture. Freedom from food guilt, shame, stress, overwhelm, anxiety, stress, and judgment.
Ok, but are there any drawbacks?
Yes! It's important to acknowledge that intuitive eating (in its traditional form) is not for everyone.
- Some people prefer structure
- It’s just the facts of life. Some personalities thrive with structure and struggle with living life solely using intuition and intention, especially after a lifetime of food rules. Throwing out all of the guardrails may be too much (either at first, or ever), and so creating flexible structure may be more helpful.
- Intuitive eating can feel like it doesn't live up to its promise to be “intuitive”
- Eating intuitively may not feel “right” or accessible for some individuals who are neurodivergent, disabled, on certain medications, have medical conditions, or have a history or trauma. These differences can come with barriers to being aware of or interpreting body cues and needs, making it difficult to honor hunger and fullness. Relying on external support, cues, and structure can sometimes (or always) be helpful or even necessary for many of these folx. Mechanical eating (eating when you know your body needs fuel, regardless of hunger levels), or setting up structured systems and support in order to meet your body’s nourishment might not appear to be “intuitive eating” as we know it - and may be better described as “intentional eating”.
- It takes a lot of time, commitment, and patience
- It can be frustrating dealing with anything that’s not a “quick fix”. Everybody’s intuitive eating journey and timeline is unique, and it might be overwhelming to consider the length of time and level of commitment required to truly improve your relationship with food and body. If this feels true for you, we recommend scrolling back up to the top of this blog, and going back over the intuitive eating benefits that your time, commitment, and patience can provide. Ultimately, the decision to try intuitive eating is a personal one, and we encourage everyone to learn as much as possible and make an informed choice around what path works best for them.
Final Thoughts; TLDR
We hope that this post has given you a better sense of the benefits and drawbacks to intuitive eating. If you want to learn more, we recommend checking out some of our other blog posts. And, if you are neurodivergent and are stuck feeling like intuitive eating just isn’t working for you, we would love to help! We are dietitians who specialize in neurodivergence and intuitive eating - check us out!