When it comes to losing weight, a new study has found that finding the right diet is no match for a new style of eating called “intuitive eating” that is based on feelings of hunger and fullness rather than on emotions or situations.
The findings are based on the study of two samples of a total of 597 college women conducted by a team of researchers led by Tracy Tylka, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Marion campus.
The researchers found that the typical reasons of women for changing their diet – a dissatisfaction with their bodies – may backfire, and that those who followed intuitive eating principles actually had a slightly lower Body Mass Index than women who did not.
Tylka and Ohio State graduate student Laura Avalos found that women who reported they were intuitive eaters also reported higher levels of appreciation for their own body.
“It seems amazing, but it is true. If you listen to your body signals in determining what, when, and how much to eat, you are not going to binge and you're going to eat an appropriate amounts of nutrient-dense foods,” Tylka said.
“The message that women often hear is that some degree of body dissatisfaction is healthy because it could help them strive to take care of their bodies. But it may be just the opposite: an appreciation of your body is needed to really adopt better eating habits,” she said.
The researchers also found that women into “intuitive eating” were less likely to spend a lot of time thinking about how their body appears to others, and more time considering how their body feels and functions when people close to them accept their bodies.
“When women feel that the people in their life accept their body, they don't feel like they need to lose weight or tone up to be worthwhile. That seems to be directly related to eating intuitively,” Tylka said.
However, while the research has shown eating intuitively is associated with a lower Body Mass Index (BMI), women who follow these principles need not necessarily be as thin as models or actresses.
“There are going to be a variety of body types. For most people, their ideal body type will hover around the range that doctors say is healthy. But some will be healthy at a higher weight, and others at a lower weight,” she said.
Other researchers have determined that intuitive eating has three components: unconditional permission to eat when hungry and to eat what food you desire; eating for physical rather than emotional reasons; and reliance on internal hunger and fullness cues to determine when and how much to eat.
The study was presented in New Orleans in two related poster sessions at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association recently.
It will be published later this year in the Journal of Counselling Psychology.