young woman smiling and holding a scale

Yes, you can lose weight without restrictive dieting. In fact, you have a much better chance of maintaining weight loss if you lose the weight WITHOUT following the latest diet. When you are on a diet, whether it is ketoclean or pescatarian or any other popular weight loss plan, you are probably looking forward to the moment when you are off your diet. And that outlook may lead to even more weight gain in the long run. Here’s the reason why. 

It’s only natural to want the foods we can’t have. Some people find not eating certain foods—like bread and sugar—causes them to binge when they are off their diet. Overeating for one meal or one day is unlikely to be a problem, but when it happens several times a week or happens on and off for months, this can result in weight gain … That’s not why you went on the diet! 

Try the NO DIET Approach to Weight Loss 

Even if you don’t consider yourself to be on a diet and think of your food rules as just healthy eating habits, you may be mentally stuck in diet mode. Limiting yourself to only the foods that you consider good for you is another diet pitfall that can trigger bingeing. Making a commitment to stop dieting may actually result in better health and weight loss! And it skips all the mental baggage of diet rules. 

For many of my clients, dieting was the first step to a binge eating disorder. This unhealthy pattern of eating is typified by consuming large amounts of food very quickly while experiencing a feeling of being out of control—you feel unable to stop eating. There is often a feeling of shame about these binges so they may only happen when you are alone.  

Make Peace With Food and Win the War With Your Waistline. 

young woman in purple top enjoying a bite of pizza

About 25 years ago dietitians Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D.N., and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D.N., wrote the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach 4th edition on sale June 2020 ). This anti-diet approach does not give you a specific meal plan and list of foods to eat or avoid, and that is why it works! By stopping the on again off again diet pattern and bingeing, your body can gradually start to burn the calories stored in your fat cells and you can lose weight.  

What is Intuitive Eating? 

Intuitive eating (sometimes called mindful eating) means you eat food when you are physically hungry (not emotionally hungry) and stop eating when you are full (but not too full). You learn to put some realistic boundaries on your eating without restricting the types of foods eaten unless you have a medical condition. Sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it!? In the 25 years I’ve been guiding my clients to eat intuitively I have found that intuitive eating makes more sense than most popular diet plans. By eating more moderately and reducing bingeing you can stop the slow weight gain that goes unnoticed for years until you are seriously overweight.  

Is Intuitive Eating the Same as Mindful Eating? 

Intuitive and mindful eating philosophies overlap, but they help you achieve the same purpose—guiding you to make choices that nourish you, help you achieve a healthy weight and allow you to be at peace with food and your body. When you are an intuitive eater you are mindful of what your empty stomach feels like and how it changes as you start to feel full. Intuitive eaters learn to recognize the “satisfied” feeling that comes from eating until comfortably full. Intuitive eaters also recognize when the “satisfaction” they seek is really related to emotions. Essentially you are mindful of both your physical and emotional needs and look for appropriate ways to meet them.  

Unlike diets, mindful eating and intuitive eating are guiding principles, not rules. Mindful eating also encourages meditation as a part of your daily routine. Intuitive eating, however, puts less emphasis on meditation and focuses on the guiding principles of eating. But don’t get hung up on the definitions and principles of intuitive eating vs. mindful eating. What’s most important is how they can transform your relationship with food, your body and your health. Here are a few principles to help you make intuitive eating work for you. 

Four Steps to Becoming an Intuitive Eater  

1. While you are eating, slow down. Pause half-way through the meal or snack to sense your stomach filling. It does not take a full 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you are full despite the fact that this has been the belief for over 3 decades. You can notice food filling your stomach in as little as 5 minutes after starting to eat. So if it takes you 10 minutes to eat a meal, slow down and check in with your stomach 5 minutes into the eating and listen to what your belly is telling you.  

2. Put down your fork when you notice you are not hungry anymore. You may not feel full yet but you are getting close. Look over your plate and ask yourself, how much more food do I need to feel comfortably full? 

fork setting on top of a plate of spaghetti

3. If feeling satisfied from a meal is all about your taste buds and mouth being happy, recognize that being full does not necessarily mean you will always feel satisfied. Many of us do not think we are full and have eaten enough unless our desire for the food ends. Sometimes eating is a real party-in-your-mouth that you may never want to end! A good strategy to help you stop when your stomach is full is to serve yourself smaller portions. Promise yourself you can go back for more food if your stomach is not full. Remember, you are feeding your stomach, not your mouth and mind. 

4. Tear up your list of “good” foods and “bad” foods. Dividing food into black and white categories is another set-up for bingeing.  Consider what happens when you slip up and eat what you label as “bad”; do you keep on eating now that you have “blown your diet for the day”? Not labeling foods can help you avoid this pitfall. All foods can be part of healthy intuitive eating. Please note, however, if you have medical conditions that require food restrictions, talk to your doctor and dietitian first about including those foods in your diet.  ding those foods in your diet.  

Three Myths About Intuitive Eating and the Anti-diet Approach to Eating 

Many people think the anti-diet approach to eating is nothing but another diet designed to make money rather than lead to better health. The reality is that stopping dieting and learning to eat intuitively has over 100 published scientific research studies to support it as an evidence-based model for eating.  

Let’s bust three myths about intuitive eating to help you better understand the anti-diet approach. 

MYTH #1: Our instincts can guide us to eat properly and intuitive eating is about following your instincts. 

Although instincts play a role in eating, for example watch how babies eat, our emotions and our environment play a role in our eating decisions. The process of becoming an intuitive eater requires you to understand the eating triggers in your home, work and community (think of the gallon of ice cream sitting in your freezer or the donut shop you stop in to get your morning coffee). Making changes in your home and habits can make it easier to eat in response to hunger rather than eating emotionally because tempting food is easily accessible. An example of these changes may be allowing yourself a treat of a dish of ice cream at the ice cream parlor rather than keeping a gallon in your freezer. 

woman at ice cream counter enjoying her cone

MYTH #2: Intuitive eating gives you unconditional permission to eat; therefore, all you will eat is junk food. 

Initially someone who has been restricting certain foods may only want to eat these foods after giving themselves permission to eat whatever they want when they are hungry. This phase does not last because when you tune into all the physical sensations associated with eating you will also feel the undesirable sensations like sluggishness, constipation or an upset stomach. If you have other tasty, nourishing foods available you will begin to crave them and the positive way your body feels after eating them. In addition, the permission to eat that is part of intuitive eating makes foods that were once deemed forbidden feel less enticing.  

MYTH #3: The main purpose of intuitive eating is to achieve weight loss.  

Although weight loss may result from intuitive eating, its real purpose is to heal your relationship with food, your mind and body. Some people lose weight as this healing occurs, some gain weight and some stay the same. If weight loss is the main agenda for learning to eat intuitively, it will interfere with your ability to recognize physical sensations that arise in your body such as hunger, fullness and physical responses to emotions. Being able to tune into these different sensations and mindfully responding to them in a nourishing and nurturing manner is critical to the process of becoming an intuitive eater.  

How Do I Move From a Dieting Mindset to Become an Intuitive Eater? 

First, identify what you hope to achieve by learning to eat more intuitively. Are you seeking to end the battle with your body and make peace with food? Or are you looking to improve your health by lowering your blood pressure, reversing prediabetes or helping you to better manage existing diabetes? If your only goal is to lose weight, this may not be the right time to start on the pathway to eating more mindfully. For many people a helpful first step is to focus on stopping the gradual weight gain that has been happening for years.  

There are many resources to help you understand the process of becoming an intuitive/mindful eater. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach an excellent guide. In addition, The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food can help you start moving away from the dieting mindset. There is also an online community that can support you with this approach to developing a healthy relationship with food.  

Two leading experts, Ruth Wolever, Ph.D, and Beth Reardon, MS, RD, LDN, from Duke Integrative Medicine center, wrote The Mindful Diet: How to Transform Your Relationship with Food for Lasting Weight Loss and Vibrant Health. This resource combines health psychology with nutrition research to help you eat mindfully and break out of the yo-yo diet cycle.  

If the self-help approach doesn’t feel right for you at this time, personal nutrition counseling with an experienced nutrition therapist can help you start the process in a manner that fits your needs and lifestyle. This is also helpful if you have special dietary needs due to a health issues such as diabetes or an eating disorder. If you are not sure what is the best way for you to begin changing your eating habits, health and relationship with food and your body, contact me for a free 15 minute phone consultation. It would be a privilege to use my expertise and experience to help you achieve your health goals and show you it is possible to enjoy good food & good health

Jennifer Stack at produce counter in grocery store