Sports bring people together. Football season is an iconic time of year that brings out the best (and sometimes the worst) in people. But one thing is for sure - good food is a guarantee. While Football Sunday is treated as a holiday for some, it does not have to be a time to overindulge. In addition to making healthy swaps, one tool in the toolbox to create a healthy relationship with food is a concept known as intuitive eating (IE).
IE harmonizes the beauty of physiology and psychology. The term was officially coined in 1995, but it has been around since the early 1980s as part of an anti-diet culture. IE promotes learning how to trust your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues rather than external and emotional cues, without restrictions on types of foods consumed. One must learn to recognize and separate physical versus emotional hunger.
Physical hunger stems from biology and coordinates your brain and digestive tract to stimulate the seeking of nutrients when depleted. When food is consumed, those hunger cues are turned off and eating ceases. Emotional hunger, on the other hand, may include times when true hunger is not present and feelings of happiness, boredom or sadness can drive one to eat beyond biological satiety cues. It is proposed that all individuals can be in tune with an “inner guide” and eat in a way that supports health and healthy body weight, while avoiding overeating and harmful dieting. This concept is referred to as achieving body wisdom. Thus, positive self-talk and recognizing body cues can lead to controlled intake of food, even if they are not the most nutrient-dense.
In addition to truly understanding hunger and satiety cues, the Intuitive Eating Scale includes three other central tenants: (1) unconditional permission to eat when hungry and the food desired, (2) eating for physical rather than emotional reasons; and (3) honoring one’s health or practicing “gentle nutrition”.
Is this approach to eating effective for improving health outcomes and changing perception of food? There is certainly a dearth of information with many questions unanswered. Furthermore, most of the available literature focuses on female, Caucasian university students with studies ranging 6 weeks – 2 years.
Despite these setbacks, there is evidence showing that the longer the follow-up time, the more successful the intervention. More specifically, research shows that Body Mass Index decreased along with higher intakes of fruits and vegetables and improvement in other aspects of physical health such as cholesterol and blood glucose. Research also demonstrates that participants showed improved aspects of mental health, such as body image perception and self-esteem.
Overall, IE can be utilized as an effective tool to reach your goal with nutrition. It should not be the only means for success, but the unique emphasis on psychology can teach one to be more mindful and conscious of foods being consumed. So enjoy your Football festivities, but in the spirit of competition, throw IE into your toolbox to see if it is an effective management tool for you.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.