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Intuitive eating vs the traditional diet: A modern solution to old woes?

Traditional Diet


Intuitive eating is a new way to approach food, fitness and health. It's based on the belief that our bodies know what they need and can tell us when we're not listening. The approach encourages people to challenge traditional, modern and all other diets (and their rules). 

Does this mean you'll never have to diet again? Not necessarily! Both intuitive eating and traditional diets have their pros and cons. So how do they compare? Let's look at both approaches in detail and attempt to make a sound judgement. 

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, registered dietitians and nutritionists, in the mid-1990s. The approach is based on the idea that relying on external cues and eating rules (such as diet plans or food pyramids) can lead to disordered eating patterns and a negative relationship with food. Instead, intuitive eating advocates for listening to your body's hunger and fullness signals and eating in a way that is enjoyable and satisfying, without judgement or guilt. The goal is to develop a healthy, balanced relationship with food and to foster self-care and body acceptance.

Ten core principles of intuitive eating

Tribole and Resch have highlighted the intuitive eating approach through 10 core principles.

  1. Reject the diet mentality: Let go of the idea that there is a "perfect" way to eat and stop trying to follow a strict set of rules or guidelines.

  2. Honour your hunger: Pay attention to your body's signals of hunger and eat regularly to prevent extreme hunger.

  1. Make peace with food: Stop labelling foods as "good" or "bad" and allow yourself to eat a wide variety of foods without guilt or shame.

  2. Challenge the food police: Recognize and challenge the negative thoughts and feelings surrounding food, such as feelings of guilt or shame.

  3. Respect your fullness: Pay attention to your body's signals of fullness and stop eating when you are satisfied rather than stuffed.

  4. Discover the satisfaction factor: Eat foods that are satisfying and enjoyable rather than focusing on low-calorie or low-fat options.

  5. Honour your feelings without using food: Find healthy ways to cope with emotions rather than turning to food for comfort or distraction.

  6. Respect your body: Accept and appreciate your body as it is rather than trying to change it through dieting or weight loss.

  7. Exercise to feel the difference: Engage in physical activity that is enjoyable and feels good, rather than viewing it as a means to lose weight or burn calories.

  8. Honour your health: Make choices that support overall health and well-being rather than focusing solely on weight or appearance.

 The principles of intuitive eating are intended to help individuals establish a healthy, positive relationship with food and their bodies and to move away from the diet mentality that can lead to disordered eating patterns and negative body image.

What is a traditional diet, and how does it differ from intuitive eating?

A traditional diet is a way of eating that involves following a specific set of rules or guidelines, often with the goal of achieving weight loss or improving health. Examples of traditional diets include low-carb diets, low-fat diets, and meal replacement programs, among many others. Traditional diets may include counting calories, following a particular meal plan, or cutting out certain food groups.

Traditional diets often rely on external rules or guidelines to dictate what and how much to eat rather than listening to your body's hunger and fullness signals. They may also place a strong emphasis on weight loss or achieving a specific body shape.

Traditional diet vs intuitive eating - pros and cons

Making a head-on comparison between a traditional diet and intuitive eating is challenging for several reasons. While the former takes a target-specific, goal-specific approach with measurable outcomes, the latter takes a non-diet approach, taking all the rules out of the game. 

However, we can examine both approaches' merits and demerits and try to build a discussion. 

Some potential benefits of traditional diets include short-term weight loss, which may improve certain health markers such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or insulin sensitivity. Diets can add structure and discipline to eating patterns, which can be helpful for many people. 

On the flip side, diets could be hard to stick to in the long term and could be restrictive for some people. There is also the possibility of increased food cravings and disordered eating patterns among a few people, which can result in weight cycling (an individual loses a certain weight and gains it back due to unsustainable eating habits). There is also a possibility of developing a negative body image due to constant comparison. Some traditional diets can also cause nutritional deficiencies when you exclude certain food groups.

Potential pros of intuitive eating could be improved physical and mental health, as there is nearly no pressure on our minds and bodies. We just get in tune with them. Hence, this approach can be sustainable in the long term and can improve our relationship with food in general. Intuitive eating also recommends adopting a body-positive mindset which can greatly benefit our overall psychology. 

While there are not many potential cons with this approach, there are some classic pitfalls. It takes time to get in tune with our bodies in this modern world. We are surrounded by food stalls in the streets and food offers on the phone. Triggers are everywhere, and it takes a great deal of awareness to cut through this clutter. There is also scope for false-positive signals regarding hunger and satiety when we eat at our desks or in a canteen where the TV is running all day.

Which approach should I adopt? 

The answer to this question changes for every other person you find. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to food and eating habits. It doesn't hurt to keep a food journal and log your calories, as it might give you a good introspection of your eating habits. After all, numbers tell a lot of truths too. At the same time, if food journaling affects you negatively, it might not be for you. 

It is important to know that both approaches have their pros and cons, and it's important to choose a process that is sustainable and works for you personally. You can always try to make small changes based on either approach and see how it works for your individual needs and goals. It is also important not to compare yourself with others. Get support from friends and family members who understand your situation better. A social circle can make a lot of difference when it comes to creating healthy habits.  

In closing

By now, you should have a better idea of what intuitive eating is and how it can help you change your lifestyle. 

Here are two big (yet simple) takeaways from the intuitive eating philosophy: 

  • Eat when you feel physical hunger: This fuels your body, nourishes you and helps you avoid uneasy sensations and cravings. 

  • Do not eat when you feel emotional hunger: It is crucial to differentiate emotions from hunger signals. Feeding emotional hunger can only provide momentary gratification and can often leave you with guilt and unease in the long term.

If you are still in doubt about anything, discuss all this with a friend or family member or make them read the article. Talking about this can really offer great insights! 

Kowshik Eggoni is the current CEO & Co-Founder at Wholesome Eten. He is an experienced Nutrition Coach with a firm grasp of the importance of Mindfulness and its impact on one's diet.